Draisaitl, Yakupov and the Middle Six

Jonathan Willis
September 02 2014 02:52PM

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It seems probable that Edmonton’s top line for the majority of 2014-15 will be the incumbent trio of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Assuming that to be true, Oilers coach Dallas Eakins has an interesting challenge in front of him: How can he carefully manage the minutes of both Leon Draisaitl and Nail Yakupov while still running at least one capable two-way line in his middle-six forward group?

All the eggs, one basket

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The obvious solution is to put Draisaitl and Yakupov on the same line and be careful when using it. That would look something like this:

  • David Perron – Mark Arcobello – Teddy Purcell
  • Benoit Pouliot – Leon Draisaitl – Nail Yakupov

The upside of that arrangement is that the second line should be relatively trustworthy in pretty much any situation, and that there’s just one forward line on the team that Eakins will need to handle very carefully. The downside is that it asks Pouliot (or one of the other vets) to ride herd on an NHL rookie centre and a player in Yakupov who is still rough around the edges.

Dear wolves, please enjoy your Draisaitl

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Alternatively, the team could split the two up. One method would be to put Draisaitl in the spotlight right out of the gate:

  • David Perron – Leon Draisaitl – Teddy Purcell
  • Benoit Pouliot – Mark Arcobello – Nail Yakupov

There are some nice points to this plan. That second line has some real heft to it , with Draisaitl and Purcell both being bigger players and Perron adding some bite. The third line looks like a nice fit to run up the score in a sheltered role and on paper at least is a nice blend of talents – a grinding forward in Pouliot, a playmaker in Arcobello and a sniper in Yakupov. It’s a nice arrangement, with the lone caveat being that it puts massive expectations on the shoulders of an 18-year-old Draisaitl.

Ready or not, here comes Yak

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The other way of splitting the two puts Yakupov in more of a feature role, like this:

  • David Perron – Mark Arcobello – Nail Yakupov
  • Benoit Pouliot – Leon Draisaitl – Teddy Purcell

Or possibly like so:

  • Nail Yakupov – Mark Arcobello – Teddy Purcell
  • Benoit Pouliot – Leon Draisaitl – David Perron

The big upside here is that in either case Draisaitl is allowed to break into the NHL with veterans on either side and without massive responsibilities. This also means reuniting Arcobello and Yakupov, who had really strong possession numbers together in 2013-14. The downside is that it requires Arcobello/Yakupov to hold up a second line when there are questions about both players.

What should Edmonton do?

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I think we’ll probably see the second and third lines as a bit of a moving target all season. Many teams don’t employ fixed combinations in the middle-six, and the decision to make the Boyd Gordon “fourth line” a defensive specialty unit allows Eakins and his staff to mix and match players without really changing their role; regardless of the exact line there will be an expectation of offensive production.

Of the scenarios outlined above, the single-best is probably the one that puts the most responsibility on Draisaitl’s shoulders. If he can handle it, the Oilers should be in decent shape, but that’s very much an ‘if’ at this point and if it turns out he isn’t ready than things get much more difficult.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Jayz
September 02 2014, 08:23PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

On paper Jonathan those lines make good sense. I'm looking forward to that 2nd or 3rd period of that first game when Dallas gets out the blender.

Moves I look forward to are is the firewagon line of Hall, Draisaitl and Yakupov. Like to also see RNH between Pouliot and Purcell. Not sure having them (Pou/Pu) sacrifice/hold back any of their game to compensate for Leon is the kinda start they were hoping for. While the opportunity is there double shift some of these kids at times to achieve this. With some of the leagues better players playing 1 to 2 minute shifts, maybe Hopkins or Hall are capable of this as well. Draisaitl between Hall and Eberle will be an interesting look when it happens as well. Eventually an Oiler will win the Calder, maybe it's Leon this season.

Have to believe the bottom 2/3rds of the teams in the league would have difficulty handling the unexpected for half or most of a period in a close game. I'm not saying break up Hall/RNH and Eberle. Just spot double shift Hall and RNH at times. Be a little less predictable to your opponent.

Until yak proves he can play a two way game, I would like him a staple on the Pouliot line. Love the possible combination if skill but totally agree

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#52 Woogie63
September 02 2014, 08:43PM
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I would ensure LD plays nine games in the NHL, which might take two months.

I think next year Lander is going to be a better 3C than LD AND IMO LD would benefit playing lots of minutes of elite hockey next year (read WHL) and not have to play soft minutes.

Lander is a fourth year pro that has delivered in every league up to the NHL. It seems he is ready for a 3C role on a non play off team.

3C in the western conference are;

Hanzel, Colborne, Briere, Horcoff, Granlund, Matthias, Slater

It appears Lander should be able to compete with these centres.

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#53 Enjoying the read
September 02 2014, 09:03PM
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Nuge was very sound defensively coming out of the WHL. What is the scouting report on Leon in terms of defensive positioning? Although the wingers have a reduced responsibility, I recall them getting the majority of blame (Sam Gagne excluded) for the defensive short comings of our forward groups. With the perceived improvement of our defence men (making successful first passes to start the breakout), I think our wingers need to really step up and maintain possession with smart plays to successfully break out of our end and limit those transition turnovers that so often turn into prime scoring chances. The good news is our team recognizes that "the swarm defence" is not effective against highly skilled hockey teams. The bad news is the Maple Leafs figured it out too. If Leon is responsible defensively (and I have not heard otherwise), I think his offensive puck possession skills and good vision could really help our shooters take shots from prime scoring areas. If his defensive play is flawed, why would sending him back to the same environment he came from change anything (he already has 2 years in PA and Junior coaches typically stress defence first with their youngest player). Sending Yak back to the same Junior team would have been a huge mistake since they would have been dependent on his offence, and cut him some slack for his defensive short comings. Yak did not learn the benefits of solid defensive play in Junior but he was sure fun to watch!

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#54 sportsjunkie007
September 02 2014, 10:25PM
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the firewagon line of Hall, Draisaitl and Yakupov...

Wow. I never even considered that as a possibility. It would be both exciting and terrifying to watch. I suspect that our goaltenders would end up seeing more than a couple of lopsided rushes coming at them.

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#55 Danny
September 03 2014, 03:57AM
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When I look at all this on question arises that could make a world of difference. Yak being a first overall makes the possibilty of him becomong a first liner is not beyond his potential at all....I love the look of him on the first line. Check it out I can't wait for this to be realistic, it won't be long. Is this year to soon? Eberle and Arc on the second line would absolutely hold there own. Leaves drain on a vet soft line where him and his winged probably should be playing. So is Yak ready?

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#56 Zarny
September 03 2014, 09:24AM
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The only way Eakins can shelter both Draisaitl and Yakupov is to have them on the same line. Otherwise too many competing interests and Eakins will be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Considering Arcobello didn't make the NHL until he was 25 and has all of 42 games experience it's a real stretch to suggest Perron-Arco-Purcell should be relatively trustworthy in pretty much any situation. Offensively they could be a complete dud.

Once again the Oilers game plan relies on unproven players playing above their heads. History suggests that is not a recipe for success.

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#57 Vmr
September 03 2014, 10:44AM
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Going by past experience I'm willing to bet that at one point or other we will see all of these line combinations as well as Hall RNH and Eberle mixed in.

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#58 Will
September 03 2014, 11:02AM
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It also seems like with our wingers, Eakins will be able to pick and choose lines based on team match up and where the Oilers are in the game. Ten minutes left holding onto a lead. Maybe shut down LD and Yak and throw Poulliot on the line with Gordon and Hendricks.

Playing Calgary, Put out Gazdic and have him run everyone.

It's also worth noting that these line combinations are not happening in a vacuum. By that I mean these line combinations will be flanked hopefully by better goal tending and other possible defensive pairs. So a soft line of Poulliot LD and Yak might benefit greatly from a Nikitin Fayne defensive pair. Those 5 together would be a pretty deadly combo in the attacking zone. One guy that goes to the net, a big playmaker that's hard to get off the puck, a sneaky russian sniper, a shot from the point, and a good old stay at home defender. All with decent size.

Either way, I doubt Eakins does anything like this, and instead we see another second line that struggles, Gordon on the third line with someone like Yak for no good reason, and a hodgepodge fourth line that is ineffective because the line combinations are all weird and there's no chemistry.

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#59 Will
September 03 2014, 11:07AM
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Zarny wrote:

The only way Eakins can shelter both Draisaitl and Yakupov is to have them on the same line. Otherwise too many competing interests and Eakins will be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Considering Arcobello didn't make the NHL until he was 25 and has all of 42 games experience it's a real stretch to suggest Perron-Arco-Purcell should be relatively trustworthy in pretty much any situation. Offensively they could be a complete dud.

Once again the Oilers game plan relies on unproven players playing above their heads. History suggests that is not a recipe for success.

Maybe his games before Gagner came back were a fluke, but with good linemates, it really looks like Arco can excel. Heck even with bad linemates his numbers were pretty solid all around.

I think this is the year Arco sticks. Maybe not with the Oilers, but I bet he will either be a deadline trade, or pick up a contract somewhere in free agency.

I also think Edmonton fans are in for a second surprise with Lander. My guess is injuries will force Lander into the line up, and he will find his scoring, solidifying himself as next year's third line C.

On another note, it seems a little alarming that in two years Perron, Gordon, Scrivens, and Nikitin all become UFA's. Maybe not so much Nikitin given what's on the way, but trying to replace (assuming they are looking to go to free agency) Perron Gordon and Scrivens could be a tall order.

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#60 Sorensenator
September 03 2014, 12:04PM
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I bought some pink high heels and I'm wearing them on the jobsite!

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#61 Zarny
September 03 2014, 01:12PM
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Will wrote:

Maybe his games before Gagner came back were a fluke, but with good linemates, it really looks like Arco can excel. Heck even with bad linemates his numbers were pretty solid all around.

I think this is the year Arco sticks. Maybe not with the Oilers, but I bet he will either be a deadline trade, or pick up a contract somewhere in free agency.

I also think Edmonton fans are in for a second surprise with Lander. My guess is injuries will force Lander into the line up, and he will find his scoring, solidifying himself as next year's third line C.

On another note, it seems a little alarming that in two years Perron, Gordon, Scrivens, and Nikitin all become UFA's. Maybe not so much Nikitin given what's on the way, but trying to replace (assuming they are looking to go to free agency) Perron Gordon and Scrivens could be a tall order.

I would suggest you and many others "hope" this is the year Arco sticks.

Arcobello's hot start last year included zero goals. He wasn't driving any offense. He was simply riding the coattails of guys like Hall, Eberle and Perron.

Arco's numbers with bad linemates were not solid I'm afraid. After his hot start he managed a whopping 8 PT in 31 games. Over 82 games that's a measly 21 PT. To be fair, it's difficult to generate offense with limited ice-time and bad linemates.

Here is the thing though...Arcobello was arguably better than Gagner's worst year after Gags got his faced crushed in. Arco wasn't even close to as good as Gagner was during the lockout season or probably any other season before that.

The consensus by most was even Gagner's best season after the lockout wasn't good enough for the Oilers long term. So pardon my lack of enthusiasm that Arco might be a bit better than Gagner's absolute worst year. That simply isn't good enough. Not even close. And "not even close" is a best case scenario where Arco actually puts up 40 PT. Keep in mind the Oilers started last season 4-15-2 while Arco was logging 2C minutes.

As for Lander, again you "hope" he will find his NHL scoring because to date there has been absolutely no trace of it. I hope he does too, but as you can see most articles and comments have a heavy dose of "hope", "guess", "maybe" and "if". That's simply not a recipe for success.

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#62 t
September 03 2014, 01:46PM
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Zarny wrote:

I would suggest you and many others "hope" this is the year Arco sticks.

Arcobello's hot start last year included zero goals. He wasn't driving any offense. He was simply riding the coattails of guys like Hall, Eberle and Perron.

Arco's numbers with bad linemates were not solid I'm afraid. After his hot start he managed a whopping 8 PT in 31 games. Over 82 games that's a measly 21 PT. To be fair, it's difficult to generate offense with limited ice-time and bad linemates.

Here is the thing though...Arcobello was arguably better than Gagner's worst year after Gags got his faced crushed in. Arco wasn't even close to as good as Gagner was during the lockout season or probably any other season before that.

The consensus by most was even Gagner's best season after the lockout wasn't good enough for the Oilers long term. So pardon my lack of enthusiasm that Arco might be a bit better than Gagner's absolute worst year. That simply isn't good enough. Not even close. And "not even close" is a best case scenario where Arco actually puts up 40 PT. Keep in mind the Oilers started last season 4-15-2 while Arco was logging 2C minutes.

As for Lander, again you "hope" he will find his NHL scoring because to date there has been absolutely no trace of it. I hope he does too, but as you can see most articles and comments have a heavy dose of "hope", "guess", "maybe" and "if". That's simply not a recipe for success.

Sam was traded for a 7th round pick plus Tampa picked up 1/3 of his salary. His worth was based on 7 years in the bigs.

Gags was possibly in the top 3 disappointments in Oiler history. Maybe think a little bit before writing how great Gagner was as a Oiler.

Your comments are disgusting

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#63 Will
September 03 2014, 02:16PM
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Zarny wrote:

I would suggest you and many others "hope" this is the year Arco sticks.

Arcobello's hot start last year included zero goals. He wasn't driving any offense. He was simply riding the coattails of guys like Hall, Eberle and Perron.

Arco's numbers with bad linemates were not solid I'm afraid. After his hot start he managed a whopping 8 PT in 31 games. Over 82 games that's a measly 21 PT. To be fair, it's difficult to generate offense with limited ice-time and bad linemates.

Here is the thing though...Arcobello was arguably better than Gagner's worst year after Gags got his faced crushed in. Arco wasn't even close to as good as Gagner was during the lockout season or probably any other season before that.

The consensus by most was even Gagner's best season after the lockout wasn't good enough for the Oilers long term. So pardon my lack of enthusiasm that Arco might be a bit better than Gagner's absolute worst year. That simply isn't good enough. Not even close. And "not even close" is a best case scenario where Arco actually puts up 40 PT. Keep in mind the Oilers started last season 4-15-2 while Arco was logging 2C minutes.

As for Lander, again you "hope" he will find his NHL scoring because to date there has been absolutely no trace of it. I hope he does too, but as you can see most articles and comments have a heavy dose of "hope", "guess", "maybe" and "if". That's simply not a recipe for success.

All fair points. By solid numbers I meant solid defensively. As in players were better playing with Arco than without when he got demoted.

As a play making centre, helping guys like Hall and Perron score is fine by me. I really do not see how 40 points is an unrealistic number. Prorate his point totals before he got demoted and let me know what you come up with.

As for Gagner, his best year is still his rookie year, so if Arco hits in the 40 point range but isn't as much of a defensive liability, I call that an upgrade. Is it the best second line C in the league? No. But I'll take it given where the Oilers are expected to finish this year.

And you're right, Lander has not done well in the NHL. But given his ability on other teams, it's either his skill does not translate to the NHL and never will, or it's just an issue of finding his game in the NHL. Given how he's been used and the pressure put on him, I can imagine his mantra is probably just don't be a defensive liability. But you're right, it's all hope. I think Arco's numbers paint a better picture than you're taking for him, but with Lander he just seems right to be the expected unexpected diamond this year. It seems like every year the Oilers get that one, ya but this guy was great, player and he's simply my pick for this year based on nothing but the fact he's such a dark horse.

Question: Do you think the starting line up, assuming LD and Arco, is better this year than last?

I personally see way less question marks. Fayne and Nikitin are going to be a big upgrade on Belov and N Schultz and that is going to help other guys like J Schultz, Petry, Ference, and Marincin have better success. Not to mention no Dubnyk. I don't know how much starting the season with competent goal tending is going positively affect the team.

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#64 Zarny
September 03 2014, 06:16PM
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t wrote:

Sam was traded for a 7th round pick plus Tampa picked up 1/3 of his salary. His worth was based on 7 years in the bigs.

Gags was possibly in the top 3 disappointments in Oiler history. Maybe think a little bit before writing how great Gagner was as a Oiler.

Your comments are disgusting

Perhaps you should try some reading comprehension.

I did not say Gagner was great as an Oiler.

I simply said Arcobello has been no better than the worst Gagner ever was.

Based on your assessment of his worth you see my concern?

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#65 russ99
September 04 2014, 11:39AM
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Arcobello shouldn't be gifted a second line job until he proves last year wasn't a fluke and earns the spot. Don't forget he had challenges with the puck.

I'd start the season with one line in offensive zone starts/weaker competition and one in defensive zone starts/tougher competition, especially against our bigger and tougher division opponents:

Perron - Draisaitl - Yak Pouliot - Gordon - Purcell

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