During training camp in 2013, it seemed like the Oilers were experimenting with a fourth line featuring relative newbies in Will Acton and Ryan Hamilton along with Ryan Jones. They seemed to want four scoring lines, trying to develop four separate threats for opposing teams. Then, Sam Gagner got a stick in the yapper. Broken jaw. Plans changed quickly on the fourth line. Surprisingly, the team signed former Oiler Steve Macintyre. They wanted a pugilist on the fourth line to stand up for the small forwards, and Big Mac fit the bill.
Macintyre would hurt his knee, badly. What to do? The Oilers picked up Luke Gazdic off of the waiver wire from the Dallas Stars. A relative unknown, he had racked up plenty of PIM’s and was the best option at the time. For a moment it seemed like destiny when Gazdic scored the first regular season seconds into the new session.
Gazdic would only score three more points throughout the season. But, he wasn’t brought in to score goals. He was there to be a thorn in the side of opponents who thought they could push around the team and its small, skilled forwards. In that capacity, Gazdic was relatively effective. He was somewhat inconsistent as to when he may react to a situation, but it wasn’t uncommon to see some stand down to Gazdic.
The question remains: Do the Oilers return him to the line up? That depends on a few factors. Most teams employ their fourth line as a grinder line, full of big, tough bodies that play six or seven minutes a night. It may very well be that the Oilers stick with that time honored formula. However, free agency and the trade market are a major wild card here. Some are speculating that plans are to jettison Sam Gagner, move Boyd Gordon to the fourth line with Matt Hendricks, leaving Gazdic on the wing to flank. But, what about Jesse Joensuu? What if we find another, better player on the waiver wire?
OIL ON WHYTE OUTLOOK: If the summer doesn’t produce a better option on the fourth line, Gazdic will be just fine as an enforcer for the Oilers. However, if he doesn’t impress in training camp, his role isn’t guaranteed. For now, expect him to start in October.