Thus far we've reviewed strengths, there are a few, and weaknesses, there are many, in the 2009 preseason roundtable. Part IV takes a peek at training camp and the player battles that fans can look for as September progresses.
Our lineup includes: the erudite Shepso, author of some of the most intellectual hockey writings - he plies his trade at Bringing Back The Glory; The venerable HBomb, frequent on-point commentor at Lowetide's place; the incisive Dawgbone, a frequent commentor all over the Oilers' 'sphere, who writes too infrequently at After The Green Light; the pragmatic Doogie2k, an excellent foil and a thought-provoking writer at Still No Name; and the hilarious Lord Bob, whose rapier wit is rarely matched in the 'sphere. Jonathan, Bruce and myself round out this merry band of brigands, obsessives, geeks, and puckheads.
4. Coming into training camp, do you think there are any position battles to be won?
Shepso: Oh gawd yes. 3C and 4C are both still wide open, as is 1LW, though the Amicus Brief series proves that DP belongs there should Horcoff and Hemsky not be broken up. I have a feeling that Poo will be our 3C out of training camp, though Brule is more suited for it. Nilsson still has to prove he belongs here, Jacques and Smac will be battling for the utility coke machine position, as clearly Huggy Bear is the main 4th line goon now. Reddox is in tough as well as the last forward. I say he doesn’t make the team and Smac does. I’m also pretty sure that Peckham is going to give the lovable but not-so-skillful Strudwick a run for the 7D in training camp. He’ll lose, but only because Jason is so quotable and great in the pressbox…er…locker room. DD may give JDD a run in training camp, but his time is not quite now. He will play 5-8 games in the bigs this year though.
Hbomb: The goaltending seems set, as does the 7 defensemen. The depth forwards are where the battles are going to be. By my math, you can give spots right now to Hemsky, Horcoff, Penner, Gagner, Cogliano, O'Sullivan, Moreau, and Pisani. That's eight guys right there. In the battle for the other six spots are Robert Nilsson, Gilbert Brule, Marc Pouliot, JF Jacques, Zack Stortini, Liam Reddox, Ryan Potulny, Steve MacIntyre, and perhaps Ryan Stone. It's going to depend on what sort of dimension that Pat Quinn wants to bring to his bottom six, and whether or not there's a place at center or on the wing for a guy like Cogliano or O'Sullivan.
Note that I have not included Rob Schremp in this debate. In my mind, he's completely finished as an Oiler prospect and is all-but-certain to be lost on waivers prior to October 1st.
Dawgbone: There's a couple of spots where there should be battles, but I don't think there will be (And I don't think it matters). The biggest issue is that of all the potential battles, none of them really matter much because the players just aren't that good. It's not like we are talking about a player who can potentially challenge a guy like Pisani for a job because the kid is that good. The battles we are talking about is roster spots for Brule, Schremp, Potulny, Stone, Jacques, etc... Not to take anything away from these guys but they just don't make enough of a difference over each other to have any factor in terms of how the season goes.
Doogie2k: The 2C job is an interesting one. In the article I linked above on the centres, I noted basically three players who could theoretically make that position: Gagner, O'Sullivan, and Andrew Cogliano. It'll be interesting to see which one wins out, and how much it reflects the Quinney coaching philosophy. I would be very curious to see what a line with Gagner at centre and O'Sullivan and Cogliano on the wings would be like, aside from horrible at face-offs. Related to that, the top two LW jobs could be up for grabs, particularly if Quinn opts to put O'Sullivan on the wing again, instead of at centre. I suspect Dustin Penner's job is safe, but Robert Nilsson has to be looking over his shoulder, since he could readily be supplanted by Patty O'Lanterns or, if O'Sullivan plays 2C, Sam Gagner. Finally, 3C could potentially be interesting, though it's probably Pouliot's job to lose unless he's supplanted by either O'Sullivan or, as a dark horse, Brule.
Other than that, just the usual jockeying for position in the bottom tier of the roster. Depending on player performance and perceived team needs from the coaching staff, any combination of Reddox, Sestito, Minard, Stone, Potulny, Brule, Jacques, Stortini, MacIntyre, Schremp, Eberle, and Paajarvi-Svensson (okay, maybe not Schremp at this point) could make 10-14F, while the D battle seems mostly won, unless one of the current bottom three (Staios, Smid, Strudwick) gets hurt, gets traded, or completely fails out in camp.
Lord Bob: While not a position battle /per se/, Theo Peckham and Taylor Chorney could easily ruin Jason Strudwick's year as the /de facto/ injury replacement. Quinn has had trouble with youngsters but he's been known to take a flyer on a kid who catches his eye. If Peckham or Chorney impress in camp and a defenseman goes down long-term, the Oilers may opt to throw one of the rookies straight into the lineup and Strudwick will continue to sit in the press box. Peckham is obviously the favourite, but Chorney's skillset is more attractive and if he comes to camp motivated, he could make noise.
Bruce: There are always position battles, although in 2009-10 they mainly seem to be concentrated up front. The goalies are set with JDD almost certainly having the jump on Dubnyk for the backup role, while the blueline crew seems fairly settled with a defined top 4, Staios and Smid a solid third pairing, and Strudwick surely slotted for a 7th D/14th F role as last year. Theo Peckham will turn some heads in training camp but barring trade or injury I don't see him forcing his way past anyone in the projected top 6 quite yet.
Up front it's musical chairs with 7 forwards vying for top 6 roles. In theory 1LW is an open competition, with O'Sullivan, Cogliano, even Nilsson nipping at Penner's heels. Only 2 of the "losers" will line up with Gagner on the second scoring line, while the odd man out might find himself centring a tough minutes line (POS, Cogs) or in tough for a job (Nilsson). If the former, then a battle will develop between Pouliot and Brule for the 4C role.
Guys like Potulny, Eberle, and Schremp will make some noise at training camp but are likely battling just to make the 23-man roster in a pressbox role. Ditto MacIntyre.
Derek: I see two primary battles to be settled in camp: first line left wing and second toughs center. Cogliano and Penner will fight it out for the first left wing and the loser will end up on Gagner's port side. O'Sullivan and Pouliot will battle for the second toughs center in a more nuanced battle. Neither are particularly physical, but Pouliot is bigger and seemingly better in the circle. O'Sullivan also has a better resume to this point. I think if O'Sullivan can get some traction in the faceoff circle, the spot between Pisani and Moreau is his. If not, he can end up on Pouliot's left or on Gagner's right. If Pouliot loses, the fourth line center is his. If not, he's leaving Edmonton.
Jonathan: Yes. Up front, there are spots reserved for Gilbert Brule and Jean-Francois Jacques, but they'll need to have strong training camps to hang on to them, as the Oilers have a group of very good AHL players (Liam Reddox, Ryan Potulny, Chris Minard, Ryan Stone) who will all be pushing for a role. On top of that, it remains to be seen if Steve MacIntyre's roster spot will go to a fighter; if it does, the Oilers have brought in Kip Brennan to challenge for the role, if not one of the other forwards in the system could snag it. Other than that, there is the slight possibility that Theo Peckham or Devan Dubnyk could pass Jason Strudwick or Jeff Deslauriers in camp.