Despite taking another loss in regulation there was at least one positive to come from that game against the Sharks: the Oilers might have found their 2nd line for the foreseeable future.
In many ways finding the right fit for players is more akin to Alchemy than Chemistry. There are rules that make sense and equations that should balance out in Chemistry. Sometimes in hockey it’s more magic than science. There’s no accounting for the fact that some guys just tend to play better in some combinations and not in others. Even with all the added info, technology, and analytics that have crept into the day to day life of an NHL Coach they are still spending a great deal of time trying to find the way to turn Lead into Gold.
One thing was certain for the Oil. The trio of Hall, RNH, and Eberle worked. Or at least it worked well enough for that one line to provide some level of offense that was acceptable. Every line after that was not good enough. I think Dallas Eakins needs to get some kind of praise for breaking that group up. It could have been very easy for him, with his job seemingly on the line, to go the opposite direction and depend on that line to do all the heavy lifting. He could have had that trio playing 23-25 minutes a night just to keep his job but he took a risk moving Eberle away from Hall.
That risk looks like it has paid off early into the experiment and there seems to be some real chemistry between Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, and rookie Leon Draisaitl. They have been together for 2 games and they have figured into the score sheet in both games and looked dangerous even when they weren’t scoring.
SHOW YOUR WORK
We know that we are 2 games into this experiment and some combination of players from the new trio have factored into goals twice. There was the Yakupov goal on the PP that was the result of an inspired pass from Eberle and the the Eberle goal that was the result of an equally nice pass from Draisaitl. But there’s more to their success than finishing chances. That line has pushed the river of play while together so far, and they’ve done it against a pretty good team in the Sharks.
The combined Corsi events at Even Strength for those players in both games vs San Jose are as follows.
|Player||Corsi For||Corsi Against||CF%|
There has been more to this than just a little luck so far. It’s still very very early yet but so far the good things we’re seeing with our eyes are also supported by numbers. That’s great news. This line isn’t a mirage (at least so far). They could level off very quickly and stop creating but I think the coaching staff may have found part of what they were looking for here.
But there are a couple other numbers that are important for the hockey club and this line combination. I’m referring to the 19:14 that Yakupov played last night and the 17:32 for Draisaitl. It has been over a month since Yak played that much in a game and that is a career high for the Rookie. There’s no question that those two finding and/or earning ice time has been a problem for the team. The GM banked on Draisaitl being able to handle minutes like these all year but he hasn’t appeared comfortable with the pace of play until very recently. In fact, there is a very good argument to be made for sending LD back to Jr before they burn a year of club control and the clock starts ticking towards Unrestricted Free Agency.
A contributing and successful Yakupov and Draisaitl changes the story of this season and this franchise moving forward.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
I already said above, it’s magic, not science. Yakupov has expressed before that he’s most comfortable on the right side of the ice but here he’s on the left. Draisaitl hadn’t really shown that he was ready for prime-time responsibilities even in a sheltered role. Eberle was picking up points but looking somewhat disinterested on the top line. This line shouldn’t be working. Half the fans were ready to send the centerman to the WHL, half the media pundits were ready to label Yak a bust, and the other half were ready to trade Eberle for a 2nd pairing defender and some bad contracts. But it works.
When I watch them play I see Nail Yakupov handle the puck more in the last 2 games than I’ve seen the rest of the year combined. He gets to use his speed and playmaking abilities to their fullest while playing with highly skilled players. Draisaitl’s big body and deft passes are perhaps just coming to the surface as the game slows down for him but his speed matches up pretty well with Eberle and Yak who are quick and dart around but don’t necessarily skate at top speed all the time. As for Eberle, he’s forced to be the workhorse on that line. He’s engaging in puck battles and bears the most responsibility for the success of that line because he is the most experienced among them.
They seem to complement each other very well so far. This is a combination that brings a lot of hope for the Oilers. It isn’t just about adding some secondary scoring. It’s about perhaps finding the key to developing the club’s 2C of the future and also simultaneously resurrecting the once very promising career of Nail Yakupov.