It's rare to have a high-profile rookie forward really emerge without a proven veteran on their line to share the ice time. Other than Alex Ovechkin in 2005-2006 and Tavares this past season, every other big name has had an experienced linemate to help guide them through the trials and tribulations of their rookie seasons. Crosby/Malkin had Recchi, Toews/Kane had Havlat, Stamkos had St. Louis, Duchene had Hejduk, and Backstrom had Ovechkin.
It's important to have veterans with established and predictable on-ice patterns and strategies. It allows you to match them with incoming rookies in order to complement their strengths and weaknesses as they enter the league. In Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, and Shawn Horcoff, the Oilers have three veterans who can be depended upon to consistently play their own unique brands of hockey - giving Coach Renney an opportunity to predict chemistry and piece together lines that would optimize the outputs from each of the youngsters.
***NOTE: I'm not saying these combinations will be put together for Game 1 of the upcoming season, or even for the majority of the season - I'm just speculating on potential chemistry between some of the vets and some of the younger players.
Ales HemskyPast Combinations:
As unpredictable as he may be with the puck on his stick, Hemsky does have some consistencies in his playing style. He loves to have the puck on his stick, and is the quintessential play-maker. He's a speed demon and loves to work off the rush. That being said, his board play is almost non-existent, and he's constantly relied on having workhorses playing in those dirty areas (Penner, Smyth, even Horcoff). He's slightly below-average defensively, but not having defensively reliable linemates hasn't stopped him from being part of a stellar line in the past (Penner-Gagner-Hemsky of 2009-2010).
For all his speed and playmaking, the obvious choice for Hemsky's left wing would be the LH-shooting Taylor Hall. Hall's speed, finishing touch, and ability to work the cycle at an NHL level (a claim based on his play with the Spitfires) make him more suited to play with Hemsky than any other of the youngsters. He would also be an upgrade over Shawn Horcoff to play the right side on the PP as the receiver of one-time set-ups from Hemsky.
That being said, there is a need for a workman, someone to fetch pucks along the boards and open up space for these two skill players at even strength - and the options for this vary based on whether Hall plays center or LW in his rookie season. Either way, the most likely option would be one of Penner/Horcoff, however if those 2 are occupied on other lines, the Oilers may look to have Gilbert Brule work with Hall and Hemsky, as his grit and strength have made him a surprisingly effective player along the boards during his young NHL career.
Dustin PennerPast Combinations:
Penner might be the only non-rookie lining up at LW in the Oilers' top-9 this upcoming season, but is the perfect complement for many of the Oilers' youngsters. He's got the speed to keep up with them on the rush, and the hockey sense to gel with them offensively. His immense size and strength make him excellent at retrieving and possessing the puck along the boards, as well as working the front of the net. Overall, his large presence is key in opening up space for more skilled players to operate in the offensive zone. He showed this past season the ability to be a slightly above-average defensive presence, as he started to use his size and hockey sense to aid his two-way play. He's a great finisher with the puck, and has developed a solid play-making game as well. More than any of the vets, I'd say he'd be the best player for any of the youngsters to work with this upcoming season.
The first youngster that comes to mind here is Jordan Eberle. As a guy whose biggest limitations at the NHL level will be his size and strength, Eberle would benefit greatly from having Penner on the ice to open up room and retrieve pucks in the offensive zone. His ability to be both a play-maker and a finisher would also help Eberle develop both of these facets as they develop chemistry. It also helps that he's slower than both MPS and Hall, making him a good linemate for an average skater like Eberle to have when attacking the offensive zone.
At center, the Oilers may look to have one of the three young non-rookies develop their game with Penner. Sam Gagner really improved his two-way game, strength and elusiveness last season, but would further benefit from having the space created by Penner's presence. His high hockey sense and primary role as a play-maker would also be a perfect complement to both Eberle and Penner. If Gagner is playing on another line, the Oilers may try to audition one of Gilbert Brule or Andrew Cogliano at center with Penner, as his ability to win face-offs could compensate for their troubles on the dot. Both are players who have shown offensive ability while playing with Penner in the past, and could once again benefit with a stint on his line.
Shawn HorcoffPast Combinations:
It's pretty simple with Shawn Horcoff: he's usually the last player entering the zone off the rush, and the first one speeding back on the back-check. Although not the best at it, he's willing to go into the corners and battle for the puck. What he's not capable of doing is holding onto the puck for extended periods of time in the offensive zone. What he's really good at is compensating for defensively weaker linemates with his strong 2-way play.
The ideal linemate for these two would be a puck-retriever, someone who could work his tail off along the boards and get it to one of them for a chance at offense. The Oilers have no real option at RW for such a player, but in a third-line role, may look to someone like Ryan Jones (naturally a LW) to do the dirty work. If Linus Omark were to make the team, the Oilers would likely be looking to have him work with someone like Horcoff as well, due to his tendency to hold onto the puck in the offensive zone, and his weaker defensive game.