Ten games have gone by and if the playoffs started today the Oilers would be in, but it hasnt been an easy road and the club is sliding faster than a Yakupov goal celebration.
After ten we can see a few trends that we should all keep an eye on as Oilers fans. Very early in the season we were shown exactly why Nail Yakupov went #1 Overall in the latest entry draft. Yakupov has been playing left wing for the Oilers despite, I think, the fact that he is probably more dynamic from the right side (watch the highlights from the last game). Nonetheless Yakupov has been able to show off his ridiculous hand eye coordination, his unique one-timer, and his unabashed passion for the game of hockey.
Yakupov is a breath of fresh air. He loves hockey, he loves to score goals, and he doesnt care if we know it. He is quickly becoming one of my favourite players and the fact that he’s leading the Oilers in goal scoring isnt even the top reason. What an exciting player to watch. The celebration that made Don Cherry lose his shit will be imprinted on my memory for a long time.
The fans in Anaheim (All 700 of them) are going to hate the Oilers for a generation. The kid is special. As a 22 year old rookie he is leading the Oilers Defense in Ice Time, Scoring, and has a +1 rating while the rest of the group is a combined -20. He is absolutely fearless about jumping up in the play and he has all the skills to take advantage of the opportunities that come up when he does. What an acquisition this guy has been. I wont give any credit for that signing to Tambellini other than to acknowledge that the poor management of the club resulted in landing so many good young players via the draft that it tipped the scales in Edmonton’s favour. I shudder to think where the Oil would be without him.
The Oilers’ organization wide lack of depth at the Center position has been exposed by injury. Nuge is out with soreness in his shoulder, Horcoff broke his knuckle blocking a shot, Belanger cut his foot up blocking another shot, and yesterday Lander ended up with Bone Bruise in his foot after taking a puck off the boots. Obviously no team is going to look good when 4/5 of their top Centers go down with injury, but the Oilers have been weak at that position for a long time. Some of this could mess could have been avoided. The good news is that the Oilers should get Nuge and Belanger back within a week and I doubt Lander will be out long term as well. The Bad news is that the Oilers are so depleted that Mark Arcobello was the pivot on the Hall-Eberle line. Yikes.
The fact is that Lander is a reach as an NHL player and has only looked passable on the Nordic line with guys who he has chemistry with. He is a fringe player right now. If the Oilers are going further down the list than him then they are in deep shit. I’m not expecting there to 2-3 NHL Centers playing down in OKC, but there isnt even anybody in the system who looks like they could play a top 6 role who isnt already an Oiler. Additionally the Oilers, roster is overloaded with defensemen who cant play and wingers like Hordichuk. It wouldnt kill them to have their extra forward be someone versatile enough to lineup as a C in times like these.
Sam Gagner is leading the Oilers in scoring and has a point in every Game his team has played this season. He’s playing 18 minutes a night with a Super Rookie and Hemsky, and he isnt out of place. Yeah, his FO% sucks, but honestly I dont care. I probably never will care. Gagner is a 2C and a damned fine one. In the future he is destined to play against slightly weaker opponents than Nuge will. If he cant win a bloody faceoff but can keep his wingers in a position to score goals anyway then faceoffs be damned.
This kid has been jerked around by every coach he’s ever had except for Krueger. He’s started seasons on the wing in the bottom 6 with plumbers and pylons and risen back up every time. Now he finally got to start a year with quality players in a feature role and he is showing exactly what he’s capable of doing, providing secondary offense on a regular basis. If it hasnt been for his line then the Oilers would have been dead in the water these past 4 games but instead they have been able to snag points. Good for Sam. He deserves it for all the shit he’s taken over the past few years from the mouthbreathers that werent patient enough to see all the hard work pay off. He’s 23 years old. Still so much good to come.
There isnt going to be much good to say here about Whitney. The local beat guys love his sense of humour and they all root for him to return to form, but it isnt happening. This guy is done. He cant turn, he has no speed, and he’s a liability on the ice. On the game winning goal for Dallas in OT all Jagr did was turn to the left. Thats it. He quickly broke left and Whitney was nothing more than a pylon out there. It could have been Whitney’s mother on the ice at that time, neither were capable of defending a 40 year old Jagr.
Its over for Whitney. His Cap hit is 4M but his Salary is 5.5M. It would take a Christmas miracle to trade him to anybody in the West who has actually seen him play, so the only hope they have is that an Eastern team thinks they could “fix” him by using him in a lesser role or something (Not realizing he is already a 6th defenseman here). He couldnt possibly be in the plans for the Oilers, not the way he plays now. One day we will fondly remember the time he came over and was an offensive force. Of course every time that happens we will be instantly reminded of when that all ended because a congenital foot defect met a rut in the Rexall Ice.
The Oilers have avoided becoming a complete train wreck only because of the strong play of Dubnyk, the 2nd line, and Schultz. They could still conceivably make the playoffs but to do that they will need the top line to start scoring at even strength and a better effort defensively from everyone. At this point the people who said the Oilers would push for a playoff spot but end just shy look pretty smart. This thing could go either way, but ultimately the Oilers are lightyears ahead of where they were this time last year. Things are getting better for the Oilers as an Organization in the big picture even while all hell is breaking loose with the NHL roster right now.