"The downside today is that we lost a lot of size, and a lot of it up the middle. But it’s just not time for those guys yet. Bogdan was close, we entertained thoughts of keeping him. Jujhar was very close, we entertained thoughts of keeping him. We need these guys to develop and get here quickly."
That's a quote from Craig MacTavish during his post-roster-cut presser yesterday, and what he is saying is a bit misleading. While it's true that the departures of Khaira (6' 3", 214 lbs.) and Yakimov (6' 5", 232 lbs.) mark a significant decrease in size in the Oilers' training camp centre group, hardly anyone expected either player to come in and earn a spot on the opening night roster.
Yakimov looked incredibly promising, and you could argue that he came close to stealing Mark Arcobello's spot on the roster, but that would have been a contentious prediction to make during the summer before anyone got to see him play a few games in Oilers silks.
There are a group of returning players that came to training camp bigger than they previously had been. Mark Arcobello padded on six pounds, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins added a full ten to his gangly frame, and Nail Yakupov went from boy to man with a gain of eleven.
Tack those gains onto the additions of Pouliot, Purcell, and Leon Draisaitl, and you've got a bigger Oilers forward corps.
Now, I have long been of the belief that NHL teams should focus on adding players to their roster who can play the game effectively at the highest level, regardless of size. I'm also willing to admit that size has its benefits in the sport of hockey. I summed that up in my quick comparison of average team size and team CF% in 2013-2014 over at my old blog:
We know both intuitively and from watching the game that being bigger has its benefits on the ice. The ability to shield the puck, to overpower and lean on your opposition, to thwart off incoming hits and take advantage of a long reach à-la-Zdeno Chara: these are all potential benefits of eclipsing the average in terms of height, weight, and build.
Size also holds special significance in the Pacific—a division notorious for having bigger-than-average forwards. Conventional wisdom states that if you want to succeed against the San Jose's, Los Angeles', and Anaheim's of the world, then you've got to bring the bulk.
Over at Oilers Nation last season, Jason Gregor argued that the Oilers were much too small to compete in the conference. He showed that the top nine forward group, weighing an average of 191.7 pounds at an average height of 5' 11", was much smaller than that of any Western Conference playoff team.
So are we there yet? Have we caught up? Well, the Oilers got a little bigger over the off-season—but not by much. Here's a look at the top nine group set to take the ice on opening night.
|Player||Height (inches)||Weight (pounds)|
The Oilers enter the season with a top nine who are an average of one inch taller and 1.7 pounds heavier than their previous incarnation. If you ignore the existence of Mark Arcobello entirely (sorry Mark), the averages of the other eight players are a little more imposing: 6'1" and 196 lbs.
There are two sides to this truth. One side is that the Oilers are once again going to ice an undersized top nine forward group in a very big division. The other is that it doesn't matter a damn how big they are if they play effective hockey this season.
For all our sakes, I hope they can.