Can Anton Slepyshev’s Outstanding Play Push Purcell Out of the Way?
At the beginning of the season Slepyshev made it clear he was willing to do whatever it took to make the Edmonton Oiler’s roster. Skate, score, even hit, whatever the coach wanted. Rhetoric is easy, to back it up is the real challenge, and so far, Slepy has done that, and then some.
Granted he needed an opportunity and that was provided when Teddy Purcell suffered a minor injury. That opportunity has recently grown with the unfortunate news that first line winger Jordan Eberle will be out for 6 weeks with a shoulder injury. Not to suggest Slepy should automatically get the spot on the first line, but someone will need to move up to fill the vacancy, and since he can play both wings his value has gone up nicely. So for now at least (emphasis on the short-term) he’s positioned himself for a roster spot. Opportunities come and go all the time in pro-sports, but you have to make the most of them, and so far in the pre-season, Slepyshev has.
After 5 games he has four points and (2g, 2a), good for second place in team scoring, not to mention a tidy +3. But beyond the stats, Slepy’s style of play is what stands out for me, mostly because he brings intangibles this team needs. He has the size the Oil need on the top six, speed, and willingness to go to the tough places to score, paying the physical price along the way. Slepyshev ha shown statistically better than any other prospect in camp, so is there any reason why we shouldn’t get his locker with the big league ready?
Can He Keep it Up for the Full Season?
It has been suggested by at least one prolific blogger that the sample size on Slepy is just too small to make a definite decision. A prospect playing above his head in camp and pre-season, only to find his actual level when the regular season begins in earnest, is a familiar story. Examples of Jesse Joensuu and Tyler Pitlick in past camps are examples of this. This is a valid point, but to strictly adhere to sweeping generalizations when making player comparisons can lead to a faulty analogy, and when it comes to Slepy there is enough evidence to suggest he is ready for a roster spot regardless of who may be injured or what other prospects have done in the past.
Slepyshev’s a Gamer
When you look at this player’s scoring history, a definite pattern emerges. At every level he’s played, Slepyshev’s stats are fairly unremarkable, as he’s never put up ppg numbers at a high level. Nonetheless those stats can be deceptive. Despite the big ice, prolific scoring is not the norm in the KHL. But when we look at international tournament play, where Slepyshev is playing on the top line, his scoring changes dramatically.
GP G A P
U-17: 2010 – 11: 3 3 0 3
U-18: 2010 – 11: 7 3 1 4
U-18: 2011 – 12 7 4 3 7
U – 20 CAN-RUS 3 2 1 3
U-20: 2013 – 14 7 2 5 7
Spengler Cup (Salavat)
2014 – 15 5 2 3 5
So when the money is on the line, Slepyshev raises his play. He’s clutch. My argument is that at this point in his career, Slepyshev is playing for his life and he will continue to play at that level. It will be some time before that pressure is off and he can rest on his pro-hockey player laurels, so I would expect him to continue playing at this level consistently beyond this year, and even better should the team be on the playoff hunt. Sounds like a player we could use.
So What Happens When the Team is Healthy?
In spite of Slepyshev’s recent play, when the team is healthy he could indeed be the odd man out, and here’s where things could get confusing. For a team that needs to get heavier, faster, more physical in their top nine, the Oilers could very well be demoting a player that could help upgrade the team, and instead add Teddy Purcell who has none of those qualities. Purcell is slow and in all likelihood is the softest hockey player Canada has produced. I would compare Purcell to a forward version of Justin Schultz (last year’s model) except not as physical . . .
If Slepyshev continues to play at the level he is playing, Chiarelli should be motivated to do something. Hopefully he will be motivate to look for a trading partner short on skilled forwards but heavy on physical ones. Maybe New Jersey or Florida. But to keep Purcell here instead of Slepyshev would be pure folly, and based on McLellan’s recent comments, he may be winning over the bench boss. When comparing the two players it’s an easy decision. One player (so far) is young, hungry and doing whatever it takes. The other is sleepwalking through his NHL career, living off a successful season when he played with a superstar. At the end of the day it will come down Slepyshev, if he keeps producing against NHL rosters he will force management’s hand, and Chiarelli will have another tough decision to make.
Writer’s note: Thanks to @higgsdistortion for the Anton Slepyshev creative photo.