Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Springfield Predictions Part 2: Point Projections

It's never easy to simply just throw out expected point totals for players in any league. There are simply too many factors to consider. Injuries, trades, and line changes can cause serious changes in a player's output, but I'm going to make these predictions based on the line-ups I projected in the last post, and in anticipation of a healthy year from the opening day roster. Like I said, I'm no Falcons expert, so I'd appreciate any feedback from readers on these numbers, just for personal reference..

Rob Schremp: 68 GP 19-52-71
He's getting a serious upgrade in linemates with Brule and Corazzini, and should get about 5-10 games in the NHL year thanks to injuries.
Gilbert Brule: 64 GP 18-44-62
Brule is definitely going to get into some NHL games this year, especially in anticipation of yet another Moreau injury. But he should put up some great numbers alongside Schremp.
Carl Corazzini: 79 GP 32-37-69
He's going to get consistent top line minutes as a veteran, and will be counted upon all year long to provide the offense. He should establish career highs for points, as he's playing with perhaps the most talented pair of linemates he ever has.

J.F Jacques: 74 GP 17-29-46
Jacques has consistently been around a point-per-game clip in the AHL, but I'm anticipating a slow start off of his injury. He should finish the season strong playing some top line minutes, and with guys like Reddox and Lerg.
Liam Reddox: 80 GP 19-34-53
He may not score at the same clip as last year, but Reddox will put up some legit second-line numbers. He should also get some 1st line minutes as a center when Brule/Schremp get called up.
Bryan Lerg: 76 GP 16-22-38
Like most rookies, I'm anticipating Lerg will start slow, and probably spend some time on the bottom-6 lines. But this kid has serious offensive potential, and by the end of the year, he'll be making a case to remain in the top-6 for 08-09.

Vyacheslav Trukhno: 77 GP 18-34-52
Trukhno is going to get a lot of PP time, and will the first guy moved up in case of injury/call-up to the top-6. He put up 35 points last year in his pro debut, and was considered a disappointment. I'd say he bounces back this year after ending last season on a roll.
Ryan O'Marra: 69 GP 13-28-41
O'Marra is going to start the season on pace for around 35 points, but I think when and if he gets promoted to second line thanks to call-ups, he's going to put up some points playing with more offensively gifted players. I think this is the year he "gets it", and his predicted output here is straight out of the Kyle Brodziak school of player development. I'd love to see how he plays alongside Jacques and Reddox, if given the opportunity.
Colin McDonald: 64 GP 11-12-23
McDonald was the Falcons' utility man last year, playing all over the ice, often out of position. But I think his potential is limited, and he may spend some time in the ECHL if Spurgeon can rebound this year.

Stephane Goulet 61 GP 16-12-28
Goulet has always been hailed as a goalscorer, and should get some PP time when the roster is thinned later on in the season. I say he stays close to a 0.25-0.30 goal/game clip, however.
Tim Sestito 76 GP 4-11-15
Sestito will turn out another gritty year on the 4th line playing solid 2-way hockey. He should be babysitting the many guys bouncing around from the ECHL all year long.
Tyler Spurgeon 73 GP 18-21-39
I think after a slow start, Spurgeon will bounce back from the disaster that was last year and continue to put up points at a clip just above 0.5 points/game. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes that spot beside O'Marra by the end of the year.

Theo Peckham 66 GP 7-12-19
Peckham is certainly going to get some reps in the NHL this year, but regardless I don't see his offensive numbers jumping excessively. I think his defensive game should take some big strides, and the offense comes later one (a la Souray).
Josef Hrabal 74 GP 11-23-34
The 23-year old Hrabal is going to get some serious PP time, and should be relied upon as the primary offensive defenseman at ES. I think 34 points is a reasonable prediction for him, as it's a bit less than what Grebeshkov was getting at the same age with the Manchester Monarchs.

Taylor Chorney 78 GP 9-23-32
I think Chorney is quite comparable to Ottawa's Brian Lee, who put up 25 points in 55 games as an AHL rookie last year. I don't think Chorney will be handed the same kind of minutes and opportunities Lee will, but will still put up a respectable 32 points in his first pro year thanks to 2nd unit PP time.
Jeff Taylor 76 GP 3-9-12
He's going to get around what he's been averaging in his AHL career so far, and will largely be relied upon to provide a stable partner for Chorney to develop alongside. Essentially the AHL version of Steve Staios for Smid.

Bryan Young 76 GP 1-9-10
The only reason I'm predicting a slight increase in points is the fact that he'll be playing with smooth-skating Wild, who would boost any partner's point totals.
Cody Wild 78 GP 9-15-24
1st unit PP time, and his overall offensive game at ES should do wonders for him. He could probably put up numbers in the Chorney range, but I'm guessing Truit would be hesitant to give him such a long leash before developing a solid 2-way game.

Springfield Predictions Part 1: Lineups and Positions

I didn't see much of the Springfield Falcons last season, so I'm not exactly an expert here. For that, you'd have to look to Lowetide and BryanBryOil on HF, who are familiar with the workings of the team. But I've done all I could to research how the team functioned last year, and what additions have been made heading into next year. Here are my projections for next season's Falcons:


To be consistent with my past predictions, I'm choosing Ryan Potulny to make the Oilers lineup come opening night. So guys like Brule and Schremp are going to be staying down. There are a plethora of prospects listed as left-wingers, but I think we'll see many of them playing RW.

Line 1: Schremp Brule Corazzini
Corazzini has been an upper-tier player in the AHL for a while now, and adds a great scoring touch to complement Brule and Schremp's playmaking. He's basically a less-skilled version of Cogliano, and uses his speed to be effective. Until Lerg grasps the pro game, he'll probably be option #1 at RW.
Line 2: Jacques Reddox Lerg
I don't know how Jacques will do this season; regardless he's going to have to rehab his back and slowly work himself back into top-flight form. I think taking a regular shift with steady Reddox and the offensively gifted Lerg should be a great way for him to return to his old style of play.
Line 3: Trukhno O'Marra McDonald
Unlike most 3rd lines, this one is going to see limited ice time to start the season. O'Marra is going to have to play the 2-way role effectively, and should get a serious boost from having the creative Trukhno on his wing. Colin McDonald is the AHL version of Marty Reasoner, he plays everywhere without looking terrible. Hopefully he can fulfill his draft pedigree here playing with some legitimate prospects.
Line 4: Goulet Sestito Spurgeon
Stephane Goulet is ready to play consistently in the AHL. He's an offensive force in the ECHL, and should prosper under less intense minutes playing alongside the gritty Sestito. Tyler Spurgeon is coming off a disappointing, injured season, and is going to have to work his way up back to a second or third line spot.

This all has been Oiler signings. Other guys who could grab a spot include:
Toby Lafrance: Solid offensive player in the Q, could crack the bottom-6; simply too good for ECHL.
Luke Lynes: My wild-card pick. Former '06 4th round pick went unsigned by the Capitals and could grab a 4th-line spot if one of Spurgeon or Goulet disappoint.

The Oilers are going to be gifted on defense this season, and it's scary to think that some of these guys are going to be sent down to Stockton in the ECHL. What is going to be felt is the loss of veterans like T.J Reynolds and T.J Kemp.

1st Pairing: Peckham Hrabal
Mathieu Roy is going to have to pass through waivers to play in the AHL this year, and he's probably going to get picked up too with his cheap contract. After a successful rookie campaign, Peckham is expected to have a huge sophomore year, and potentially get interest from the big club later on due to injuries. He should play a lot of big minutes. Josef Hrabal is going to get a long look at camp, as the guy has played a solid 2-way game in Russia for a while now, and is coming off a Grebeshkov-esque season in the RSL (KHL). He should get the nod over Chorney to be Peckham's linemate.
2nd Pairing: Taylor Chorney
The young Taylor Chorney is going to be given some top-4 responsibility to start his pro career, and I think he'll be fine. He should get a security blanket playing with veteran Jake Taylor, a newly signed defenseman from the Hartford Wolf Pack--thanks to BBO for this bit-- (Robby Bina, Chorney's linemate in college, signed with the Falcons in the off-season. He's expected to start the season down in the ECHL before potentially working his way up)
3rd Pairing: Young Wild
Bryan Young did make a lot of progress in the latter half of last season, but should find himself babysitting the young and raw Cody Wild, who's going to have to work his way up before getting some serious minutes.

Who else could get some consideration:
Sebastian Bisaillion looked like the next Bergeron early last year before suffering a horrific leg injury. I project him to start the year in the ECHL, but if he hasn't lost much of his game he's a lock for the top-4 next season.

With no more Deslauriers, the Falcons are going to depend on a former 1st-round draft pick, and a kid fresh from the OHL

Starter: Devyn Dubnyk
After putting in the work in the ECHL and AHL the last couple of years, Devyn Dubnyk is finally getting his chance to start. He should get almost 60 starts this season, and this may be a key year in his development. If he can prove himself a legitimate AHL starter, he not only moves up on the Oilers' depth chart, but puts the Falcons in a great position in the AHL standings.
Backup: Bryan Pitton
After a stellar final season in the OHL, where he was literally the MVP of the Brampton Batallion in leading them to the playoffs, Pitton is ready to make the jump to pro. He's going to get at least 10-15 starts behind the young Dubnyk, and hopefully he turns out to be a solid future NHL goalie.

Powerplay (thanks BBO)
Jacques Brule Brule
Trukhno Wild

Schremp is a monster operating on the right side on the PP, where he sets up as QB, as wel as with his wicked one-timer. Trukhno gets BBO's vote of confidence to be a pointman on the PP, while Cody Wild should fulfill his offensive potential here by getting quality 1st-unit time. Schremp and Brule go without saying as the top two forwards on this unit, which will from having J.F Jacques wreaking havoc in front of the net.

Corazzini Goulet Lerg
Chorney Hrabal

Hrabal will use his pro experience to help Chorney manage this PP, which is filled with goal-scoring talent. Corazzini is the closest thing to a playmaker, and should be handling the puck a lot here. Goulet is going to be around the net using his 6'3 frame to open up space for himself, while Bryan Lerg plays a poor-man's Rob Schremp role on the right side, using his one-timer to create chances. I think the defense on this unit will handle the puck more than on the first unit.

Penalty Kill

Liam Reddox was the top defensive player for the Falcons last year, and should get time with speedy, defensively underrated Lerg, who was vital to the strong MSU PK last year. Peckham and Young are going to be relied upon to use their size, physicality, and strength on this unit.

O'Marra Spurgeon
Hrabal Chorney

Taylor Chorney is going to have to play some minutes on the PK, which he did a decent job of in college. Hrabal should be able to handle some SH-minutes, but with this unit the defenders are going to have to be quick on the dump-ins and rely on puck-possession to kill the clock. O'Marra will get a chance to prove himself an effective 2-way player playing alongside Spurgeon, an established defensive presence in past stints in the AHL.

PP Setup Possibilities

With the changes over the last couple of years, the Oilers have transformed their powerplay from one traditionally in the middle-of-the-pack to a potentially top-5 man advantage in the league. Here are some PP possibilities for this upcoming season

First UnitThis is kind of like the "Umbrella" the Oilers set up in the 2006 playoffs, with Souray in Pronger's spot, Visnovsky in Spacek's, Penner in Smyth's, and Gagner in Samsonov's. I'm anticipating a plethora of point shots coming from this unit, and for that reason I think it's important to have a guy like Penner in front of the net to set screens and clean up rebounds. It's tough to choose between Horcoff and Gagner here, because Horcoff could work the boards so much better, but Gagner's simply got too much offensive instinct, and would work well with Hemmer down low, as well as with Visnovsky on the right side.
It's important that Visnovsky retains that right side point position. He'll be able to shoot and distribute from there. Souray can play the top of

I think this is the general consensus for the 1st unit, you'll occasionally see Horcoff in for Gagner to handle the tough puck work behind the net, and see Cole play Penner's spot to add more of a shooting touch to that near right side.

Second Unit

This is basically a poor-man's attempt at replicating the PP the Oilers had just before the Horcoff injury. Remember, this unit was starting to make some progress before the injury, so it shouldn't be too bad. Nilsson replaces Hemsky, Cole replaces Penner, and Grebeshkov replaces Pitkanen. Horcoff provides some puck-possession and play-making from the right boards, and Gilbert that point shot. Grebeshkov will be a middle-man, and should play "rover" a lot on this unit, sneaking down for tap-in's. Nilsson on the left side is something we haven't seen much of (he's usually on the right), but as a RW he should be fine playing a Hemsky-esque role from that side. It'd be interesting to see how he'd do with a cross-ice pass to either Cole or a crease-crashing Horcoff. Cole in the slot there is something the Hurricanes used, with a lot of passes coming to him from behind the net or the sideboards from Staal or Whitney. He could also play that Penner role in front as well, but I think he's more suited to the shooting from the slot.

Here's another possibility, which uses the 4-forward set up. Cole has a decent slapshot, and could be a one-timer option there on the point with Gilbert, or could move down a little for a set up from Nilsson. He's also good at playing that "middle-man" spot mentioned above, and can be relied upon to back-check if there's a turnover. Basically, he'd be playing a Stoll role. I think the main focus of this unit will be the cycling between Horcoff and Cogliano and the playmaking of Nilsson. It's just another option I'm throwing out for the second line. It kind of reminds me of the 2nd unit from last season, where there was no real presence in front of the net, just a lot of cycling and quick passes until a hole formed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Money talks...and says Potulny is our man

Imagine how happy former Oilers "capologist" Scott Howson would have been to be part of the organization today. In the Katzian era, he would have unlimited financial flexibility to put this team together. And judging him based on how he did in the 2005-2006 season, you gotta think he would have pulled some major moves.

Well the Oilers are once again healthy spenders this season, after spending to the cap in 2007-2008.

Let's look at the breakdown, all numbers being in CAP HIT (all this thanks to

FORWARDS: $26.478 M

The ones I'll list right now are the ones pretty much guaranteed to stay in the lineup all year long.

1st line (11.7 M):
Cole (4, UFA)
Hemsky (4.1)
Horcoff (3.6, 5.5 EXT)

2nd line (4.591 M):
Gagner (1.625)
Cogliano (1.133)
Nilsson (1.833)

3rd line (7.247 M):
Penner (4.25)
Brodziak (0.497, RFA)
Pisani (2.5)

4th line (3.525 M):
Moreau (2.0)
Pouliot (0.825)
Stortini (0.700)

DEFENSE: $21.236 M

1st pairing (9.6 M):

Visnovsky (5.6)
Gilbert (4.0)

2nd pairing (8.1 M):
Souray (5.4)
Staios (2.7)

3rd pairing (2.386 M):
Smid (0.886, RFA)
Grebeshkov (1.5, RFA)

Reserves (1.15 M):
Jason Strudwick (0.650, UFA)
Mathieu Roy (0.500, RFA)


Garon (1.1, UFA)
Roloson (3.667, UFA)
Deslauriers (0.650)

So as of right now, the Oilers have a minimal cap commitment of $53.131 M, which is $3.569 less than the cap maximum for this year.

The Oilers are right around the middle of the pack in terms of spending on forwards, while they spend 5th most in the league on defensemen. For a team that gets a lotta flack for overspending on Roloson, the Oilers manage to be in the bottom-half of the league in terms of spending on goaltending.

All this seems to bode well in Lowe's mission to replicate the Wings. They too spend greatly on their defense and forwards, while really limiting how much they give their goaltender. If the Oilers can implement the same puck-possession game, they should be successful with their cap distribution being in this manner.

The aforementioned cap is for a roster including 12 forwards, 8 defensemen, and 3 goalies.

The Oilers are likely to waive Mathieu Roy early in the season, as riding with 8 defensemen when you have great prospects like Peckham, Chorney, and Hrabal in the wings is pointless. This knocks off 0.5M off the hit (now at $52.631 M), leaving them with $4.169M to spend. Another thing to consider is a 13th forward. The Oilers will have to be careful with who they choose, for the sake of conserving cap space.

Brule would have a cap hit of $1.247M
Schremp's hit would be $0.775M
Potulny's hit is $0.708M

By electing to go with one of Schremp or Potulny, the Oilers would save $0.5M over the course of the season, an amount that would come in handy around trade deadline day. It's yet another reason for Brule to at least start the season down in the AHL. Also interesting is Potulny's waiver eligibility. If the Oilers play Schremp with Brule in Springfield, and keep Potulny up with the big club, they can choose to waive Potulny if they feel one of Schremp or Brule is ready to step up, and thus they lose Potulny's cap hit if he gets picked up.

Another thing to consider is with Roy and Potulny's ages, they are still considered prospects. Both are on cheap contracts, and will likely go to teams seeking depth if they're waived.

So considering Roy is waived, and the Oilers ride with Potulny early in the season, we're looking at a cap hit of $53.411M to begin the year, leaving the Oilers with $3.289 in flexibility come deadline day.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Prospect Timelines: 2008-2009

Jeff Petry is going to have play in at least one more classic MSU vs MU game before he gets to hit the NHL. I've prepared a top-20 list for the Oilers, much like Guy Flaming did a few days back. I'm also going to give a projected timeline for these guys, looking into the next 3-4 seasons and addressing how they would fit into the Oilers system over that time period. Remember, these are all pretty idealistic, as they are made assuming that the prospects will stick around and achieve their full potential.
eg) Chorney, Peckham, and Petry cannot all become top-4 defensemen with Visnovsky, Souray, and Gilbert all signed long-term.

1) Jeff Petry

That 2nd round pick in 2006 didn't turn out so bad afterall. After finishing his USHL career with a dominating performance, the 6'3 Petry picked up where he left off in the NCAA, standing out as a freshman in one of the toughest divisions in college hockey. He emerged as a 2-way dynamo for the Spartans, and was eventually picked to be on the Freshman All-Star team at the end of the year. He's easily the Oilers top defensive prospect, and should be a top-4 D-man in the mould of Braydon Cobourn, potentially even a top-2.
2008-2009: Will get #1 role with MSU, expected to dominate and finish as division All-Star
2009-2010: Becomes pro, starts year in AHL after impressive TC; #2 D-man after Chorney
2010-2011: #1 call-up option and potential bottom-6 player if Smid experiment ends, plays in AHL as top defenseman
2011-2012: Makes the team at age 24. Finishes year in top-4 with Gilbert-esque rookie year, ready to sign 2nd contract (Staios retirement opens up space for him to be top-4)

2) Riley Nash
The lanky, freckly Nash made his college debut with Cornell this past year. Within two games, he was promoted to the top line, and finished the season tied for the team lead in points in one of the most defensive divisions in hockey. He plays a great 2-way game, and should make the WJC tournament this year with Canada if he can keep up his impressive play. His potential is elite 3rd line center, with borderline 2nd line center offensive capabilities, similar to a Ryan Kesler/Travis Zajac. At 6'2, he's made for the job if he can put on the weight.
2008-2009: Dominates with Cornell, makes WJC team
2009-2010: Signs entry-level deal, sent to AHL, called up in case of bottom-6 center injury
2010-2011: Makes team out of TC, playing 4th line role, shows 3rd line potential later in season (especially if Brodziak dealt)
2011-2012: Established as 3rd line C

3) Rob Schremp
The saga continues with Rob Schremp, once the Oilers top offensive prospect, now struggling to make it into the NHL. Schremp had a great year with the Falcons, averaging almost a point/game. His offensive game is starting to show at the pro level, and his defensive play is improving. He's certainly got potential, but I'd say he's a late blooming version of Tim Connolly.
2008-2009: Schremp impresses at TC, yet can't find a spot on packed lineup. Is the #2 call-up option behind Brule, signs 1-year deal in off-season
2009-2010: Makes team out of TC on 4th line. In what may be his final year as an Oiler, he earns a new contract, unless the Oilers deal him due to depth issues (likely).
2010-2011: Plays on second line with Gagner/Nilsson (depending on if Brule pans out), or with Nash/Brodziak on 3rd line.
2011-2012: Established top-9 player in NHL

4) Theo Peckham
The big, bruising defender made great strides in his first pro season. At a raw 19, he was able to dominate physically and defensively, and played like a 22-year old Matt Greene did in his first pro year. Peckham has an unbelievable amount of potential, as he's also got a pretty nice set of wheels for a man his size, and a decent wrist shot. If he can get his offensive game together, Peckham could end up like Shea Weber. But a more realistic projection for now is a Kevin Bieksa in Vancouver.
2008-2009: Challenges for bottom-7 spot, ousted due to depth, first call-up option, 1st pairing defender with Falcons
2009-2010: Makes team as bottom-pairing D-man.
2010-2011: Usurps Staios as shut-down option, cracks top-4
2011-2012: Established top-4 physical defenseman in NHL

5) Jordan Eberle

The 2008 first-rounder tore up the WHL, scoring 42 goals to put him in the top-5 in league goal-scoring. He's got amazing scoring instincts, and scavenges around the net to finish a lot of plays. Eberle also possesses a strong wrist shot, solid play-making, and doesn't shy away from the physicality of big WHL defenders. Regardless, he's small, he's slow (for his size), and will need to work on bulking up and speed if he's going to pan out as a top-flight prospect. He's got Zach Parise-like potential if he does.
2008-2009: Rips up WHL
2009-2010: Signs entry-level deal, strongly challenges for a spot on opening day roster, #1 call-up all year long, especially if offensive player gets injured.
2010-2011: Makes the team a la Cogliano, gets legit chance with guys like Gagner and Nilsson.
2011-2012: Top-6 player, 20 goal scorer

6) Taylor Chorney
Although his last college year was disappointingly similar to his second, Chorney's development is not done yet. The mature blue-liner is ready to hit the pro ranks. He compensates for lack of size with great skating, intelligent decision-making, and smooth offensive abilities. He projects to potentially be a 2nd-pairing defenseman in the mould of Matt Niskanen
2008-2009: Makes top pairing in Springfield
2009-2010: 7th defenseman, gets some playing time in bottom 6 thanks to injury
2010-2011: Cracks team on bottom pairing, moves up to top-4
2011-2012: Hitting stride as 2-way defenseman on 2nd pairing

7) Jeff Deslauriers
Hardly a prospect anymore, Deslauriers is slated to make the big club this season. He hasn't played a single game in the NHL, and last year's AHL numbers may not look so good. But with a terrible defense in front of him, he was able to be the Falcons MVP, and showed his potential as a future NHL back-up. He's got size and some nice reflexes. He could eventually turn into a Mathieu Garon.
2008-2009: Back-up
2009-2010: Back-up
2010-2011: Solid back-up option
2010-2011: Shows starter potential

8) Ryan Potulny
Ryan Potulny followed up on an impressive NHL debut in 2006-2007 with a solid AHL campaign last season. He's no Schremp offensively, but his complete game and great shot make him an interesting prospect. I think he'll eventually make it as a bottom-6 player, but it won't be this year. I say he ends up like Glen Metropolit. A late bloomer that sticks in the bottom-6, but has the offensive skills to be a valuable asset at that position. If he can ever learn to play elite-level defense, you got a great 3rd line option.
2008-2009: Makes team as 13th forward, potential substitute for Stortini
2009-2010: 4th line player if he gets another contract
2010-2011: 4th line player
2011-2012: Defensive game begins to round out, becomes solid 2-way option in bottom-6 and potential 3rd liner.

9) Jean-Francois Jacques

Jacques continued his NHL cold streak, extending it to 53 games without a point. He had a terrible year, suffering a serious back injury in the AHL after putting up so-so numbers. He got another contract, because the team can't help but invest in a specimen like Jacques. He's got size, speed, and physicality, and has proven to be a great scorer in the minors. If he can ever get his shit together (as unlikely as it is), he could be a lethal power forward in the NHL, maxing out at a 2nd or 3rd line version of Erik Cole.
2008-2009: Looks good in TC, not enough for a spot, sent down.
2009-2010: Injury call-up, impresses enough to stick as 4th liner and Stortini substitute.
2010-2011: Manages to be a solid 4th liner all year long (if he gets a contract)
2011-2012: With Penner gone and Stortini's contract up, he has a legit chance to rise in the line up, even maxing out as a 2nd line option if his offense picks up.

10) Devyn Dubnyk
The tall, lanky goaltender put up average numbers in the AHL in his first full season there. With Deslauriers gone, he'll be expected to put up legit starter's numbers, and fulfill his 1st round draft pedigree. Dubnyk will have to use his size and rebound control to become an effective goaltender. I do believe he has starter's potential, and would compare him to Sean Burke or Mike Smith with his playing style.
2008-2009: Becomes outright starter in AHL, puts up solid numbers
2009-2010: Stands out as AHL all-star goalie, becomes Falcons MVP
2010-2011: Challenges Deslauriers in TC for back-up spot
2011-2012: Challenges for starter's position with Garon.

11) Josef Hrabal
Most people forgot the guy existed, but the 2003 draft pick signed an entry-level deal with the Oilers after a solid season in Russia, putting up Grebeshkov-esque numbers with Cherepovets. I'd say his potential is a slightly lesser version of Grebeshkov, and I really doubt he'll pan out (might just go to the KHL), but if he does:
2008-2009: Solid top-4 option in AHL
2009-2010: Challenges Chorney for 6-7 spot
2010-2011: If he re-signs, he'll be in the top-6
2011-2012: Established bottom-pairing defenseman a la Andrei Zyuzin

12) Alex Plante
Although he's got excellent draft pedigree, Plante's atrocious 2007-2008 season makes him a far-away prospect for now. Injuries in both prospect camp and mid-season in the WHL cost him his top-pairing role, and he ended the year with limited ice time in the Hitmen's playoff run. If he's going to bounce back, he's going to have to stay healthy, improve his speed, and get his overall development back on track. He's got Sheldon-Souray like potential, especially if he can get his shot in gear.
2008-2009: Strong bounce-back year with Hitmen
2009-2010: Signs entry-level deal, plays year with Falcons
2010-2011: Impresses at TC with 2-way ability, plays with Falcons
2011-2012: Cracks roster in bottom-6

13) Ryan O'Marra
The kid has fallen off the charts since an amazing 2007 WHC, where he looked like the next Rob Neidermeyer. O'Marra stopped talking, and started to play hockey towards the end of last season. He managed to stick with the Falcons for the final stretch, and looked impressive with his 2-way game. Regardless, he was only a bottom-6 player at that stage. He's got amazing face-off abilities and should get a real long look in a couple of years. Overall, I think his potential for now is a lesser version of Ryan Kesler, maybe even just a 4th line player. He's definitely going to be an NHL player, regardless of what role he plays.
2008-2009: Becomes top-6 player in AHL, challenges for top line
2009-2010: Competes with Nash in TC, becomes top-line forward with Falcons, call-up option
2010-2011: Cracks roster as 4th line center, moves up when injuries strike.
2011-2012: Centers Nash on third line.

14) Chris Vande Velde
It's hard to tell if Vande Velde's past season was more attributable to his linemates or his own development. This is why he's not ranked higher, for the offensive potential he showed with North Dakota would put him in the top-10 for sure. Playing with top prospect T.J Oshie and offensive dynamo Ryan Duncan doesn't hurt either, nor does having a top defenseman like Taylor Chorney to move the puck. But Vande Velde impressed at Oilers' prospect camp this past summer with his physical development and offensive capabilities. If he pans out, we could have a David Backes on our hands.
2008-2009: Plays top-line with UND, puts up numbers similar to last year
2009-2010: Plays senior year as 22-year old, improves offensive stats
2010-2011: Signs entry-level deal, plays AHL and finishes year in top-6.
2011-2012: Challenges Jacques (if he's still around) for the power forward spot with Penner's contract done.

15) Liam Reddox
After a quiet 2006-2007 campaign split between the ECHL and the AHL, Reddox exploded in 2007-2008 with a Brodziak-esque like year. He put up 44 points in a second-line role, showing a strong 2-way game that got him in an NHL game with the big club this season. If he can take it to another gear in terms of offensive productivity in the AHL, we might have another Kyle Brodziak on our hands, with the relentlessness of a Kris Draper.
2008-2009: Impresses at TC, buried by depth and plays 2nd line C in AHL
2009-2010: Makes it as 13th forward, sees some NHL action
2010-2011: Potential Pouliot/Brodziak replacement on 3rd/4th line.
2011-2012: Established bottom-6 player.

16) Cody Wild
Wild is a pure offensive defenseman who graduated to the AHL late last year after a succesful tenure with Providence. There, he learned somewhat when to jump into the play and when to take care of the zone, but still his poor decision-making and overall defensive game remains his only obstacle to pro success. He has great PP presence, and great skating, and would be an amazing offensive talent in the NHL. If he can ever round out his 2-way game, he could be a John-Michael Liles.
2008-2009: Solid top-6 player with Falcons, 2nd unit PP QB
2009-2010: Top-4 defenseman with Falcons, #1 PP option
2010-2011: 2-way game progresses to stage where he's top-pairing in AHL, #1 call-up
2011-2012: Essentially one-dimensional bottom-pairing defender in NHL, used primarily for PP and offensive capabilities.

17) Slava Trukhno
Coming in with high expectations after an explosive final year in the QMJHL, Trukhno struggled to find his offensive game most of last season with the Falcons. The last month, however, he really took off, scoring at a point/game clip. He has great offensive instincts, and does play on both ends of the ice unlike most Europeans. He's got potential to be somewhat of a Nilsson, but he'll have to find his game in the AHL before it happens.
2008-2009: Established 2nd liner with Falcons, pushes for 1st line
2009-2010: Impressive TC almost gets him a spot, #1 line with Falcons
2010-2011: Gets a shot with skilled players on 4th line with Oilers
2011-2012: Development earns some time on 2nd line, impresses with 2-way abilities; versatile player that can play all lines

18) Linus Omark
On the basis of skill and offensive instincts alone, Omark may be the Oilers top prospect. He was able to put up Fabian Brunnstrom-like numbers in the SEL, yet is a year younger than the much-hyped Stars prospect. The only limitation to Omark is his size. At 5'9, he needs to beef up if he's going to make it in the NHL. So far, he shows relentless work ethic and never backs down from physicality in Sweden. He's got great scoring touch and playmaking instincts. I think he's in the Sami Kapanen-mould in terms of overall NHL potential if his size doesn't become a factor.
2008-2009: Impresses in SEL, becomes top-line player with Lulea, gains weight
2009-2010: Signs 2-way deal with Oilers, makes statement with flashy offensive skill at TC, top line AHL player, call-up if top-6 player goes down
2009-2010: Cracks 3rd line, but offensive game has him eventually promoted to 2nd line.
2010-2011: 2nd line NHL player.

19) Johan Motin
A Peckham-like physical specimen at the age of 18, Motin exists so low on the list just because of the uncertainty of his future with the Oilers organization. He is the prototypical old-time shutdown defenseman. He makes the simple, safe play, uses his body a lot to separate his man from the puck, and never backs down from physical play. If he ever does make it to N. America, he may be a less explosive version of Vitaly Vishnevski, with a more effective overall defensive game.
2008-2009: Becomes top-4 defenseman in SEL
2009-2010: Top shut-down defenseman on SEL team
2010-2011: Shows NHL-ready game in SEL and international tournaments
2011-2012: Signs 2-way deal with Oilers, challenges over next couple years for bottom-6 spot.

Sebastian Bisaillion
After a ridiculous start to his 2008-2009 campaign, Bisaillion suffered a scary leg injury that pushed him out for the season. He was starting to look like a legitimate call-up option for that season, too. He has great offensive game for a bottom-pairing defenseman, and manages to hold his own in the defensive zone, using physicality and average decision-making. He's got the same kind of potential as a guy like Rory Fitzpatrick: decent 2-way ability but not quite NHL-calibre enough to be a legitimate starter. Reserve potential.
2008-2009: Remain top-6 with Falcons, pressure Roy for top-4 spot.
2009-2010: Become legit top-4 defenseman with Falcons and put up points.
2010-2011: Challenge for 7th spot, #1 call-up option for 7th spot
2011-2012: 6/7 defenseman in NHL.

Honorable Mentions:
Alexei Mikhnov: Top-15 in terms of actual skill and potential, but the likelihood of him staying in the KHL is too great to make him a legit top-20 prospect.

Stephane Goulet: After showing much goal-scoring prowess in junior, Goulet's game has failed to translate into AHL success, and is likely never going to make the NHL.

Colin MacDonald: After making excuses for his lack of scoring with Providence, the Oilers can no longer hide Macdonald's failure as a 2nd-round pick. He did put up points with the Falcons, but hasn't showed the kind of poise that would make him an NHLer.

Bryan Pitton: After a solid last year in the OHL, Pitton has a shot at becoming a back-up in the NHL. He's got quite a ways to go, though, as he's got to surpass Dubnyk on the depth chart before he becomes an option.

Milan Kytnar: He came with much mystery to the CHL last year, but failed to accomplish much offensively. Doesn't seem to have a 2-way game strong enough to become a legit bottom-6 presence in the NHL.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Robert Nilsson

I've been sold on Robert Nilsson ever since he scored in his first ever game with the Oilers. There's no doubting his skill set, nor his ability to see the game like a top-flight forward, yet he finished below both Cogliano and Gagner in scoring last season. However, if you look a little closer, you get a better understanding of how effective the kid really is.

At the beginning of the season, Nilsson was able to win a top-6 spot on the team, playing RW beside Torres and Stoll. Now, knowing how last season went for those two former Oilers, it's not hard to guess how Nilsson's first month went. After five games he was sent down to Springfield, before being called up on November 2.

This time around, Nilsson felt the effects of the MacBlender. He struggled to find his way as he had stints on all 4 lines, and by his 15th game, had only put up 4 points.
Something clicked when Fernando Pisani came back. Nilsson's numbers took off from there, as he started to see time with Horcoff-Penner, and Cogliano-Brodziak. But when he was put on a line with Pisani and Gagner, Nilsson woke up. He went on his first points streak of the year, putting up 10 points in 10 games. He clicked with Cogliano and Gagner on the 2nd unit PP, and managed to have success alongside Pisani, somewhat of a legitimate shooter.

Nilsson put up 9 points over the next 23 games, as he found himself playing alongside Kyle Brodziak on the third line. Nilsson clearly needs skilled players to thrive, and without Horcoff or Gagner to play with, he struggled to put up numbers.

On January 18, as the Oilers were being spanked by the Carolina Hurricanes on a vital eastern road trip, MacTavish finally put Nilsson on a line with Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano. At this point, he had 23 points, Gagner had 15 points, and Cogliano had 18. From here, Nilsson only put up 18 more points over the next 33 games, but his presence alongside the two rookies helped those two really take off (Gagner would put up 39 points, and Cogliano 27 over the last 33 games)

Nilsson added an element to that line that went unnoticed. He was someone that gelled perfectly with both players. His quickness and passing helped Cogliano put up a slurry of goals, while he was the only guy on the team other than Hemsky who could think at the same level as Gagner, and the two were magical together in the offensive zone. His presence was what really pushed that "kid line" to the forefront, and although he didn't put up the same amount of points as the other two, it was clear to see that he was a key figure in almost every goal they scored.

Not only was Nilsson an effective offensive player, but his presence was felt defensively as well. At +8, he led the team in plus/minus, compared to +1 for Cogliano and a terrible -21 from Sam Gagner. I remember that one overtime game versus the Blues when Nilsson made a key sprawl across the neutral zone to block a breakaway pass, before helping to set up Cogliano and Gagner down low for what would be Cogliano's 3rd OT winner in a row. Nilsson got no press for the move, but it was integral for us winning the game. It exemplifies what he brings to the team. Whether it be points or steady defensive awareness, Nilsson was always contributing

Let's see how the Desjardins numbers worked out for Nilsson.

Robert Nilsson was even better than Ales Hemsky at even strength, putting up 2.37 ESP/60 in his first full NHL season. He played with a -0.01 QC and a -0.08 QT; this yielded a ΔQ of -0.07, a literal disadvantage compared to Hemsky's 0.00.
What also sticks out is how much of a playmaker Nilsson is. He had 1.84 ESA/60, which puts him 6th in the entire league, ahead of guys like Hemsky, Savard, and Datsyuk.

Now, Nilsson didn't get anywhere near the powerplay opportunities Gagner did, and spent the entire year on the second unit. So we won't know how good he could be until he gets to play with the likes of Penner, Hemsky, and Gagner on the top unit. Even then, I think it's safe to say with his skillset and hockey mind, he'd be putting up huge numbers.

For next season, I'd look to have Nilsson play hefty minutes at even strength. He only played around 11:07 at ES a game last year, and I think with his production, that needs to go up. Also, with such a high ESP/60, he should get some time with legitimate scorers (like Cole). He ought to be playing around 12:30-13:00 a night at ES, and 2:00 a night on the PP.
As a second-line player with his 2-way capabilities, playing 15 minutes a night isn't too much to ask out of Robert Nilsson, in my mind the unsung hero of the Oilers' late-season push.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Playing for the love of the game

Stefan Legein's recent decision to retire from hockey at the age of 19 comes as a shocker to many fans of the game. How could someone so young, so talented, who had already committed so much to making a career out of hockey, suddenly decide to forgo a lifestyle that would have paid him millions?
It really puts things in perspective for the fans, who dream of living the lives these guys do. But when you lose your zeal to keep playing, what's the point?

The life of an NHL player is not as fantastic as it seems. The way the game is now, players must constantly remain in shape, and train hard even in the off-season. There are immense pressures from both those close to you as well as the fans to perform at a high level, and when one reaches the professional ranks, this pressure increases exponentially. Players spend essentially 8-10 months of the year with the team, travelling, practising, and undergoing the grueling physical tolls of an 82-game schedule. What they gain in finances and popularity comes at a cost of the stability and flexibility of family life.

Regardless of this, I'd say most NHLers absolutely love it. They're getting paid to play a game that they have loved since childhood. You see it in character guys like Ethan Moreau and Steve Staios, as well as kids like Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky. The comradery, the fight, the drive to win, these things all push these guys to play the game hard and with a passion.

But Legein's decision reminds us that as players move further along in their careers, this "love for the game" can wane. You got to wonder how many current NHLers may be feeling the same way. They may be too young to have enough financial security with their current wages, yet too old to suddenly change career paths. Guys like Joni Pitkanen come to mind, someone with all the physical skills to excel in the game, but seems so lost and unmotivated to show up and give it his all.

I respect Legein for his decision, and I wish him well in whatever he does. At the young age of 19, he's got many years ahead of him to decide upon a career. I know fans in Columbus may be upset, and may see it as a wasted pick or a wasted resource investment, but you got to understand that the NHL life may not be as dreamy as it seems.