Edmonton - December 1, 2011 - With the month of November now in the books, it's time to look back at the month that was and dish out my monthly report card. Each players rating will be based on their performance from opening night up to and including the teams last game on November 30th. Today the spotlight will be on the Oilers forwards and coaching staff. While Friday's post will focus on the defence and goaltenders.
Eric Belanger The centre continues being all-world in the faceoff circle (%) and penalty kill but his output upfront has literally been non-existent. Twenty five games into his first season as an Oiler and Belanger has all of six assists.Brutal. Needs To Work On: Not squezzing his stick to tightly. I have no doubt he's frustrated with how things have gone on the score sheet for him but his main purspose on this team, is to win draws and help out the penalty kill. If he allows his struggles upfront to effect what he does well, the Oilers will have a huge problem on their hands.
Ben Eager - Saying Eager has been a disappointment would be an understatement. The rugged winger has looked nothing like the player Edmonton thought they were getting. Eager has always been a crash and bang guy with great wheels. That's what makes his play so concerning. In his defence, the winger has dealt with lingering concussion symptoms earlier in the season and is currently battling a bad back. Needs To Work On: Getting healthy and start playing his game. He was brought in to be a physical presence and he's brought nothing to this point in the season.
Jordan Eberle - Eberle started the season off slowly but you could argue he has bee their best forward over the last month. He's now tied with Ryan Smyth with 24 points and trails Nugent-Hopkins by a single point for the team lead. The guy does very little wrong out on the ice and he you can see the confidence growing in him with each games he plays. Needs To Work On: While he has improved on his play in the Oilers end, there is till work to do. Once he solidifies his positional play in the defensive zone, Eberle could very well be Edmonton's best all around forward.
Sam Gagner - Having now played seventeen games, you would have to say, Gagner having zero goals and only six assists on the season, as a disappointment. To be fair, he hasn't exactly been put in situations to be successful but as a player.you have to find a way to contribute. He seems to be coming around and hopefully the points start coming, now that he has finally been moved off the third line. Gagner needs to play with skilled players in order to be a ore effective player. Needs To Work On: He continues making poor decisions with the puck in his own end, Nashville's winner on Monday night being the perfect example, and it has to stop. If Gagner wants to see more ice time, he has to prove to the coaching staff he won't be a liability in his own end.
Taylor Hall - Much like Eberle, Taylor Hall got off to a slow start but started to find his game lately. Unfortunately, his latest injury will keep him out of the lineup for the next few weeks and the Oilers will suffer because of it. Even when Hall struggles, he has the ability to bring a certain level of intensity to the game and the team as a whole feeds off it. The kid is a special player. Needs To Work On: Hall must learn to play at different speeds and use his linemates more effectively. For whatever reason, he seems to play a much more controlled game when he is with Hemsky, which will be a big help to the talented winger. Secondly, he has to do a better job of protecting himself when he gets hit. The way Taylor plays the game, he is going to take hits. That being said, he now needs to learn how to absorb them so he doesn't get killed.
Ales Hemsky - Has looked very good at times and downright awful on other occasions. His play has been far to inconsistent and I feel he has become frustrated with secondary power play time. Hemsky has been passed on this team as the number one option on the PP by players better suited for the role and he has to accept that. That being said, with Hall now out of the lineup, they either have to move Hemmer to that top unit or ensure he will have better players, then Eric Belanger, to play with on the second unit, Needs To Work On: Shooting the puck still remains an issue and it's something that will probably never change. If he could just learn to shoot a little more, it would make things so much easier for him and the team would be far better off. Ales needs to stayed engaged on a nightly basis and prove to the Oilers that he wants to part of the future or to other teams that he has consistency in his game, if they are looking to acquire him via trade.
Shawn Horcoff - The captain has returned to his previous form and not surprisingly, the Oilers are better team for it. He still plays far too many minutes but that is out of his control. Horcoff was a nice fit on the top power play unit with the kids, as a net presence but with Hall out of the lineup, that setup needs to be revamped Needs To Work On: Horcoff is starting to give up the puck with far more frequency but I attribute much of that to playing too many minutes.There is very little that Horc has done poorly this season, when he has been fresh. It's when he tires that mistakes start to occur.
Darcy Hordichuk - With the little amount of game time Hordichuk has received this season, he's been fairly effective. Darcy understands his role but because he plays such limited minutes, it can be difficult for him to get the message to the opposition. Needs To Work On: Staying healthy and ensuring teams do not take liberties with the kids. He needs to the stir the pot and get in the grill of the oppositions best players, when the opportunity presents itself.
Ryan Jones - Number 28 just keeps doing what he does. Jones isn't the most talented player on the team but you could argue that no one player works harder...and that includes Ryan Smyth. Jones has been used all over the lineup and at times has been less effective because of it. Though that is not the players fault, in any way shape or form. Needs To Work On: Honestly, with Jones' game being what it is, the only thing he can realistically improve on is his finish and over committing in the his own end. There isn't much one can expect from Jones that he doesn't already bring to the table.
Anton Lander - The youngster has had his moments but for the most part, he has been nothing more then average. He continues to work hard but playing 8-10 minutes a night on the fourth line, doesn't do him any good. He needs time to develop and at some point, should find his way down to the AHL. Needs To Work On: Lander can't do much more then he is at this point and should really be playing for the Barons. I was hoping Lander would push for the third line centre role next season but if he doesn't get time to develop, that won't be happening.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - What can be said about the kid that hasn't been said already. RNH is tied for fourth in league scoring and with each passing game, he is becoming more comfortable. His vision out on the ice is second to none on this team and he is the best passer on the team and by a very large margin. In two short months, the Nugent-Hopkins has not only transformed the clubs top line but has managed to turn the PP into the fourth best unit in the league. Needs To Work On: At this moment, not much...maybe convincing the coaching staff to play him a few more minutes on a nightly basis. Grade: A+
Linus Omark - Linus accepted his demotion to Oklahoma City and instantly put up points. Unfortunately, he broke his ankle and will be out for sometime. Needs To Work On: When he gets back into the lineup, hopefully Omark can continue to score and find his way back to the NHL.
Ryan O'Marra - He played his first game last night against the Wild and looked alright. Tough to say how long he'll be here but his role is simple. When draws, play hard and bang some bodies.
Magnus Paajarvi - The sophomore slump continues for the young Swede as he sits with a single point, in twenty one games. At this point, confidence is an issue but he needs to given a chance to play with better players. If he doesn't turn things around before Taylor Hall returns from injury, a trip down to Oklahoma City might be in the cards for the youngster. Needs To Work On: The same thing thing as last month: "Going hard to the net and corners and engaging in one on one battles. The talented winger would get a whole lot more accomplished if he would raise his compete level. He has the game to be a difference maker but the drive to want to be a go to guy is still not there".
Lennart Petrell - The shot blocking machines play has leveled off lately but has still been very good in his role. He has been the only Oiler forward to consistently play a physical game this season. Petrell continues to be solid on the penalty kill but has seen his time on the kill reduced. Needs To Work On: As long as Petrell is working hard and doing what the coaching staff needs from him, he's doing his job. While his role is limited, he needs to focus on making an impact every night...in whatever fashion needed.
Ryan Smyth - While the veteran has been fantastic this season, I feel this coaching staff are asking for far too much out of him. Smyth is tied for 14th in league scoring but has shown signs of tiring in recent games. Yet, he continues to play twenty plus minutes a night. Has fit in nicely on a line with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle while being the leader everyone was expecting him to be. Needs To Work On: Apparently, Smyth needs to let the coaching staff know he's fatigued or they are going to play him into the ground.
Tom Renney and his staff continue to works wonders with this young Oilers team. When you consider the number of young players this team has in major roles plus the injuries the club has suffered this season, there 12-10-3 record is excellent. The Oilers have used a smoke and mirrors act on the backend for the entire season and to the coaching staffs credit, they have made it work. They have convinced the players to buy into a more committed defensive game. It's something they will have to do, if they want to be a contender down the road. The foundation is being built to what should become a special team in the not to distant future.
The team currently sits with the fourth best power play in the league and the ninth best penalty kill. When you consider how bad this team has been in recent years on the special teams, the turn around is almost unimaginable. Yes they have better players in these roles, especially on the power play, but special teams are an area that coaches can have a huge impact on and obviously the Oilers staff has made an impact.
Need To Work On: This coaching staff has had two challenges all season long. Number one is playing their vets far too many minutes. I understand why they lean on the likes of Horcoff, Smyth and to a lesser degree, Belanger but it's the wrong way go. They have a ton of options at their disposal and can still play those guys major minutes without over doing it, like they have to this point in the season. No forward on this team should be playing twenty minutes on a nightly basis and both Horcoff and Smyth have averaged more then twenty minutes a night. Second, they sometimes have taken far too long to change thing up when they are not working. The broke up the kid line almost two weeks later then they should have. The trio clearly hit a wall but they continued to go with them after it was apparent a change was needed. Another example is having Eric Belanger at the point on the power play. He's been poor all season long on the PP but he remains there for some reason. It's not like they don't have defencemen that can play back there and Belanger hasn't produced a thing. They have to be able to adapt quicker and be willing to change things up when it's not working.