It was a good start for the Oilers last night, with a pre-season win over the Calgary Flames. Patrick O’Sullivan scored twice for Edmonton, and Shawn Horcoff added an empty-net goal to seal the deal. Oiler fans will be thrilled to see O’Sullivan contribute, as he didn’t look comfortable last season in Edmonton. Playing with Horcoff and Hemsky this year could bring out the best in him.
Followers of the Oilers training camp will note that there is a significant battle going on for four of the roster forward positions. While nine forwards seem to have a lock on making the team, as many as eleven players are battling for the final four positions. The following in an analysis of the team, as Training Camp currently sits.
Forwards – Based on 13 Forwards starting with the team.
Definitely In (9): Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Ethan Moreau, Fernando Pisani, Patrick O’Sullivan, Mike Comrie
On The Bubble (11): Robert Nilsson, Jordan Eberle, Zack Stortini, Robbie Schremp, Gilbert Brule, Liam Reddox, Marc Pouliot, JF Jacques, Steve MacIntyre, Chris Minard, Ryan Potulny
Synopsis – Both Brule and Schremp have two-way deals, so they will more than likely start the season with Springfield. Robert Nilsson has thus far impressed at camp, and he bulked up adding 12 pounds of muscle in the off-season. Storini brings size and grit, with some scoring ability, so it is safe to assume he’ll be with the club beginning the season.
Assuming Nilsson and Stortini make the team, the Oilers have at most two open roster spots. While who makes it is anyone’s guess at this point, the Oilers forward squad is overall small compared to other NHL teams. Players like Jacques, MacIntyre and Brule may have an advantage for this reason.
Projected forward lines once the season begins:
O’Sullivan – Horcoff – Hemsky
Penner – Gagner – Comrie
Nilsson – Cogliano – Pisani
Moreau – Brule – Stortini
Eberle will be returned to the WHL. While he looked great at the rookie camp, he has struggled at main camp. Schremp, Reddox, Jacques, Minard, Pouliot and Potulny will all be sent to the AHL. MacIntyre could start with the team as their enforcer and 13th forward, because the Oilers will need his size and fists at some point. The Oilers will try to deal Schremp, Jacques and Pouliot before sending them down, as all could be considered failed draft picks that could benefit from a fresh start elsewhere. I must admit I feel for Schremp; under the right circumstances and with an honest opportunity he could become a decent scorer.
Defense – Based on 7 Defensemen starting with the team.
Definitely In (7): Sheldon Souray, Lubo Visnovsky, Laddy Smid, Steve Staios, Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, Jason Strudwick
On the Bubble: No one. This being said, Visnovsky is still not 100% healthy from last season, and Theo Peckham, who might be the eighth defenseman on the team, is dealing with an ankle injury. Taylor Chorney might see ice time in Edmonton due to the injuries.
Goaltenders – Based on 2 starting with the team.
Definitely In (2): Nikolai Khabibulin, Jeff DesLauriers
Conclusion: Edmonton will have limited cap room if the roster turns out as suggested above. That being said, there would only be enough room for a rental player come trade deadline time, and not enough to add someone immediately. The Oilers have depth on defense that might result in a forward being added – However, the forward lines as they currently sit all have potential. Penner and Nilsson worked hard in the off season to get into shape, and Comrie’s addition adds offense. All four forward lines are capable of scoring goals, and few NHL teams can say that.
O’Sullivan loves to shoot the puck, so he might have a great season playing with Horcoff and Hemsky. If Penner plays with a little anger in his game, he’ll open up ice for Comire and Gagner to dangle with the puck. Players from the second and third line are fairly interchangeable, as Nilsson can play all forward positions, and Cogliano and Gagner will be tried on the wings if pucks aren’t going in. Look for Penner to get power play time this season, trying to fill the role Ryan Smyth once had, sitting in front of the goaltender, banging in garbage rebound goals.
On defense, the Oilers have one of the most mobile squads in the league. If a defenseman is traded before the season begins, I’d like to see Staios be the player who is moved. At $2.7mil cap hit, he is an expensive #5 d-man, and is starting to show his age. Alex Plante has thus far impressed in camp, and could be the surprise this season. He could move up the depth chart ahead of Chorney or Peckham, and find himself playing for the Oilers if someone gets moved. It’s hard to say how bad the injuries to Peckham or Visnovsky are, and if they will miss playing time once the season begins.
The least concerning position at this point is in goal, as the Oilers know exactly what they are getting in The Bulin Wall. Oiler fans haven’t seen a goalie on their team this good since Cujo was in his prime.
The overall sense of the players right now is one of confidence and optimism. The Oilers just might surprise some teams this year, as they seem to have balance and depth that few teams can match. However, the Oilers are young and somewhat bipolar. One early losing streak could snowball and kill the whole season.