For the first time in ages, the Oilers have some real depth on the blueline. I’m also pleased with the wings and the goaltenders, with only center lacking the kind of depth we can assume will be required for the long winter ahead. Craig MacTavish didn’t get everything done this summer, but he certainly moved the organization forward during June and July.
New coach Dallas Eakins has a nice group to choose from, here’s my guess at the opening 23:
- G Devan Dubnyk: Earned the starting job and earned the playing time, now must prove himself to a new management group that has expressed both confidence and the belief there’s more here. Interesting winter for Dubnyk, he could cash an enormous contract next summer if he can backstop this group to the second season.
- G Jason LaBarbera: I think he’s miscast as a spot starter, predicted a 30 game season for him in the RE series and that feels right. LaBarbera has some nice things in his resume and despite his age it’s possible he’s entering the busy period of his career now.
- D Justin Schultz: He’s going to play a helluva lot again this season, the young man has some kind of offensive chops. I think coach Eakins would be wise to ride him on the nights he’s on, but spell him when the wheels fall off (they always do for young blue, it’s a tough damn position to play). Terrific PP quarterback, mobile bugger whose position should read ‘rover’ but they took it out of the game miles ago.
- D Jeff Petry: A strong season for this defender will mean a big contract in summer, he’s poised for a big payday. I really like his range of skills and the fact there’s a lot of try even when things are going badly. A helluva player.
- D Ladislav Smid: When I was a kid, they called them “glue guys” (don’t ask me why) and Smid is hella-important on the current roster because he’ll be the defensive conscience on one of the top 2 pairings. PK man, shot blocker, the only thing left to bitch about is sorties to nowhere, but I’m pleased he’s still an Oiler.
- D Andrew Ference: He’s in the Jason Smith role now, heart on his sleeve defender who leaves it all out on the ice. Recent comments on this blog about him suggest many haven’t spent an extended period of games watching him. Calm feet, intelligent player, backs down from no one. If you’re going to beat down Andrew Ference, you better pack a lunch because it’s going to take you all day.
- D Anton Belov: The Russian invasion continues, this gentleman fresh from Siberia with some attitude and an idea about how to play the game. I think his offense got a lot of push, and mention of him defensively implies some gaps and holes. I always wonder when these descriptions discuss defensive issues–most Russian blue is about positioning and not trying to hit you into the Matrix. I think he may be a better defensive player than has been suggested.
- D Nick Schultz: This is a guy who might be on a slow boat to China if not for the CBA. Runs completely out of step with the MacT defensive mission statement (puck movers baby, Tom Gilbert>Nick Schultz) but he has value. The Oilers will send him away for a 2 or a 3 the first chance they get, but until then he’ll play top 6 minutes and help the PK. NEVER TRADE FOR A DEFENSEMAN LIKE THIS WHO CAN SEE 1,000 CAREER GAMES AHEAD. They’ve slowed, all those sorties, blocked shots and scrums.
- D Denis Grebeshkov: I believe the Oilers will carry 8D until they can offload Schultz the elder for a draft pick, and that means the Russians might have to share playing time. Grebeshkov may not bring enough to training camp to win the day, but I think MacT has something very specific in mind here: he believes Grebs personality, experience and character will be a strong and positive influence on Yakupov. It gives the Russian an enormous edge on the others trying for this spot.
- D Corey Potter: I don’t know how much he’ll play–not much before the club deals Schultz the elder certainly–but I’m pretty sure he’s a better player than Phillip Larsen. Larsen has the edge in one way: MacT dealt for him. However, I think management has always liked Potter because he serves as a perfect example of what happens when you follow the rules.
- C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: I believe he makes the opening night roster. The word we got early was the surgical invasion was less than Hall’s, and that suggests recovery will be sooner. The Oilers could surprise us, but if there were bad news we’d have it by now–the club wouldn’t want a long term problem to be an issue surrounding the positive that marks the beginning of training camp.
- C Sam Gagner: Safely in the fold, I think he’ll flourish this year–remember he’s the most likely center to have Yakupov and that kid is ready to explode. Perron could be his other partner, and once they develop chem this could be a wild ride. The 2nd line will be better this season at evens–I’ve lit many, many candles.
- C Boyd Gordon: Perfect fit center for this team. He’ll play huge PK minutes and zone starts, work at the quarry long days and then slay dragons each evening. I bet he’s looking forward to it!
- C Anton Lander: My pick before Acton, Miller, Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, McGuinn, Clark and Hillman. That showing in the spring was a small sample size, but I think he found his range for the first time in North America.
- L Taylor Hall: We’re past Out of Our Heads, December’s Children and Between the Buttons and heading for the open road of Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. The role of Ed Sullivan is played by Lindy Ruff this time.
- L David Perron: As fans, we assume certain things–for instance, we’re all counting on David Perron to come here, score 20, make few defensive errors and adjust quickly to his linemates. It doesn’t always happen like that, but this is a talented player with a great opportunity.
- L Ryan Smyth: I’m betting Smyth has some more in the tank, and that he’ll arrive ready for his final training camp. The club badly needs a rock solid performance from him.
- L Jesse Joensuu: HUGE winger who performed well when healthy and absolutely has a chance to impact his new team. If he can play a physical role while also keeping up with skill, well he could be here awhile. A terrific bet from MacT.
- R Jordan Eberle: Big brain, great hands. I get absolutely noxious emails about Eberle, people really think I don’t like him at all. Please understand: Jordan Eberle is one of the great value draft picks in the team’s history, certainly one of the best since Barry Fraser discovered tequila. I heart Eberle!
- R Nail Yakupov: Even now, barely 40 games into his NHL career, you can see it. He’s all emotion–that goal against LAK will live in infamy–and his shot will one day break iron. My GOD what would we have done if they’d taken someone else?
- R Ales Hemsky: Spent most of his time as the Oilers Jagger, now he’s Ian Stewart, barely gets his name on the liner notes. Hemsky is currently a sleeping giant. If they can resist trading his ass I bet he rewards them in a big way.
- R Ryan Jones: A little bit forgotten, but that could change with a solid TC and pre-season performance. Jones had a tough year and had to wait for a contract–my guess is he’s going to be a very determined player.
- R Mike Brown: One roster spot for an enforcer, and I think they choose Brown. He’s a nice fit for this team, who can use him on nights when dinosaurs exist, and sit happily when he isn’t needed. Edmonton’s other enforcer? The powerplay goal.
Tomorrow: The hopefuls and the also-rans.