If Ales Hemsky returns on November 8th against the Canadiens, Tom Renney could be in a position to create two tough minutes lines from his forward corps. While some writers believe this is going to cause problems or create confusion for Renney and the Oilers, I believe Hemsky's return gives the the coach the opportunity to create a second tough minutes line that will relieve some of the workload from the top line and still give him a chance to protect Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the defensive end.
Renney has been protecting the Hopkins' line with offensive zonestarts, at this point giving Hopkins 70% of his starts in the offensive end at home and 62% on the road. Shawn Horcoff's line, on the other hand, all have less than 35% of their starts in the offensive end, with Horcoff getting the toughest work at 31% offensive zonestarts.
Tyler at mc79hockey broke down the time on ice against the opposition's best so far this season and noted that the Horcoff line is playing against the best over 50% of the time and the Hopkins line less than 20% of the time. Eric Belanger is certainly capable of handling defensive zonestarts, but he's playing with Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner. If Renney had a second option through Belanger, he could ease the burden on Horcoff's line and perhaps generate even more offense from his top line.
Taylor Hall proved capable of playing in a wide variety of situations last season and wasn't protected like the young line has been this year. Move him to the wing with Eric Belanger and Ales Hemsky and Renney has a sturdy second option in his own end and against the opposition's best. This move frees up Sam Gagner to slot in between Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, at least for the faceoff, and benefit from the easier minutes in a natural position. It also affords Magnus Paajarvi the opportunity to play against easier opposition with Anton Lander, Lennart Petrell and/or Linus Omark.
Of course, Gagner could play the left wing with Belanger and Hemsky against toughs, something he's capable of doing and has done ably in the past when given solid linemates, but Hall in his natural position makes more sense.
These moves give Tom Renney flexibility on the road against the toughs, the ability to shelter the Hopkins line even more, a look at what Gagner is capable of in a sheltered role with good linemates, and a 4th line capable of creating offense, not just giving up shots against.