Eric Belanger was a player that the Edmonton Oilers hoped would help stabilize the center position when they signed him in the offseason of 2011. Instead they got a 4 goal, 16 point, -13 season in 78 games type player. Needless to say, he was pretty underwhelming on all sides of the puck. Eric Belanger is needed until the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Anton Lander and to a lesser extent Sam Gagner prove to be responsible NHL players. All of them are well on their way.
The biggest reason why the Oilers had the struggles they did was due to center play. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played well above expectation, Sam Gagner had a very hot & cold season, Anton Lander played well enough but eventually ran out of gas. Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger were given the role of playing the toughs and they were clearly outmatched. They were like a ship taking on water and using pails to bale, as shown by their plus/minus. Eventually they sunk to depths that no NHL player wants to be at being a -23 and -13 respectively.
If I Could Grant One Wish – Buy-in: Belanger’s role should have a bit of a different look to it this upcoming season. More of a 13th forward that can play up and down the lineup in a pinch. Playing a mentor role for the younger players all while pushing the kids, specifically Anton Lander, to become better. Belanger has been a staple player for most of his career, so being an in and out of the lineup type player won’t come easily for him. The biggest thing for the Oilers is there should be a sense of compitition and no one’s role should be safe, including the likes of Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth. Play on the ice should matter this year.
Prediction for 2013 – Won’t end the 2013 season with the Oilers. I predict the 2013 season to be another non-playoff season for the Oilers and I can’t see Belanger being a part-timer for a team that is not playoff bound when he can help a team that is playoff bound. The Oilers don’t need centers like Belanger. Sure they could use his faceoff acumen, but what they need is one big, burly centerman that can shoot the puck a ton and can check his own hat. That will complement the other centers on the team. Belanger is not that guy. Essentially, he is like Marty Reasoner was before he left town. A 4th line center that is a mediocre penalty killer that happens to be good at faceoffs. Like I said in the Anton Lander post, if the battle between Lander and Belanger is close, the 4th line center spot should go to Lander. Belanger is entering the 2nd year of a three year deal. He will be 35 in December.