SUN Hockey Pool

Gagner's absence leaves large hole for Oilers

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:36 AM ET

EDMONTON - With Sam Gagner out of the lineup for at least a couple of weeks, a spot has opened up for the Edmonton Oilers down the middle.

A number of players are making a good case for themselves to be penciled into that spot as Gagner recovers from a sprained ankle. It’ll leave the Oilers with some tough choices when it comes time to submit their 23-man roster for the start of the regular season.

“That’s OK,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “As coaches you always try to get the best talent on the ice as you can. Certainly, we have some depth now, there’s no question.

“Given however long this might take with Sam, we do have options.”

Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger are the only two healthy centres with a guaranteed spot on the opening night roster.

Based on his performance so far this pre-season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will almost certainly be there as well.

That leaves Gilbert Brule, Ryan O’Marra and Anton Lander in the mix for the other spots at centre.

leadin line: For the last couple of seasons, the Oilers would struggle to win a faceoff if Shawn Horcoff wasn’t taking it.

This year, the club has brought in Eric Belanger to help out in that department. The hope is Belanger can take some of the pressure off Horcoff in the face-off circle, not forcing the Oilers captain to take every important draw.

“Faceoffs are a big part of the game, especially on special teams,” said Horcoff. “So, if you can get a couple of guys out there that can win those draws, it’s huge.”

The Oilers struggles on special teams in the past couple of seasons can be directly correlated to their inability to win draws beyond Horcoff.

“It’s hard enough killing penalties when you’re winning draws, let alone when you’re giving them easy possession in your own zone,” said Horcoff. “Especially with the rule where the faceoff comes into your zone on a penalty.

“If you can get that draw and that first dump down the ice it’s tough for the other team because they have go back all the way down the ice and then rush the puck all the way back. It’s a big deal.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/SUNdvandiest


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