THAT TOP SIX THING

When they’ve been healthy, the combination of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle has been the default option as the top line for the Edmonton Oilers for as long as they’ve been together on the roster. They’ve been the go-to trio. What if that changed?

While history shows that there’s peril in reading too much into wins, losses and individual performances at a point in the season when the games don’t matter in the standings, we’ve seen some good things and possibilities in recent weeks – specifically, in the time a busted bone in Hall’s leg separated him from RNH and Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle continued to prove they can produce points without Hall on their left side in a 4-0 win over the Dallas Stars Friday as No. 4 continued to work his way back into the line-up, playing his fourth game since returning from his injury.

Eberle got the winner just 33 seconds into the game and now has 22-38-60, including a 10-game stretch in which he’s scored 7-9-16. Nugent-Hopkins had an assist on the play and has 23-32-55 on the season. He has an identical 7-9-16 in his last 10 games. Benoit Pouliot, taking Hall’s spot on LW, hit his career-high for goals, notching his 17th of the season.

POSSIBILITIES

In an era when it’s far more common for coaches to lean on twosomes in combination, it doesn’t make sense to use ink on the line-up card when it comes to marking in Pouliot as the left winger for RNH and Eberle. That said, he’s been a nice fit when he’s lined up with them. He appears, at the very least, to be a decent option.

So, what about Hall, who has 1-3-4 since his return? If we’re talking about here and now with the players available to coach Todd Nelson in the games that remain, many of you have suggested you’d like to see him alongside Derek Roy and Nail Yakupov. I’d like to see Nelson roll the bones on that combination as well.

Contrary to what some believe, Hall and Yakupov have actually been pretty good when they’ve played together, as Jason Gregor pointed out here in an item he wrote. Remaining games won’t tell us for sure if a trio of Hall, Roy and Yakupov is a fit in the long term, but a look-see might at least provide an indication of possibilities down the road.

Roy and Yakupov, of course, are wildcards. As good as he’s been beside Roy, we can’t say for sure Yakupov is ready for consistent top-six minutes. It looks like he’s turned a corner, but it’s too soon to say. As for Roy, we don’t know if he’ll even be here. What if the lottery goes Edmonton’s way and Jack Eichel enters the mix? What about Leon Draisaitl?

MIX AND MATCH

Obviously, there’s lots of room for error playing what-if? The bottom line for me is I like the idea of an Oiler line-up where the vast majority of the offensive eggs aren’t tossed into the same basket with the default line of Hall, RNH and Eberle.

The Oilers become a more balanced team and they’ll give opposing coaches more problems getting the line and defensive pairing match-ups they want if there’s a way to turn Edmonton’s three best offensive players into two lines. That’s not a news flash, but it’s easier said than done.

For now, let’s see more of Pouliot with RNH and Eberle. If that’s above Pouliot’s capability over the long haul, so be it, but let’s find out. Let’s see Hall with Roy and Yakupov. If Roy moves along, a tandem of dynamic wingers in Hall and Yakupov might look dandy flanking Draisaitl or . . ? The third piece is somebody who can distribute the puck.

WHILE I’M AT IT

SoapBox

  • I understand the sentiment that fuels the segment of fans who embrace the idea of losing every game to end an already lost season for a better draft pick, especially with Connor McDavid and Eichel at the top of the board. I just can’t get on board with it.

    I’m not going to suggest that winning games now will carry over to next season in terms of results – we know that isn’t so – but I enjoyed watching the injury riddled and overmatched line-up Nelson put on the ice last night stick a knife in the playoff hopes of Dallas.

  • Any suggestion about walking away from Justin Schultz and letting him go for nothing is crazy talk. I’m a $5 cab ride from being anything resembling a Schultz supporter, but he’s an NHL defenseman and the Oilers don’t have enough of those.

    When – if – GM Craig MacTavish assembles enough depth on the blue line, Schultz will be a serviceable second or third pairing guy who can contribute on the power play. MacTavish would be a fool to send Schultz away for nothing this off-season. 

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.
  • Serious Gord

    I too am hoping that someone else finds some real chemistry with Hall ( someone big and physical) and that we roll two very effective offensive lines.

    The Roy line with Yaks is producing and now that Yaks has slowed down the game, he is becoming more effective by the game. If we can land a big centre ( say Orielly from the Avs) and combine them with Hall and Yaks………then move Roy down to the third line?

    I’m trying not to watch the standing……..but I do not believe for a second we will be picking second or third. With Toronto doing the MasterTank, we will pass them and probably be picking fourth or fifth…….depending which way the balls land.

    Robin do you feel that at the number four or fifth spot, the Oilers will keep that pick or trade down as some have suggested for an additional secound rounder? Is the drop off that dramatic between say Eichel and Strome, as an example?

  • Serious Gord

    Robin:

    Agreed that as bad as shultz is and as big a question mark going forward he is on whether he ever develops into a top four d-man, the oil are so deficient in defensive talent that the y have to try and sign him.

    The question is: for how much and for how long? IOW at what numbers do you tell him to go to hell?

    I would only sign him for one year term of that i am certain. For what amount i am less sure. 3 Mill? 4? how much would any other team pay?

    • Unless I’m mistaken, the Oilers don’t have to offer Schultz even a 10-per cent raise because his compensation is already above the NHL average.

      That might not make him happy, but if I’m the Oilers I’m using the CBA to my advantage. Of course, they seldom do that.

      • Serious Gord

        So about four mill then. And not a nickel more.

        As for him being upset by that – he should be apologizing for the deficiencies in his game and thanking mgmt and fans for a second chance.

  • YFC Prez

    I personally don’t understand the sentiment of losing every game for a better shot at McJesus.

    The oilers are not finishing last. That was out of the picture long ago.

    2nd last 13.5% odds of winning.
    3rd last 11.5%
    4th last 9.5 %

    If I get to watch hockey like they played last night I will gladly give up the 4% drop ( at the very worst ) in odds of the Connor sweepstakes. I get that he’s the best thing that’s come around in a long time. But Arizona, Buffalo and now Toronto are all really really bad. Beyond the level of suck our beloved oilers have shown sans Eakins.

    Hanafin and Strome are very good prospects. Both would have a good chance of going in the top 2 if they were drafted in the past few seasons before this one.

  • Serious Gord

    In theory, I like Pouliot on that top line. He should be a good complimentary player. He’s reliable defensively, can skate and his size gives Nuge and Eberle some room. He seems to have a pretty good shot too so it’s not like he can’t finish the set-ups from his linemates. Hall can add some flash to a second scoring line.

  • Serious Gord

    Nothing would please me more than seeing the Maple Leafs pass the Oilers in the Tank Standings In these last 8 games, only to have the Oil win the draft lottery in the 4th position.

    • Serious Gord

      Nothing would make me more happier than having the oilers pass the leafs in the tank standings, having someone above them win McDavid, push the oilers to the fifth pick and force them to either trade the pick for an NHL dman or take another small winger in marner

      • tileguy

        Nothing would please me more than seeing the Maple Leafs pass the Oilers in the Tank Standings In these last 8 games, only to have the Oil win the draft lottery in the 4th position.

        Nothing would make me more happier than having the oilers pass the leafs in the tank standings, having someone above them win McDavid, push the oilers to the fifth pick and force them to either trade the pick for an NHL dman or take another small winger in marner

        The latter is a more likely scenario.

    • BlazingSaitls

      Great thought ……….not going to happen!

      WIth Nelson at the helm this will simply not happen……….even with our roster heavily ladden with AHL players, he just finds a way.

      Also, Toronto has committed to tanking worse than Buffalo and Arizona is doing much the same.

      I think that Dylan Strome will have a better career than Eichel any ways……..not sure why I think this……just a hunch.

      • Zarny

        What sort of dream world are you living in? They just find a way?

        The Oilers record under Nelson is only 14-18-5. Prior to the Phi game they had dropped 10 of their last 12 games. They aren’t finding anything. Even under Nelson they’ve been an incredibly bad team.

        And Strome isn’t even close to Eichel’s level. There are exactly zero scouts who use them in the same sentence. Your “hunch” is wishful thinking and nothing more.

  • BlazingSaitls

    I started typing out reasons why the Oilers need to trade Hall and got sick to my stomach at the thought. Im not going to contemplate such a crappy scenario until the playoffs are over.

    Benny Pou has turned into a very pleasant surprise and Im stoked he will be an Oiler for the foreseeable future.

  • Rdubb

    The emergence of BP on the first line as a 17 goal scorer is no surprise. He was a top 10 pick in his draft year. Its not like he is averse to the puck or does not know where the net is. His size and speed compliment Nuge and RNH well and from what I see is RNH having less to worry about distributing the puck to Hall and Eberle. BP gets his goals almost by default. RNH seems to be focused on getting Eberle the puck and its paying dividends. The teams are hyper focused on Eberle and that leaves BP with a lot of open ice.The perception seems to be we need to focus on the combo of RNH and Ebs. And thus we are seeing the increase in BP production.

    Having Hall with Lander and Miller works for me right now. After missing 24 games Hall needs a center focused on giving him the puck. Miller the unknown has made his impression. He can fly and with teams focused on Hall he just stealths right to the net without narry a look from the D who are focused on Hall.

    Roy I resign. Lets say we do get Eichel. I’d keep Lander with Hall and Eichel. The problem is that if you do get Eichel you’ll need to play Draisatl eventually on your 3rd line center and Lander or Yakimov on your 4th. Boyd Gordon at 3 million a year with a declining cap as your 3rd line center will not hold water past the trade deadline next season.

    If we pick 3rd or fourth the need to sign Roy becomes that much more important. But with Teddy Purcell on that line we need more from him.
    For now Lander Hall and Miller seems to be working.

    For the doom and gloomers predicting absolute death in the next 7 games for the Oilers I would not be so quick to put a fork in our chances of winning a game or 3 more. Anaheim? They suck so bad lately. San Jose? Disarray. Calgary? Folding like a house of cards. Vancouver? Just based on mutual hate that will be a competitive game. Colorado? Yeah we just beat them. But that is a pick em game too.

    Just saying the Leafs may increase their chances of winning the Lottery with the way the Oilers have been playing under Nelson. And for me the remaining games are a chance for this group of players to show MacT how much they want Nelson as their coach next season. The homestand was good.We actually beat teams.From the Western Conference.

    • BlazingSaitls

      With regards to Pouliot, anytime a player meets or exceeds expectations of this Oilers management group its not only a surprise its almost as rare as an Oilers playoff game.

    • Serious Gord

      As has been pointed out elsewhere on this site, unless Arizona starts winning it is impossible for EDM to get eichel. Either they win the pick for mcdavid or they pick third.

  • Edsez

    I wrote a similar comment on a post about getting a 2c, but I’d like to see them re-sign Roy, then specifically try to get a 2c that would be a good fit with Hall. I know there are endless jokes about the Oilers trying to fill three scoring lines, but if you do that you’re actually close. You mention the pairs thing, Robin; your pairs in this case would be RNH-Eberle, 2c-Hall, and Roy-Yakupov, and you fill in the rest with Pouliot, Purcell, Lander, and potentially Draisatl or Pitlick or this year’s first rounder if he looks ready, or even a cheap FA signing like Bergenheim or Kopecky. If you can get a guy like Vermette who can handle tough matchups with Hall, great; if not, get a guy like Soderberg and feed him and Hall easy competition. I actually think Lander could be a good fit with Yak and Roy: he can win faceoffs, which are not Roy’s strong point, he knows his way around his own end, and he isn’t shy about going to the net.

    To me, solving the forwards is the easy part. Solving the defense and goaltending problems, particularly without making bigger problems at forward, is going to be hard.

  • Spoils

    it is a little crazy how much Hall pushes the river. He’s on the third line with Lander and Miller and the line looks pretty damn good because of him.

    finding room for him in the top 6, talk about champagne problem.

    What do our top 3 lines look like with leon and 2 2015 1st rd picks?

  • PEBOisONit

    The only solution to getting a proper top 6 is to fire Kevin Lowe.

    – This team’s management does NOT know how to manage its assets.
    – At the draft, you should always draft the best player available
    – If you have too many skilled wingers and not enough defensemen then you come up with a trade
    – If you have a team’s that’s too young, then you trade for older players who can mentor the younger players
    – If you’re lacking in areas, you use your assets (current players in excess, draft picks, cap room, etc.) to address your areas of need.

    I have NO faith that our current management has any capability to do this. The POHO must go! Let him hire a new GM. Let the new GM figure out a new coach and scouting staff (amateur and professional).

    As long as Lowe is at the helm of this team there will be NO success. They have ruined enough players. They have not developed players properly. They are a gong show. It’s only been 9 years. With these guys at the helm it’ll be another 9.

    • The only way is to fire Kevin Lowe? Don’t disagree with the sentiment, but the reality is that doesn’t have a helluva lot to do with the top six forwards right now. Glad you got it off your chest — you’re not alone.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    This Schultz situation is only made more difficult because of the Nikitin, Fayne and Ference contracts. Not even one of these guys in the long term plans of this hockey club. If Justin is the sacrificial lamb to get that top pairing help, then bye bye Justin. With the lions share of next seasons dollars already spent, that cap space could be all important in a bigger picture opportunity. The Oil will be a lottery team with cap issues come September again. Their hands will no doubt already be tied financially, even if there is an opportunity to bring in a legitimate top pairing blueliner this off season.

    Many here feel Dallas Eakins set this team back 2 yrs in his 1 1/2 yrs as coach. The exact same thing can be said for Craig MacTavish. He’s spent all his money painting/prettying up the walls a week before the demolition crew comes in to ready for the renovation. Spend to the cap, leaving all the glaring holes on this roster vacant. Business as usual for the Oilers….. the wandering in the desert will no doubt continue under these guys.

  • Rdubb

    MacT should check into seeing if Joe Thornton is made available in the off season. One of the big centres nuge usually has to battle on our side. One of the best face off percentages in the league. One of the best play makers and would be respected in the dressing room I’m sure. Put him with Hall and Yak 2 shooters. That may be your first line and then have Nuge E’s and Pouliot play rip up softer competition. He was also a number 1 pick and has gone through what hall nuge and yak are going thru.

    He may also draw other free agents (d men and goalies to sign with us) can’t hurt to ask. Especially after all the captain controversy and comments between him and Wilson in San Jose. Start with a package that includes the pittsburg first round pick.

      • Edsez

        Thorton has made it known he likes living in San Jose and so does his family. He has told his GM he is not going Anywhere.
        Try convincing the wife and kids, hey do you want to leave paradise and move to Edmonton. He already has a pile of money, and he knows from experience that the Oilers have a terrible defense, can’t see it happening.

  • Edsez

    I’m not against continuing to use Hall they way they have in the last couple of games – playing him with Lander to generate 3 lines of scoring depth and double-shifting him with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins to take advantage of offensive zone opportunities

  • Zarny

    Too much emphasis spent on the forwards. You can’t have Hall playing on the third line. You can’t have Yak playing on the 3rd line. The German kid has been ripping up the DUB, and he will be looking to return to the big team also.
    Goaltending and defense needs the most help.
    If we get the 3rd pick we take defense. If we get the 4th pick maybe we move down a few spots if the traded pick back is late first or high second. Although when you are talking top five, has trading down ever produced a better pick?
    In the end this team need D and a Goalie that is a legitimate starting goalie. Somewhere along the line, the next years have to stop and until we fix the defense and the goalie, it will always be about next year.

  • Rdubb

    Would I like to see McDavid or even Eikel in Oiler silks next season, HEL YEA!!! BUT, I also like the fact that Nelson has the Oilers playing a much stronger game, a much more competitive game, he has the PP running @ full throttle and the PK playing a little better, thus, they are winning games, beating good teams. And that has given the team CONFIDENCE!!! Hopefully that carries over into next season…
    And, by having the Oil playing hard and being competitive hockey, it shows us where the weaknesses are (even though we’ve always known, but it does give us a better look) and what MacT must try and accomplish this off season.
    Yes, we have a few good defensemen coming into the mix next season, but we cannot expect Nurse to jump in and become a top pairing guy next year. If MacT can bring in a top pairing d-man, that should help solidify the back-end and push Schultz into a far better spot in the line-up (if he is still around next yr). And, if MacT can get a proven tender, that will be a huge help too, but even if MacT takes another flyer on a back-up like Jones in LA, I think that someone like that would also be a huge upgrade in what we’ve had…

  • Rdubb

    Unless it’s McDavid or Eichel, the Oilers should not make that pick after those two. I do not think that the Oilers need anymore 18 year olds trying to play right out of the draft since it’s worked out so well the past five years. I wanna see them get older for next year, only so much a coach can bring on board from the bench. We have seen Yak flourish riding shotgun with Roy and it’s been beautiful seeing him learn from a real NHL Vet. I have been saying for years that this team does need on ice leadership, guys who have been to the dance. Chicago and Boston are going into next season with questions. Chara, Lucic and Krejci could be available for the right price. I don’t know about Lucic but the option may be there. Chicago might have to say goodbye to guys like Seabrook, Oduya and Bickell. Any package of picks might be enough to land a few of these useful pieces.