Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Perceived Line Combos: Oilers January 2013

Alrighty, time to fire this baby back up and get ready for another (albeit shorter) season. NHL Lockout put a damper on the spirit of hockey but hockey lives in all of us and it won't be long before we are back in the swing of things.

As for the Edmonton Oilers, renewed optimism has set in as is usually the case at any season's beginning. This Oilers club feels different with the likes of Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov joining the young guns. The excitement surely should follow. We'll have to wait and see if there will be enough wins or if the Oilers will miss the playoffs for the 7th straight year.

We'll have a look at how the Oilers might shakedown.

1st Line:
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Nail Yakupov
- It's critical that Yakupov hits the ground running. The more comfort Yakupov feels, the more he is likely to produce. Will have to deal with the ups and downs that comes with any rookie new to the NHL, but I think this is a better idea than have him wallowing at the bottom of the lineup. This line will be a boom and bust line so its critical to make sure the bottom of the order is sorted out and roles are defined in short order. Hall will be Hall, Nuge will be Nuge, we know what to expect from those two, but we pray for no injuries on that front. Interesting combination as they are all 1st overall picks.

2nd Line:
Jordan Eberle - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky
- 1st line has three left handed shots, 2nd line has 3 right handed shots. Interesting dynamic, but it leads to the possibility of quick shooting plays in the offensive zone. Ales Hemsky needs a triggerman and what better player than have Eberle be that guy. Eberle is a player that can fit in up and down the lineup and still produce. Eberle just ripped apart the AHL so he should be ready to roll. Gagner will have to continue to morph his game into more of a shooter as Hemsky figures to be the player that carries the rock most of the time. The key to success might be having a 2nd line that can score consistantly. The Oilers need to find a way to win a matchup and having Eberle's experience/skill blend could be that trump card. The biggest concern is how light and how non-physical this top six is. Winning puck battles will be a concern.

3rd Line:
Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Ryan Jones
- This line will be under the most amount of scrutiny because its a line the Oilers need to succeed the most in order to even think that playoffs are a possibility. It's a line that will be doing the heavy lifting and gettinga close look at opposing top lines. Keep it simple hockey is required here. Keep the puck moving forward and working hard in trenches, pushing the puck towards the opposing net. Essentially there role is to eat time. Kind of like having a running game in football lingo. Ryan Jones may have an eye injury that may keep him from starting the season. Lennert Petrell may have to sub in for the duration.

4th Line:
Magnus Paajarvi - Anton Lander - Ben Eager
- After years of observing, I know how the Oilers conduct their business and I have a hard time believing they will make Eric Belanger a healthy scratch. I would but I know they wouldn't. Paajarvi and Lander got left behind in OKC when the wonder kids got called up once the lockout was over, leaving me thinking they will be staying there once the season starts. I'd have them on the club because I think they are better options now and heading into the future. Todd Nelson has done a nice job of getting those two to buy into a more defensive/PK style game. Ben Eager gets to ride shotgun with these two. A chance for Eager to play with more skill, in return Eager needs to put his body on the line more for the Oilers. If Eager slips up, I wouldn't hesitate to put Hordichuk in the lineup.

Darcy Hordichuk - Eric Belanger - Lennert Petrell
- These are the extras although it could very well be that all of them could be in the starting lineup by season's start. With Jones' return up in the air and Paajarvi and Lander still in OKC, I wouldn't be surprised if all 3 were in right off the bat. I'm not sure the Oilers are any better if these three players are in the lineup.

1st Pairing:
Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
- This is the sink or swim pair. This is the pair that I would be feeding to vultures night in and night out. Heaviest lifting and toughest matchups for these two. Might be a little soon to try Jeff Petry in thos role but he's the option on the right side and has the right frame tools to be able to handle it. The Oilers cannot handle a regression from Smid. He broke through last season as a legitimate shutdown defenseman as he led the Oilers in block shots and hits. He will continue to lead in both departments for the Oilers to have success.

2nd Pairing:
Ryan Whitney - Justin Schultz
- Whitney gets the task of looking after Justin Schultz as he breaks in the NHL. J. Schultz ate up the AHL offensively but struggled at times with the defensive side of the game. Ryan Whitney struggled last season as he was dealing with ankle issues and questions on whether his mobility will ever be the same again. It's a pairing that could end up heaviliy in the minus, or really feast on 2nd tier competition. I'm more worried about Whitney rebounding than Schultz emerging. For this to work, Whitney will have to be chomping at the bit to go. Otherwise, the Oilers may have to dip into the depths of their defense which at this stage is very thin.

3rd Pairing:
Theo Peckham - Nick Schultz
- With Andy Sutton potential on the shelf for good recouperating from knee surgery, It will leave Peckham and Nick Schultz as the 5/6 Dmen for now. The Oilers may be looking for a veteran Dman to bridge the gap in order for some of the OKC prospects to get more seasoning. I brought up the name Mike Commodore as a vet who is looking for a team. He and Schultz could make a decent bottom pairing that could do some PK work, at least until the likes of players like Colten Teubert, Taylor Fedun and Martin Marincin are ready for primetime.

Andy Sutton, Corey Potter - I expect the Oilers to make a move by bringing in a Dman.

Devan Dubnyk
- Sink or swim time for not so young anymore Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk is the player that can mask all the deficiencies of this club in one felt swoop. But there is a difference in "playing well in a win" and "having to steal games" as I think Dubnyk will fall into the latter category. If Dubnyk can survive the shortened season as the starter, he will likely be stronger for it.

Nikolai Khabibulin
- Word around the water cooler is Khabibulin dealing with a hip/leg issue. One that has him mulling retirement. I'm thinking if he can still stand, he'll likely still be around. He has one more year left on his deal. It'll be very bad Dubnyk and likely bad for the club if Khabibulin gets more starts in than Dubnyk does.

Eberle - Nugent-Hopkins - Hall
J.Schultz - Petry
- A slightly different wrinkle to the powerplay they ran last season. Eberle plays closer to net on the left side while Schultz takes up his old spot. Petry plays the point on the umbrella setup. Hall mans the lower right side of the ice. The Nuge sets up in his usual spot on the half wall on the right side. Hall and Eberle will have to dart in and out of the low slot in order to create traffic for point shots coming through and potential for picking up rebounds. A unit that requires a lot of movement.

Hemsky - Gagner - Yakupov
Whitney - Paajarvi
- Same setup as PP1 but flowing right to left instead of left to right. Hemsky sets up on the left side half wall as usual. Gagner takes up the low side left side of the unit, while Yakupov sets up on the low right side. Whitney plays the top of the umbrella and Paajarvi plays on the opposite side of Hemsky on the right side awaiting one timers. If Paajarvi doesn't make the club, then the Oilers may have to go with Smid or Nick Schultz, or......Eric Belanger like they did last season?

Smyth - Horcoff
Peckham - N.Schultz
- This is where a Mike Commodore would come in handy and he does block a lot of shots. But this will have to do. Smyth and Horcoff need to be meat and potatoes type players. Need good reads from them but also need a high battle level. Peckham and N.Schultz just need to battle and get in the way.

Paajarvi - Lander
Smid - Petry
- The Oilers need more speed on their PK and Paajarvi could be that threat that other teams have to respect. The overall unit is a bit young and may get burned a time or two but they may also get their chances. I put Smid and Petry on the 2nd unit so to not overburden them with icetime. As it is Petry may end up playing 25 minutes a night.

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