How does Ralph Krueger plan to use his lines this season?

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?

Special Teams

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.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • John Chambers

    I too have spent a pathetic amount of time thinking about this (hey, waking up with a 1-year old at 5:00 a.m. can lead a man to all kinds of idle observations)

    JC as coach:

    Smyth – Nuge – Yakupov … who doesn’t want to see Yak bury Nuge’s sweet feeds? Smyth obviously is there to anchor defensively. A marshmellow-opposition line.

    Hall – Gagner – Eberle … remember Gag’s 8-point game? This line can match against Thornton and Marleau and not come out too bad.

    Hartikainen – Horcoff – Hemsky … Triple-H v the toughs

    Same 4th line.

    • Concur

      These are exactly the combos I’ve been wanting to see too.
      Hall-RNH-Eberle are great, but I think Gagner in the pivot position gives them a better rounded dynamic.
      And I want to see RNH-Yak, too tantilizing.

      The only guy who gets burnt in this lineup is Hemsky, but giving him shooters on the PP will soften that blow.

    • I’ve been saying for a while that Hall-Gagner-Eberle could be death from above. How many points did that line put up in Gagner’s 8 pointer? Had to be close to a gajillion. Those guys have ungodly chemistry due in part (I believe) to the fact that they’re really close friends.

  • Pizzy

    ” it’s hard to imagine Krueger tossing Yakupov to the wolves, particularly after his comments on Yakupov’s overall game this week.”

    What were Krueger’s comments on Yakupov?

      • Ducey

        Why is everyone so concerned about what the Oil will do for line matching. To me the structure of the lines is designed to reduce the need for line matching. I’d be more interested in what other teams do to try and match the Oil. Do you play your best line against the Hall, Eberle line or the Gagner, Hemsky line???? If you pick one how much with the other one burn you. Do you start double shifting some of your best guys to try and match against both lines. This leaving a Horcoff line to dismantle the bottom end of the team. I fell the first three lines of the Oiler can play against most lines in the NHL. This should be really interesting and I don’t expect much line matching from Kruger.

        • Ducey

          Its simple, you match up your best shutdown guys with who ever is hot or playing well that night. And then as an oiler fan you hope that the line that has the second best shutdown guys on them can rise above.

          It really is a good starting line up from a strategic perspective. As it helps to play with the same guys over and over so that you can learn their tendencies. While also helping you roll your lines as everyone on the line will have the same amount of rest time.

    • Ducey

      Go to OKC, son. There is a chance that Hartikanen gets sent down when Jones comes back. Lander and PRV SHOULD stay in the AHL and work on their game. Lander is just starting to come around after being rushed last year.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    As far as matching….

    I think we should consider the fact that K committed himself in the Summer to Pairings rather than traditional lines.

    He pegged: RNH-Eberle and Gagner-Hemsky

    This leaves Hall, Yak, Jones, Harti, Smyth, MP as floaters.

    So, I could see the EV killers Gagner-Hall-Hemsky put back together for those times that K feels like he needs QoC/Zone Start killers that can put up points.

    This plan would make the lineup way more fluid but has the obvious disadvantage of making it infinitely more complicated and it could become really confusing and lead to some horrendous line changes.

  • book¡e

    Krueger seems to have 1)emphasized playing the OKC players together (to start the season) and 2)put Hartikainen in a position to be mentored by Smyth and Horcoff. From the line-matching perspective, this is less than ideal, but then Krueger mentioned that he doesn’t want to line-match too heavily so as not to over-burden one line in a season with a condensed schedule.

    My guess would be that in tight games in the 3rd period, Krueger may well switch to a line-matching model by flipping Hall and Yakupov to do something like this:

    Gagner – Hall – Hemsky (O-zone, tough comp)
    RNH – Yakupov – Eberle (O-zone, softer comp)
    Horcoff – Smyth – Hartikainen (D-zone, tough comp)
    Belanger – Eager – Petrell(D-zone, softer comp, fewer minutes with a shortened bench, with Belanger replacing Hartikainen for the last 5 minutes of the game)

    One the road, though, all bets are off. I like the idea of splitting up the kid-line on the road. If Hall/Hemsky are on one line and RNH/Eberle are on the other, which one does the opposing team hard-match against? One of them will have to get softer opposition.

  • Concur

    Lines I expected to see or for them to use would have looked like this:

    Hartikainen / RNH / Eberle – Harti can provide some meat for the line and to see if he can continue his progreesion from OKC
    Hall / Gagner / Hemsky – this line worked last year and I expect we will see it again
    Smyth /Horcoff / Yakupov – for the mentoring of Yakupov
    Eager / Belanger / Petrell – Checking line from last year

  • Czar

    I thought from the day he was drafted that Yak would benefit most from Hemsky’s pass first attitude. If we can get that secondary scoring we’ve desperately needed the past several years then the playoffs are a definite possibility.

  • A-Mc

    why is this on leafsnation!?


    Personally, i like the simplicity of Ralphs lines and the fact that they line up so well with special teams. Sometimes i think we over think line combinations.

    I’m pumped to see how the team performs under the new coaching methods.

  • Rose Colored Glasses

    Jones will be in the lineup, maybe not in the beginning. This is a shorten season and your going to need plumbers in your line-up. Someone listed in the first 2 lines will be injured in the first 15 games.

  • With me as GM the Oil sign Arnott to a one year deal then run lines of;

    Hall, Nuge, Ebs

    Yakupov, Gagner, Hemsky

    Smyth, Horcoff, Jones

    Hartikainan, Arnott, Paajarvi

    Eager and Hordichuk are either the spare forwards or one replaces Paajarvi and he goes down to OKC. Huge flexibility in this lineup. Anyone can play up or down the lineup as needed for injuries or to toughen top 6 against certain teams.

    Then on D I put Potter as the 7th

    Petry, Smid

    Schultz, Schultz

    Whitney, Fistric

    I think this is the best lineup we have had since the glorys years. I am pumped to get the season started.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Can we keep PRV up with the Oil and send down Petrell? Yea I know might lose him to waivers but Id rather see PRV up here, more upside more uoside to his game imo.

  • Spydyr

    The one certain thing in picking lines. They will all change many times throughout the season. Ralph has already stated he likes the dynamic duo’s of linemates.

    They will be in the blender soon enough.

  • StHenriOilBomb

    I am so excited about RK and his thought processes for this year. Oilers may not make the playoffs, but should make some noise for the first time in a while. It’s going to be fun!


    Is there a Nations hockey pool for this season?

  • misfit

    I agree with pretty much all of what Willis has outlined here. I’d personally like to see Paajarvi at RW with 94 and 10 at ES and Hartikainen in Eager’s role on the 4th line. It gives the team another penalty killer should one of 94/10/20/37 find themselves in the box, but I also think he’s just better in a defensive role in general while still being able to produce a little offensively.

  • B S

    After the scrimmage yesterday 4 players stayed on the ice to practice, Schultz (the younger), Yakupov, both practicing one timers, and Paajarvi and Hartikainen, practicing one-timers and tipping pucks in front.

    Yak was ripping up the corners as expected but he was at the opposite end from where I was sitting.

    Watching MPS and Harti, It’s clear that MPS’s problem isn’t skating, speed or defensive zone awareness. His stick handling is fine and his hand-eye coordination is exceptionally good: he only missed a couple of tips when it was his turn. Even his one-timers were quick and well timed, but my god the kid cannot place a shot to save his life. Magnus needs to (and was) practice shooting for the edges and the corners of the net, it is quite possibly his only serious flaw as a player.

    Hartikainen on the other hand had excellent shot placement, but no power behind it, and his hand-eye wasn’t nearly as good, he spent at least 10-15 minutes practicing tipping pucks so it seems he knows what his role is going to be. I suspect mentoring by Smyth might be exactly why he’s been placed on that line.

  • Pizzy

    Yah! Get Arnott if he wants to come here
    Maybe something to proove here or might refuse
    if asked. Lets get this ball rolling, anyway.
    The lines will work themselves out game by game
    Get Arnott !!! Repeat … get this ball rolling ASAP. Three days already – I’m gona blow up.

  • Pizzy

    I think these are the lines that Krueger feels will likely gel the quickest. A quick start will be huge for the Oilers. There will undoubtedly be many line combos throughout the season. A few bad games becomes a story awfully quick so I think that coach K will need to be quicker to pull the trigger on shaking things up. If he has trouble finding a group for the tougher minutes, I think that simply replacing Hartikainen with PRV could help out. I think that Harski deserves a spot in the lineup over PRV but that PRV might be a better fit on that 3rd line because he offers more speed and is a more responsible player in every zone.