With the Oilers having two solid wins in as many weeks (Yakupov and Schultz), I thought that I would let myself fall into the giddiness of what the Oilers depth chart could look like next year, because I know as an Oilers fan I am supposed to have unwavering sarcasm and pessimism when it comes to the organization and all, but I think it's about time we all let ourselves indulge in some excitement for the new season, even if that excitement is cautious and skeptically judging if these recent wins will actually impact our on-ice product. After all, neither Yakupov nor Schultz has even played an NHL game yet...I say screw that for a day and be a fan for once. I am going to be making about a dozen other potential depth charts in my head before the regular season, based on whatever personnel changes come between now and then, but I think now is a good time to look at our current roster without any UFA acquisitions and still feel like we have an improved roster from last year already, and we haven't even had to give anything away yet.
If this whole optimism angle isn't your thing, we can also look at imaginary depth charts as a way to see where the current holes in the roster are, as so we can be prepared to scrutinize and criticize various Oiler moves in the upcoming week, especially tomorrow.
My own imaginary depth chart is as follows. It's a current depth chart so I've included all of the players that I think we can reasonably assume to have a chance at being part of the Oilers in the upcoming year. In other words, no Cam Barker, but I've kept names like Hordichuk in parentheses but not in actual roster spots because I don't think they bring them back, but it's not certain that they don't.
Hartikainen/ Vande Velde(?)/Jones
N. Schultz/J. Schultz
On the radar:
Some notes: I assume Yakupov will be on the team this year and although he could be slotted anywhere between lines one and three, I think that (A) Yakupov is the best candidate to move to LW, being a natural left and even stating himself that he will play wherever, so he sounds comfortable enough for a shot and (B) Yakupov and Hall both seem like explosive players and considering your top 2 Cs and RWs, you need to have as much intensity on both lines as you can. I could see Hartikainen or even Paajarvi slotting into a top 6 role as well, especially if injuries happen, but for now I think the offensive talent in the top 6 I've listed above is phenomenal and the best we've had in Edmonton since probably the time of the Cups.
Hall/Gagner/Hemsky also had time together last year and they looked pretty good, and that's a damn good 2nd/1b line to have.
I'm not sure if Paajarvi makes the team next year and I'm even less sure if he's ready to, but if I had to put money on it I'd make a small wager that Paajarvi makes the team out of camp. I have a question mark next to Smyth's name because I'm not sold that he's coming back, though I'd say it's certainly a possibility since you're not going to find a better free agent player for that price, especially not one with Smyth's ties and respect in the organization. If Smyth walks I'd think it would be super interesting if the Oilers decided to give Omark a try playing with Paajarvi on the third line for a handful of games, maybe even with Lander at centre, and see if they can get something going together. We're not really sure how Krueger is going to be as a coach yet and who he likes and dislikes, aside from the fact that I don't think he loves Ryan Jones. In reality I don't see it happening but it'd be fun just the same.
It's probably more likely that Vande Velde doesn't make the team and they keep Eager and Belanger around, but this is my imaginary depth chart, so I'm allowed to have my imaginary biases. I like Vande Velde better than Belanger but I liked O'Marra better than both of them last year. I still don't understand that trade. I'd say Hartikainen has a better chance to make the team than Paajarvi, especially given the Oilers' thinking at the draft this year. Plus, I remember an episode of Oil Change where Tambellini had Hartikainen's name on the roster, but after more discussion apparently carried on, they seemed to have decided that they didn't have room for him. I think he's cracked it this year barring a poor camp.
Couldn't wait to plop J. Schultz on a line with N. Schultz. To me, this means Potter is more expendable than Peckham, but there's probably more of a market for Peckham and I'd say Potter has a higher ceiling than Peckham for next season, but perhaps only because Potter had more good arrows than Peckham last year. If I had to bank on the future of a young player with the playing ability of Peckham or Potter, I'd be basing my prediction heavily on their performance in their last playing season.
I'm not sure if they keep Khabibulin or bury him, though like most other people I wish he'd be gone. If this is the case, is it impossible for him to have another magical 15 games out of 20 that he plays next year? Probably but maybe not. I'm not sold on Dubnyk, but maybe that's just my Oilers' fan paranoia kicking in.
It's fun to see Pitlick's name so close to the top of my "AHL watch" list. I think there's a chance he gets a call-up next year, depending on injuries, his play and what other NHL/AHL pros they sign. Again, there's a chance that Lander cracks the NHL roster opening day again, especially if Belanger is dealt and CVV doesn't have a good camp. I'm surprised that they haven't given Tyrvainen a look yet given the needs of the club, but with the team weaknesses I think he gets a look before Cornet this year if it comes down to it, depending on performances of course.
I hope I see Fedun as an Oiler by the end of the year, sticking on the team from the day he steps in. In fact I hope he makes the NHL roster out of camp, I just don't think there's the room there was last year.
I put Roy and Bunz as the goaltenders for fun mostly; I think it's more likely that Bunz goes to Stockton and they sign a good 3rd string goaltender if Khabby is still there. The thing is, I can also see a battle ala Dubnyk-Deslaurier between Bunz and Roy starting next year. I can see this as the risk the Oilers are most likely to make next year with regards to depth at a position, even moreso than defense. Here's to hoping Khabby plays out of his mind for a dozen games and Bunz and Roy push each other to be good enough for the NHL sooner than you'd expect.
I couldn't care less about Martindale or Abney and wish the organization would give them away for nothing so I could stop mentioning them in lists like these.
I'd give Rieder an outside chance on making the Barons next year, depending on how mature the team thinks he is and how well he plays at camp. He had one hell of a year last year, and I don't think he's gone up enough in the heads of some people. Draft pedigree doesn't mean much to me a year after the player is drafted, and some people bloom after their draft year. Yes, cautious optimism still, but all the information is good so we may as well be excited about it. It's Justin Schultz day, after all.
There's also a chance that Gernat and/or Musil come to the AHL. If I had to choose one I'd say Musil because he got a contract first. He might be an N. Schultz replacement down the road.
Klefbom is the last player that I'd say has a chance to walk into the AHL/NHL next year, given his year left on his contract in Sweden and how Tambellini and he both said that staying in Sweden was probably a good idea for one more year. He might be ready, though.
On the radar is a handful of guys I think have a small chance of getting an NHL or AHL contract this year. Ringwald and Yeo are two guys that didn't start in OKC but they finished there and as two of the better defenders from what I can tell. Connor Jones is someone that plays well with his brother Kellen, who is playing pretty well in college and might earn a contract next year. They probably don't make it, but there's always that chance that they'll blossom into a poor man's Sedins or Staals. Brett Ferguson is obviously someone they like since this is his second camp, maybe OKC gives him a shot. Laraque is just for fun, but if they are looking for a Hordichuk replacement, I wouldn't rule it out and hey he scored a hat trick for us once right?
As for holes, the biggest one to me by far is in net, but I'm also very optimistic about Taylor Fedun, following him as closely as anyone since a little before Penticton last year. We're not great on centre depth and it wouldn't be a terrible idea to at least pick up a veteran AHL call-up option or re-sign Green. Of course a proven NHL player would be best, but I also don't mind this being a try-out year for a few fringe players before we go free agent crazy, especially given the quality of this year's crop and the fact that a lot of our young players are due for raises soon. I don't want to pay 3M for something that's already in the organization for much cheaper. After that I'm actually pretty excited about the forward group, except that their call-up options are anything but proven, and it would be foolhardy not to plan for injuries. A top-2 D-man pick-up would be the icing on the cake but I don't see too many out there and wouldn't like the price for them. We aren't doing bad in the depth defenseman category, better than I think we are in the forward depth category, especially since my favourite prospects of that bunch are in Junior still (Rieder, Zharkov).
I know it has been a long read, but if you read this far hopefully you can appreciate my blend of excitement and neuroticism for the team, even if I'll have to come back to reasonable expectations before the season starts. In the end I want to be entertained and even if there are some flops, I am entertained by the new players and the excitement that they bring, so I'll take that and cheer like hell for a play-off race where anything can happen.