Archive for 2016-12-11

Edmonton Oilers: Eberle and the Rotating Right-Wingers

On Saturday, Jordan Eberle will be back on the top line with Connor McDavid and Milan Lucic. It was this trio that started the season and the line the coaches had hoped would lead Edmonton on most nights in their search for consistent offense. The results, unfortunately, have not been consistent and mostly due to chemistry and the scoring inability of Jordan Eberle.

Scoring wingers can be streaky. That comes with the territory. Eberle has 23 points in 32 games and is on pace for 58 points. That total is actually not terribly far off from his regular season averages. The problem is, he has only 8 goals in that time. This would equal the lowest goal total of his NHL career (since his rookie year) at 20. A player who is supposed to be top line and worth $6 million needs to score more.

In his absence (I say absence because there have been games Eberle has been completely invisible), the Oilers have tried almost everything. They've given shots to third-line players like Zack Kassian and experimented with depth forwards like Tyler Pitlick. The Oilers have moved up rookies like Jesse Puljujarvi and tried out recently demoted wingers like Anton Slepyshev. Nothing has stuck.

The closest to a win on McDavid's wing may have been Leon Draisaitl — a natural center —  but the Oilers aren't keen on keeping Draisaitl on the wing, seeing as how he's driving the play and scoring despite not playing with the Oilers' superstar.

Eberle Needs to Make it Work

Jordan Eberle needs to get going. Perhaps more importantly, he needs to click with McDavid. Coincidentally, Eberle's best chance to get out of this slump is to play with the best player on the team. To go night in and night out with a player that will hold him accountable and wants to win, score and succeed will be good for Eberle's consistency.

The good news is, Eberle already knows how to play with McDavid. While Eberle isn't the fastest skater, he's got experience working with McDavid's all-world speed, What can be added is a willingness for Eberle to do what brought him to the dance. This includes shooting more, finding his scoring chances and being aggressive. He's trending down in every single one of those regards and this is a problem, especially considering the Oilers have no better options.

And, If He Can't?

If Eberle can't get on track, the Oilers may look to do something unique. Taylor Beck was just recalled from the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL. If the Oilers choose to give Beck a shot, it would mean another experiment on right wing, but it would also mean taking the leading AHL scorer and putting him with the leading NHL scorer. I'm not sure if and when that's ever been done before.

As unique and interesting as that story would be, it probably isn't the ideal scenario for the Oilers. Edmonton would rather not have to rely on a player who was just in the AHL to come up with mandatory offense for them in the NHL. If Eberle could turn the corner and get himself on a streak here, he'll also be helping out his fellow wingers (like Beck) by allowing them to play in positions they are more suited for.

Out of His Comfort Zone

One of the things Eberle should try doing is expanding his comfort zone. That means becoming more than a one-dimensional player. Unlike a player like McDavid, who will go straight forward, challenging the defense, Eberle shows a consistent willingness to circle back and restart the play. It's not fair to suggest Eberle emulate McDavid, who clearly has more speed and skill on the rush, but with a little urgency, Eberle could draw penalties, crash the net and make things uncomfortable for the defense.

Coach Todd McLellan once told Leon Draisaitl he was a good hockey player. That instead of defaulting to McDavid all the time, Draisaitl needed to play like he knew he was a good hockey player. This may be good advice for a player like Eberle.

Perhaps he needs reminding of his skill level and his ability to score. Perhaps he could be a bit more bull-headed and make that play he's otherwise afraid to make in this drought. Edmonton can't keep rotating wingers forever. Someone needs to stick and that someone should be Jordan Eberle.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.

Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.

Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.

Is Klefbom and the Surrounding Defensive Cast Enough?

Jason Gregor and Ryan Rishaug had an interesting conversation today regarding the Edmonton Oilers and their defensive core. The basis of the discussion revolved around Oscar Klefbom and whether or not he was a top-pair defenseman.

Rishaug didn't think Klefbom — or potentially any defenseman on the Oilers right now — had the stuff to be a top-pairing lefty. Gregor wasn't 100% sure suggesting some defensemen take longer than others to develop into that role. Both agreed that if the Oilers didn't have a true number-one lefty, they needed to get one.

That leads us to two questions. First, are they correct in their assessment? Is the Oilers defense enough to not just be competitive, but actually win a playoff series or two? If not, what should the Oilers do to create a team that can?

Klefbom As a 3 or 4

Klefbom will likely battle it out for the lead on the Edmonton Oilers in points this season from the blue line. He's one point behind Andrej Sekera with 12 points. He's also struggled with inconsistency.

If you don't count Connor McDavid, Klefbom has, on certain nights, been one of the Oilers best players. Then on other nights, he's been poor. He's found himself in the doghouse on numerous occasions and been demoted from the top-pair when he's leaving big gaps and letting players walk around him. He's looked like a defenseman that can do almost anything and he's look defeated. Does all this mean he's not a number one?

The real question is, was he ever?

It's easy to forget that Klefbom is only 23-years-old and has only played in 139 NHL games. As Dale Tallon used to say, you can't tell what you have in a defenseman until they are 300 games into their career. Klefbom isn't even half- way there yet.

The Oilers badly wanted Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom to be the answer on Edmonton's top-pair. That's a duo with less than 450 NHL games combined. It's a lot to ask and sometimes they look like they can be that good. Other times, it's clear their development isn't at the point where Edmonton can rely on them every game. Larsson seems to have fewer peaks and valley's than Klefbom does, but the pairing is definitely a work in progress.

So Now What?

If it is determined that Klefbom is a wonderful second-pair defenseman, but not a great first-pairing option, what do the Oilers do? It's rare for a team to trade for or acquire via free agency a true top-pair left-handed defenseman. Edmonton will have to get lucky or give up a huge peice.

The alternative is to draft and develop that player. Perhaps the Oilers have already done so. Could the Oilers already have that guy in Darnell Nurse?

The Present 

It's way too soon to tell exactly what the Oilers top-four is and could become. In the absence of certainty, perhaps the Oilers intend to win by committee.

The thinking could be, with one of the best players in the world (McDavid), a strong goaltender (Talbot) and a well-rounded group of 3's and 4's on defense, it's enough to get them into the playoffs and perhaps win a round. Maybe for this year, the goal is to simply be competitive.

But, being competitive and being a championship caliber team are not the same thing. Eventually, that's where the Oilers need and want to get. Another 30 games into the season and the team may have a better handle on what their next move should be. It will be interesting to watch what happens if they deem Klefbom unworthy of the role.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.

Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.

Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.

Former Oilers Shining: Oilers Fault or Just Bad Luck?

It's not uncommon for players to move on from a team and find better success elsewhere. Sometimes a fresh start, a new coach or new surroundings can be enough to spark a player. Sometimes all it takes is a bit more experience and aging. Sometimes it's the former team that stifles the player and getting out from under the issue leads to a blossoming career.

Something is happening with a number of former Oilers and not all fans are finding they are liking what they see.

Bob Stauffer spoke at length with NHL Network's Mike Johnson on the topic and a fellow writer of mine at Marcy Di Michele had a very interesting take on the topic. I thought it was a great piece and liked the idea. My take is below. I've also added a player I felt was a real loss to the Oilers in Andrew Cogliano.

Photo By Lisa Gansky

My Take:

It's a shame when we can't be happy for the success of others. That's like getting divorced or breaking up with an ex and then hoping they stay miserable long after you and they had your time in the sun. You should be happy, they should be happy and life goes on. The same goes for former players on your favorite sports teams. If someone leaves and they find success, good for them.

Still, seeing someone find success when they couldn't with your franchise doesn't mean it doesn't hurt a little from time to time or that the Oilers are to blame. The following players seem to be the focus of most who have a take on the topic. 

I think, more than anything, timing played the largest factor to each players changes of fortune.

Justin Schultz

The first, and probably loudest example, is Justin Schultz. Not only did he move on from the Oilers, but he went to a Stanley Cup winning team in Pittsburgh, got resigned and is now tearing it up this season. He's doing so on a very reasonable one-year contract. This one stings for many Oilers fans who boo and have a hard time watching Schultz excel, simply because Schultz could have been successful here if only deployed in the right way.

Schultz became part of the Oilers organization after a free agency bidding war. He opted not to return to Anaheim, chose Edmonton over a plethora of teams and was highly-touted as a winning "get" for Edmonton. The only problem was, he never came to be the player that everyone expected. That wasn't really his fault.

Most of this stems from the fact that he was placed by the Oilers in a role that he wasn't suited. In Pittsburgh, Schultz is a third-pairing blueliner and he's played that way. The Oilers popped him on their first or second pair and hoped he'd solve all their problems on defense. That's because they had no one better. Schultz still has deficiencies in his game, they just get covered properly when deployed in the right situations.

In Edmonton, every mistake — even the ones he still makes in Pittsburgh — were exponentially worse because he made them against the best of the best in the NHL. When you're a third-pairing defenseman (like he is with the Pens), mistakes against bottom-six forwards don't always wind up in the back of your net. Against the teams highest quality of competition, they often do.

We're about to find out if Schultz's game has really changed because he'll be taking on a larger role in the absence of recently injured Kris Letang. If he continues to do well, it will be nice to see.

Sam Gagner

How can you not love what's happening with Sam Gagner right now? You'd have to be heartless not to be happy for his success. Gagner was not only steps away from potentially being out of the NHL, but he took a position in Columbus on the bottom line hoping for one more opportunity to prove he had what it took to be in the NHL.

Gagner was drafted sixth overall by the Oilers in 2007. He was pushed immediately into the NHL as an 18-year-old and it wasn't his lack of size, speed or skill that stunted his growth. He simply wasn't prepared for what was going to be asked of him.

Despite this fact, Gagner still found success in his rookie year. He had 49 points (the most he over put together as an Oiler) and found lightning in a bottle on the latest incarnation of the "kid line" alongside Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano. After that, things went downhill.

Sure, Ganger had some very shining moments (including an 8-point performance against the Blackhawks), but when Gagner finally moved on, it was time and for not much return. He bounced around the NHL and AHL in Arizona, Philadelphia and finally Columbus. The Blue Jackets signing wasn't a sure thing, but they took a chance in the right role, he's excelling.

Gagner now has 21 points in 26 games and 12 of those points are goals. He's playing on the third line most nights, but he's getting power play time and important pressure situations in which to show his stuff. It's been a perfect fit.

This one isn't as painful for Oiler fans because a few teams gave up on Gagner before he found success. But, Edmonton perhaps could have used a decent third-line center this season and Gagner was definitely available.

Devan Dubnyk

Again, you have to feel good for Dubnyk's success. He was another player who almost found himself wondering if he was going to keep employment in the NHL and wound up shining in Minnesota where he is now one of the NHL's best goaltenders.

Dubnyk at one time was Edmonton's new first-string goaltender. He was a long-time prospect who was turning into something special. Then, and he'll be the first to admit it, Dubnyk forgot how to play the net. The Oilers gave him a number of opportunities, but he simply couldn't find his game.

When he was traded to Nashville for Matt Hendricks, it was seen as a pretty good deal for Edmonton. Not long after Dubnyk went to the Preds, he left and then coach Barry Trotz was kind, but clearly frustrated with the tendencies of the goalie he'd acquired. A lot of this may have been on Edmonton, who potentially goalie coached the success out of Dubnyk and sent him onward.

Dubnyk bounced to Montreal and Arizona and finally found himself in Minnesota. Since arriving there, he's been a different player. He's been one of the best goalies in the league. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but not as bitter now that Edmonton seems to have found a strong starter in Cam Talbot.

Despite Dubnyk being the one player Edmonton may have mis-coached, he hasn't had a single bad word to say about the Oilers and it makes his success even more gratifying for fans who wanted him to do well.

Andrew Cogliano

Frankly, it's impossible to dislike Andrew Cogliano. He's the NHL's current ironman streak leader having not missed a game in his career. He was an exciting player to watch, scored multiple late-game and overtime goals for the Oilers and shined in Anaheim after Edmonton tossed him aside.

Cogliano was never a first-line player. He probably wasn't a second-line center either. That didn't stop the Oilers from trying him there and it was mainly because they had no other options. When your team isn't good, players get slotted in the wrong places and this described Cogliano's time in Edmonton to a tee.

He's gone on to become one of Anaheim's best depth forwards.

Whose Fault Is It?

There is one thing many of these examples all have one thing in common. They were played in Edmonton well out of position. I don't believe it was because the Oilers wanted to, but had to.

Of course, for every Gagner, Cogliano, Schultz or Dubnyk, there is a Nail Yakupov, Jeff Petry or others who have struggled in other locations. Some have done well, but at a high cost to their new team. Not all players who leave an organization find the grass is greener on the other side and not all teams who take on these players hit a home run.

For some reason, it seems to happen in Edmonton more than most that players move on and do fairly well. At least it feels that way. Hard to say, but when your team struggles, the success found by former players has a bit of sting to it.

All that said, I don't think this is Edmonton's fault more than it was a set of circumstances that led to the improper deployment of players. In the end, you have to be proud for other players who find success elsewhere. It's the nature of the beast that it will happen and these players are likely all pretty good guys doing what they can in their current situations.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.

Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.

Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.

Taylor Beck Recalled to the Oilers

There wasn't much noise made of the Taylor Beck signing by the Edmonton Oilers this summer, but that hasn't stopped Beck from becoming the AHL's leading scorer. So, it's no surprise that on Thursday, the Edmonton Oilers recalled Beck to the NHL and he'll get an opportunity to translate hs AHL success to the NHL.

This comes right around the same time as the Oilers have demoted Anton Slepyshev to Bakersfield.

Who Is Taylor Beck? 

Taylor Beck is 25-years-old and is a right-shooting winger. He's got some experience in the NHL having played with Nashville and while the Oilers are looking to find chemistry with the NHL's leading scorer Connor McDavid, Beck may get a look if players like Jordan Eberle, Drake Caggiula, Tyler Pitlick or Zack Kassian continue to not cash-in playing alongside the NHL's most dynamic player.

Beck has 30 points in 19 games in Bakersfield. He has 9 of the 55 goals the Condors have scored so far this year.

NHL Duty 

Beck has had some issues translating his AHL success to the NHL in the past, but there are a lot of good hockey people who are saying nice things about him as a player. Former coach Barry Trotz, who had Beck in Nashville, is among them:

"Taylor is a big body who has crossed the threshold [in his career]," Trotz said. "I believe he's a good prospect for us with a solid game. To me, he's the guy getting no attention who is a heck of a hockey player."

Will Beck see game action right away? He may get a chance to practice with the team first, but with the amount of rest the Oilers are finally getting, he could come in for Jesse Puljujarvi who continues to struggle.

Nurse to Miss 12 Weeks. Best Timing?

If Darnell Nurse is going to miss 12 weeks, this might be the best time, if there ever was a good one. Nurse alongside Matt Benning have arguably been Edmonton's biggest progression success stories this season. Nurse not on the blue line will be a loss and it's a bad news situation that his injury was worse than expected. He really was coming on strong in his second full season.

It was announced today that Nurse underwent surgery on his ankle and would miss a significant amount of time while he heals up. With three goals and five points in a mostly bottom-pairing role, Nurse was providing both depth and flexibility as a rough, tough and physical presence. Fortunately, bad news comes with good news.

Brandon Davidson

The good news is Davidson is near returning. He'll likely slot in right where Nurse was. Tuesday against a very strong Columbus team, the Oilers will need the defensive depth.

Once Davidson gets reacquainted, he may move up in the ranks of the defense quickly. 

Eric Gryba

The Oilers will also have Gryba ready to make his return in the next few games. Gryba will stay a depth defenseman for the Oilers, but I still contend that he never gets enough credit for the defensive minutes he provides the Oilers. Having him back will be a blessing as well.

It's a blow that Nurse is down for any length of time, but I suppose, if you're going to miss games, miss games when the rest of the team is healthy.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.

Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.

Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.