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Stauffer Stuff: Oil Change

by Bob Stauffer / Edmonton Oilers
Wow what a week!

In a whirlwind week that started with the Edmonton Oilers leaving the Twin Cities with a pair of Ryans and ended with the Oil striking early and often during “free agent frenzy” General Manager Steve Tambellini completely changed the make-up of the Oilers organization in the here and now and in the future.

Suffice to say even the wildest dreamers probably didn’t see all the moves coming, culminating yesterday with a flurry of signings and a trade that addressed much needed areas of weakness.

The Draft

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Let’s start with a week ago in St. Paul and establish that when it came to the #1 overall pick it was always about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Sublimely skilled and under-stated with tremendous vision, Nugent-Hopkins possesses three of the key elements in players that elite organizations like Detroit covet: skill, hockey sense and compete level.

Picking up a pair of defencemen with the #19 and #31 overall picks in Oscar Klefbom out of Sweden and the Vancouver Giants’ David Musil, the Oilers added to a solid stable of youngsters on the back end in the system that includes Jeff Petry, Colton Teubert, Alex Plante and the guy who might have the biggest upside of them all, Martin Marincin.

The Smyth Trade

Ryan Smyth
The Oilers followed up the draft by re-acquiring Ryan Smyth on Sunday.

Smyth is a cult hero in Oil Country of that there is little doubt, and suffice to say that when Captain Canada gets the word out there that he wants to return, well, you make it happen!

That being said with emerging star Taylor Hall a lock on the left wing on the first line, and Magnus Paajarvi already showing signs of becoming a solid second-liner;  the price point on Smyth (4.5 Million on the books) is expensive for what could be a third line left wing.

But after coming in dead last for two straight seasons, there was no question that Tambellini and the Oilers needed to find better transitional players and Smyth, a consummate pro, is about as good as they come, regardless of price.

And, as the Oilers exhibited yesterday, they were not done.

Free Agent Frenzy

Ben Eager
It started with a bang.

After not qualifying Zack Stortini and JF Jacques, it was obvious Oilers Management was in search of an Oil Change in the toughness department.

Very early into free agency the Oilers landed energy forward Ben Eager, signing him to a three-year deal. In need of functional toughness the Oil get a guy who can fight, skate and hit and who has played 45 playoff games over the last three seasons including winning a Stanley Cup Championship with Chicago in the spring of 2010.

It should be noted that Eager is represented by the Orr Group, the same Agency who has Taylor Hall in their stable.

Tambellini continued to add muscle by signing Darcy Hordichuk. A light heavyweight who has 121 regular-season fights in the NHL since the start of the 2000-01 season, Hordichuk is another role player capable of playing 7-10 minutes a night.

Hordichuk is represented by Steve Kotlowitz of the Sports Corporation; the same firm that has the recently re-signed Ladislav Smid as a client, and make no mistake the Hordichuk Camp knew Edmonton would be a good fit.

The Defence Never Rests

Cam Barker
The Oilers then upgraded their defence with a pair of moves.

First they signed Cam Barker, a former third overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft to a one-year deal after he was bought out by Minnesota.

Consider this a low risk move that could yield big rewards.

Barker starred for the Medicine Hat Tigers, and was a pick of current Edmonton Oil Kings GM Bob Green, when Green was Head Scout for the Tigers.

Barker put up 40 points in 2008-09 with the Chicago Blackhawks, but he has struggled the last two seasons. He can move the puck, and is tougher now than he ever had to be in Junior and might turn out to be a legitimate puck-moving top-four NHL defenceman.

Memo to Oilers Assistant Coach Steve Smith, you are on the clock

The Oil then flipped defenceman Kurtis Foster to the Anaheim Ducks for Andy Sutton.

Consider this a deal where both organizations gave a veteran player an opportunity to start over.
Foster, who parlayed a 42-point season in 2009-10 with the Tampa Bay Lightning into a two-year deal with the Oilers, never looked settled in the Copper and Blue.

Like Colin Fraser who was moved in the Smyth deal, Foster was a consummate pro dealing with the media during a crappy season, but the change will do him good.

The same can be said for Sutton who floundered in his first season as a Duck.

A hulking 6’6”, 245-pound physical force who a couple of seasons ago in Long Island wiped out Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and JF Jacques all in the same game, Sutton could give the Oilers a nasty third pairing in concert with Theo Peckham.

Tambellini then finished off the day by reeling perhaps his biggest free agent catch, centre Eric Belanger.

After finishing dead last in face-off percentage the last two seasons, the Oilers get a guy in Belanger who was over 55% this season and capable of being a top penalty killer as well as chipping in offensively.

Belanger’s addition suddenly gives the Oilers depth and options at centre, a re-occurring theme of the week.

The Kids Are Alright

Teemu Hartikainen (photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC)
The additions of Belanger, Smyth and Barker now means the Oil can take their time with Nugent-Hopkins, Teemu Hartikainen and Jeff Petry.

If Nugent Hopkins makes the Oilers out of training camp, great, but the Oilers don’t have to force feed him into the NHL. The organization should be comfortable with Horcoff, Belanger, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule as options at center. IF RNH is ready to contribute right from the get-go then Steve Tambellini can deal from a position of strength.

On the left wing with the return of Smyth and the signing of Eager, the Oilers look pretty good with Hall and Paajarvi also in the mix.  No need again to rush Hartikainen, who could see a lot more playing time in the top six in Oklahoma City.

On defence the Oilers will probably have a battle for the seventh spot on the back end occur between Petry and Taylor Chorney. Chorney needs to clear waivers, and Petry could use some more time on the farm along with Teubert and Plante learning from the likes of AHL veteran Corey Potter who was also signed yesterday.

Unfinished Business

Look for the Oilers to sign a veteran AHL goaltender who can push Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin in training camp, along with a couple of AHL quality scorers to bolster Oklahoma City.

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