The Edmonton Oilers’ rookie head coach had an interesting quip when asked about his forward lines after the first on-ice sessions of training camp.
“I spent eight months thinking about who would fit best,” he said, laughing.
What’s the plan?
One thing that Krueger’s line combinations do is make the transition from even-strength to special teams easy. A quick look makes that obvious.
- Hall – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle (first line even-strength, first line power play)
- Yakupov – Gagner – Hemsky (second line even-strength, second line power play)
- Smyth – Horcoff – Hartikainen (third line even-strength, first unit penalty kill)
- Eager – Belanger – Petrell (fourth line even-strength, second unit penalty kill)
Additionally, the third line will contribute the fourth forward to the two power play units – Horcoff, Smyth and Hartikainen have all seen some time as the ‘net front presence’ on one of Krueger’s power play units in the early going. Eager looks to be the only guy in the lineup who won’t get time on special teams.
The shift after the power play, as it often is, could be interesting. Here Krueger would seem likely to pick the fourth line for that role, given that every other line will have used players in that situation. After the penalty kill, Krueger’s likely to come out with lines 1-2 in quick succession – most probably against the opposition’s depth players.
Line Matching/Zone Deployments
How Krueger will match lines is less obvious, given that there seems to be a balance to each unit rather than any of the lines really being loaded up for tough minutes.
The top line features Hall, who certainly can handle top opposition forwards, and then Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins who weren’t used in that role last year. I tend to think Eberle probably can handle that sort of slog – he and Hall both played a solid two-way game on Shawn Horcoff’s line as rookies – but Nugent-Hopkins didn’t display that in the minors so it’s going to be interesting to see who these guys face. They’re certainly an offensive zone line, possibly a toughest competition line.
The second line has Hemsky, who has played power-vs.-power for years, Gagner who can probably handle tougher minutes, and Yakupov who almost certainly should not at this point. This feels like an offensive zone/softer minutes line; it’s hard to imagine Krueger tossing Yakupov to the wolves, particularly after his comments on Yakupov’s overall game this week.
The third line, if it featured Ryan Jones, would be the logical choice for defensive zone work/tough minutes. With Teemu Hartikainen in that spot they’re less of a logical fit for it, but given the Smyth/Horcoff duo I imagine they will get that work. It’s also possible that for certain shifts we’ll see Eric Belanger replace Hartikainen (for example, for key defensive zone draws) so that the line has three defensive zone forwards and two high-end faceoff guys.
The fourth line has two-thirds of a defensive zone specialty unit in Belanger and Petrell, though Ben Eager has never earned the reputation of being able to handle those minutes. I’m guessing the ideal shift for these guys is to win possession, get the puck out of their own end, dump it in offensively and then hammer the opposition on the forecheck. Naturally, outside of first shift after a power play situations, these guys shouldn’t see the opposition’s best if at all possible.
The bottom line is this: in terms of moving easily between even-strength and special teams, these lines are solid. From a matchup perspective, there’s stuff to work with here but there is no line really loaded up in a ‘these guys will take the toughest minutes’ sort of way. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Krueger deploys these units at even-strength.
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