I am a firm believer that for a team to be a consistent cup contender a team must have a core group of players that are kept together for as long as possible. That is a very easy statement to make without providing any additional information with it. A few questions that come up when talking about this subject are what is the core? How many players do you in include in the core? What positions make up the core? Who exactly are the core players for the Edmonton Oilers? And finally are all the pieces here?
The first question when we are examining the Oilers core is obviously what is the core? That question goes hand in hand with the question of how many players make up the core so I will answer both of those questions before we look at the Oilers group specifically. The core of a hockey team is the group of players that are most needed to be a successful NHL franchise year after year. Easy enough answer right? Well how many players does the core consist of? That is a tougher question because not all supporters of the core theory agree on how many players should be included and what positions they play. I have seen some suggest as little as five players make up the core while others, myself included think there should be a total of twelve players included.
The next question that needs to be answered is what positions does the core encompass. For me personally the positions that I include when I talk about a teams core are the top six forwards, the third line center, the top four defensemen, and the starting goalie. Simple enough right? There are plenty of other possibilities when discussing positions to include so if your don’t line up with mine it isn’t that big of a concern. Next question will take a little longer to answer, Who are the Edmonton Oilers core players?
Well if we follow the guidelines I set out above as to who is included it is fairly easy to see what players we include and where we need to add. The top six forwards are nearly set now, the only question mark being the second line right wing. By all rights that should be where Nail Yakupov slots into the line-up but until his two-way play improves significantly he can’t be relied on to a six winger. The other five slots are a given right now. Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be one of the best top two center pairings in the league in the near future so we are set there. Taylor Hall is one of the premiere left-wingers in the NHL right now and Benoit Pouliot proved last year that he is capable of being a consistent top six player on the left side. Jordan Eberle is a rock-star on the right wing right now, being as he is the only consistent offensive threat on the right side until Yak develops a little more. The third line center is being filled currently by Anton Lander and depending on what coach McLellan decides to do with Leon Draisaitl could be his slot long-term. If Leon is moved to the wing excels we could really have three scoring lines that are an actual threat to burn teams at any time. The forward group is in pretty damn good shape if I do say so myself.
The defense is still a big question mark for this team and I am positive that we don’t have four viable top four options on this team right now. Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne will be the top pairing without a doubt in my mind. They will face the toughest competition on a nightly basis and will see a lot of time on the penalty kill for both and the power-play for Sekera. The second pairing is where things get a little hazy. Oscar Klefbom is a legitimate second pairing defenseman right now, likely a number four but will get better still, but as far as I can see there is no one on the team that can have the same said of them. Justin Schultz isn’t a top four guy on any other team in the league. He should be getting third pairing minutes at evens and first power-play unit minutes. There are other options long-term but none should be counted on to fill the role that would be required. Both Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart will eventually be solid top four defenders but are not there yet. Nurse especially has the potential to be the number one defender this team has so desperately been trying to find since the mass exodus following the glorious cup run in ’06. Still having three out of four already in the line-up with Fayne hopefully holding the spot for Darnell Nurse and Reinhart nearly ready to take on full-time NHL duties things look pretty good on the backend for the first time in a decade.
The starting goalie position looks to be filled for the foreseeable future. Cam Talbot looks like the goalie of the future for the Edmonton Oilers. He is a better than good bet to be a solid starting goalie for a long time in this league. Darcy McLeod, aka @woodguy, had some excellent posts about the goalie situation both prior to the draft and after. There were four pieces total that covered the situation with Talbot, the links for all of them are here, here, here, and finally here. All excellent articles to read, especially if you are still having concerns about how the whole Talbot situation will play out. He is a legit starting goalie, or very damn close to it.
We currently have ten out of the twelve players that we need to have a complete core. The other two should hopefully be here this year sometime. Either Schultz will actually start to play defense or one of the younger guys will take his minutes and run with them. Reinhart has significant skill with the puck and a howitzer from the point. If he works on his acceleration this summer he could be a possible option to take the minutes that Schultz currently will get. Up front this season is vital to the future of Nail Yakupov with the Edmonton Oilers. Should he fail to produce on a consistent basis the management may find that his brand of chaos on ice just isn’t worth what he provides offensively. If he isn’t significantly better than he was to start last season he will be moved at some point this year in favour of a bigger and stronger Leon Draisaitl. I’m not saying Yak is a bust or even that he will be but he has the potential to be a 35 plus goal scorer in the NHL for at least a decade if he can finally put it all together and find the net more often.
Smart money is on Yakupov figuring it out and putting together a season more akin to the second half of last season than the first half. I sincerely hope the kid does put it all together because for all of his chaos he really is delightful to watch play the game. His enthusiasm is inspiring and his love for the game is contagious. I look forward to the days where we get to see the exuberant cellies from years past and the giant smile on his face that gives everyone the warm feelies.
Here’s hoping I am right and that this core group remains together for a very long time. What say you Beer Leaguers? Do you have a different theory about the core? Different players included? Let me know what you think, either here or on twitter, @cooke_rob. Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the Beer League Heroes Shirt shop for all your BLH or 16-Bit Heroes shirt needs. Also stay tuned here for the launch of my own shirt design store, it will be coming very soon to a webpage near you!