The Edmonton Oilers open auditions for “big guy with skill” got some good news last night from both Rexall and Calgary, and for Oiler fans it could mean two new faces in the crowd. The key item is finding guys who can actually play–take and make a pass, not let the play “die on their stick” to borrow from the MacT phrasebook, and to be a factor in the hockey portion of each game.
Long time Oiler fans will remember this player–the big guy who can play with skill–is basically a unicorn in Oiler lore. Unlike the center problem (solved, really, the day they took RNH), the big, tough 2-way winger who can take and make a pass (I envision a young Ryan Smyth, the Oilers often appear to envision Ivan Drago on skates) gets the lower draft picks and the Coke Machine bio and then we end up with threads like this one.
IT’S A TRAP!
It’s fun to go back over the years and look at what Oiler coaching staffs tried to do in order to fill the role:
- 2008-09: MacT always had size on his teams but they were also hockey players. The 08-09 list included Dustin Penner (17-20-37), Ethan Moreau (14-12-26) and Erik Cole (16-11-27 before he was traded). MacT also used guys in secondary roles (Stortini an example) who had size.
- 2009-10: Pat Quinn’s opening night lineup suggested big men were the most important item for the club. His 1line had Horcoff and Hemsky with JF Jacques, Penner with Brule and Cogliano, Ryan Stone with Mike Comrie and Patrick O’Sullivan and Moreau and Stortini with slow Schremp.
- 2010-11: Tom Renney did what I would have done–he basically ignored it. Tom Renney’s Oiler teams make a lot of sense compared to Quinn’s, but I think a lot of that had to do with Renney saying “we’re not going to worry about what we don’t have, we’re going to worry about getting the most out of what we do have” and so he had size on the 4line and Penner played a high profile role, but beyond that he rode the kids, Horcoff and Hemsky.
- 2011-12: Tambellini went out and got Ben Eager in the off-season, but Renney never got to use him really. Renney’s second season was a little different–he added Nuge and lost Paajarvi and Omark, but I think year one’s mission statement still applied–go with the best players, we don’t have big men with skill so we’re going to play smaller men with skill in their place.
2012-13 OPENING NIGHT WITH KRUEGER
- L1: RNH-Hall-Eberle
- L2: Gagner-Yakupov-Hemsky
- L3: Horcoff-Smyth-Hartikainen
- L4: Belanger-Eager-Petrell
- D1: Smid-Petry
- D2: Whitney-J Schultz
- D3: N Schultz-Potter
- G1: Dubnyk
The audition for Krueger was twofold–they tried to get Hartikainen in a good spot for success, but they also had a veteran 4line that boasted Eager and he is a guy who remains in the mix for this season.
So, since MacT left as coach, the guys coming in auditioned (by my count) JF Jacques, Ryan Stone, Eager and Hartikainen, with a total of zero of them working out. Is that fair? Remember, we’re looking for a guy to establish himself here, to become Penner without the offer sheet (and of course the coach has to be able to go through a day without fantasizing about killing him) and to play with skill.
Well, a big man who can pass and take a pass, go to the tough areas, and add to the group is useful. Quoting Tom Benjamin:
- It is very difficult to score off an offensive zone cycle without getting a player to the front of the net. That is a hockey truism that is not a myth.
I agree with that, but it’s also true (and Benjamin lays it out beautifully here) it has to work in order to have sustain and NHL teams spend gobs of time and money trying to get these damn things to mesh. The Oilers have had no sustain in this area save Penner (and Smyth before him) to the point where a haggard Smyth may still be the best remaining option.
WHO DID WELL LAST NIGHT?
- Jesse Joensuu: a goal, an assist and 5 shots on goal–good things all for a guy on a 2-year, one way deal with the big club. 16:22 last night and I think you could make a case he was the best forward on the ice.
- Ryan Hamilton: an assist, 18:59 on ice and from all reports he did fine (skating may be an issue, but that’s the case with everyone in this group of Oilers this fall).
- Ryan Smyth: scored a Smytty goal, skated hard, worked like a bugger. I love Ryan Smyth.
WHO HAS THE INSIDE TRACK?
Joensuu to my eye. He was strong on the puck, his goal was the kind of tally Edmonton will need in addition to the beauties, and he can take and make a pass. I’m not saying Joensuu is going to play on the top 6F, but he’s going to get a roster spot if he keeps playing like this and sooner or later someone is going to suggest him as a PP option for blocking out the sun in front of the net.
This isn’t over.