Edmonton - February 4, 2012 - With the month of January now in the books, it's time to look back at the month that was and dish out my monthly report card. Each players rating will be based on their performance from opening night up to and including the teams last game on January 31st. Today the spotlight will be on the Oilers forwards and coaching staff.
Eric Belanger - He finally shot a puck into the net for the first time this season, when he scored in the clubs final game of the month. That's two goals in 47 games, which is frankly horrendous. Belanger continues to be strong in the face-off dot and good on the penalty kill but his lack of production is at the point of being laughable.
Needs To Work On: He has to put the first forty-seven games of this year behind him and just focus on having a strong final thirty. He can't change what has already happened but he can change what is still to come. Keep it simple and for God's sake, get him off the power play.
Ben Eager - While the rugged winger continues to be inconsistent, he did manage to score three goals last month, which is very good production from a fourth line player. Problem is, Eager sees himself as more then a fourth line player but on this team, that's all he will ever be.
Needs To Work On: He needs to accept his role and bring the club something on a nightly basis. I am not suggesting he needs to fight every night but he does needs to start banging and crashing on a much more regular basis.
Jordan Eberle - The kid just keeps on producing. Heading into February, he is closing in on twenty goals and has a very good shot of ending the season with around thirty-five goals. Eberle is money in the clutch but no one player will benefit more with the return of RNH to the lineup. Despite missing time due to injury, Jordan has a great shot of still hitting the 70 point plateau. Ultimately, his potential is endless.
Needs To Work On: Find a way to ensure that the coaching staff doesn't continue to limit his ice time five-on-five and somehow convince them to allow him to start killing penalties
Sam Gagner - Sam put up five points in the clubs first four games in January but then registered only two assists in the next nine. It has been a tough season on Gagner and one that has seen him been mentioned in many trade rumours. I can't see Edmonton moving him at the deadline but if he wants to remain an Oiler long term, he needs to show something over the remainder of the season.
Needs To Work On: While he hasn't always had the best of linemates top play with, Gagner should be given a top six role from here on out and he needs to show he has some sort of chemistry with someone moving forward. He is far better at centre and that could be his undoing moving forward. That being said, I would much rather the Oilers hang on to him, unless they can acquire the young stud blueliner this organization desperately needs.
Taylor Hall - The youngster continued his strong play picking up ten points in his eleven games while scoring seven times. He has been Edmonton's best player on a nightly basis for some time now and his game is improving with each passing game. In my mind, this kid has limitless potential and his leadership qualities make him a very special player. Even though he has missed ten games due to injury, I think Taylor has a real shot at reaching the thirty-five goal mark before the year is done.
Needs To Work On: Staying healthy and keeping away from stray pucks during warm up. In all honesty, if he can find a way to have his never quit attitude rub off on as many of his teammates as possible, this organization would see themselves improve almost over night.
Ales Hemsky - After struggling through his worst season in his NHL career, Hemsky finally showed some life in his game and not surprisingly, it seemed to happen as soon as he was placed on a line with Taylor Hall. He is far too good of player to have only twenty points in thirty-seven games, though he did pick up nine of those points in January.
Needs To Work On: At this stage of the game, it is very unlikely that Ales will still be a part of this club after the trade deadline. So he needs to show everyone in the league that the high end game we all know he possess, is still somewhere inside the talented Czech winger.
Shawn Horcoff - Many have stated that Horcoff is playing with some sort of injury but his play has fallen off so much, that it is rather alarming. No one can question the captain's effort but at some point, there has to be some sort of production. Shawn managed to put up four points for the month and has scored two goals in his past twenty-nine games. When you consider how many minutes and situations he plays in, those numbers are simply staggering.
Needs To Work On: Honestly, I am not sure there is anything Horcoff can do to help improve things. He is playing poorly and has absolutely nothing left in the tank, after being played far too much this season. Maybe he can tell the coaching staff to not play him so much because they seem unable to come to that conclusion on their own.
Darcy Hordichuk - Oilers tough guy only got into seven games last month and didn't do much in those contests. Darcy hasn't played with any sort of regularity and it has clearly made him far less effective. That being said, he needs to make himself noticeable on a nightly basis or he simply serves no purpose.
Needs To Work On: Just ensure no one takes any runs at the kids over the final thirty plus games.
Ryan Jones - After being on fire for the first there months of the season, Jones has now fallen on hard times. The hard working winger has gone goal-less in fifteen games and had just three assists for the month of January. While his level of play has clearly dropped, did anyone really expect him to continue at the same pace? If your answer to that question is yes, you are either a liar or part of Ryan's family.
Needs To Work On: Getting back to playing his style of game. Keep it simple and try not to do too much. Jones has turned himself into a solid bottom six forward but that is all he is.
Anton Lander - While there is nothing that Lander does poorly, at this point, there is really nothing he does extremely well. He scored a nice goal against Columbus earlier in the month but the rest of the time he is not noticeable. Bob Stauffer regularly says, "Anton is a safe player" and to this point, that best describes the young Swede's game.
Needs To Work On: Once RNH returns from injury, the logical move would be to send Lander down to Oklahoma City and let him play the remainder of the season and playoffs with the Barons. Having said that, I have my doubts that they will do it.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - The Nuge played less then a period of hockey last month before injuring his shoulder and he hasn't played since. While he is set to return to action on Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings, his grade will remain the same as last month.
Needs To Work On: Nugent-Hopkins simply needs to get back in the swing of things and take it slowly. There is no pressure on him to produce instantly, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he makes a big bang on his return to the lineup.
Linus Omark - Linus had his cast removed late in the month and has finally started skating. Look for Omark to get another opportunity in Edmonton...after the trade deadline passes.
Ryan O'Marra - O'Marra played four games in January and frankly looked far less effective with each passing game. At this point Ryan is nothing more then an AHL player and that is where he should remain.
Magnus Paajarvi - After being recalled from Oklahoma City, Paajarvi got into six games but little seems to have changed with the talented Swede's game. While he appears a little more confident, he still refuses to go into tough areas on a consistent basis. Magnus picked up an assist during his call up and now has only four points, no goals, in thirty-three games.
Needs To Work On: Paajarvi is currently back in OKC and that is where he should stay. Let the kid tough it out during the Barons playoff run and see how he does. It's clear that this season is a lost cause but that doesn't mean he can't continue to grow his game in the AHL.
Lennart Petrell - After being sent down to Oklahoma City at the end of December, Petrell was called back up for the final two games of the month and they were the Oilers two best efforts in some time.
Needs To Work On: The Finn simply does his thing and very rarely tries to do more then he needs to. Not sure why Petrell was ever sent down to begin with but he should remain in Edmonton for the rest of the season.
Ryan Smyth - The fan favourite has been pretty poor over the last two months and much of that has to do with the fact that he continues to play nearly twenty minutes a night. Smyth had two games in which he scored a goal and picked up an assist but had eleven others that he was held off the score sheet. He appears slower with each passing game and looks nothing like the player that started the season.
Needs To Work On: The only reason Ryan is not setting with a C as his grade, was because his start was so impressive. Smyth continues to turn the puck over and take terrible penalties on a regular basis. Like Horcoff, he should probably go to the coaches and tell them to play him less because they flat out refuse to do it on their own.
Injuries to core players have made Tom Renney's job almost impossible this season. Having never really had his true starting lineup at any point this year, has made things far to challenging for this coaching staff. While they have been able to construct one of the leagues best power plays, they have had all sorts of trouble in getting this group to be a consistent team five-on-five. A lot of that has to due with the injuries and poor play from many core veteran players. This coaching staff's hands are tied when it comes to bringing in quality players to replace guys that are struggling but they do have the ability to change things up that are clearly not working. However, they are curiously reluctant to do so and they almost seem to feel bad about having to put certain long term players in their place. You should definitely cut your vets some slack but not to the the degree that this coaching staff has this season.
Need To Work On: For the love of God, can someone please convince these guys to stop playing Horcoff and Smyth so much? I haven't understood the line of thinking from day one but even when it is apparent to everyone else, they continue playing between 20-23 minutes a night. The two veterans look worse with each passing game and it is not something that will simply improve on it's own. The only thing that will correct it, will be a reduced role.
Look at giving Eberle and Hall a crack on the penalty kill, with Eberle being the one to get a regular look in shorthanded situations. Edmonton haven't had that sort of presence on their kill since back in the dynasty days and it would be a perfect opportunity to find Eberle more ice time. The addition of the two youngsters to the kill, should make teams think twice about how the atack the Oilers penalty kill.