Thursday, May 30, 2013

Quality players entering their prime, should top the Oilers shopping list

The Edmonton Oilers will unquestionably be looking to re-work the makings of their roster over the next few months. They are loaded with a ton of young talent upfront and appear to have a decent looking crop coming on the blueline. That being said, their needs are fairly obvious. More skill, more size and better veteran players.

Craig MacTavish inherited a rather lengthy to due list when he agreed to become the Oilers new general manager and now it is up to him to fill those holes with the right pieces. With that being the case, one would have to think priority one on the rookie GM's list, will be acquiring players in the prime years of their career.

Adding a guy or two from the 30+ crowd, that can still contribute on the ice and bring a little something off it, is definitely something worth entertaining. However, at this stage of the game, adding a bunch of old guys or continually getting younger, is not the way to go. The time to start adding true bona fide NHL regulars, say between the ages of 25-29, is now at hand.

All one has to do, is quickly glance over the Oilers active roster to see what I'm getting at.

Mike Brown(27), Devan Dubnyk(27), Mark Fistric(26), Ales Hemsky(29), Ryan Jones(28), Theo Peckham(25), Lennart Petrell(29), Jeff Petry(25), Ladislav Smid(27)

That is it folks. Outside of Dubnyk, Petry and Smid none of those names are considered primary parts moving forward, with Hemsky being the only potentially useful piece. Edmonton currently have seven regulars under the age of twenty-four, eight if you include Teemu Hartikainen, and another six that are thirty plus, minus Ryan Whitney and Nikolai Khabibulin. Not exactly the look of what many would consider to be a recipe for success.

Should MacTavish be able to acquire a quality top pairing defenceman, the likes of a Petry and Smid can be used as complimentary pieces, instead of the Oilers go-to-guys. Petry could likely still find himself in a top pairing role with the right partner, (aka Jay Bouwmeester or Keith Yandle), leaving Smid the task of helping along youngster Justin Schultz with his development as a top four NHL blueliner.

The scenario upfront is fairly similar, as the need for quality NHLers are an absolute must. The bottom six needs a face lift but it's not as if the cupboards are empty. They have four potential regulars for the 7-12 roles upfront, in Shawn Horcoff(34), Magnus Paajarvi(22), Hartikainen(23) and Anton Lander(22), with the likes of Mike Brown(27) and Ryan Smyth(37) also in the mix.    

Now the chances of both Paajarvi and Hartikainen being around at training camp seem unlikely, as one will surely be moved in some sort of package to help upgrade their blueline, MacTavish still has some useful pieces in place. The addition of a couple of players like a Boyd Gordon, Clarke MacArthur, Eric Nystrom or Brandon Yip, would go a long way towards addressing what was a glaring weakness of the 2013 Edmonton Oilers.

The top two lines are an entirely different situation. The quartet of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov are going nowhere, barring a massive overpayment from a desperate franchise.

Should Edmonton be unable to move Hemsky in an off-season deal that makes sense for the club, the talented Czech will likely be kept around but has probably seen his last days as a top six forward in Oilers silks. Leaving Sam Gagner as that potential fifth piece of the puzzle, though he could still be made available via trade, be it on the wing or at centre. 

Regardless of what direction the organization goes, MacTavish will need to add at least one guy entering or in the midst of his prime years. There are players like Martin Hanzal, Steve Ott or Chris Stewart that could potentially be wrestled away from their current club for a nice package and guys like Bryan Bickell, David Clarkson, Ryan Clowe, Valtteri Filppula, Nathan Horton, Dustin Penner and Viktor Stalberg as possible UFA targets. Some of those names look as though they could be a good fit, while others appear to be a bad contract waiting to happen.

Whatever route he decides to go, the Oilers GM must ensure whomever he brings in, complements their young core. Not only from an on ice standpoint but also from the mental side of the game. Players generally tend to understand the game and be better all round players from their mid-20's on...something clearly lacking within Edmonton's current mix.

Frankly, it is a.mind-set that needs to find its way into the Oilers dressing room far sooner, than later. Do that and this team will take some giant leaps forward and in very short order.

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