The Edmonton Oilers' new practice lines

Jonathan Willis
March 16 2013 01:16PM

The Edmonton Oilers shuffled their lines in practice today, including Eric Belanger - a player close to returning but not quite there yet.

By the look of things, Teemu Hartikainen will be on the outside looking in, which probably means he can expect a brief AHL stint when the Oilers eventually bring Belanger off the injured reserve list.

Lines are courtesy of the Oilers' official Twitter feed:

  • Taylor Hall - Shawn Horcoff - Ryan Jones
  • Ryan Smyth - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
  • Magnus Paajarvi - Sam Gagner - Nail Yakupov
  • Mike Brown - Eric Belanger - Lennart Petrell
  • Teemu Hartikainen

Ales Hemsky is absent from the skate.

In practice, this likely means that the very successful top unit of Hall, Horcoff and Hemsky remains intact, which I think is a good thing. The unit is doing a good job of playing a power-vs.-power role and it's really the best spot on the roster for Horcoff - he complements Hemsky and Hall well and talented wingers keeps his line from becoming the place where offence goes to die.

I like Smyth on the second line. We've heard a lot about Smyth's decline this year, and while his foot-speed isn't where it could be he's still a player. Michael Parkatti did some solid work with adjusted Corsi (plus/minus of shots, missed shots and blocked shots, weighted for quality of opposition and which zone a player starts in) a few days ago - looking at Smyth's numbers he's been solid and this isn't accounting for the fact that he's spent big chunks of the season playing centre where he's been far less effective than he is on the wing. Ideally, he's not on an NHL team's second line but given what the Oilers have to work with he's a pretty decent option and one I find hard to criticize.

That third line has killed it of late, and was actually the second line against Detroit, matching up primarily against Datsyuk in the Oilers' last game. Magnus Paajarvi and Nail Yakupov are both excellent young players but the Oilers have had trouble finding a fit for them - they're clicking now so keeping them together makes sense to me.

The last line is where things get interesting. Eric Belanger is probably the least popular player on the team with the fanbase, but having him at centre on that fourth line is an upgrade on Smyth. Does Hartikainen deserve to be in the lineup over Mike Brown or Lennart Petrell? Arguably, but he also doesn't need to clear waivers to go to the minors and he hasn't played so well that a trip to Oklahoma is out of the question. With the trade deadline coming up, it seems probable the Oilers will be moving some bodies out, in which case it would be a temporary 'get some playing time' situation. I would also suggest that if the fourth line gets used primarily as a defensive zone unit - which, given personnel, they should - the coaches will feel more comfortable with Brown, Petrell or Jones than they would with Hartikainen.

For now, though, it's a matter of waiting for Belanger to get up to 100%, and there's always the possibility that something else happens before he's ready to return to action. In the meantime, the best guess would seem to be that Smyth goes back to the fourth line and Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins get another look with Ryan Jones.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 @Oilanderp
March 17 2013, 08:13AM
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Jesus. H. Lipton Christ. I never thought I would say this but after watching DSF sitting there AGAIN picking and eating all the cherries on the tree, I AM GLAD YOU ARE HERE NEWAGESYSTEM! Your posts are so long that by the end of them I have almost forgotten all the negativity of the troll.

May Kyle Wellwood help us all.

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#52 washed up
March 17 2013, 08:42AM
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Off topic. Went over to Jets Nation to check it out. That place is like rexall during the post season.

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#53 Ryan2
March 17 2013, 09:55AM
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cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan wrote:

i believe he was trying to say how impressed he was that Gagner is still outscoring Parise so far this year.

Good one.

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#54 Ryan2
March 17 2013, 10:01AM
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Dangilitis wrote:

And DSF - I know you are a clown but you should really stop making so many jokes. Suter is a very good defenseman. He also had a great March. He still has zero ES goals and only 2 total (one when his team was trailing by 3+ goals). He is -3 on his team which puts him behind Konopka and clearly in the bottom 1/2 of his team. Weber faces similar competition and is +4 (3rd for his team) and has double the number of goals (1 OT winner, 1 breaking a tie, and all with the game close) on an offensively challenged team. Suter has 7 1st assists and 14 2nd assists, while Weber has 6 1st assists, 5 2nd assists. To me that shows that Suter is more the beneficiary of better forward teammartes. Both are missing one another, but suggesting that Weber misses Suter more is laughable. The Predators miss Suter, that's for sure, but not at that price under the new CBA (not that Suter's is any more palatable).

And you never got back to me about Dubnyk, you kind of turtled when I proved to you his performance this season is in the top 1/3 of the league right now (his SPG is 10th in league and he is pushing 700 shots, tops amongst those goalies). I'll let you eat crow on both of these comments.

Great post and you saved me the time re: Suter. That contract is going to be the worst in the league in a couple of seasons. If you polled NHL GMs, the vast majority (if not all) would take Weber over Suter. Suter is a nice #2 d-man, but Weber is a top #1. This is why Philly decided to chase Weber to replace the Rake instead of Suter. Suter would have been easier to sign, but why pay top end #1 money for a #2?

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#55 Rama Lama
March 17 2013, 12:03PM
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cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan wrote:

i believe he was trying to say how impressed he was that Gagner is still outscoring Parise so far this year.

No, I read that he thinks Horcoff and Smyth are slow like the second coming of the band "the Turtles".

I like Smyth but the more I watch him the slower he seems to get! I think there must be something wrong with his skates.......no one can slow down that much in two years.

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#56 Dawn
March 17 2013, 04:20PM
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Serious Gord wrote:

A few days ago I went through the numbers exercise on this site. To even squeak into the playoffs the oil would have to pay at least as well as Vancouver has FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON.

Looking at this teams lineup - or rather the gaping holes in the current lineup's skill set and that looks to be an impossibility.

Who's expecting playoffs this year? It's far from reasonable to expect to go from 29th place to playoffs in a 1/2 season. It's not like our #1 pick was Crosby. I would expect to finish anywhere from 8th (with a lot of luck) to 11th. I'd be fully satisfied with anything in that range. We are all tired of missing playoffs. But hey, at least we're not Leafs fans.

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#57 Old Retired Guy
March 17 2013, 04:48PM
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OilersBrass wrote:

I'm excited to watch Klefbom play next year. He's the Oilers best D prospect (besides J Shultz). Everyone on this site would like to see him be traded for some strange reason, but they don't know how good he really is. This kid is gonna be a future top 2 defenceman for the team.

Not arguing with you, just curious, when you say that people don't know how good he is going to be and that he is going to be a future top 2 dman......are you just HOPING? or, have you perhaps seen him play? What are you basing you assessment on?

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#58 Old Retired Guy
March 17 2013, 05:03PM
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DigDeepNBleedBlue wrote:

After a loss it's always a good idea to go into armchair coach mode. I was there last night!

I would like to see the kids back together. Here's how I'd give 'em a go for a game or two.

Hall-RNH-Eberle

At times this year they were hot and cold both during even strength and with a man advantage. This could be attributed to the fact that RNH and Eberle looked a step or two behind to start the season. Plus, they were being pulled off the ice after 30 seconds of PP time. I kept thinking these guys can't get into a flow when you keep doing that and then they were split up. I'm not sure the thinking behind that or there separation.

Balance the lines? Sure. I get it.

They all seem to be going right now. From my armchair I say put the thoroughbreds out together again. I think they're ripe for the moment. Besides, wasn't that the whole point of having them together in the A during the lockout?

Paajarvi-Gagner-Yakupov

It has worked. Yakupov provides some creativity with the puck and Gagner and Paajarvi understand that when you go to the net you have a greater chance of scoring. Who knew? Soft parade for these guys, though.

Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky

These guys can play together. History tells us that. Tough minutes line.

Brown-Belanger-Jones

If Jones can get back to where he's been then this could be a decent energy line with a stable center that can keep the defensive side of the game in check. One would hope.

I like what Hartikainen brings and he could fit into Yakupov's spot a time or two, but with the mess on D right now (8 D-men on the roster) he would be the logical choice to go down. Petrell is the extra skater and one could argue that he could go down, but waivers and all.

Gotta put that peddle down for the third. Play to win! Whatever the reason is for not doing that, strategy, line combos or players lack of want, it needs to be addressed. Now.

I have the faith they'll get it worked out.

Last thought. Never liked that Eberle got the permanent A on his jersey. No slight on him. I just always thought Hall should of got it. His try and personal accountability are top notch. As this season goes on it's more and more evident who should become the next captain. JMO.

Agree with "A" for Hall (eventually a "C") and your lines look good except that: 1) putting the top 3 together on the top line didn't work in when Krueger tried it earlier this year 2) with all your eggs in one basket, you're in big trouble if they aren't "going" on any particular night 3) One of the biggest coaching strategies going is to use your "talent" to elevate the play of "others" on the team. Having the big three on one line raises no ones talent level. They always say about the great players, "He made everyone around him better" Hall makes Horcoff and Hemsky better....(almost) whoever you put on line with RNH and Eberle is going to be/get better....Magnus, Gagner and YAK can grow together....

4) you get the added advantage, that when things are going a little stale in any given game, you can always reunite Hall,RNH, and Ebbs to try and provide a lift....

So, while I like your lines for the reasons you say, I have NO issue with balancing the linup based on pairings ( RNH/Ebbs, Gags/Yak, Hall/Hemsky)

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#59 Old Retired Guy
March 17 2013, 05:19PM
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Old Retired Guy wrote:

Agree with "A" for Hall (eventually a "C") and your lines look good except that: 1) putting the top 3 together on the top line didn't work in when Krueger tried it earlier this year 2) with all your eggs in one basket, you're in big trouble if they aren't "going" on any particular night 3) One of the biggest coaching strategies going is to use your "talent" to elevate the play of "others" on the team. Having the big three on one line raises no ones talent level. They always say about the great players, "He made everyone around him better" Hall makes Horcoff and Hemsky better....(almost) whoever you put on line with RNH and Eberle is going to be/get better....Magnus, Gagner and YAK can grow together....

4) you get the added advantage, that when things are going a little stale in any given game, you can always reunite Hall,RNH, and Ebbs to try and provide a lift....

So, while I like your lines for the reasons you say, I have NO issue with balancing the linup based on pairings ( RNH/Ebbs, Gags/Yak, Hall/Hemsky)

Besides which you get three classic line names,

You get the "RNH" line....because the guy is stud he deserves to have a whole line named after just him.

You get the Comedy stylings of the Gags and Yaks line.

And you get the WWF RAW Power of the Triple H Line (Hall/Horc/Hemmer).

Thats Star Power, Comedy Power, and Power Power. How can you beat that!

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#60 rickithebear
March 18 2013, 09:48AM
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@Old Retired Guy

For me: It has been stated in scouting reports: Strong Skater, Physical, Can Carry the Puck, great outlet pass.

Two key signs: U 20 WJC Allstar Dmen. 2005 Dion Phaneuf R Suter 2006 Luc Bourdon Jack Johnson 2007 Letang Erik Johnson 2008 Doughty Hedman 2009 Karlsson Subban 2010 Pietrangelo Carlson 2011 Ellis Orlov 2012 Gormeley Klefbolm 2013 Trouba McCabe All were playing in NHL @ 20.

Top 5 Dman In SEL For GA when injured this year.

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