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Stauffer Stuff: Changes

by Bob Stauffer / Edmonton Oilers
Bob Stauffer

The 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers are beginning to take shape after cuts were announced on Monday, but the more things change the more things seemingly stay the same.

Only in a market like Edmonton can so much consternation take place over a battle for a spot on the fourth line, or a third pairing spot on defence.

The Oilers are in the midst of total “Oil Change” with massive changes to the organization on multiple fronts.

Since owner Daryl Katz took over in July of 2008, the team has a new General Manager, completely new coaching staffs at both the NHL and AHL levels, a new medical and training staff, heck, even a new radio broadcast crew. Not to mention an influx of three greatly anticipated rookies that will hopefully transform the team in time to be an offensive juggernaut for years to come.

But the focus Monday after the Oilers cut eight players was back to the fourth line and the #6 defence spot, which speaks volumes of where some of the storylines have been for about the last decade around Edmonton.

To set the record straight, I have empathy for both Liam Reddox and Richard Petiot.

They played hard and made a strong campaign for themselves to remain with the Oilers and may have outplayed Ryan Jones and Theo Peckham, respectively.

Liam Reddox
But neither Reddox nor Petiot will play a huge part in a long-term Oilers turnaround.

Reddox, Petiot, Alex Giroux, Ben Ondrus, Ryan O’Marra and Shawn Belle are what they are: organizational depth players that will help out on the farm in Oklahoma City and be serviceable NHL replacement players if the Oilers get stung with injuries.

The real story with the Edmonton Oilers this year is that the organization basically has five new top-nine forwards.

There is no question that it has been a long time since Oilers have had young impact forwards coming aboard of the calibre of rookies Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle.

A strong argument can be made that Eberle, who was selected 22nd overall in 2008, would go in the top ten of that draft if it was done today. A similar case can be made for Paajarvi, who was selected 10th in 2009. He probably would be taken in the top-five overall if a re-draft of 2009 occurred.

So the Oilers are rolling out three pretty exciting prospects -- all of whom will likely get plenty of looks in the top nine, if not the top-six forward spots to start the season.

But they are not the only players who will be changing the complexion and the dynamic of the Oilers’ offence this season.

Magnus Paajarvi (left) and Ales Hemsky (right)
Ales Hemsky only played 22 games last season after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

He is back, in better shape than ever, and now has some legitimate skill, with real upside to work with, up front.

Before the start of the 2008-09 season, I asked Ales if he felt an 85 point season was within reach. Hemsky said something along the lines, of “85 points is a lot of points.”

I sensed that Hemsky didn’t want to throw his teammates under the bus, and that maybe he didn’t think the personnel was there to assist in reaching the 85-point plateau.

Barring injury, my expectation is that sometime in the next two seasons Hemsky will hit that number.

With Hall, Paajarvi, Eberle, Dustin Penner, and a right-handed hammer from the point in Kurtis Foster to help upgrade the powerplay, Hemsky’s numbers will rise.

And then there is the man who will likely be the captain of the Oilers this season: Shawn Horcoff.

Horcoff switched up his training regimen in the 2009 off-season and ended up with disastrous results with just 36 points and -29 rating, one season removed from picking up 53 points and going +7 on a mediocre 2008-09 Oilers squad.

The Michigan State product returned to his old training ways this past off-season and clearly has exhibited in the pre-season that he has his burst back.

EDMONTON, CANADA - JANUARY 30: Shawn Horcoff #10 of the Edmonton Oilers stands for the National Anthems before a game against the Minnesota Wild at Rexall Place on January 30, 2009 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The Oilers beat the Wild 3-1. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Horcoff’s speed is a huge part of his game. His offensive confidence comes from being able to jump into holes on the rush and counter-attack off of turnovers.

That was missing from his game last season and Horcoff’s confidence in making plays went with it.

It was only in the final 20 games when put on a line with Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani; that he at least found a role, albeit as a checker.

The pre-season has already shown that Horcoff will be unquestionably better this year, giving the Oilers another added hit up front.

Starting the season centering Hall and Eberle will boost Horcoff’s numbers as well.

The combination of Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, a healthy Hemsky, and a faster and more confident Horcoff should help re-invigorate the Oilers offence and that is the biggest storyline as we get ready to drop the puck on the start of the Oilers regular season on Thursday night at Rexall against the Calgary Flames.

Bob Stauffer is the Colour Analyst for the Edmonton Oilers Radio Network and Host for “Oilers Lunch” which is heard daily from Noon until 2:00PM, on the Team 1260 Edmonton Sport’s Radio.
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