Edmonton - April 10, 2012 - With the Edmonton Oilers loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night, it brought to an end another season of disappointment in Oil Country. While there were many positives on individual fronts, as a team the 2011-2012 campaign would have to be deemed as a failure. With the season now completed, the time has come to look back and give out my year end report cards. Each player's rating is based on their performance from opening night and takes into consideration the role in which every player was expected to play, heading into the season. While yesterday the focus was on Edmonton's goaltenders and defence, today the focus shifts over to the forward group.
Eric Belanger: (GP) 78 (G) 4 (A) 12 (Pts) 16 (Plus/Minus) -13 (PIM) 32
The main purpose of bringing in the veteran centre was to help the Oilers in the faceoff dot and on the penalty kill, which is exactly what he did. Unfortunately, when it came to the rest of his game Belanger was so bad that it took away from the good he brought to the table. That being said, sixteen points from a guy who played top nine minutes for much of the season while seeing time on the second power play unit, is frankly not good enough. Look for Belanger to rebound next season with a strong year...be it in Edmonton or somewhere else.
Ben Eager: (GP) 63 (G) 8 (A) 5 (Pts) 13 (Plus/Minus) -1 (PIM) 107
The rugged winger was brought to Edmonton to help with the club's mix in their bottom six and all signs pointed to Eager being a good fit. Regrettably, the seven year veteran seemed more concerned with how much he did or didn't play, instead of focusing on what his team needed from him on a nightly basis. Eager had some very good stretches during the year but more often then not, he was a non-factor.
Jordan Eberle: (GP) 78 (G) 34 (A) 42 (Pts) 76 (Plus/Minus) +4 (PIM) 10
What can be said about this kid that hasn't been said already? The sophomore winger was money all season long and ended up in a tie for fifteenth in league scoring, with the likes of Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar. He also finished tied for fifteenth in goal scoring, with thirty-four goals and he accomplished all of this without full seasons from fellow linemates Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall. In my mind, he already had the potential to push the forty goal barrier on a regular basis but at the rate these three kids are maturing, do not be surprised to see Eberle push the 50 goal plateau in the not to distant future. Those may be some lofty goals but this kid is that good and seems to have been born to score goals.
Sam Gagner: (GP) 75 (G) 18 (A) 29 (Pts) 47 (Plus/Minus) +5 (PIM) 36
After an absolutely dreadful start to his year, Sam had himself a magical run that saw the talented centre score eight points against the Chicago Blackhawks on February 2nd. He was the talk of the NHL for about a week and looked as though he had finally arrived. Unfortunately for Gagner, he reverted back to his inconsistent ways after his great stretch and fell short of the fifty point mark one more time. While still a young man, the time has come for Sam to take that next step in his development.
Taylor Hall: (GP) 61 (G) 27 (A) 26 (Pts) 53 (Plus/Minus) -3 (PIM) 36
Outside of being hit by the injury bug and trying to do too much on his own early on, Hall took huge strides towards living up to his "franchise player" tag. While Eberle and RNH are both huge parts of the puzzle in Edmonton, Taylor Hall is the straw that stirs this drink. When the former first overall selection has been out of the lineup, the Oilers are a completely different team and the team lacks the energy that the youngster brings to the table on a nightly basis. Despite missing twenty-one games, Hall was tied for fifth in the league with thirteen power play goals and finished just outside the top ten with seven game winning goals. If Taylor can manage to stay healthy, the sky is the limit.
Teemu Hartikainen: (GP) 17 (G) 2 (A) 3 (Pts) 5 (Plus/Minus) +1 (PIM) 6
After the Oilers decided to acquire veteran Ryan Smyth in the off season, the writing was on the wall for the feisty Finn. After being sent back to Oklahoma City to start the year, Hartikainen struggled to find his game. As his play improved, the Oilers rewarded the twenty-one year old with a couple of call ups to the big club. After getting little done in his first recall, Teemu was excellent over the final three weeks of the season. Very much like last season, Hartikainen was solid done the stretch and showed once again, that he has the ability to contribute at this level. The youngster has shown what he can do and it is now up to Edmonton to find him a full time role next season.
Ales Hemsky: (GP) 69 (G) 10 (A) 26 (Pts) 36 (Plus/Minus) -13 (PIM) 43
Without a doubt, the 2011-2012 campaign was the worst in Ales Hemsky's career. Statistically, the year seems like a one off and if Ales stays healthy, it should be just that. At times Hemsky seemed disengaged and in his defense, was placed with linemates that were simply poor fits. Whenever the talented Czech found himself on a line with one of the three kids, his game went to another level. In order for this team to continue to grow, they will need secondary scoring and that needs to come from their $5 million man.
Shawn Horcoff: (GP) 81 (G) 13 (A) 21 (Pts) 34 (Plus/Minus) -23 (PIM) 24
After being played to death for a number of seasons, this was supposed to be the year that the load was supposed to be lightened on the Oilers captain. Oddly enough, Horcoff continued to play major minutes and not surprisingly, the veteran centre ran out of gas. While he continues to be the fans favourite whipping boy, his season was no worse then fan favourite Ryan Smyth. Without a doubt, Shawn needs to be better but starting next season, he has to be used in a role that will allow him that opportunity.
Darcy Hordichuk: (GP) 43 (G) 1 (A) 2 (Pts) 3 (Plus/Minus) -3 (PIM) 64
For the most part, Hordichuk did what was expected of him. While he tried to create energy whenever he hit the ice and protect his teammates when necessary, his skill set simply does not allow him to be an effective NHL player. Darcy understands his role but can't fill it in today's NHL. If Edmonton could combine Ben Eager's tool box with Hordichuk's willingness to do whatever is needed of him, they would have themselves a perfect fourth line winger.
Ryan Jones: (GP) 79 (G) 17 (A) 16 (Pts) 33 (Plus/Minus) -7 (PIM) 42
While Jones was not very good during the final half of the season, the fact that he continues to score goals playing in the role that he does, is a marvel to me. He does need to be more physical on a nightly basis and yes he has been given some great opportunities to play with great players but he seems to be the only one who takes advantage of these situations. Make no mistake, Jones is nothing more then a third or fourth line guy but on a team that has struggled to find secondary scoring for years, it is hard to argue with the hard working winger's production over the last two years. Ryan has turned himself into a perfect complimentary bottom six player and every successful team has those players.
Anton Lander: (GP) 56 (G) 2 (A) 4 (Pts) 6 (Plus/Minus) -8 (PIM) 12
The rookie centre should have spent much of this season in Oklahoma City but the Oilers decided to keep him in Edmonton for two thirds of the year. While the move on its own should not effect his overall development, it might make the learning curve a little steeper for the young Swede. The kid displayed many solid traits that you would hope to see in a bottom six guy but playing as little as he did, gave him no chance to show what he could do.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: (GP) 62 (G) 18 (A) 34 (Pts) 52 (Plus/Minus) -2 (PIM) 16
Heading into training camp, I was one who fully expected Nugent-Hopkins to not only make the Oilers but contribute in his rookie year. While I had the youngster down for thirteen goals and fifty-three points for this season, the kid was far better then I could have ever imagined. RNH was simply electrifying from day one and his overall game was much further along then anyone had thought. He not only came into the league and made an immediate impact but did it at a ridiculously high level. One could argue that after just one season in the NHL, the Nuge is the best power play guy in the entire league. While he would have been a runaway winner of the Calder Trophy, if he did not miss twenty games due to a shoulder injury, the kid has undoubtedly been the league's best rookie. Just like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins is a very special talent that should help lead this club become the elite franchise management hopes they will be.
Linus Omark: (GP) 14 (G) 3 (A) 0 (Pts) 3 (Plus/Minus) -5 (PIM) 8
What more can be said about the talented winger. He was never given a real shot this season and his call up late in the season, was frankly embarrassing. Not sure if Omark simply rubbed too many people in the organization the wrong way but the kid is just not a good fit. While some would rightly argue, that this team can't afford to add another small player like Linus into an already small lineup, the fact that he was not given a legitimate shot to show what he could when the opportunity presented itself, was rather disappointing. Omark did not register a single solitary assist on the season, which tells you that he never really played with players that best suited his skill set. Linus will be elsewhere next season and lets hope it is not a decision this organization regrets making.
Magnus Paajarvi: (GP) 41 (G) 2 (A) 6 (Pts) 8 (Plus/Minus) -7 (PIM) 4
To say that Paajarvi's second NHL season was a disappointment, would be putting it nicely. Magnus struggled to find his game all year long but he was not exactly helped out by this coaching staff. While no player should just be given a spot, the fact they continually played the talented Swede in a bottom six role did the youngster no favours. That being said, Paajarvi needs to push himself to be a better player and force them to play him higher in the lineup. Like Teemu Hartikainen, Paajarvi was the player that was effected most by the organization's decision to bring Ryan Smyth back to Edmonton. In all likelihood, the former top ten selection will rebound back to form come 2012-2013.
Lennart Petrell: (GP) 60 (G) 4 (A) 5 (Pts) 9 (Plus/Minus) -10 (PIM) 45
The hard working winger came to Edmonton as a long shot to break camp with the big club but the feisty Finn did exactly that. Petrell's role was very simple heading into the season, help kill penalties and be a physical presence on the fourth line..and he did exactly that. While there is no guarantee he will be back in the fold next season, he has been the exact type of player this organization has been missing from their bottom six for ages.
Ryan Smyth: (GP) 82 (G) 19 (A) 27 (Pts) 46 (Plus/Minus) -5 (PIM) 82
As good as the start of Ryan Smyth's season was, the finish was equally if not more disappointing. From a stats point of view, Smyth had a successful year but when one considers the role that the veteran was used in for approximately two thirds of the season, he was not good enough. One of the biggest reasons Smyth was brought back into the fold, was to help lead this young group and teach them what it meant to be an Oiler. Instead, what Edmonton got was a player who dogged it far too many nights, took a ton of undisciplined penalties and was one of the biggest culprits when it came to "making lazy line changes". In my mind, he will likely be resigned in the off season but it could be a decision that this organization ends up regretting.