It’s been a week of panic and annoyance for the Oilers faithful. With the team dropping games to both Pittsburgh and Montreal this past weekend, they have allowed their provincial rival to bounce them out of a divisional playoff spot and into the wildcard. The recent success of the Calgary Flames has drawn the ire of Oil Country lately, so let me try to divert this negative energy into a more positive story – the story of Anton Slepyshev.
Drafted 88th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Anton Slepyshev first gained notoriety as a legitimate NHL prospect while playing for Ufa Salavat Yulayev in the KHL. The big-bodied left-winger was first scouted to be a intimidating presence who possessed a good mixture of size and speed, not to mention great hands for a player of his size. However, despite this, the physical aspect of his game needed work as there were times where he didn’t dig as deep as he probably should.
His offensive output was never something that validated Slepyshev’s potential future with the Oilers. In 159 KHL games, he was only able to muster a measly 49pts, with his best season seeing him put up 25pts. The thing that impressed the Oilers scouting staff was the physical aspects and intangibles that he could bring into the lineup. When the Oilers signed Slepyshev in the May of 2015 they were investing in a player that could hopefully be a staple in the bottom 6 and maybe even their top 6.
Fast-forward to the present and it seems as though management was right about Anton Slepyshev. After taking some time to acclimate to the North American game, Anton has found his way onto the Oilers roster. Although he is still fighting to find a consistent spot in the lineup, Slepyshev provides the team with some much needed depth on the wing. With the team entering a critical part of the season, depth becomes a major player.
Where Does He Fit?
Slepyshev, who has only played in one of the Oilers past four games has been deployed in multiple roles within the bottom 6. Just recently he was slotted in on the team’s fourth line alongside Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks in a 7-1 rout of the Dallas Stars. Despite the limited role he did play a solid game and displayed keen offensive instinct. Perhaps the most encouraging of traits displayed in this game was his blistering shot, which combines a quick release with a heavy impact, creating a dangerous tool at his disposal.
This has caused a portion of the fanbase to call on the Oilers to leave Anton Slepyshev in the lineup for the remainder of the season. After all, he does provide more offensive upside than the likes of Ilro Pakarinen and Jujhar Khaira. The problem that persists with me in this scenario is the fact that he might be utilized in an incorrect manner on the fourth line.
Traditionally, a team’s fourth line is supposed to grind down the opposition and tire them out with physicality and board play. Although Slepyshev does possess a big frame, he isn’t exactly a grinder by any means. His offensive potential may not be fully realized on a line with Letestu and Hendricks. This is the argument you could make in favour of the previously mentioned Pakarinen and Khaira.
The ideal landing spot would be as the team’s 3rd line LW. Here he would be with fellow offensive players and have more opportunity to play to his strengths. The problem with this idea is that the team already has a pretty set 3rd line at the moment. The line of Pouliot-Desharnais-Kassian has been performing very well since its inception and it would make no sense for them to break it up anytime soon.
Outside of being a decent 4th line option, Slepyshev would be an excellent injury replacement for a guy like Benoit Pouliot or Zack Kassian.
It would be safe to say that Slepyshev continues to see sporadic deployment with the Edmonton Oilers as the season edges ever nearer to a close. His improved play on the fourth line will be noticed and we could see him playing consecutive games in the near future but, as long as the team has other options he will be in and out more often than not.
Barring an injury to the bottom 6, Slepyshev will provide a calming presence to the Oilers faithful in and out of the pressbox as he is an excellent example of the newfound forward depth that the team now has.
That does it for this edition of TJoFD!
In the next installment I will explore the possibility of Jesse Puljujarvi being called up to provide reinforcement!
Thanks For Reading!
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