Oilers Rambling part 2

All right, so last time I talked about my opinion of signing Nikolai Khabibulin as a free agent, then talked a bit about the first and second forward lines. I also mentioned that Blair Betts would fill the vital defensive centre role, and coincidentally the Edmonton Journal sports section reported today that the Oilers were interested in signing Betts, but there were some salary cap issues getting in the way. It also reported that Betts was a native Edmontonian, which I didn’t know. Hopefully that signing happens. The article suggested that some contracts would need to be moved to clear up space for it to happen, but I doubt the Oilers would miss Marc-Antoine Pouliot and/or J.F. Jacques all that much. Anyway, onward and upward.

The Oilers’ third line of Ethan Moreau/Andrew Cogliano/Fernando Pisani was, in my estimation, their most effective last season. After the realization that the “Kid Line” of Nilsson/Cogliano/Gagner wasn’t recreating the second-line magic from late ’07-’08, Cogliano was shuffled to the third line between Moreau and Pisani. Cogliano proved that the offensive wizardry he displayed in the stretch run at the end of the ’08 season wasn’t a fluke, as he matched his goal total and took only a slight dip in the assist category despite being on the checking line for most of the season. Cogliano’s time on the third line may have negatively affected Sam Gagner and Robert Nilsson’s assist totals, though, since he was clearly the trigger-man on the Kid Line (18 goals, compared to Gagner’s 13 and Nilsson’s 10). Moreau and Pisani have been anchors on the Oil’s checking line for years now, and both of them manned those positions in the ’06 march to the Stanley Cup Finals. Pisani, in fact, had a brush with superstardom during those playoffs, as he led the Oilers (and possibly everyone, I don’t recall) in goals, including the only short-handed overtime game-winner in NHL playoff history. Moreau, the team Captain, adds all the grit you can pack into a man-sized frame, as well as defensive reliability, and he’ll find the back of the net more than you might expect out of a primarily defensive player.

If Blair Betts is signed, he’ll probably end up playing the centre position on the third line, which would likely bump Cogliano up to the second line (likely resigning Robert Nilsson to the press box). Liam Reddox spent the majority of last season on the third line while Pisani was out with a broken ankle, and might end up there again if injuries or performance issues crop up. Reddox plays a high-energy, aggressive game and can chip in with a goal every so often. I expect that he’ll be starting this year on the fouth line, but he proved last year that he can play on any of the four lines if he’s called on. When Ales Hemsky suffered a concussion it was Liam Reddox who played in his place. While it was obvious to pretty much everybody that Reddox is no Hemsky, he took some of the defensive pressure off of Shawn Horcoff.

The fourth line is kind of a question mark this year. Kyle Brodziak, the fourth line centre for the last couple of years, was dealt to the Minnesota Wild for a draft pick, which opens up room. The common wisdom is that Gilbert Brule will finally make the Oilers this year, and his physicality should get him the fourth line job. Flanking him will probably be Zack Stortini on the right and Liam Reddox on the left. Stortini is energetic, hard-hitting, and increasingly competent shovelling pucks into the back of the net. I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch for Storts to reach 10 goals this year, especially with Brule at centre. Steve MacIntyre and Jason Strudwick will probably draw in on the fourth line every so often, as well. MacIntyre is there for goon deterrence, having exchanged blows with most of the Western Conference’s heavyweights and usually giving better than he got. Strudwick generally plays defence, but played up front a few times last year when injuries or ineffectiveness meant an extra body was required.

Next time: the defence.

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