(Editor's Note: Commenter bhommy thinks it's never too early to start projecting line combinations and The Copper & Blue agrees. We've talked extensively about the lack of tough-minutes forwards on this year's roster and building lines with a bunch of rookies is difficult for any coach, even a tactician like Tom Renney. A big thanks to bhommy for raising the topic.)
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Here in Oil Country, everyone is getting all jacked up on the idea of our super-rookies. It is proven fact that Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle will all soon become perrenial first team all-stars for the next 20 years. Throw in Linus Omark and the future sure does look bright. But the question still remains; what do we do with them this year?
With the four aforementioned players (Taylor Hall, Margnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jordan Eberle and Omark), there is really only one certainty: Hall will be an Edmonton Oiler in 2010-11. But even with that certainty, question marks are still abound with regards to Hall. Will he be given an opportunity to be the 1LW, will he play on a tough minutes line, will he get PP time? And to think, this is the guy with the most certainty surrounding him.
I believe that Hall will (should?) play on a soft minutes line as the 2LW behind Dustin Penner. I would operate with a power-vs-power line as the first unit (likely Penner-Shawn Horcoff- Ales Hemsky, possibly Sam Gagner if he proves up to the challenge) as we just do not have the personnel to create a dedicated checking line. Now when it comes to this second, soft minutes line with Hall that I described earlier, it begins to get a little shady. If Gagner is able to step up to the plate and be the outscoring 1C playing against tough competition, then the second line would have the advantage of having a reliable vet in Horcoff centering it.
If this is the case, I see no reason why the 2RW could not be one of either Eberle, Omark or Paajarvi. Horcoff, despite all of his deficiencies and his grossly inflated salary, is still an effective player that would be wonderful to have mentoring two kids on his wings. I believe strongly that he is capable of doing this, and if Eberle/Omark/Paajarvi show that they're capable of succeeding in the NHL, then I'd gladly have two rookies on a soft minutes line. Of course if Gagner doesn't show the ability to be an outscorer against top opposition, then he would move back into the 2C slot, and I would put Brule on the right side.
As for the third line, I mentioned before that we don't have the personnel to have a checking line. So my third line would have Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule and Ryan Jones on it if Gagner takes the 1C spot. If not, the 3 line is likely Jones, Cogliano and Colin Fraser. Leaving the fourth line as Jean-Francois Jacques - Fraser - Zack Stortini, or Jacques, Stortini and whoever impresses in camp in that role. Possibly Ryan O'Marra, Chris Vande Velde or Alexandre Giroux.
I would assume many people think that I'm crazy by only allowing for a maximum of two rookies, when many are penciling in three easily, and occasionally a fourth. But I see no problem with allowing two or three of Eberle, Paajarvi and Omark to develop in OKC for at least part of the season. If they're completely blowing the doors off, you make room for them, but if they're just being successful, let them be successful, there's nothing wrong with allowing a prospect to gain confidence and experience playing against men/in NA in the AHL. Also, injuries are going to happen. Likely in the top 6 as well. When those injuries do happen, the kids will get their shots. I hope they succeed.
What I'm really trying to say I guess, is that no matter how excited I am to see all of these players in Oil silks as soon as possible, I'm far more excited by the idea of the Oilers winning a cup with these guys, and I believe that allowing them to develop at their own pace is the best way to try and achieve that goal. So stay patient with me Oil Country, it'll all be worth it in the end.
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