|Taylor Hall has been on fire since his return from injury.
The Edmonton Oilers returned home Saturday night after playing seven straight road games, battered and bruised and trying to pick up the pieces after a difficult two week stretch away from Rexall Place.
With exception of a total of three periods over the seven games, the Oilers played hard and were in every game, but they only picked up one win; ironically against one of the best home teams in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Oilers losses on the scoreboard were compounded by bigger losses of personnel as Calder Trophy candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
(shoulder) and #1 defenceman Tom Gilbert (knee/ankle) were both knocked out of the line-up against the ‘Hawks, with team scoring leader Jordan Eberle
suffering a knee injury against Dallas.
As the Oilers opened a three-game homestand last night against New Jersey we now know that RNH, Eberle and Gilbert may not return until after the All-Star break.
The injuries have resulted in the need for the remaining Oilers players to pick it up.
Not surprisingly, Taylor Hall
, the dynamic #1 overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft has got the memo.
Hall was brilliant on the road trip, scoring in five games and chipping in a couple assists. Hall continued his outstanding play last night against the New Jersey Devils as he was chosen first star on the night, and was a threat every time he was on the ice.
In my book, actions speak louder than words and Hall is fast becoming a real leader for the Oilers with his relentless drive and his refusal to quit.
This was reinforced recently in a game in St. Louis. With the Oilers down by a goal and the net empty, the Blues basically had a 2-on-0. Hall reeled in the Blues forward, blocking a pass and then winning a puck battle behind the goal to give the Oilers one more shot at trying to generate something off the rush.Sam Gagner
, often the forgotten man when discussing the Oilers plethora of young guns, also had a strong performance on the road.
Gagner scored twice and added five assists to tie Hall with seven points in seven games on the trip. Gagner has now picked up 18 points in his last 22 games, and has done so with very little time on the Oilers first PP unit.
Currently centering Hall and Ales Hemsky
, Gagner has a tremendous opportunity to re-assert himself into the mix as a viable option as a second-line centre for years to come.
Personally, I would also consider putting Gagner on the Oilers first unit PP and moving Shawn Horcoff
to the second unit.
With three of the Oilers top four defenceman: Gilbert, Ryan Whitney
and Cam Barker
, out with injury, two defenceman have stepped up as well, Ladislav Smid
and Jeff Petry
Smid who is in the NHL’s top 10 in blocked shots and leads the Oilers defence in hits continues to develop as a legitimate shutdown presence.
Smid is also a very popular player in the room and is recognized as a team-first type of guy.
Petry certainly has had some star-crossed moments including a giveaway last night that allowed Ilya Kovalchuk to score on a shorthanded breakaway.
But, with Gilbert out, Petry has now played five straight games with over 20 minutes. The +/- does not look pretty (-7 during that stretch), but you can clearly see the progression in Petry’s game.
It should also be noted Hall, Gagner, Smid and Petry are all 25 or younger.
Smid is 25, Petry is 24, Gagner 22 and Hall just 20.
There is little debate right now that the Oilers are going to have some challenges over the next couple of weeks playing without their top two scorers and three of their top defencemen, but the one silver lining so far has been the play Hall, Gagner, Smid and Petry.Patience
Lou Lamoriello, the longest serving General Manager in the NHL was recently on “Oilers Now” and preached patience for Oilers fans.
Lamorielllo took over a moribund New Jersey Devils franchise back in 1987 and literally built a “program” in kind of an NCAA model that led the Devils to 18 straight seasons with a winning record and three Stanley Cups.
“Patience is something you have to have. You have to go through the ups and downs with young players. Edmonton has talent and I believe it will come, and fans just have to have patience with it,” said Lamoriello of the Oilers rebuilding process.O'Marra’s Time?
I must confess I have never really had a strong read on Oilers depth forward Ryan O’Marra.
When the Oilers acquired him from the New York Islanders in the Ryan Smyth
trade back in February of 2007 I thought he was a stone cold mortal lock to be a player that then Head Coach Craig MacTavish would absolutely love.
O’Marra was a dominant physical player for Team Canada in the World Juniors, and his OHL numbers suggested he might be able to provide secondary scoring at the NHL level.
However, after seeing O’Marra in a couple development camps I was concerned about his quickness and his compete level.
His first three pro seasons were a tad underwhelming.
But something has clicked in with O’Marra since he has gone to Oklahoma City.
In the last season and a half O’Marra, a former first round draft choice (15th overall in 2005) has reinvented himself as hard-nosed, checking center that excels on the PK.
At 6’2” and 220 pounds O’ Marra is also a heavier body down the middle, and I believe there is now a place for him in the NHL.
Bob Stauffer is the colour analyst on the Oilers Radio Network and host of “Oilers Now” weekdays noon to 2:00 PM on the Oilers Radio Rights Holder 630 CHED.