Edmonton - October 7, 2014 - The announcements made on Sunday by the Oilers brass have come under fire for a number of reasons, and rightfully so.
By sending down a guy like Martin Marincin, who spent a majority of the season with the big club in 2013-2014, and by keeping around a guy like Will Acton or Brad Hunt, who on the flipside spent a majority of their season in Oklahoma City, questions are bound to be asked. In this basement-blogger’s eyes, the only real answer is that the Oilers preseason is extending into the regular season.
The Oilers would be smart to give the potential future matchups and line combinations another look, especially when other teams starting Thursday night, will be dressing the team that has the best chance to win. Looking at the Oilers season opener against the Calgary Flames, the projected lines tell me that Edmonton may not be employing the same strategy.
Looking at the forwards, it is painfully obvious that the Oilers center depth is a huge concern, and makes one wonder why MacT was so ready to move Sam Gagner without a fallback to at least occupy the top 6. Having Leon Draisaitl in the opening night roster makes a lot of sense, I will support that decision, but is he really ready to take on the big and mean men of the western conference after spending the last few seasons playing against the boys of the WHL? I think that it’s important to see what 55 can give the Oilers in a regular season matchup, but if they are serious about developing him PROPERLY, he should not see a single game in an Oilers uniform come November.
The same can be said for Darnell Nurse, who may be back with the OHL Greyhounds as soon as Nikita Nikitin is healthy enough to suit up in his top 4 role. The difference between Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse is that Nurse has a chance to blow everyone’s expectations out of the water. If Darnell Nurse plays in his 9 allotted games before going back the SSM, and emphatically earns the top-pairing defenceman role, then there should be no more discussion, and his NHL career should begin.
In my mind however, Nurse has some things to learn about the pace of the NHL, and would benefit from some time in Oklahoma City with Todd Nelson, before he has a regular spot in Edmonton. That would mean 1 more year in junior and spending some of the 2015-2016 season in the minors before making his NHL debut, a prospectus that Oilers fans undoubtedly hate.
So if the Edmonton Oilers are committed to the proper development of players, and they do in fact send down Darnell Nurse, and Leon Draisaitl for the 2014-2015 season, after a few games, I think it is safe to say that there are some holes that need to be filled. First, with Nikitin back, the blueline is dressed, but still not the best, expect a Martin Marincin call up around that time, if he hasn’t been involved in a trade.
Next, Arcobello on line 2, Gordon on line 3, Acton on line 4 doesn’t sound like something I would want to watch every other night, expect the Oilers to experiment with Benoit Pouliot and David Perron at the center position. Both have offered the information that they would be willing to play in the middle. If that doesn’t work out, MacT will be forced to make a trade, a call up (Khaira or Yakimov), or a signing that would fill that void down the middle, something I am amazed he has yet to do.
I can hear the critics already. “Why would the Oilers send down Draisiaitl only to leave a gaping hole? They need him!” Yes, the Oilers DO need a center, however Leon Draisaitl needs more time before he is ready to be that center. In an otherwise meaningless season, where Goaltending and top 3 point production is the only thing the Oilers have in their arsenal, there is no reason in the world to throw the 3rd overall pick to the wolves of the west.
Let him learn the game. Let him go back to the WHL with the knowledge that his career will begin in Edmonton, and his coaches and staff can prepare him for that. You play in the NHL to win the Stanley Cup. You play in the CHL to play in the NHL. Something all Oilers fans should have written in their bathroom mirror.
The other thing that is hard to consider because it’s never a guarantee, yet it always occurs is injuries. Injuries to the forwards, injuries to the back-end, are all going to result in several call-ups this season, and I see guys like Steve Pinnizotto, Tyler Pitlick, Brad Hunt, Martin Gernat, and Mitch Moroz all getting at least a few looks as guys get taped up for the pressbox.
With all of that in mind, the Oilers top 9 forwards in no particular order should look something like this.
Yakupov-Arcobello-Pitlick, Pinnizotto, call up, or trade acquisition
With the defense looking something like this.
A somewhat different lineup from what is projected Thursday night to say the least.
So does that mean that the Oilers are treating the opener against Calgary as an extension of the preseason? Certainly not literally. However with the additional look at Draisaitl and Nurse, the assignment of the best possession D-man from last season, and the inevitable experiments in place to try to get Nail Yakupov scoring, one could argue that other teams will have these kinds of things figured out before season-opening puck drop.
It begs the question, “Are the Oilers going to adopt a lackadaisical attitude towards the 2014-2015 campaign?” I will never be a fan of tanking, but I have also never been a fan of a team that struggles to win as much as the Oilers (not true, Jacksonville Jaguars season ticket holder). The Connor McDavid draft class has 3 guys that would qualify as first overall talent in previous years, so is one more top 5 pick worth it? The team’s desire to win cannot be questioned just yet, but their inability to dress the best team should be, and by the time November is upon us, we will likely know if the Oilers are in the hunt for playoffs, or in the hunt for McDavid.
Feel free to disagree with me on twitter @Jthompson2380