When Taylor Hall returns should he play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?

Kid Line-1

It isn’t at all uncommon for teams with two great forwards to play them on separate lines. Pavel Datsyuk has played 4,500-odd minutes for Detroit over the last five seasons; only a third of them were spent on the same line as Henrik Zetterberg. It’s a similar story in Chicago, where Jonathan Toews has spent about 40 percent of his time playing with Patrick Kane and the other 60 percent playing with someone else.

Taylor Hall is one of the best players in the league, but for the last couple of seasons he’s been the only great forward in Edmonton. Now, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is showing signs that he may be ready to take the jump. That leaves Dallas Eakins facing the same choice that Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville face: Does he keep the duo together, or split them up?

Arguments For and Against

There are some valid arguments in favour of keeping Hall and Nugent-Hopkins together. Playing them on the same line enables Dallas Eakins to transition between even-strength and power play situations with ease, because the two would play together in both. It allows him to have one super-powered line that will be extremely difficult for opponents to contain and further to load a ton of minutes on that unit. Further, the two have obvious chemistry and there’s some folly in abandoning the bird in hand to go after the two in the bush.

On the other hand, the Oilers are pretty middle of the pack in terms of goal-scoring and they’ve been worse than that over the last few seasons. Splitting the two up creates matchup problems for the opposition, which now has to find a way to contain two stars on two different lines. It can also be a way to get the most out of a team’s support players, four of which now get to play with one of Hall or Nugent-Hopkins. Rather than Jordan Eberle being the sole beneficiary, all of a sudden Nail Yakupov or Benoit Pouliot or David Perron get a chance to play with game-breaking talent.

To me, the potential benefits of splitting Hall and Nugent-Hopkins exceed the negatives to a degree large enough to justify running the experiment for a while. Besides which, if the Oilers are down by a goal or two late in a game, Dallas Eakins will always have the option of reuniting his top guns on one power line.

How Would it Work?

Taylor Hall

With the defensive zone line of Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Jesse Joensuu playing so well together in such a tough role, it would be utter folly to split that trio up. That leaves nine regular forwards to assemble over three lines:

  • LW Taylor Hall
  • LW Benoit Pouliot
  • LW/RW David Perron
  • RW Jordan Eberle
  • RW/LW Nail Yakupov
  • RW Teddy Purcell
  • C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
  • C/RW Mark Arcobello
  • C/LW Leon Draisaitl

It seems reasonable to assume that tough minutes are going to follow Hall around; he’s the team’s franchise forward, and sticking him with Leon Draisaitl or Nail Yakupov isn’t going to convince opposition coaches that he isn’t a threat. Because of that, it probably makes sense to give him the strongest possible linemates, which means Jordan Eberle on right wing and probably Mark Arcobello in the middle. I’m not at all convinced that Arcobello is up to the task, but he’s had chemistry with Hall and Eberle before and it beats putting the rookie Draisaitl in that slot.

Pouliot is the most proven five-on-five scorer (in terms of PTS/60) on the roster outside of Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins, so it makes sense to leave him on Nugent-Hopkins’ wing. On right wing, things aren’t so simple. Nail Yakupov has always seemed like a nice fit for Nugent-Hopkins’ skills but the two have never had much success together. David Perron is certainly a good enough player to deserve a top-six assignment. Teddy Purcell has had success with good players before and has some things in common with Eberle.

It’s probably worth trying Yakupov with Nugent-Hopkins once again, which would leave Leon Draisaitl between veterans David Perron and Teddy Purcell, which is a nice place to try the rookie. If it doesn’t work out, then Yakupov could be bumped back to Draisaitl’s line, with either Perron or Purcell taking his spot on the wing. I’d suggest Purcell, because that leaves everyone in their natural positions and allows Yakupov and Perron to keep working together, and because Perron’s still clearly battling injury. 

Line   Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Scoring line No. 1  Taylor Hall  Mark Arcobello  Jordan Eberle 
Scoring line No. 2 Benoit Pouliot Ryan Nugent-Hopkins  Nail Yakupov/Teddy Purcell
Scoring line No. 3 David Perron Leon Draisaitl Nail Yakupov/Teddy Purcell
Defensive zone line Matt Hendricks  Boyd Gordon  Jesse Joensuu 

It’s going to be interesting to see what Dallas Eakins does. Even with the centre position a little uncertain, the wingers on this team are good enough that there are plenty of good options at forward. If the Oilers can figure out the defence and the goaltending (a fair-sized ‘if’), they just might be able to make some noise.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • BlazingSaitls

    Oilers have won two in a row so you want to change all the lines when Hall returns?

    You are great at breaking down stats, I’d say stick with that.

          • camdog

            By the time Hall comes back either another forward will go down with an injury or the Oilers will be in the midst of back to back with San Jose and Anaheim x2.

            That said can’t stand having Hall, RNH and Ebs on one line. If they are truly as skilled as the Oilers organisation makes them out to be, they should be able to excel regardless of who’s on their line.

          • GCW

            This x10…

            It is time for everyone to begin choosing and earning specific and different key roles for the team.

            It is time for the CORE to be put in positions to define themselves,to compete together and honestly decide amongst themselves who has the tiny edge in each key area of scoring, 5on5-PP-PK.

            The Coaches need the men to compete together on the ice in games and pactices to help sort out who will take which role,but the time to decide is now .

            I see Hall being 5on5 dominant,Nuge dominating PK,and Nail dominating PP scoring when the dust settles.

  • Jordanzza

    Kinda funny I was thinking about this problem last night after the game. So far it seems like Arcobello > Gagner as a 2nd line C and the above solution of yours really does create a solid 1A-1B-2-3 setup for scoring.

    Is Marco our ideal #2 centre? Of course not. But playing him with Hallsy and Ebs really shelters any of his deficiencies (which, with his tenacity and hitting are becoming harder to find anyways), and buys Leo time to grow into top 6 minutes.

    Yakimov can should be ready to replace Gordon when his contract is up and around that time we should be ready to contend for playoff pushes.

  • Jordanzza

    I agree that opposition coaches will still see Hall as a threat no matter who he’s with. So Isn’t a good strategy to force them to make a choice? If Hall with Drai and Yak, you leave opposition coaches with a tough choice on who to match them with.

    Pouliot-Nuge-Ebs
    Hall – Drai – Yak
    Perron – Arc- Purcell
    Hendricks – Gordon – Joensuu

    If I am an opposing coach looking at this line up, now I have a serious match up conundrum. If I am Eakins, the question is am I trading off production, going away from an obvious number one line? I guess only time will tell.

  • Excellent article Mr Willis. one of the benefits of having a star player go out with an injury is the opportunity without pressure on player/coach to test out different line combinations you likely wouldn’t do with a complete lineup. So if during the course of trying to find what works you stumble(or by design) upon a combination that is effective? This is a clear opportunity to spread your strengths throughout the lineup with the “star” player returning. I find it baffling why this would not be the course of action chosen?

    I would think that this should be a fluid decision at any rate. Dependent upon the strategy other teams employ with line matching, it might be in your best intrest to switch back to a lineup with all your aces on 1 line so to speak.

    This is most intresting to me because this article and this discussion on what is the best decision here is really what seperates a decent coach in the NHL and an exceptional coach. Eakins is up to bat and it will be intresting to see which way he goes here.

  • We’ve dominated eastern teams with the original lines (of hall-nuge-eberle etc.) but have clearly struggled against western teams with that, as theres no secondary scoring. So i don’t see why it wouldn’t be given a shot.
    I would do
    (1/2) Pouliot – Hopkins – Ebs
    (1/2) Hall – Drai – Yak
    (3) Perron – Arco – Purcell
    (4) Hendricks – Gordon – Joenseau

    Switch Drai and Arco when/if needed.

  • GCW

    I wouldn’t split up RNH and Eberle. Keep the current line together and then run Hall with Arcobello and cycle Purcell, Perron, and Yakupov through the right wing to see who fits. My guess is Purcell, but Yakupov and Hall have had some chemistry in the past when playing without RNH.

  • GCW

    There are limited premier minutes to give players using traditional line management , multiple Oilers have elite skill ,break tradition and run 4 scoring lines.Dallas will have to x2 shift his elite assets to suck minutes from the overaall pool, and roll 4 scoring lines as his “base” to do this from.

    The only ways to do get the most out of everyone are to optimise possesions and force the System to give more shots and to optimise player management to give them enough minutes so each of them can have opportunity to flex their skillsets during the same games.

    Hall is an impact player who can push the river.
    Nuge is an impact player who can push the river.
    Yakupov is an impact player who can push the river.
    Perron is an impact player who can push the river.

    Drop the stats focus,dial in around the dynamic potentials of these impact players who can push the river against all NHL teams and build the supporting cast they need.Simple.

    Keep everything the same except the line management which goes from being stats managed and valuated to being Intuitively managed and valuated. Consider how and why Pouliot fits so well with Nuge right now,he creates new “dynamics” for Hopkins to work with,different ones than Hall does,not necessarily statisticlly better , but better to suck more out of Nuge offensively which OPTIMISES both he and Jordan both.

    The Oilers hit 3 homeruns with their Draft picks in Hall-Nuge-Yak…this is now clear.

    If Eakins ever dials them in in a balanced manner,They no one will ever dominate them in a 7 game series,the Oilers are already becoming known as one of the NHLs hardest fore/backhecking teams, a serious up and comer with skilled high pressure checkers looking for turnovers.

    I would like to see better roster management,specificlly on Special Teams.With the number of elite Players we have there should be one of every flavor, we need a 5on5 killer whos scores lots,a PP killer who scores lots,and a PK killer who scores lots.

    If the Oilers use Intuitive Dynamic Management instead of stats based management influences then we could see all three #1 Over-alls earn one of the above 3 key roles on a Stanley Cup level team.

    Hall should be inserted into the System when and where it needs him,when he is 100% healthy,none of this “all NHLes have dings and bruisies” crap this time…100% healthy…if the team is winning it doesnt need him,when the team loses then Hall can hop back on board.Chemistry and team esprit de corps are important and need to be supported.When the team wins it wins together and everyone wants to be respected equally for what they are contributing when the team is winning.

    No, I dont pull anyone out of the lineup when the team is winning ,not even for Hall,I respect the intangibles of the NHL game wayy to much to pull the plug on a winning dynamic.

    The Win-Train has to stop in Loserville before anyone gets on or off of it.

    • GCW

      Good-grief. The team is 2-2-0-0 without Hall. This is not “winning”. Give your head a shake.

      Lets have the Oil win 6 or 7 in a row, or at least one fracking game against a western opponent, before we talk about messing up a “winning dynamic”.

      • In the NHL a single win indicates Chemistry and shows evidence of the Winning Formula.The rest is about process and consistancy.

        Y’all give your own beanbag a shake,ha ha ha.

        They are on their way to 6-7 wins in a row I happen to agree there.I will further that by saying the long strings of wins will not be going away for 4+ years.

        2-2-0 is .500 Hockey and in the NHL that is not considered to be losing Hockey.

        You have an obvious Man-Crush on Hall judging by your defensive reaction, get used to others earning the limelight, it has to happen for the Core to evolve together,Nuge was destined to lead this Team since the day he was drafted ,just like Hallsy and Nailer were destined to ride Shot-Gun, literally.

        There is no room for favorites on a Roster like this, the Oilers are NOT one dimensional , Taylor Hall is NOT the only elite driver the Oilers are putting on the ice every night,he has simply earned more opportunitty in the past,likely because as First-Born of the Core he had a Headstart ,but his help with the next one,and his ND Nuges help with Nailer have given the Oilers the benefit of exponential peer-driven leaning…..the 3rd Kid does everything earlier than the first two becuse they teach him.

        As a result of this unique elite-level peer-driven learning dynamic Nailer and Nuge are earning more minutes fairly .To be honest we all should have expected Nuge and Nail to have even chances of challenging Hall in every area when they matured,well Taylors leadership and Trailbreaking have matured his teammates early.They deserve the extra opportunity they take from him now and he deserves credit for his contributions to their development.

        The Oilers are being built to be a multi-dimensional Team, you couldnt shut down the Dynasty Oiles by shutting down the Greatest Player ever,and you can not shut down the Oilers by shutting down just Taylor Hall.Not anymore.

        Western opponents will now be the easiest for the Oilers to defeat,the Oilers are now using their management programs more than in the past, this will be the biggest surprise to the un-initiated.Chemistry will play a big part in this Oilers sucess,System induced Chemistry which prefers consistancy of personell.

        • Western teams will be the easiest to beat?!? So you think Eastern teams will be the hardest to beat?

          I’m not convinced that playing well against a NYR team that was on a back to back means anything more than just that.

          For now, the saying still has relevance… “Rihanna should date the Oilers, they don’t beat anyone.”

          Theyve played well for a number of games this season, but until they outplay a(rested) top team in the West over a 60mins span, I won’t be convinced the NYR game was anything more than a mirage.

          “Twigs are the meat of the desert.” -some poorly written sitcom.

      • Spoils

        You mean the winning dynamic that had the team on a worse then .500 record for a few years now? Nobody’s saying that line is the problem the idea is thinking outside the box to find more chemistry throughout the team instead of 1 line. Really what have they got to lose by trying it for a while? They’re missing the playoffs this year anyway.

        The other thing is nothing should be written in stone. The line combinations should be changeable during the games to adjust to whatever line matching the other team is attempting. This is 2014 here not the 1970’s. The ability to be flexible and adjust is an asset in the new NHL.

  • GCW

    The lesson here is that Center depth matters. The 1st line is performing well not because Pouliot can match Hall. Its because it has an NHL caliber center running the show.

    I’m a fan of Arcobello but lets be real here, Hall at this stage in his career deserves better than to play with a Center who can clear waivers.

    And before you go there Draisaitl is not the answer either (yet). No way he has the strength and conditioning to keep up to Hall when most seasoned NHL struggle to keep up to him.

  • Chipper

    As much as this might be unpopular I believe yak, nuge, and hall should all be on separate lines. No one seems to mention that when Hall is with Nuge Hall seems to be a primary puck carrier and these last couple games without Hall Nuge has been the primary puck carrier of the line and making some really nice plays in the process…Yak is a dynamic skater a little wild at times but he uses that to his advantage and seems to be the primary puck carrier when he is on the ice. By putting all three guys on separate lines you give each line a designated puck mover which has top-end talent and speed..personally I like perron-arco-yak, but it could be easily switched to hall-arco-purcell leaving draisaitl with either combo leaving the current top-line intact.

  • Spoils

    I’m all up for trying to spread out the scoring to help make the other lines more effective though I would try:

    Pouliot-Nuge-Ebs
    Hall-Arco-Yak
    Perron-Draistl-Purcell
    Hendricks-Gordon-Joensu

    The way Yak is shooting right now pucks should start going in and nothing like having Taylor Hall on his line to spread out the ice and open things up a bit more for better scoring chances.

  • Spoils

    ebs-nuge-pouliot
    hall-dry-purcell
    perron-arco-yak
    WAGON

    pouliot has speed and size that ebs and huge don’t but they have looked like they understand each other on the ice and able to create chances.

    yak and perron have had chemistry, so i’d keep them playing together and arco seems to play simple hockey supporting whoever is on the wing.

    i’m not sure if leon can keep up, but he has speed when he gets at it, and it might force him to get on his horse more and purcell has a ability to slow things down and make the right play. might be worth a try

    WAGON

  • Spoils

    For 1, I think Yak would do better on the left side. He is on his off wing, always looking for the big 1-timers, or shooting from far out.

    If he is on his natural wing, it would allow him to get closer to the net. And also handle non-optimal passes better, allowing him to get more shots on the net. He misses a ton of 1-timers, because the passes are a bit off for him.

    If his shot is as good as everyone says, he should have no problems generating pace on his shot from his natural wing, and does not have to be going for the 1-timers all the time.

    I support Hall being tried on another line. I agree that with the way RNH has been skating with the puck it is a waste to have both Hall and RNH capable of that play, with the other lines more lacking in that department.

    Yak-RNH-Ebs
    Hall-Arco-Perron
    Pouliot-Drai-Purcell
    Wagon

    This also puts Perron on his natural wing, which I know Oilers coaching staff is in favor of.

    Would love to have a place to put Pakarinen. But I would prefer to have him sent down to OKC, and bring up Will Acton to sit in the press box as injury insurance. ( course if someone does get injured.. you bring up Pakarinen ASAP)

  • Admiral Ackbar

    I know it’s only a chart but seeing Arco at the top of centre depth makes me want to vomit.

    He’s played well but isn’t going to dominate the middle of the ice in this league against too 6 competition. He’s playing his role and I appreciate him. I just wish we had a solid #2 C. Arco should be a 4C in this league ( let’s be real, Gordon is the 3C).

  • I don’t like the idea of breaking them up. In theory it works but too often when teams separate their best players, production drops and the coach ultimately puts them back together. Keep them together and have a dynamic first line with Hall and RNH currently flying.

    It’s not like the next two lines are total duds. They’re having trouble finding the back of the net at the moment but as Stauffer pointed out, Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle, and David Perron have a combined 6 goals on 104 shots. They have a combined shooting % below 6% and it’s highly unlikely this will continue if they keep getting their chances. The secondary scoring will come.

  • The elephant in the room is Arcobello – Draisaitl.

    We need better, then we can talk about our best scoring lines.

    Perron – Arcobello – Purcell isn’t a bad defensive line, could be a “3B” to the “3A” of Hendricks – Gordon – Joensuu plus they have some goalscorers.

    Time to move Draisaitl to Europe, I prefer the SEL so he improves vs. better competition that in Prince Albert or the weaker European leagues.

    His line is getting the softest minutes that we could better allocate to improving secondary scoring and his limited ice time isn’t helping his development.

    Had MacT gotten a #2 center this summer, we’d not have such problems. But now it’s past time to fix it.

  • Start Hall on another line. Rnh-Ebs-Pouliot look good together. Ride that line as long as you can. Babcock used to keep Datsyuk and Zetterberg apart until he saw an opportunity. Tired opposition after an icing or being pinned in their own zone and catching the 4th line out there.

  • Chipper

    Yak needs someone to carry the puck while he gets in scoring position. Yak loses the puck far too often attempting to enter the offensive zone. If he is paired with Nuge, then he has a chance to succeed. Drai is just not quick enough yet to back the D off and open things up. Put Yak with Nuge and keep the OKC three of Marcobello, Hall and Ebs together.

  • Kevwan

    Good article Willis. I agree with the top 2 line combos you propose but I look at it as a process of elimination.

    Yak is much better at RW than LW for whatever reason. Hall and Yak don’t seem to fit together. Maybe because they’re both finishers maybe because whoever plays C always looks for Hall and not Yak. Your suggested lines are what is left unless they just leave Nuge-Hall and Eberle together.

    I’m sure this will get trashed but here goes. I know everyone is happy with the Gordon line but how about Purcell in for Joensuu. Eakins has put them together at the end of game when he shortens his bench and they really look good. It might bring more goals and putting Draisaitl, Perron and Joensuu together might work as well.