This is the slow time of year from now until training camp for the vast majority of NHL teams. Prospect camps are wrapping up around the league and the players re heading home to start their off-season training programs in hopes of earning a roster slot in the fall. There is not a whole lot to look forward to over the next eight to nine weeks. One of the things that get’s me through the long summer month’s is reading the various Oilers blogs for any tidbits of news that will fill insatiable lust for all things Oilers.
There are so many fantastic writers out there that I can’t possibly name all of them. The one that has always stood out for me and I read his posts twice a day is Mr. Allen Mitchell, known in the blogosphere as Lowetide. I thoroughly enjoy his work even though I occasionally agree with his ideas. I will say however that out of all the Oilers related writers, both mainstream and otherwise, I would likely say that my ideas most closely align with Lowetide.
Now I know you are asking me where the hell I am going with this as it is getting border line creepy, so let’s get right down to the task at hand. This morning I seen on lowetide.ca that he has posted his official precursor to his annual RE series. I know that most Oilers fans have likely already read the article but for those that haven’t you can find it here. I highly recommend reading the entire series as his unique question and answer series that he does for each player is truly excellent! He is goes into a lot of depth with each player and covers things like line-mates, ice time, and of course the ever popular point projections.
For my purposes I am not going to go into anywhere as much detail as Mr. Mitchell. I am going to separate the series into six articles in total. One to cover each player position and a final one to cover the new coach. Today we are going to start with the left wingers. This is the easiest position for me to start with because the depth of actual NHL players on the left side makes it easy to figure out who will actually be on the opening night roster. In my estimation the four left wingers that will put on the white, orange, and blue on October 8th in St. Louis will be Taylor Hall, Benoit Pouliot, Lauri Korpikoski, and Matt Hendricks. There really isn’t anyone that will be able to challenge any of these players for the spot coming into camp this year. So lets dive right in and see what is what.
Since his draft in 2010 Taylor Hall has been a force to be reckoned with when flying down the ice with the puck on his stick. He has the ability and skill to embarrass a lot of defencemen and puts fear into goalies as he is barreling down on them. Right now before McDavid has played an official NHL game Taylor is without a doubt in my mind the best player the Oilers have. Obviously adding a generational talent like Connor changes that dynamic but he is still one of if not the best left-wing in the entire league.
Now before I will get into my best guess as to where he will end up point wise it is best if we take a look at his history and who it is likely we will see him playing with. His history for the most part is fantastic. In two of the last three seasons Hall has averaged just over a point per game. The exception being last season where he only played 53 games and was only able to chip in 38 points with 14 goals. His goal total was a little lower than his usual due to a lower than average shooting percentage and playing through various injuries throughout the season. Hall when healthy and raring to go is good for about a point per and that trend should continue next season regardless of who he plays with.
Thus far in his career Hallsy has spent the majority of his time on Ice with fellow young stars Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but with his injuries last season and Ebs, Nuge, and Pouliot forming an excellent line with great chemistry he was moved to different spots in the line up and that affected his totals as well. This coming season I think we will see Taylor play the vast majority of his minutes with McDavid and an interchanging right-wing. In my opinion they are going to want to start the season with a veteran presence on the line with good two-way skill. The most likely candidate to fill the spot is Teddy Purcell. He may not be the fastest skater but he also wouldn’t be a liability in the offensive zone and he could lighten the defensive responsibility on McDavid.
With those two playing with Hall that allows Coach McLellan to keep the top line that finished last season together to handle the toughest competition. Obviously playing with a rookie center would mean a plethora of offensive zone starts for Hall and company and with all that talent it is hard to not expect amazing results.
My prediction for Taylor Hall is that his shooting percentage will return slightly above average with such a gifted player passing the puck to him. As far as point totals go I see Hall playing 75 games and eclipsing his best year to date by hitting the 30 goal mark for the first time and will add 50 assists. It will be hard not to hit those totals when you are sending and receiving passes with Connor McDavid.
Last season was a break out year for Benoit Pouliot. He was given the opportunity to play first line minutes for an extended period of time and he excelled at it. Despite missing a big chunk of games due to a broken foot Pouliot still set a career high in goals, bulging the twine 19 times in only 58 games. His previous best was 16 with the Bruins a few years back but that was in 16 more games than last season. Along with the 19 goals he added 15 apples which puts him only two points off his career best in 22 fewer outings. Any way you look at it that is just great news. To be fair Pouliot did have a much higher than average shooting percentage but given an 80 game performance he still wold have broken his personal highs in both goals and assist.
A large portion of his playing time, at least after he returned from injury, was spent alongside numbers 93 and 14. Definitely two terrific players entering the prime of their careers and Pouliot didn’t look a bit out of place. I see McLellan trying this trio out together in the pre-season and excluding a complete loss of the chemistry they showed last season will hopefully be the starting line on opening night.
While Pouliot doesn’t have Hall’s offensive gifts he is more responsible defensively and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas with the big boys of the western conference. Should Benny play a full healthy season and spend a lot of time with the same players as last season I think we will see even higher offensive totals. Like I said his shooting percentage was dramatically higher than his career average but some of that can be attributed to playing with better players then he has before.
Next season my prediction for Pouliot is 78 games played, all in a top six role. His point totals will also go up accordingly with his bigger role from the very start of the season. I see Benoit netting 22 goals and 20 assists for 42 points. While not a huge total it is still more than respectable for a guy that has never hit 40 in his career.
Next on the list is one of the newer Oilers and a player that I fully admit I have not seen play a ton of hockey. For a look at what his career has looked like point wise and a brief overview of the player in general I went to Elite prospects and what they had to say is here if you are interested to look.
His point totals have never been outstanding but he is a very fast skater that will see time in the top six at some point this year. Korpikoski is four years removed from his best season, a year in which he was able to light the lamp 19 times and chip in with 21 assists for a total of 40 for anyone that can’t figure that out for themselves. Not great totals but he is an effective two-way player that will see plenty of time on the PK units and provides a veteran player to help lighten the defensive load for his likely center, Anton Lander, not that he has shown that he isn’t capable of handling his own in the defensive zone.
The player that is most likely to benefit from having Lauri on his line will be the right-wing. In my estimation that is likely to be Nail Yakupov to start the season although I think that will switch by Christmas with Yak moving up to take Purcell’s slot on the McDavid line.
With his best year far in the rear-view mirror there is little if any reason to expect a bounce back year from the Finn I think a reasonable expectation for Korpikoski is that his offensive output will remain roughly the same as the last two years. My prediction is that we will see him come close to double digits in goals with 9 and right near his career high in assists with 20. 29 points in the Pisani role is a decent amount and won’t be all that he brings to the table.
This guy was one half of the best defensive zone duos the Edmonton Oilers have had in a very long time. Along with Boyd Gordon they faced the worst zone starts and the toughest competition on a nightly basis. The fact that they did it and not only survived but managed to pot 8 goals along with 8 assists is awfully impressive!
Hendy is never going to be an offensive juggernaut but that isn’t what he is paid for. He is here to take the worst the other team can throw at him and to still come out smiling on the other side. In his two years as an Oiler he has filled this role admirably and although Gordon has been traded to bring in the “Pisani” role, General Manager Peter Chiarelli has filled his vacant slot with veteran center Mark Letestu through free agency.
The biggest concern for me going forward is that McLellan has never used a defensive shutdown line like Edmonton did under Eakins and Nelson. He may prefer to roll his lines and have the potential for offense from all four lines. The reason I am thinking that is a possibility is Gordon being sent out in favor of Letestu who while not being quite the demon on the dot is more capable offensively.
The other member of this trio will totally depend on usage. Unfortunately some of the time will be used to ice Luke Gazdic, while he seems likes a nice guy is not much of an actual hockey player. Offensive rushes tend to die on the sticks of players of his ilk. The majority of his time will be played with either Rob Klinkhammer, if in a defensive shut down role, or rookie Leon Draisaitl if they are looking to add more offense to the line. I personally don’t see Leon being on the opening night roster but that will have more to do with salary cap ramifications than actual ability.
With all that being said it is time to lay my pride on the line for the fourth time tonight and make my hypothesis known. Hendy has only broken the 20 point mark once in his career and that was pre-lockout before the offense dried up. Other than that anomaly his career high was 16 points, just like last season. Not great but still adequate given his usage in years past. I think Hendricks is just too damn tough and too hard-working for him to not put up similar totals next year. My best guess would be 6 goals and 7 assists for a whopping total of 13. Solid totals for one of the biggest leaders on the team. Not to mention one of my favorite Oilers.
Now that we have covered the four most likely players to play down the left side I want to know what all you Beer Leaguers think? Hit me up in the comments or on twitter, @cooke_rob, and share your best guesses with me. I love the chance to talk hockey so as long as you keep it respectful we can talk anytime! Whether your totals are way different from mine or not I think we can all agree that the team shouldn’t be hurting for offense from the left side any time this season.
Thanks for reading and come back again when we will look at the production coming from down the middle. If you like our site head over to the t-shirt shop and pick up one of the fancy shirts we have designed. Beauty shirts at a great price! You can’t go wrong!!!