Could Shawn Horcoff Play LW?

This summer for the Edmonton Oilers has been spent scouring the league for two things. One was a goaltender to take the place of the departed Dwayne Roloson. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on who you ask (see the article in The Hockey News if you're wondering what I mean), the Oilers were able to land Khabibulin on the first day of free agency.

The rest of this time has been spent seeking a first line LW. If they weren't pawning over Dany Heatley, they were making phone calls to see who, if anyone was available via trade. So far tire kicking has involved Phil Kessel from Boston, some unknowns from San Jose (which would inturn help facilitate a Heatley trade) and a couple other players who have no trade clauses. Not the most positive results are coming from that tire kicking and it's easy to understand why.

But perhaps, the Oilers have what they need in house. Hockey guys in the know, namely Jason Gregor from the Team 1260, are reporting that the top 6 forwards outside of Hemsky on 1st line RW is not even close to being a lock and that the coaches will determine who will play and where come training camp.

One player Gregor had the chance to talk to was Shawn Horcoff, who had some interesting answers to some straight to the point questions. Can Cogliano play LW? Was Horcoff's production hampered by the sheer amount of face-offs he was forced to take all season? Does Hemsky's style of play change your style? Horcoff's answers revealed, at least to me that perhaps one thing many of us haven't given thought to, is putting Horcoff on the LW with Hemmer and Gagner in the middle.

Horcoff is in an unenviable position. He has a large contract, is being relied on to be the two-way faceoff specialist, but gets chewed out by Edmonton fans if he doesn't produce 60-70 points a season. It's two distinct roles that when looking after both, means neither will be as potent as they could be. When one only has to worry about one thing (see Dany Heatley as an example) production is a whole lot easier to measure.

Horcoff did make the transtion from wing to centre and admits that move is much harder than the other way around. For Gagner, his face-off percentage isn't fantastic at 42%, but it's respectable and likely to get better. And if it doesn't, Horcoff is already there to take the odd draw or the majority of them which would still be lessen than the 1756 draws he took last year. On the second line, you can put Cogliano or O'Sullivan at centre with Penner. Now Cogs and O'Sullivan are not going to win you many draws, so you have Penner who can at 47.4% and 55% the year before share the load as those two improve. It's a much more balanced attack with room to add any of these top 6 in positions to take a critical faceoff at an important juncture in a game.

On your third line, either Pouliot or Brule have the ability to be better than average faceoff guys and of course the jury is still out on whether or not the Oilers add a piece prior to camp like a Blair Betts.

Do I believe this is what the Oilers will do? Probably not, so why would I suggest this? What this does, is give Cogliano a defined roll on the 2nd line (which I believe he needs to see his potential). It lessens the load for Horcoff to get him back on the shoot first mentality he had in 2007/08 when he was on pace for a point a game and 33 goals before his injury and it reduces the burden of one to two guys being the only players who can win faceoffs and shares the load a bit more. The Oilers went two years ago from 5-6 players over 50% in the faceoff circle to currently 1, maybe two who are even better than average (technically Brule was 80% in the his NHL faceoffs last year, but that for in an extremely limited roll and hardly worth relying upon).

The problems it causes will revolve around Gagner's ability to be the 1st line centre we're all hoping he will be, and it may be asking Penner to take a lot more faceoffs than he's used to, which may be something they need to look at if his production suffers as a result. And of course again, this moves Nilsson into no man's land. . He's not going to do well on your 3rd line if it's checking roll, but he does have a better plus/minus than people give him credit for and can be relied on defensively if it's not about being physical.

At the very least, it would be worth a look if all parties were willing and excited about the changes.

3 comments:

I think Shawn could play left if the oiler's were able to get someone like Danny Briere to replace him. Also I think it would take some pressure off of Horcoff from doing so much on the team. He could focus more on the defensive part of his game but would still have two amazing line mates to possibly excel his offense so all the oiler fans would get off his back for not getting over 70 points a season

Anonymous
August 13, 2009 at 9:06 PM comment-delete

Until there is a legit alternative to using Horcoff in the faceoff circle I really don't think you can move him to the wing. One of the biggest weaknesses of this team last season was found in the faceoff circle, with the lineup we have today moving Horcoff over to LW would only serve to make that weakness even more pronounced.

August 14, 2009 at 11:30 AM comment-delete

@ RyanB

Point taken and definitely something I gave some thought to. I do believe that the Oilers will still add a piece that gives them a faceoff guy and takes a bit of pressure off Horc's shoulders. Whether that means they try him at LW or not is another story.

August 14, 2009 at 2:43 PM comment-delete

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