Oilers Rambling part 3

So last time I mentioned that Fernando Pisani was either first or second in playoff scoring in 2006. Earlier today I looked it up and confirmed that he did, in fact, lead the scoring in the Stanley Cup playoffs with 14 goals. I wasn’t sure about that from memory, because Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes is a scoring juggernaut, but Pisani was ahead of him by four or five goals. Staal ended up with a Stanley Cup ring, though, so I doubt he was disappointed.

Next up in my long-winded analysis of the Oilers heading into the ’09-’10 season is the defence. The Oiler blue line is stacked, and very much the strong point of the club. There was a rebuilding period after the departure of Chris Pronger and Jaroslav Spacek after the 2006 playoffs, and the Oiler defence was pretty terrible the following two seasons. Sheldon Souray was acquired for the ’07-’08 season, then went down with an injury in the first half of the season. Which turned out to be a good thing in the long term, since it allowed Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, and Ladislav Smid to really pick up their game and come into their own. Prior to last season, Matt Greene and Jarrett Stoll were dealt to LA for d-man Lubomir Visnovsky (which is super fun to say. Try it).

The ’09-’10 top six blueliners are going to look pretty much the same as last year’s gang. The pairings might change up a little bit, but based on last season I’m expecting Souray and Gilbert to be the first pair, Visnovsky and Grebeshkov the second, and Steve Staios and Smid the third. The scary thing about the Oiler defence is that beyond the top six there’s Jason Strudwick, a rock-solid shutdown guy who rarely makes a mistake, Theo Peckham, a mean piece of work who will likely make a hard push for a job on the big club this year, Taylor Chorney, and a few others. In a recent interview with Oilers GM Steve Tambellini, the point was brought up that the Oilers defence is so stacked that Ladislav Smid and Steve Staios are relegated to the third pairing, when on most other teams they could be the top shutdown pair. There were also hints about the possibility of moving a defenceman to improve scoring up front, which might not be a bad idea. That would probably bump Smid up to second pair and bring Strudwick into the line-up fulltime. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Strudwick/Peckham pairing that did pretty well toward the end of last season were reuinted. Strudwick helped Peckham’s development quite a bit, since Peckham never had to worry about him causing a disaster and could just focus on his assignments.

I won’t be surprised at all if the defence continues to be an integral part of the Oilers offence next year. Last season, Sheldon Souray notched 23 goals (tied with Ales Hemsky for the team lead) and was second on the team in overall points. Gilbert, Grebeshkov, and Visnovsky were in the top ten on the team for scoring. Visnovsky probably would have been in the top five if he hadn’t separated his shoulder and missed the last 30 games or so of the season. Strudwick had the best offensive year of his career last season (with 2 goals and 7 assists for 9 points), which isn’t a lot in terms of sheer numbers, and certainly not much by Oiler blueliner standards, but those are pretty decent numbers for a shutdown guy (Smid and Staios had similar numbers).

The Oilers defencemen will also be busy during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, most likely. Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, and Lubomir Visnovsky have all been invited to training camps for their respsective national teams (USA, Russia, and Slovakia, respectively). Smid might have been invited to the Czech camp, but I haven’t stumbled up on the rosters for the Czechs yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a regular for the Czechs in international play in the next few years, though. I was a little surprised that Souray wasn’t invited to the Canadian camp, but Canada’s talent pool is so deep that there are plenty of top notch d-men who didn’t get the call.

There isn’t really a lot to talk about with the Oil’s goaltending situation. It’s pretty cut-and-dried that Nikolai Khabibulin will be the number one, with Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers backing him up and probably playing 30 games or so. JDD will get his first real shot, which I’m excited to see. He was incredibly entertaining in the few games he played last season, although he got put into some bad situations by the team.

And I think that’s about it for this… thing, about the Oilers. Unless they make a trade or a signing or something. So for your sakes, hopefully they don’t. For theirs, hopefully they do.

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