Edmonton - May 16, 2014 - As of this moment the Edmonton Oilers top six forwards consists of Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, David Perron and Nail Yakupov.
That said, if we are to take general manager Craig MacTavish at his word and do a little bit of reading between the lines, there will be at least one, if not two, different names as permanent fixtures on his first two lines
That leaves seven spots for the likes of Mark Arcobello, Luke Gazdic, Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks, Anton Lander and possibly Tyler Pitlick to find their niche upfront.
By the sounds of it, building a third line with a little more offensive punch will be a priority during the upcoming off-season, meaning Arcobello and Gordon will be the only two with a realistic shot at holding onto a regular spot inside the top nine.
In a perfect world, the organization may want to use the former Phoenix Coyote as a fourth line centre but that may not be in the cards in 2014-15.
Hendricks is all but guaranteed one of those slots, while Gazdic could very well find himself in the same boat…albeit in more of a 13th forward role as opposed to being in the starting lineup on nightly basis. Now there are those who don’t have much use for the Oilers tough guy or Mr. Hendricks but the fact both MacT and head coach Dallas Eakins see a use for such players makes it a moot point.
That leaves us with four available spots and the names of Arcobello and Lander still floating about. While both are capable of earning a NHL job next season, one has to wonder if that is even something the organization is seriously considering. Would changing up two spots in the Oilers bottom six really be enough to have any sort of meaningful impact on this squad come next October? On the surface you would have to say no but if the GM were able to find the right couple of pieces to add to the mix, be it via trade or free agency, it might not be so cut and dry.
In my mind, Arcobello has a legitimate opportunity at becoming a regular fixture on Edmonton’s third line...just not down the middle of the rink. With all due respect to the former Yale University grad, this team is ill-equipped to run with a pair of small centres on their top three lines. With Nugent-Hopkins going nowhere and Gagner likely on his way out of town, due in large part to being defensively inept and small in stature, adding an even smaller centre into the mix is probably not on this general manager’s do-to-list.
If anything, using a player with Arcobello’s skill-set on the wing could be a blessing in disguise. Having a guy with his two-way ability in your back pocket, in case of injury and/or slump, would have to make the diminutive American a very attractive option. Could a trio of Arco, Gordon and a body from outside the organization, perhaps someone like a Nikolai Kulemin or David Moss, not work as a third line?
Again, while some may be in a big hurry to bump #27 down the depth chart, how many $3 million + bottom six forwards do you honestly believe a roster can handle? Now they could go out and acquire a player like Marcel Goc for less money but he brings no more offence to the table than Gordon.
A fourth line centred by Lander with a combination of Hendricks and a free agent signing or Pitlick, with Gazdic waiting in the wings, could work very nicely in the short-term. It would allow the organization a chance to use Lander in an actual role and not just a fill in. The Oilers need to find out what they have in the former second round pick and until he truly gets that opportunity, they will never know.
Is it a perfect solution? No but it would have to be an improvement on what Dallas Eakins had at his disposal in 2013-14. At this stage of the re-build, there is no question the Edmonton Oilers need to improve their roster from top to bottom. However, let’s not kid ourselves...this team will only be as good as their goaltending, blueline and top two lines permit them to be. The rest is nothing more than window dressing.