There is no shortage of talented forwards for Eakins to run for the power play. The additions of Purcell, Pouliot and Draisaitl have really bolstered the pool of talent he can choose from. Fitting the pieces together, creating a dangerous, above average and momentum building power play is the challenge for Eakins.
So far this season the Oilers are at 21% on the power play. Last year, finishing with that number would have put them at fourth in the NHL. The season is very young, so that number will change. They finished 2013-14 at 21st position with a percentage of just over 17. With the talent on this team it needs to be better and it can be.
I have written before about the need for a good PP shot from the point. It does not have to be a bomb but that is a bonus. The shooter should be able to get it off quickly and get it through. A hard shot is nice as it makes the rebounds more unpredictable than a softer wrist or snap shot.
Nikitin has a big shot — a big slapper! If he can start to get that shot through traffic and to the net it will greatly improve the power play. The penalty killers will be forced to respect his shot more. They will move closer to him and open up the passing lanes through their box.
How often have we seen the Oilers look dangerous with a low play? With all their talent, there should be more low plays. The lack of a shooter from the point on the first unit is making it harder for Nuge, Eberle and Hall to create down low at all. Justin Schultz has improved his willingness to shoot but he must keep it up and shoot even more to open up the box.
I have a suggestion that will alter the power play line combos, but it’s a change I would like to see.
Put Nikitin on the first unit power play.
His big shot would compliment Schultz’s mobility on the blue line. Get the puck on to Schultz’s stick and let him set Nikitin up for a big blast. From there they could move the puck around to spread out the group of killers. Schultz could jump in all over the o zone to create more opportunities and read issues for the PKers.
The wrinkle in this plan is one of Hall, Eberle, Nuge or Pouliot would fall to the second unit. There would also not be a another group of D available for the second. Petry could slide in there with Yak on the point.
The Oilers have not had a real point shot threat since Souray was on the team. Nikitin must be encouraged and set up to let his go. The trickle down effect will be huge for the other members of the first unit.
Getting a read on Leon
The nine game try out is almost up for Leon and my stance has not changed on him from back in the summer. He is the big bodied, skilled center that the Oilers do really need but he is not ready for that role this season.
The tell tale sign is when he has the puck. When given time and space he can create and distribute the puck very well. When in tight spaces his quickness to pull off the same move just isn’t there. This doesn’t mean the skill isn’t there it means he hasn’t got that quickness — yet. It will come.
He is only seven games through his first NHL season. Still fresh and feeling good. No injuries aside from the normal NHL bumps and bruises. It only gets harder from here.
I always found it funny to see how excited the rookies were up to around game 10 or 20. Then reality hit them and….whoa.. we have how many games left? The pace of the NHL season never stops. Nearly every other night there is a game and you are expected to bring the energy and your best effort no matter how tired your legs are.
After 20 games the rookie asses would have barely touched the seats of their team’s charter and they would be out LIKE A LIGHT! They were bagged! Morning, afternoon or post game flight they would catch some sleep. The veterans knew how to manage their energy, but for the young guys it is all new.
It is true that he could figure that all out this season so he would be more prepared for next year. It is a pretty good argument for him staying but if his quickness isn’t there at this point of the season where will it be after the NHL season grinds on him for the next four months? What will happen to his confidence? How will it affect his wingers and their production? How does that affect the team and its need for balanced scoring?
Sean Monahan of the Flames scored 22 goals in his rookie season. Very good on a weak Flames team. He scored eight goals in his first 20 games. He scored four in his last 20 games of the season with roughly the same amount of ice time. It is a hard grind that takes a lot out of young players.
There is a lot to consider with the future of Leon for rest of this season. It is obvious that he should be a big part of what we all hope is a brighter future for the Oilers, but the team must do what is right. Just because he is the best or only option available doesn’t mean keeping him is the best for his development.