The Edmonton Oilers announced today that they had avoided arbitration and re-signed Gilbert Brule to a two-year deal worth $1.85 million per year. This is very well received news to all Oilers fans who were becoming worried about the lack of news regarding Oiler restricted free agents Brule, Sam Gagner, and Andrew Cogliano.
Now the one thing on a lot of Oilers fans minds is: Will all three be back next year? All of them are centers (although each has showed an ability to play the wing as well), and with Shawn Horcoff and Colin Fraser in the mix there would not be enough spots down the middle. Most expect Gagner to be re-signed, as he has been thought to be the Oilers answer for a No. 1 center that they have been missing since Doug Weight.
That leaves either Brule or Cogliano. They seemed to have different paths to the NHL. Brule was rushed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and many had labelled him as a bust until this season when he scored 17 goals and 37 points last season, a career high. Cogliano, on the other hand, played two years at the University of Michigan before coming to the NHL, putting up an impressive 18 goals and 45 points in his rookie campaign. His point totals have decreased the last two seasons however, scoring 38 points the next year, and a measly 28 points last year.
Many think that the low points scored by Cogliano is due to the fact that he has been placed on the third or fourth line in the last two seasons, as the Oilers tried to groom him to become a defensive forward in the same vein as Todd Marchant. Many fans (including this one) believe he is much more than that, and he seemed to show it last season when given the chance. He played with Dustin Penner and Brule on the first line for the last 16 games when Gagner went down with injury, and posted 13 points in that time, almost half of his total points.
So while Cogliano may have answered the question of whether he can play in the top 6 and succeed, there is still the question of if there is enough space for him to play there. The Oilers have many players that are of proven top six caliber already in Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, Gagner, Brule, and Shawn Horcoff. Not to mention rookies Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, and Jordan Eberle who could be with the big club next year. Now, if the Oilers decide to play three scoring lines, Cogliano could be ok sliding into that third line center position, but if they want to go with a more traditional structure of having a checking line as the third line, then maybe Cogliano's time with the Oilers will soon be over, as he has the potential to be so much more than that.
If he can be given the chance, that is.