Edmonton Oilers Season Preview, Part Three: Forwards

Salim ValjiCorrespondent ISeptember 29, 2008

Projected Lines:

Erik Cole-Shawn Horcoff-Ales Hemsky

Robert Nilsson-Andrew Cogliano-Sam Gagner

Dustin Penner-Fernando Pisani-Ethan Moreau

Kyle Brodziak-Marc-Antoine Pouliot-Zach Stortini

The first line features newcomer Erik Cole playing with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.  Eric Cole and Ales Hemsky should benefit from each other's strengths this season.  Hemsky is one of the best one-on-one players in the league, and Cole should reach the 30-goal mark this season.

The trouble is that Shawn Horcoff, no matter how great he played last season, is not a first line center.  First line centers are players who have exceptional offensive abilities, and their stats prove it.  

Coming into this season, Horcoff has roughly 0.6 points per game, whereas a true first line center averages at least 0.9 points per game. Although he has a very good defensive game and is very versatile, Horcoff has been thrust into a role to which he is not suited. And, with his hefty new contract, expectations will be raised dramatically.  The reality is that he will never be able to get more than 80-85 points in a season.

One thing to consider is that this line could hold more of a defensive responsibility than most top lines in the NHL. Craig MacTavish plays a very defensive brand of hockey, and, depending on how he chooses to match lines, Edmonton's top line could very well see Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, and Pavel Datsyuk with 20-25 minutes per game. 

Both Cole and Horcoff have excelled in a shutdown role before, so defensive responsibilities are not out of the question.

Line two is all about the kids.  Cogliano, Gagner, and Nilsson all had surprisingly good seasons last year and have shown great chemistry thus far in training camp and preseason. This could be one of the most exciting lines in all of hockey this season.

Sam Gagner's offensive instincts and hockey sense are brilliant, Andrew Cogliano is one of the fastest skaters in the league, and Robert Nilsson can play a solid all-round game.  One thing that could be an issue for this line is toughness and whether or not they can handle being pushed around.  For now, the main focus of this second line should be only on offense, with minimal expectations on defense.   

The third line should excel in a shutdown role similar to what Fernando Pisani and Ethan Moreau have been trusted with their entire careers.  Both are exceptional defensive forwards when healthy, and Dustin Penner will add size, toughness, and offense to this line.  There will be very minimal offensive expectations for this line as long as they play well defensively.

The fourth line features former first round draft pick Marc-Antoine Pouliot with Kyle Brodziak and Zach Stortini. Pouliot and Brodziak both play solid two-way games and have the ability to produce on the score sheet every so often. Stortini can drop the gloves whenever necessary. 

At this point, this line’s entire role will be to give the top six forwards a break and eat minutes.  If they can contribute on the score sheet, it’s an added bonus.

Overall, this set of forwards looks very good.  A strong top six, with two solid defensive forwards in Pisani and Moreau makes this set of forwards look like one of the best in the Western Conference.

Overall Grade:  A-