The Edmonton Oilers are 2-2 so far in pre-season, with some interesting performances–good and bad–clouding the possible opening night roster. Tonight, we’lre going to see 14 guys who are likely to make the final cut and another 8 who are on the bubble. Let’s have a look.
- Hall-Smyth-Hemsky: This has been a line for long enough I think we can talk about it actually happening opening night. I wonder if they might slip Yakupov or Perron into Smyth’s slot sometime this week, but the Hall-Hemsky chem is real and spectacular. Smyth’s footspeed is going to be a problem, and Yakupov is available for elevation tonight.
- Gagner-Perron-Eberle: I don’t like the Gagner-Eberle combination intuitively because they are so similar, but Eakins must see something he likes here. Perron is a fascinating player to watch, certainly gives the team a gear they didn’t have one year ago. I think this could be a line opening night, although for me Gagner-Yakupov was interesting in Winnipeg and it would be nice to see it again.
- Khaira-R Hamilton-Yakupov: A nice push for the kid Khaira, if he could keep up with Yakupov I’d be over the moon. More likely, this line won’t last long and you’ll see Yak City with the high end skill guys. Hamilton continues to get a push.
- Acton-Jones-Brown: This could be a 4line opening night and I don’t think people would be overly surprised. Acton looks good but his results (faceoffs, etc) don’t match the saw him good storyline. Parkatti’s game stats the other night saw him bad and I don’t think he’s grabbed the job. Jones is a guy I have making the roster, he’ll be able to help the 3 and 4 line scoring and could jump up in a pinch. Brown seems to be less impressive to those who clamor for this player type than he was a year ago, I’m not certain why. Either way, I expect he makes the final roster.
- Nurse-Petry: Coach Dallas Eakins was quoted this morning as saying Nurse is “definitely getting better every day… His job is to keep screwing up our plans” and that seems about right. Nurse at 22 is pretty much exactly what this team needs, but things can look one way in a small window and those things can disappear over the long haul. The Oilers–in my opinion–are at least thinking about it based on the players he’s been paired with this TC. I still believe they’ll send him out, but at this point a 9-game look is possible. Petry is old reliable without actually being old–Prendergast gets no credit for it but that was an outstanding draft pick, one of his very best.
- Grebeshkov-Belov: The feature pairing tonight, Grebs because we need to see if he flags again after 30 minutes, and Belov because we’ve never seen him before. I’ll want to see how mobile Belov is, along with passing ability and that big shot, too. Fun stuff.
- Fedun-Hunt: Interesting pairing, I think this duo probably gets the heave-ho after the game or early next week. Still, they’ve shown very well and Fedun specifically has given the organization a reason to think he could handle a mid-season callup. Hunt entered as something of an unknown, now he’s reminding old timers like me of men like Reijo Ruotsalainen. There’s nothing wrong with his creativity.
- LaBarbera-Rimmer: Fascinating choice for backup, this kid Rimmer must really have impressed them. LaBarbera has enjoyed a strong TC so far, I can’t say that’s a surprise. Rimmer is slated to play the second half of the game–HNIC, national television. So cool.
I think what we’re seeing in tonight’s lineup is the final showing for several players. During training camp I’ve split the players into three categories, let’s have a look at those lists with men playing tonight underlined:
THE CERTAIN OILERS (17)
- Goalies (2) Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera
- Defensemen (5) Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid, Justin Schultz and Andrew Ferense, Nick Schultz
- Centermen (3) Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (inj), Sam Gagner, Boyd Gordon
- Left Wing (3) David Perron, Jesse Joensuu, Ryan Smyth
- Right Wing (4) Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Jones
I believe all of the starters tonight in this category are certain roster players. Sure, you could create a scenario where Ryan Jones doesn’t make the team, but is that realistic? So too with Ryan Smyth, it doesn’t really make sense. If they struggle for a month, it’s a different story.
THE UNCERTAIN OILERS (15)
- Goalies (none)
- Defensemen (7): Anton Belov, Denis Grebeshkov, Corey Potter, Phil Larsen, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Taylor Fedun
- Center (4): Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello, Will Acton, Andrew Miller
- Left Wing (3): Linus Omark, Ryan Hamilton, Ben Eager
- Right Wing (1): Mike Brown
This is the heart of the matter. Three defensemen playing tonight trying for two (or three) roster spots and the race for those jobs is as clear as mud this afternoon. A strong effort by any of these three could impact the players not on the ice tonight, and I do think the Russians have an inside track on the 6-7 jobs (don’t know what order). This could be the last game for Fedun before heading south. Among the forwards, this is a big night for Acton–he must be close–and you can say the same thing about Hamilton (I think he pretty much has a job now). Mike Brown probably makes the team.
THE OUTSIDERS (8)
- Goalies (4): Richard Bachman,
Olivier Roy, Tyler Bunz, Ty Rimmer
- Defensemen (6): Brad Hunt,
Martin Gernat, Brandon Davidson, David Musil, Darnell Nurse, Joey Leach
- Centermen (3): Ryan Martindale,
CJ Stretch, Travis Ewanyk
- Left Wing (5): Curtis Hamilton,
Austin Fyten, Kale Kessy, Mitchell Moroz,Jujhar Khaira
- Right Wing (4): Tyler Pitlick,
Matt Ford, Derek Nesbitt, Cameron Abney
I think there’s plenty of news in this category. Martindale and Hamilton are just waiting for the next wave of cuts, Pitlick may be in that group but he certainly played well enough to impress Eakins on some level. The guys playing tonight in this category could also be sent down tomorrow without a lot of fuss (Nurse’s performance aside).
G Richard Bachman, G Ty Rimmer, D Brad Hunt, D Darnell Nurse, C Ryan Martindale, L Curtis Hamilton, F Jujhar Khaira, R Tyler Pitlick, C Andrew Miller, C Anton Lander, L Linus Omark.