Draisaitl, Yakupov and the Middle Six

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It seems probable that Edmonton’s top line for the majority of 2014-15 will be the incumbent trio of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Assuming that to be true, Oilers coach Dallas Eakins has an interesting challenge in front of him: How can he carefully manage the minutes of both Leon Draisaitl and Nail Yakupov while still running at least one capable two-way line in his middle-six forward group?

All the eggs, one basket

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The obvious solution is to put Draisaitl and Yakupov on the same line and be careful when using it. That would look something like this:

  • David Perron – Mark Arcobello – Teddy Purcell
  • Benoit Pouliot – Leon Draisaitl – Nail Yakupov

The upside of that arrangement is that the second line should be relatively trustworthy in pretty much any situation, and that there’s just one forward line on the team that Eakins will need to handle very carefully. The downside is that it asks Pouliot (or one of the other vets) to ride herd on an NHL rookie centre and a player in Yakupov who is still rough around the edges.

Dear wolves, please enjoy your Draisaitl

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Alternatively, the team could split the two up. One method would be to put Draisaitl in the spotlight right out of the gate:

  • David Perron – Leon Draisaitl – Teddy Purcell
  • Benoit Pouliot – Mark Arcobello – Nail Yakupov

There are some nice points to this plan. That second line has some real heft to it , with Draisaitl and Purcell both being bigger players and Perron adding some bite. The third line looks like a nice fit to run up the score in a sheltered role and on paper at least is a nice blend of talents – a grinding forward in Pouliot, a playmaker in Arcobello and a sniper in Yakupov. It’s a nice arrangement, with the lone caveat being that it puts massive expectations on the shoulders of an 18-year-old Draisaitl.

Ready or not, here comes Yak

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The other way of splitting the two puts Yakupov in more of a feature role, like this:

  • David Perron – Mark Arcobello – Nail Yakupov
  • Benoit Pouliot – Leon Draisaitl – Teddy Purcell

Or possibly like so:

  • Nail Yakupov – Mark Arcobello – Teddy Purcell
  • Benoit Pouliot – Leon Draisaitl – David Perron

The big upside here is that in either case Draisaitl is allowed to break into the NHL with veterans on either side and without massive responsibilities. This also means reuniting Arcobello and Yakupov, who had really strong possession numbers together in 2013-14. The downside is that it requires Arcobello/Yakupov to hold up a second line when there are questions about both players.

What should Edmonton do?

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I think we’ll probably see the second and third lines as a bit of a moving target all season. Many teams don’t employ fixed combinations in the middle-six, and the decision to make the Boyd Gordon “fourth line” a defensive specialty unit allows Eakins and his staff to mix and match players without really changing their role; regardless of the exact line there will be an expectation of offensive production.

Of the scenarios outlined above, the single-best is probably the one that puts the most responsibility on Draisaitl’s shoulders. If he can handle it, the Oilers should be in decent shape, but that’s very much an ‘if’ at this point and if it turns out he isn’t ready than things get much more difficult.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • sportsjunkie007

    Perron – RNH – Purcell / Hall – Draisaitl – Eberle / Pouliot – Arcobello – Yakupov

    I like our current #1 line, but we’d be better served by breaking them up. RNH is good enough to play with any of our wingers, Draisaitl is going to need all of the support that we can throw his way. Pouliot is defensively responsible, might counter some of Yak’s tendencies.

    This gives us 3 lines that are reasonably balanced, keeps the rookies on separate lines.

    I’d still like to see a new player brought in for the 2C position, but that’s not likely to happen before the start of the season. BTW… if the wolves are being promised Draisaitl, why have they surrounded Yak?

  • Or as MattL put it if you go with Hall, Nuge & Yak as your #1, you have Yak with your best forward and best C and then your C “weakness” of Arco and Drais have 4 veteran wingers who can play at both ends and finish so you’re insulating your biggest weakness.

    Yak seemed to get some chem going just before he went down last season. In any case lines get juggled all year but it’ll be fun to see what options work well and if they can build a rhythm

    • justDOit

      I absolutely agree. This is a new season and new beginning. I know people do not want to split up the first line based on last year.. but this is a new year with a massive turnover in players.

      Let’s make priority number one getting Yak back on track. Play him with Hall and Nuge.. 1st PP and good ZS’s. Ebs will be fine with Arco who I believe is gonna surprise people. He’s a RH center who hits wins faceoffs and knows how to mark his man… add Pouliot for size and your set.

      • Yup. Eakins himself said recently (and since he was hired) he likes to mix up the lines a lot. No way the big 3 start the season on the same line.

        Whatever you do Dallas, this year just have it all sorted out by the start of the season!

  • YakCity1039

    I think that this year is the year of ” mix and match”………as you alluded to JW. Defensively speaking Arco has proved ( in spite of his size) that he is able and willing to play a complete game………the real issue for Eakins will be finding chemistry.

    I’m hoping that what you suggested comes true with Arco and Yaks finding some real chemistry. If this happens then it’s conceivable that we have three scoring lines…….when was the last time that happened.

    • YakCity1039

      I think mix n match should also include Gordon. He showed some offence last year, could be useful in sheltering young ones, and MAY be an answer to a problem. Quit pigeon holing him.

  • I know they want to keep the kids together on the top line, but it kind of seems like Eberle might be the most defensively responsible of the top 3 RW. Might not be terrible to alternate Yak and Purcell on the top line and keep Eberle with Draisaitl.

  • THRNHJE

    Partly disagree here. Top line remains untweaked. No problems here.

    Where I disagree is the use of two top rookies being on 3rd line.
    My take for 2nd & 3rd lines:

    David Perron – Leon Draisaitl – Nail Yakupov
    Benoit Pouliot – Mark Arcobello – Teddy Purcell

    Even top NHL coaches and teams would do my way;)

    Oilers to finish 10th overall in the west in April 2015 however they will achieve playoffs status in 2016. 2017 could be a significant evolution for this young team and then many players will want to play in Edm. Let’s be happy.

  • justDOit

    I’ll get flamed for this, but why not offer:

    Yakupov, J Schultz and next year’s #1 to Columbus for Johannsen?

    Gives us a top 9 of:

    Hall Nuge Eberle
    Perron Johannsen Purcell
    Pouliot Draisaitl Arco

    Probably pie in the sky, but I think that would make us a real contender for the bottom half of the playoffs.

  • moetown

    I’d play them Perron-Draisaitl-Yakupov on an easy comp, offensive threat line and play the 2 big men with the small center for the tougher comp more reliable defense

  • knee deep in it

    arco ES corsi with Peron – 52.8,

    arco ES corsi with Yakupov – 50.3

    Better than average corsi for oilers. The idea behind the line would be pairing a natural sniper with two decent defensive forwards.

    That line might not get killed when playing against anything but the very best in the West.

    • I’d start with Yak/Drais/vet winger to start in pre-season to see what kind of chemistry Yak & Drais have together – expecting that you’ll likely have to split them up. But if something goofy happens and they conjure magic then find that out as fast as you can when it doesn’t matter. It also puts some more responsibility on Yak which nay be a bit of a confidence boost.

      If/when it falls I’d go to the Perron/Arco/Yak line – most nights those 3 should be able to hold their own & that gives Drais the 2 vet wingers.

  • BlazingSaitls

    It’s too bad we did not grab one more veteran center, as that would have reduced the top 9 major question marks to Arcobello and Yakupov’s growth.

    I like the idea of an Perron-Arco-Purcell second line that could hang with some of the tough 2nd lines in the Western Conference. I also think feeding Perron, Draisatl and Yakupov easier zone starts gives them a chance to find their legs.

    Give Gordon, Hendricks and Lander the tough zone starts and we should take a big step forwards this year.

  • BlazingSaitls

    Jonathan you’re in great company.

    Hockey Hall of Fame writer Jim Matheson probably has the worst grammar/spelling of any of the scribes at EJ and he’s been in the business for ages.

    -30-

  • BlazingSaitls

    I like your ‘Ready or Not Here Comes Yak’ options. Yak , Arco, Purcell or Perron , Arco, Yak. I think (er..hope) Dallas Eakins is able to utilize Yak’s sniping in opportune times with soft’ish minutes. Last year Eakins Ego blocked any attempt at getting through to the kid. I’m expecting a big jump in Yak’s play this year.

  • "Frank the dog"

    The natural fit seems to me as Perron-Draisatl-Yakupov as the soft sheltered line.
    Drai and Yak have spent time in the offseason practicing on-ice together and both Perron and Yak play their off-wing as, or even more comfortably than their “proper” side. Perron adds some good sandpaper to whatever line he is on.
    That leaves Pouliot and Purcell adding some size to the Arco line.

    That may be only combo not mentioned…..
    Thoughts?

    • MacT's Neglected Helmet

      (1) Well, based on: “Obviously, the word was supposed to be “bigger””, and
      (2) The fact that the keys next to the ‘b’ are ‘v’ and ‘n’, and
      (3) “vigger” is not a word, then
      (4) lol