Friday, April 12, 2013

Nordic trio should help address Oilers lack of scoring depth

Moving forward, there is little question the Edmonton Oilers need to change the makeup of their lineup. For those that watch this club on a regular basis, the holes are obvious. A top pairing defenceman and likely another depth blueliner, at least one skilled top six forward with size and a completely new look within the bottom six.   

While the vast majority of those issues will undoubtedly have to be addressed via trade and/or free agency, this organization already have the makings of what could potentially be a solid trio in Teemu Hartikainen, Anton Lander and Magnus Paajarvi. They may not be the "hard-to-play" bottom six forwards that many feel this club have to add into the mix but they most certainly could address some other pressing needs...such as size, skill and scoring potential.

There are those who feel Paajarvi should be given a long look in a top six role come next season but for the time being, the best spot for the talented Swede would be as a swing man. The former tenth overall selection should become a regular on one of Edmonton's penalty killing units in 2013-14 and will likely continue to see time on the club's second power play unit.

Even in a bottom six role, Paajarvi will see his fair share of minutes and still be given the opportunity to play with some of the Oilers more skilled forwards on the man advantage. Which should make him Ralph Krueger's first option to move up the lineup, should the need arise.

As far as Hartikainen and Lander go, they still have to earn a regular spot. With the lack of opportunity the rugged Finn received during the current campaign, it is obvious the coaching staff still have concerns with certain aspects of his game. Having said that, the former sixth round pick has all the tools this lineup so desperately needs. He is a big bodied forward who is not afraid to go to the net and possess a soft set of hands in tight. At some point he needs to be given an extended look and next season has to be that year.

In Lander, they have a player that the current coaching staff and previous head coach Tom Renney have all raved about during the last two seasons. He was rushed into the NHL to start the 2012-13 campaign, due to a Sam Gagner ankle injury, but after spending the majority of the last season and a half in Oklahoma City, he appears ready for that next step.

After getting off to a rather slow start in OKC, playing behind the Oilers current top line of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Lander broke his foot during a brief four game stint with Edmonton in late January/early February. He returned to the Barons lineup on March 19th and seemed to have relocated his overall game, while putting up nine points in six games, including a career high six point effort against the Rockford IceHogs on March 30th.  

The former second round pick needed time to grow accustom to the North American game, making his extended stay in the AHL a wise move on the part of the organization. However, that time has now come and gone and Lander needs to be part of the equation moving forward. Having him play with linemates he has shown to have chemistry with, seems like a no-brainer.

Adding the so-called Nordic line into the equation, should actually make the transition that much easier, on a club that will see a number of changes made to its roster prior to next September's training camp. Management has no choice but to bring in a couple of new parts to play alongside captain Shawn Horcoff and will also make some sort of change inside their top six.

In my mind, Eberle, Hall, RNH and Nail Yakupov are locks to play on the Oilers top two lines, as is Gagner, should the organization decide to sign him to an extension. That being said, if #89 is no longer in their plans, be it Steve Tambellini or whomever holds the the title of Edmonton Oilers General Manger, will need to go out and acquire two top six forwards. Period. It's not even up for debate.

Should the organization be able to add the necessary pieces to the puzzle, that would make Horcoff's line very difficult to play against, Edmonton would have themselves the makings of a solid four line attack. If that were to occur, there would be no need to have a traditional fourth line, that sees the ice five or so minutes a night.

Krueger has proved he much prefers to roll with a four line attack and the trio of  Hartikainen-Lander-Paajarvi would give him that option. In a perfect world, the Oilers bench boss would probably like to see a 20/16/14/10 split among his lines. Paajarvi would be the one guy to receive extra time due to special teams responsibilities but giving Hartikainen and Lander somewhere between 8-12 minutes, would seem to be a near perfect situation. 

Again, there is no questioning the Edmonton Oilers have some major work ahead of them in the coming off-season. Changes to key areas on the roster are needed and will ultimately be made. That being said, this organization could very well have a few of those pieces in house. They just have to give them the opportunity to prove it.

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