For the first time in a long time, the Oilers are poised to start a season with four legitimate centermen. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Anton Lander made some very nice progress last season, while Boyd Gordon, who is in his last season of his three-year contract, played consistently in both ends of the ice. Connor McDavid will be in the starting line-up in October and at this point I’ll assume he’ll be at center.
We’ll also have Leon Draisaitl (truly) competing for a roster spot in training camp. I hope he flourishes and makes a huge push, but I would not be disappointed if Leon spends a season in the AHL to refine his game. Keep in mind, the AHL’s California teams will play less games next season and focus more on player development. Young prospects like Leon will get more ice time and more opportunities to play different situations.
As of today, the 2015-2016 forwards roster looks something like this:
Not bad, right? And you can easily shift guys around and even entertain the idea of having Draisaitl somewhere on the wing.
My concern here is that the Oilers would be absolutely hooped if one of the centermen got hurt. The other issue is that Lander might regress or Gordon might start slowing down due to the workload. Plus, it might be best that McDavid ease his way in to the NHL by playing wing with an experienced centerman. Draisaitl could possibly be that replacement player, but it would make no sense to stunt his development because the Oilers weren’t deep enough at center.
What I propose is that the Oilers acquire an experienced centerman who could play wing, but shift to center as needed. Someone who could slide into that third line left-wing spot and play some special teams as needed. And with a young core, it’ll be imperative that the club bring in a proven leader to provide guidance.
Shawn Horcoff will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, just completing his six year, $33 million contract that he signed with the Oilers in 2008. He’s 36 years old now, having played 946 NHL games and scoring 496 points. There is no question that his career will be coming to a close soon, but it’s his performance last season that has me thinking he could be a productive player for the Oilers next season.
Below is a summary of his play at even-strength over the past five seasons (Source: War on Ice).
Horcoff notched 29 points last season, with 22 of those points coming at even-strength. His offensive zone starts were down slightly from the previous year, but he managed to perform better in terms of productivity and possession. He played limited minutes in Dallas, and produced at a third-line level.
What should be noted is that Horcoff played a lot on the wing, as the Stars had Seguin, Spezza, Eakin and Fiddler as pivots. Horcoff still took a lot of faceoffs, but he was 6th on the team in faceoff attempts (Source: NHL.com).
Horcoff’s two most common linemates last season were Vernon Fiddler and Colton Sceviour (Source: Hockey Analysis). Here’s a quick summary of how they fared together and apart.
|Corsi % (Even strength)|
|Linemate||With Horcoff||Without Horcoff|
Horcoff away from these two had a decent Corsi. What’s interesting is how both his linemates posted slightly better Corsi’s when Horcoff was with them. Horcoff might be getting older, but he’s not at the point where he drags down teammates. It should be noted that Horcoff had reasonable zone starts and typically went against the other club’s bottom six forwards.
The key thing to consider is that Horcoff filled the kind of role the Oilers really need this year: an experienced forward, who can produce on the third line, not be a drag on his linemates and make a seamless transition to center when needed. He did a little bit of everything, serving as a mentor to the younger players in Dallas.
And if you want some “toughness” and “grit” and whatever on the third line, he’s your guy:
I can’t imagine a lot of teams lining up to sign him due to his age, so the acquisition cost should be low. The other issue of course is whether Horcoff would want to sign in Edmonton, likely preferring to join a cup contender. My guess is that because of McDavid and the reputable management team in place now, Edmonton would be a prime destination for many, including Horcoff.
And if Horcoff doesn’t fit what the Oilers want, here’s hoping they strongly consider adding an experienced center through trade or free agency. It’s absolutely critical.