After combing through the rubble that is the the Edmonton forwards grouping, we were left with a set of forwards that is substantially lacking a couple of players who can play the game.
This lineup assumes that Gilbert Brule can be signed to a contract of $1,500,000 or less. If not, the Oilers are better off pulling a pump-and-dump with him and keeping Robert Nilsson on board. In addition, the review of these players concluded that Andrew Cogliano was best used as a trade asset and Ethan Moreau would be traded or bought out of the final year of his contract.
Top three: Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Dustin Penner
These are all power-versus-power players that will outscore and as a group, these guys are absolute bargains. The one thing the Oilers don't lack right now is a top line. If there is an opportunity to bring in a top line player, either Horcoff or Penner could be used effectively to build a second line.
Middle six: Sam Gagner, Patrick O'Sullivan, Linus Omark, Fernando Pisani
The $800,000 version of healthy Fernando Pisani makes this grouping much more palatable, but the fragility of Pisani's health means that the 13th forward can't be a throw-away. Gagner is having such a subtly strong season that he's going to be a good one, but shouldn't be counted on to be the second minutes center yet. O'Sullivan is a player that should be able to handle second minutes as long as he's not swimming through the Erie Canal pulling a barge with his teeth. Omark -- I believe is a calculated risk that the team must take. He would be on an entry-level deal for ~$800,000 and by his NHLE, he should be able to outplay that contract, especially getting third-level minutes. On a team that is bereft of outplayable contracts, low-downside moves like this are a must. If he doesn't work out, he would likely head back to the KHL long before he hit the AHL and Ryan Potulny has shown the ability to play the NHL game at two positions.
Bottom three: Gilbert Brule, Marc Pouliot, Ryan Stone, Zack Stortini
A healthy Pouliot could finally replace Kyle Brodziak. Brule on the cheap along with Stone and Stortini round out what could be a very effective fourth line for a coach that cared about matchups.
Healthy scratches: Ryan Potulny
Callups: Jean-Francois Jacques, Liam Reddox
That leaves the team with a lineup that looks roughly like this at even strength:
Penner - Horcoff - Hemsky
O'Sullivan - ?????? - Pisani
?????? - Gagner - Omark
Stone - Pouliot - Brule
The power play should be plenty capable with Penner, Hemsky, Gagner, and Omark.
The penalty kill would likely need at least one more effective forward to help but the grouping of Penner, Horcoff, O'Sullivan, Pisani, and Pouliot should be something to build on.
Assuming that the Oilers will be able to bring back a useful roster forward when shipping away Nilsson, Cogliano and Souray/Visnovsky, they should only have to add one forward in free agency. Assume that they add someone in the Jeff Halpern* family of centers via trade and the forwards that the Oilers should pursue in free agency would be players like Colby Armstrong, Matthew Lombardi, Matt Stajan, Alex Tanguay, and Ray Whitney. Should the trades work out the other way, and the Oilers would bring in Joel Ward**, then the Oilers should be pursuing centers like Eric Belanger, Manny Malhotra, or Dominic Moore.
Odds of this balanced lineup happening are slim, but a fix up front is not far away for a prudent manager.
*Note, I am not advocating that the Oilers trade for Jeff Halpern, but someone with his skill set and experience.
*Note, I am not advocating that the Oilers trade for Joel Ward, but someone with his skill set and experience.