I screamed so loudly that–for a moment–it felt like I’d fractured my larynx, and I ran around the living room like a child on Christmas morning. Fernando Pisani discovered utopia and shared it with Oiler Nation–it was, without question, one of the best moments of my hockey life. I remember it to this day, and if I ever forget that game it’s only a matter of grabbing the DVD to replay the cherished moment.
The years since then: if I could, I’d wish them into the cornfield.
This is the winter Edmonton gets to enjoy more wins than losses, more good than bad, the second season. The deadline will be a time for addition, the first round pick may be in play, the end of season All-Star nod won’t be a question for Taylor Hall, and on it goes.
I wanted to talk a little bit about center ice this morning, about the recent attention the depth chart has received in various quarters. We’ve talked about center all summer, and I’ve given you me reasonable expectations for the position:
CENTER ICE RE 13-14
|RYAN NUGENT HOPKINS||62||21||42||63|
The Oilers don’t get a lot of goals from centermen (48 goals projected) but it’s up from last season (26 in 48 games, which projects to 44 in 82 gp), and they do have two effective offensive players and a genuine checking center–possibly the best fit available for this roster, certainly the best free agent fit.
Whenever I read about a lack of depth at center, I remind myself of the fact that Dallas Eakins is unlikely to run his bench like Ralph Krueger. This isn’t meant as a Krueger bashing event, but he did roll 4lines quite a bit, and the 4th line was often prominent in games. Here’s the TOI for last season’s regular centers under RK:
- RNH 15:36EV; 3:02PP; 0:13PK
- Gagner 14:53EV; 2:55PP; 1:35PK
- Horcoff 11:50EV; 2:31PP; 2:29PK
- Belanger 10:47EV; 0:11PP; 3:08PK
TOTAL TOI PER GAME
- Sam Gagner 19:24
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 18:51
- Shawn Horcoff 16:51
- Eric Belanger 14:07
RED WINGS TOI PER GAME
- Henrik Zetterberg 20:31
- Pavel Datsyuk 20:10
- Valtteri Filppula 17:46
- Cory Emmerton 10:48
I think that’s what we’re going to see from Dallas Eakins. He’s going to rely heavily on his best players, and there will be nights when the bench gets shortened very early.
- Eakins: “You can’t just be a defensive team and you can’t just be an offensive team. In a perfect world, I want to be able to push the pace as high as we can, not only with our speed and our skill, but our fitness level so that when we have the puck we are going to challenge the other team with that kind of game.”
- Eakins: “I am somebody that firmly believes that if you’re talented, just being talented is not enough. I want our players to be so fit, that a forward, if I ask him to play 26 minutes that night, he’s going to play 26 minutes at a high level.”
I believe that’s a key element right there, the line about 26 minutes for a forward on a given night. Mike Babcock ran the Datsyuk-Zetterberg combination well past 40 minutes many times a year ago, and I think we may see Eakins do the same with Nuge-Gagner (and he’s certainly going to ride Hall, I’ll be the house on that one).
One final thing: RNH must be healthier than we’re being led to believe. The Oilers 1-2-3 of Nuge-Gagner-Gordon is going to play a lot, and I do think there’s a real chance Nuge or Gagner gets increased PK time along with the EV and PP workload this coming season. Nugent-Hopkins forechecking diligence on the PK might remind some of us of the golden days of Davey Keon, who was so good at it opposition powerplays sometimes took 20 seconds to get out of their own zone.
When we talk about the Oilers lacking center depth, I believe we’re looking through the lens of a season ago, when the 4line center played 14 minutes per game. Part of that was injury, but another part was due to the democratic allocation of icetime. I expect that ended with the coaching change this summer.
When Craig MacTavish was coaching for the Stanley, he ran Shawn Horcoff (21:37); Mike Peca (19:05); Jarret Stoll (17:05); Rem Murray (8:37). I think we may see that kind of allocation on many nights this season, and notice Peca’s minutes during the playoff run (those are the Gordon minutes now).
The 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers are going to have nights when the 4line doesn’t play a lot. I firmly believe Dallas Eakins is going to let these thoroughbreds run free.