As nice as it was to watch the Hall - Nugent-Hopkins - Hemsky line on opening night, it does create a big hole on the Edmonton Oilers second line. Jordan Eberle. is, without question, this clubs sniper and if the plan is to play him on a line with Ryan Smyth, they must add a playmaker as the third member of the unit. No offence to Eric Belanger but he is not that player. It was no coincidence that the only time Eberle was noticable in the opener, was on the power play with Smyth and Linus Omark. Edmonton have four very good to elite playmakers in Hemsky, Nugent-Hopkins, Omark and the injured Sam Gagner. If Gagner were healthy, he would be the logical choice but that isn't the case. So what should the Oilers do to ensure that Jordan Eberle doesn't become the forgotten man and wasted 5-on-5?
If Gagner were to be ready to go by Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks, they could leave everything as is but my money is on Sam missing another two weeks. There are a few simple short term solutions:
- Smyth - Nugent-Hopkins - Eberle and Hall - Horcoff - Hemsky become line 1a and 1b. Hall and Hemsky have both had success in the past with Horcoff but is this asking too much out of the Oilers Captain? Nugent-Hopkins between those two was what I was expecting to see but injuries had the coaching staff look in another direction.
- Hall - Nugent-Hopkins - Eberle get the softer minutes while the line of Smyth - Horcoff - Hemsky take the tough minutes. I can't see this coaching staff wanting to put that much pressure on these kids as a collective group with no veteran presence. Here and there I can see it but not on a nightly basis.
- Omark - Belanger/Horcoff - Eberle and the third line becomes Smyth - Horcoff/Belanger - Paajarvi. This one might just make the most sense as a short term fix. This way they can put a little more on Omark's plate and see how he and Eberle work as a pair while simplifying the roles for all three vets on both lines.
Regardless of what Edmonton decides, they have to keep Jordan Eberle as much of a priority as Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The last thing anyone wants to see, is Eberle to start gripping his stick after not scoring in a bunch of games. Even the greatest and most confident players lose their confidence and I fear that could happen to Eberle, if the Oilers decide to not surround him with players who can get him the puck where he is most effective.