The Edmonton Oilers have been in desperate need of a player to compliment Shawn Horcoff ever since the departures of Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner. In their minds, they could part ways with both after the 2007-2008 season because they felt they had players in the system that could help offset their exit from the Alberta capital...they were dead wrong. In hindsight, having the organization over value the potential of certain prospects was a blessing in disguise. It forced them to embrace an all out rebuild because the Edmonton Oilers were a club that not only had a weak top six forward group but they now also had a dysfunctional bottom six. Could they have signed a fourth line centre last year to help? Sure but would that have really helped the team in their rebuild? The obvious answer was no but that is no longer the case.
Fast forward to the opening day of the 2011 Free Agent Frenzy and the Edmonton Oilers signing of Eric Belanger. All young teams need transitional players to help with the development of their players. In Edmonton, for the last number of years, those players have either not been good enough or missing entirely. To be honest, the role players on the Oilers have been downright awful since the 2006 Cup run. Some lost their edge, drive and health (Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani) while others were simply ineffective (Marc-Antoine Pouliot and J.F. Jacques). Steve Tambellini and company realize that now is the time for this club to start taking that step towards respectability. The addition of Belanger along with Ben Eager and Andy Sutton will help them take those first strides during the 2011-2012 campaign.
By bringing in a player of Belanger’s ability to play in their bottom six, it gives the coaching staff the option to use him or Shawn Horcoff to help spell rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in tough situations. Everyone knows Belanger is a very good faceoff guy (55.3%) while being a strong penalty killer but the fact he can step in and legitimately help out in a top six role, on a short term basis, will be a godsend for this club. As mentioned previously, the fact that he will be able help to spell Nugent-Hopkins in spots or when the kid has his struggles will make things a whole lot easier on this summer’s first overall selection. While not the best group of centres in the league, they have not had this kind of depth down the middle since the aforementioned Reasoner and Stoll left town.
Belanger will take his regular turn 5-on-5 with Eager and Ryan Jones most nights, on a fourth line that will see ice time and have the potential to contribute. Add that to regular duty on the Oilers penalty killing and sharing big defensive zone faceoff duty with Horcoff and Belanger looks nothing like your average fourth line centre. He will get 15 minutes of ice most nights and the Oilers will benefit greatly by having his versatility at their disposal.
Eric Belanger’s worth to the club should not be judged solely on a point total basis. He is the type of player that will play the tough minutes and do a lot of the heavy lifting for the team. Much like Shawn Horcoff, Belanger has at times been asked to play a more prominent role then his skill set would suggest he should. Having him join Edmonton’s roster should not only help the young players continue in their development but it will allow both him and the Oilers captain to have very productive seasons by sharing the load and not having so much put on their individual shoulders…and the Edmonton Oilers will end up the big winners because of it.
2011-2012 Prediction: 12 G - 18 A - 30 Pts