|Bob Stauffer discusses how Ales Hemsky is one of the top right wingers int he game five-on-five (photo by Andy Devln / EOHC)
Make no mistake, we are seeing a very different Edmonton Oilers hockey team through the first five games of the regular season.
The general consensus amongst the experts out there was that the Oilers would be able to score more goals this season, but that the team would still have challenges keeping the puck out of the net.
Suffice to say, results so far have been very surprising.
With injuries knocking the electrifying Ales Hemsky
and Sam Gagner
out of the Oilers top six, the team frankly has struggled to score goals at pace that most were expecting. This was further compounded Tuesday night in Calgary when game-breaker Taylor Hall
was forced to sit out with an illness.
The Oilers lack of speed up front off of the transition was noticeable, and should perhaps be remembered by those who think that Hemsky should be dangled as trade bait, because he would be easily replaced by Linus Omark
on one of the Oilers top two lines.
Hemsky in my opinion is one of the best right wingers in the league five-on-five, and if he can stay healthy and be a tad less stubborn on the power-play, he should be a lock for 60-70 points most seasons.
Nonetheless the loss of Hemsky and Gagner has made the Oilers inability to score evident as a paltry two goals per game reinforces.
Fortunately the Oilers team defence to date has been real positive.
Former New York Rangers draft pick Corey Potter
has been a bit of revelation over the course of the last three games. The 27 year-old who spent the last five seasons in the American Hockey League has for now won out over another ex-Michigan State Spartan Jeff Petry
for a spot in Edmonton as Petry was sent to Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
Potter’s ability to move the puck and his heavy shot has resulted in power-play time, and he has been solid in his own end as well.
With the return of the Oilers only legitimate top-two defenceman in Ryan Whitney
, along with Cam Barker
and the improved Tom Gilbert, Head Coach Tom Renney now has four defencemen who understand that the puck does the work.
After struggling through a difficult start to last season, Ladislav Smid
is taking shape as a hard-nosed shutdown presence leading the Oilers on the back-end in hits and blocks.
Veteran Andy Sutton
has out-played Theo Peckham
as well. This has resulted in Peckham, who spent the majority of last season in the Oilers second pairing, finding himself out of the Oilers top six.
Three other factors have helped keep the Oilers goals against down.
First off, Nikolai Khabibulin
has had a good start to the season.
After an ugly 2010-11 season that Khabibulin flounder with a 3.40 GAA with an ugly .890 save percentage, the much-maligned veteran is sporting a stellar .957 through his first two starts.
Secondly the addition of free agent Eric Belanger
has helped to give the Oilers some all-important short-handed face-off wins.
The Oilers have been the worst face-off team in the NHL over the last two seasons-and this played a factor in a bottom five PK unit; but both Belanger and Oilers team captain Shawn Horcoff
are over 57% in the circle to start the year, and the Oilers PK has benefitted as a result.
Thirdly, the coaching staff has reinforced playing with greater structure and process in the Oilers defensive zone. A lot of work in practice has been spent on this, and as a result the team’s puck support has been vastly improved.
We will see if Potter and for that matter the Oilers “D” and goaltending can keep it up; because I do think with the addition of future star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
up front and the imminent return of Hemsky and Gagner that the Oilers will start to score more goals.
Deep on “D” in the ‘Dub
The upcoming 2012 NHL Entry draft could very well be the year of the WHL defenceman with five potential top-10 picks.
TSN Draft Guru and former Calgary Flames General Manager Craig Button has five WHL defenders: Red Deer’s Matthew Dumba (Red Deer, 3rd), Morgan Reilly (Moose Jaw, 5th), Ryan Murray (Everett, 7th), Griffin Reinhart (Edmonton, 8th) and Derek Pouliot (Portland, 9th) ranked in the top ten in his most recent edition of TSN’s “Craig’s List”.
Here is the rub though; these are not your typical big, tough, slow-moving WHL defenders of the past.
All five listed above can move the puck and possess an offensive dimension.
Some scouts thought Murray would have been taken ahead of Adam Larsson in this past year’s draft; so it is a surprise to me that the Silvertips captain, who is lock for the Canadian World Junior team, sitting at #7 on the “Craig’s List”.
A non-Oilers scout told me recently that four of the five listed above are better prospects than any of the Oilers stable of young defencemen currently not in the NHL.
Wednesday night in Edmonton, Reilly’s Moose Jaw Warriors hooked up with Reinhart’s Oil Kings at Rexall Place. Reinhart, the son of former Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks power-play quarterback, Paul Reinhart, scored twice with a pair of bombs from the point.
Reilly played a smooth puck-moving game and has racked up nine points in 10 games with a +8 rating.Bob Stauffer is the Colour Analyst on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” on the Oilers Radio Rights Holder 630 CHED