Corey Potter, the man erasing the memory of past 44s from the minds of Oiler fans.
October was a good month for the Oilers. Scratch that, October was a great month for the Oilers. After being picked to finish with a lottery pick by almost everyone, the team came out of the gate on fire winning seven of eleven games and added a couple more points thanks to a pair of shootout losses. The wins weren’t always decisive, but ugly or not, they all count the same in the standings. Compared to last season when the Oilers didn’t reach 16 points until game 21 and won their seventh game of the season two games after that, this early season run of wins is a welcome change.
With October in the books and a much busier November schedule set to start tonight, I thought now would be a good time to take a look back at the month that was and those Oilers who saw their stock rise or fall the most during the first month of the season.
So that I can wrap this post up on a positive note I’ll start with players that saw the biggest stock drops this month. To build suspense I’ve listed them in reverse order so don’t scroll down or you’ll ruin the surprise.
Ales Hemsky – With Taylor Hall hot on his heels, a future where Hemsky is no longer the Oilers best forward is in sight. But at the start of this season, Hemsky still held that title. But, despite the obvious skill, Hemsky comes with baggage; he can’t seem to stay healthy. In the last two seasons he’s played a total of 69 games as a result of injuries to both his left and right shoulder. And after just four periods of hockey this season, Hemsky again found himself sitting out with a shoulder injury. When he’s healthy, he’s great. But he’s not healthy often enough. Is he still valuable to the team? Absolutely he is, but as the next generation continues to establish itself he becomes more and more expendable.
Linus Omark – Omark, who started last season in Oklahoma City when Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi were awarded roster spots before training camp began, was in the opening night lineup for the Oilers but found himself watching from the press-box the very next game, and has now been sent back to Oklahoma City. I’m an Omark fan. I think he’s got a tremendous amount of skill and that, if given a real chance to succeed in the NHL, he could be a very good hockey player, but for whatever reason he seems trapped in the Oilers system somewhere below the players the team seems to consider their elite prospects, but without the kind of profile to fit the role of a third or fourth line player. I had high hopes for him this season but now I don’t know if we haven’t already seen his last game in Edmonton as a member of the Oilers.
Theo Peckham – After playing in 71 games last season it seemed as though Peckham had established himself as a fixture in the Oilers lineup. He struggled at times but that had more to do with playing against tough completion than anything else. Or so I thought. This season, Peckham has played in only seven games, and was a healthy scratch for the other four. He has looked completely out of place most of the time he’s been on the ice. Unlike last season, he’s not playing against tough competition, but he's still getting killed out there. From a player I thought had locked up a roster spot to a healthy scratch six games into the season is quite the fall. The good news for Peckham is that the Andy Sutton suspension might be the chance he needs to re-establish himself. If that doesn't work he might want to change back to wearing 49 as a last resort.
And now for those who’ve seen their stock rise, again presented in reverse order.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – My feelings about keeping him in the NHL aside, I cannot deny that Nugent-Hopkins had a spectacular first month in the NHL. With five goals and six assists his point per game pace not only has him tied with Luke Adam for the rookie scoring lead, it also leads the Oilers. For comparison, Hall only scored six points in his first eleven games. Is he being sheltered? You bet he is and there is every reason to think that his early season pace is unsustainable, but Nugent-Hopkins has come as billed - good offensively and great on the powerplay - and has exceeded any realistic expectations for the start of his NHL career. We might have hoped for a month like the one he just had in March or April when he's had a chance to adjust to the speed of the NHL, but not October.
Nikolai Khabibulin – The craziest thing about Khabibulin’s 5-0-2 record is that if games were two seconds shorter his record would be even better. His 1.12 goals against average and 0.960 save percentage are both tops in the NHL. Just let that sink in for a minute, tops in the NHL. Remeber, this is the same Khabibulin who was terrible last season posting numbers that ranked in the same territory as Rick DiPietro. With numbers that bad some would think he couldn’t help but improve, others would point to his injury history and what other goalies in his age bracket had done and say maybe not. But whether or not you thought Kahbibulin would bounce back, I doubt you expected that the improvement would be so significant that the fans at Rexall Place would be chanting his name late in games.
Corey Potter – Whereas Khabibulin’s play has been surprising, Potter’s has been completely unexpected. Somewhat lost in the July 1 acquisitions of Ben Eager, Cam Barker, Darcy Hordichuk, and Eric Belanger, plus the Kurtis Foster/Andy Sutton trade, Potter came to camp with most expecting that he’d start the season in Oklahoma City. A career AHLer, Potter had played nine games in the NHL spread out over the last three seasons registering one goal and one assist. That wouldn’t lead many to believe him capable of a goal and six assists in nine games this season. He’s playing significant minutes and is being trusted by the coaching staff to take on tough assignments at the same time. In his last game day thread, Scott wondered about contract issues around Potter. If that was something you thought we’d even be considering at this point in the season, raise your hand. If you raised your hand, put it down: you’re lying.