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
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
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
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?
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.
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