|Jordan Eberle: The X-Factor on RW|
All three of Ales Hemsky, Jordan Eberle, and Linus Omark are primarily offensive players whose creativity and effectiveness would go to waste in a third-line role. All three are also incapable of handling the checking duties required by the third-line assignment on most contending teams. One of them is going to have to be moved if room is going to be made for an ideal 3rd line RW.
Solution: The answer is purely based on how high a potential the Oilers foresee for Jordan Eberle. If they think he is their future #1 RW, then it's time to move Ales Hemsky, an already-established #1RW, to address some other need. Linus Omark should then be given a fair chance at establishing himself as a #2 RW. If Eberle's potential seems limited to that of a #2RW, then it would be wise to keep Hemsky and use Omark as trade bait.
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: The Future #1C|
Anytime your top-2 centers are Sam Gagner and Shawn Horcoff, you are a team destined for disappointment. Horcoff is at best an effective 3C, while Sam Gagner has struggled to play the center position in the NHL since entering the league four years ago. To make things worse, both are below 50% in the face-off dot. The bottom-6 is even worse. Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule, and Colin Fraser all struggled with consistency and defensive play throughout the season, and other than Brule, were horrendous in the faceoff dot. Perhaps the only real effective showing at center thus far this season came from Chris Vandevelde, who played the 4th line C role quite effectively. He won face-offs, engaged physically, and showed a solid 2-way game.
Solution: A complete revamping of this team's center strategy.
1) Draft Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the 2011 #1 pick and establish him as the future #1C of this team in the next few years.
2) Hand Shawn Horcoff the reigns to the 3rd line for the forseeable future
3) Deal with Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano (look below)
4) Depending on other moves/transactions, sign a capable bottom-6 center who is dominant on faceoffs (Boyd Gordon, Scott Nichol, Zenon Konopka). They will be charged with a 3rd/4th line role depending on other lineup changes
At the very least, this gives the Oilers a solid base at center for the near future, while centers like Tyler Pitlick and Anton Lander develop in the minors. They will be the future 2nd-4th line C's of this team heading forward.
|Time's Up for Gagner|
Although Gagner's showed progress in how he manages the puck and plays the game, the glaring weaknesses are there: he's too small, too weak, and too slow. Although the great hockey sense and hands are there, it's not simply enough for him to overcome his physical shortcomings and become a true #1 center. He also doesn't possess the strong 2-way game and dependability most would like to see in a #2C. And he's definitely not cut out for a bottom-6 role.
Cogliano is in a different boat. He lacks the hockey sense, faceoff-ability, and hands to be an effective top-6 center, and lacks the size and strength to be an effective top-6 winger. Although his speed is a pure asset, he's not strong enough or defensively strong enough to play a solid bottom-6 checking/agitating role either.
Solution: The Oilers should cut their losses ASAP and deal Gagner and Cogliano before others around the league realize what most Oiler fans have already: they have no role on a contending franchise. The return could be used to address other pressing needs: defensive depth, a true #3 center, or even a package for a true #2 center.
|Ville Leino: a veteran answer|
Apart from Shawn Horcoff, and on occasion, Ales Hemsky, the Oilers don't have any veterans that can help mentor and develop their younger players. This was only too obvious this past season, when the "HOPE" rookies all struggled in their own end for most of the year. Having players like Horcoff and Hemsky as linemates helps provide some stability for these players as they learn the tricks and trades of the game.
Solution: The Oilers should have 3 sets of target players that on July 1 they should be gunning for, with the aim at grabbing 1-2 of the following:
1) Reliable ~45 point support players - Ville Leino, Brooks Laich
2) Reliable ~35 point top-9 players - Scottie Upshall, Raffi Torres, Sean Bergenheim, Joel Ward
3) Reliable ~20 point bottom-6 players - Drew Miller, Adam Hall
Assuming they draft RNH and pick up Leino/Upshall and Konopka, I'd like to see this at some point this season (there's no way Sam Gagner gets traded for a while):