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?
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.
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