Much has been made of Shawn Horcoff and his contract. While Horcoff has had his struggles over the last few seasons he still remains a very important part of the Edmonton Oilers. He has been miscast as a first line centre for many years but his overall game and experience still remain invaluable to the Oilers young developing roster.
With the additions of Eric Belanger and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down the middle, the club no longer needs to depend on Horcoff as the go to guy in every situation. Sam Gagner will take on the role as the clubs top line centre for the coming season which allows Horcoff to slide down the lineup where he is better suited. Look for him to play between Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark on the clubs third line and help the Swedish duo become more consistent players on a nightly basis. This will take pressure off of him to be a point producer and just allow him to play his game. Having Belanger and Horcoff play on the bottom two lines will allow either one to spot Nugent-Hopkins in situations that are bad matchups for the first overall pick. This still gives the rookie a chance to play regularly and learn the NHL game without being thrown to the wolves.
With less of a scoring responsibility being placed on Horcoff's shoulders this season, I am expecting his game to flourish. He will continue to be a mainstay as a faceoff man and first line penalty killer but this season he will have legitimate support in both areas from newcomer Belanger. He won't be counted on to take all the big draws, Belanger will take the role as the number one guy in the dot, nor will he be expected to take on every tough assignment...no matter how good or poor he stacks up against that nights opponent. The captain is like everyone else on this roster, in that he must be put in situations that will see him be successful, not strictly out of necessity. If this coaching staff wants what is best for Shawn Horcoff and the team, they must limit his overall ice time and allow him time to recover and hence be a much more effective player.
No one who has watched Shawn Horcoff play over the years can argue the point that he is not a first line centre. Yet, if he is used properly, the argument can easily be made that number 10 still remains one of the most important skaters this team has. If his minutes and roles are managed correctly, 2011-2012 may just end up being the best all around season he has delivered in some time.
2011-2012 Prediction: 15 G - 25 A - 40 Pts