While there has been a lot of focus on the team’s scoring lines, defensemen and goaltending, I think it is critical for the Oilers’ management team to assess their bottom six forwards.
There are continuing calls from both informed pundits and fans to better the third and fourth lines as this team transitions from being a non-factor in the playoff race for several years to a legitimate threat to wreak some havoc in the 2013 playoffs.
Given their poor history in assessing and retaining players that were destined to be solid third and fourth line players, the Oilers cannot add to the list that includes Jason Chimera, Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Brodziak, Jarret Stoll, Curtis Glencross and Raffi Torres.
At least five if not all six of these players continue to be important contributors in their respective organizations.
Even if the Oilers had half of them, they would be much better positioned in terms of forwards.
With Ryan Smyth and most importantly, Shawn Horcoff, now established as effective third-line players, the Oilers might have had very good third and fourth lines.
Considering all of this, the three most important players in the Oilers’ bottom six forwards are Mike Brown, Lennart Petrell and Magnus Paajarvi.
The Oilers have become somewhat infamous for trying to make players into something they are not in recent years.
Granted, oftentimes they were trying to squeeze points out of players simply not equipped to score consistently at the NHL level.
At this stage, Paajarvi is flourishing relative to his previous play, but with the emergence of Sam Gagner and the continuing development of Nail Yakupov, who has considerably more offensive upside than Paajarvi, there is no need to have Paajarvi play on one of the scoring lines on a nightly basis.
Paajarvi should get significant minutes on the third line. With his extraordinary skating ability he can be a threat at the offensive end and a shut-down defender at the other.
Playing him alongside Horcoff will certainly help him develop into a more complete player and ready him for more playing time in a scoring role in the next season or two.
Petrell has limitations in the offensive zone.
But he is excellent in the defensive zone and as a key penalty killer.
The Oilers’ penalty killing has been very good this year and Petrell has played no small part in that with his willingness to block shots and general pressure on the puck carrier.
Petrell, unlike Paajarvi, has little chance of ever being a first-line player but in all honesty, who cares?
The Oilers have enough skill up front. However, they could do far worse than five Petrell clones plus the original as their bottom six skaters.
Mike Brown is the prototypical enforcer in contemporary NHL play.
He is an above-average skater for a bottom six player, takes the body effectively and is willing to fight anyone in the league.
The key is that Brown can play 10 to 12 minutes per game which separates him from most fourth-line players.
He is also, unsurprisingly, a fan-favorite already.
In fact, when the Oilers need to shorten the bench down the stretch at times, Brown can play effective third-line minutes when called upon.
Brown has proven himself time and time again since his arrival and the club would be well-advised to ensure that he is a big part of the Oilers’ future.