WWYDW: What should the addition of Connor McDavid do to the Oilers’ forward lines?

Draft Lottery

The Edmonton Oilers’ needs at forward seemed pretty clear-cut heading into the summer. The necessary additions to remedy those needs seemed obvious, too. Then came a lucky tumble of the lottery balls and the virtual certainty that Edmonton would be adding generational talent Connor McDavid to its stable of young talent.

In one night, everything changed.

Three Scoring Lines

64-Yakupov-5

As of right now, the Oilers currently have eight forwards that we can be reasonably confident will be deployed inside the top nine:

  • Centre: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, Anton Lander
  • Wing: LW Taylor Hall, RW Jordan Eberle, LW Benoit Pouliot, RW Nail Yakupov, RW/LW Teddy Purcell

After those eight, we can also be fairly certain that Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon will anchor a defensive zone specialty line, with some combination of Rob Klinkhammer, Tyler Pitlick, Matt Fraser and Luke Gazdic rounding out the forward group.

8-Roy-4

There’s still one spot open in the top nine, though, and the Oilers have some options there:

  • Pending free agent Derek Roy. Roy has good chemistry with Yakupov and finished the season well; he could easily be bumped to left wing and perhaps played on a line with Yakupov and Lander. The downside is that he’s a) another small forward and b) another primarily offensive forward.
  • Top forward prospect Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl was the No. 3 overall pick and he’s almost certainly going to make a strong push for a roster spot in camp. He could be bumped to left wing, perhaps with Lander and Purcell, and would add size and centre depth to the mix. The downside is that the Oilers would once again be counting on an unproven player to address weakness, and no matter how mature he is for his age he’s still a young forward and comes with certain defensive deficiencies.
  • Promoting a depth forward, like Pitlick or Fraser. Pitlick had really solid chemistry with Lander in Oklahoma City and showed well in a brief cameo late in the year; stick him on a line with his old centre and Purcell and there’s a decent chance things turn out. The downside is that it weakens depth and Pitlick (and Fraser, for that matter) may not have the offensive ability to stick in the top-nine at this point.
  • An outside hire. This could be anyone. Want size, defensive responsibility and centre depth? Let me introduce you to 6’4”, 223-pound Shawn Matthias, a centre/left wing who scored 18 goals for Vancouver. Want a clever two-way player with postseason experience? How about Justin Williams, who picked up 25 points in 26 games in last year’s playoffs and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Feel free to scroll the UFA list at NHLNumbers for other names. The upside is that there is no shortage of options. The downside is that the Oilers also need to address defence and goaltending this summer, too, and the perfect free agent just may not be interested in joining a team that hasn’t been competitive since 2006, McDavid notwithstanding.

What Would You Do?

Craig MacTavish7

In the G.M.’s shoes I’d be tempted to go the discount route. Pick off whichever useful two-way winger can be found for cheap later in free agency – maybe it’s Jiri Tlusty or Blake Comeau or Erik Condra or the wonderfully underrated Lee Stempniak. Maybe St. Louis doesn’t qualify Magnus Paajarvi, who had fantastic chemistry with Lander in OKC. Maybe there’s some European pro who we’ll briefly become the centre of attention as he decides to jump to the NHL. There’s always some useful wingers available late, looking for work, and the problem can be dealt with after the big priorities (defence, goaltending) are taken care of. Worst case scenario, the Oilers end up with Roy or Draisaitl or Pitlick in the role; that’s survivable though less than ideal.

I’m going to pick Jiri Tlusty for this example because he’s reasonably big, fast and young and can do a little bit of everything. Also, he was moved at the deadline for a third-round pick and change and seems a prime candidate to be undervalued this summer. Then I’d pencil in the lines like this:

Left
Wing
Centre Right Wing
Benoit Pouliot Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall Connor McDavid Nail Yakupov
Jiri Tlusty Anton Lander Teddy Purcell
Matt Hendricks Boyd Gordon Tyler Pitlick
Luke Gazdic Rob Klinkhammer

It makes sense to me to stick with Pouliot, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle as a unit given how good they looked when Hall was hurt. That leaves Hall to play with McDavid on the other big line; the third member could be any of the other wingers but Yakupov has had good success in cameos with Hall and deserves the first shot. That leaves Tlusty with Lander and Purcell as a versatile third line with players who can move up as necessary.

That’s my solution, but it’s far from the only one possible, and What Would You Do Wednesday isn’t really about my solutions. What would you do with the forwards?

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • O.C.

    I think Leon is being forgotten here. If you have watched him play with Kelowna he has been a beast, a man amongst boys. He would be great as a winger slash centre and be the that guy with size with skill. Derek Roy has also earned a place even if it is only a spare part you can never have enough centremen around. Forget Tlusty and Fraser had his chance the team should focus its attention at the defence.

    • toprightcorner

      Draisaitl should spend some time in the AHL to work on his quickness and first step amongst men without getting exposed. I also think it would be smart to try him on the wing as he is better than a 3C but his size could be very advantageous on the wall playing wing. Hall, MCDavid, Draisaitl line in 2 years could be filthy good and likely the 1st line.

  • shanetrain

    I’ve heard Mact and Nelson talk about pairs and about having three scoring lines. Here’s my guess:

    Pouliot Nuge Eberle

    Hall Mcdavid Purcell

    Lander Roy Yak

    Hendricks Gordon Klinkhammer

    Pitlick

    • positivebrontefan

      I like this, keep Roy for depth, swap Purcell and Yak back and forth as things go. Could even slide McDavid down to play with the “third line” if he needs some softer starts.

  • shanetrain

    The first thing I would do is clean house of the management and hire men that have respect and experience in the league, then i’d start getting rid of the likes of Nikitin and Ference. The search would be on for a proven experienced goalie, (not Cam Ward), and of course there would be at least 2 defensemen added. An experienced coach with hopefully Nelson as his wingman would be in charge of the bench. It’s a tall order, but we need to have a horse in the race this year and a shake up all around is necessary

    • Lofty

      ‘The first thing I would do is clean house of the management and hire men that have respect and experience in the league….’

      Bob Nicholson will do that. I hope so

      ‘….then i’d start getting rid of the likes of Nikitin and Ference’

      I guess Todd McLellan will do that, as a new coach

      ‘The search would be on for a proven experienced goalie, (not Cam Ward), and of course there would be at least 2 defensemen added’

      Antti Niemi + couple ex-Sharks. If McL will take the team

      ‘An experienced coach with hopefully Nelson as his wingman would be in charge of the bench’

      McL again, maybe

  • shanetrain

    I value experience, and Roy proved he still has value as well as chemistry with Yak…plus he’d be a relatively cheap signing. And you can never have enough center depth. I resign him and use him as the 3rd line center sliding Lander to the wing.

  • O.C.

    I agree, Leon has been forgotten. He is going to be a star player who also has size. If you are going to keep Eberle, RNH, Yak , McDavid and also,Hall, that’s a pretty small group of forwards. It’s obvious in the playoffs a lot more of the rough stuff is let go by the refs. Somewhere along the line the team needs to be bigger up front. Purcell has size but is really a #3 winger. This is when the GM needs to keep a close eye on his team in Oakland. Also agree about putting Leon on the wing until you sort out the backlog of forwards. Eventually someone has to go.you also can’t pay everyone 6-7 million. Getting rid of Leon would be a mistake. He is exactly what the team needs.

  • Serious Gord

    I’d be much happier if they can get someone to replace Purcell. He’s way too soft and doesn’t score. Brings nothing but experience to the table. I wouldn’t replace him with a kid but if they can replace him with an NHL player it would be hard to find one more useless than him.

  • shanetrain

    It looks like the Oilers have viable options up front now, although I would like to see a couple bigger bodies in that top 6.

    Mattias-like.

    As we all know, the focus has to be on the D/G.

    Ference should be nothing more than a dressing room guy/7dman.

    Schultz needs to find a way to toughen up a bit.

    I honestly expect/hope MacT to address our pitiful D and it could finally cost one of the young studs.

    Sorry for commenting mostly on D, but this should be the focus.

  • O.C.

    Without decent defense, excellent offence is zero. Simple adding couple of this lads to the blue line will improve red line more than ten McDavids

    Mike Green, Christian Ehrhoff, Zbyněk Michálek, Marek Židlický, Adam McQuaid, Cody Franson, Johnny Oduya,
    François Beauchemin, Andrej Sekera

  • One other thing to keep in mind: Purcell has one year left on his deal. I fully expect he’ll play ~40 games with the Oilers and then be moved at the deadline for futures as a rental.

    In other words, there’s going to be a permanent spot opening up in the top-nine for an internal candidate. That’s one of the reasons I think Edmonton would be wise to bring in a veteran for the current open slot; not only will there be injuries but they should be expecting to elevate one of the internal options partway through the year anyway.

    • Hemmercules

      Lets hope Mact learned something this year about starting a young lineup without depth at certain positions. He did call next season a development season so I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see no changes to the forwards but I still wonder if Katz and Nicholson are pressing a bit now.

      • Serious Gord

        Getting mcdavid makes it imperative that next season NOT be a development – read: no chance of the playoffs – season. Significant moves have to be made pronto.

  • HoLLyWooD

    First thing you do with the forwards is ignore them – focus on defense and goaltending. The rest will pan out, and there are options late in free agency.

  • bwar

    I would try to sign Roy and then let things with McDavid and Draisaitl shake out in camp. If Draisaitl looks ready maybe you consider shipping out Purcell for a 5/6 dman (also known as a top pairing dman to Edmonton management).

  • Bucknuck

    For me I’m not really worried about a third line winger. Someone will emerge, whether it’s Pitlick, Fraser, Draisaitl, or a late signing it’s not going to be an issue because there are lots of options.

    My big concern is Defense and Goaltending. Because without that they can bring in an all-star top nine and they still won’t make the playoffs.

  • Really good discussion here. A couple of things stand out to me:

    • I really agree with everyone who wants to cheap out on the L3 winger. I think there are significant needs elsewhere, and fully expect Draisaitl to be ready for the job (I just dislike counting on non-McDavid rookies as general principle).
    • I didn’t mention him because as I said my belief is the Oilers are better off going cheap, but for those who want to see some size/toughness added to the lineup what about Bryan Bickell in Chicago? I wouldn’t do it (I can’t underscore enough how cheap I am) but he’s a 6’4″, 223-pound pound winger who can start on L3 and move around as desired. He shouldn’t cost much in terms of assets; Chicago’s in real trouble and that’s an ugly contract.
    • One thing I’m seeing a lot that I’ve seen before is the idea of sticking Roy at centre and bumping Lander to wing. I see Lander as the better defensive player and his offence really took off after an extended stint up the middle; doesn’t it make more sense to put Roy on the wing (where he won’t need to be as responsible defensively) and leave Lander where he’s flourishing?
  • crackerjack14

    Justin Williams. Sign him! Roy. Keep him. Lander. Slide him to the left.

    Pouliot-Nuge-Ebs

    Hall-McDavid-Williams

    Lander-Roy-Yak

    Hendricks-Gordon-Klink

    The first line works. We know this. The second line has a lot of potential, and with Williams, experience. Roy-Yak works. 4th line works. Williams and Lander bring awareness, effort and leadership.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      This looks like a real MG put this together. Defense now, and a number one goalie like Talbot or something, also keep nelson if you can but bring in Mclellan.

  • Toro

    We need muscle up front to protect these kids even more now, adding a big winger like Stafford, Stewart, Ward would be better options then a softy like Tlusty or Roy or whoever , although I did like Roy

  • MGD

    I’m not really a big fan of putting Yak on the MCDavid line (yet). Someone with more experience should be on the wing with him. The only upside is that McDavid could unlock Yak’s potential and Yak could keep up with McDavid and Hall’s speed.

    Personally I like comment #6 Brody’s comments about pairing up pivots with one high end winger.I think Yak and Roy should be kept together next year. Not only is their chemistry on the ice but they seem to have a bit of a bromance going on which is good for Yak’s morale.

    I would almost rather have Leon (bigger with higher hockey IQ than YAK)on the wing with McDavid than Yak although I still don’t know if Leon is ready for the NHL. It’s hard to say because he never played when Nelson took over so his assessment isn’t really a fair one. What I saw was a guy whose skating needed a lot of work.Good top speed but overall he looked like bambi on ice some days.

  • gr8one

    My UFA forward target would be either Matthias or Soderberg.

    Both are large bodies and are extremely versatile as the can play wing and center and are skilled enough to play up or down the line up.

    With McDavid we certainly have an elite set of C’s going forward however extremely young and inexperienced, even Nuge could probably use some sheltering from an experienced C that has at least some offensive chops. Plus I’m of the mind that you can never have too many c wee centers..even if some are playing wing.

    I’d also go hard after Franson and McQuaid on the blueline. Both are still young enough to have not hit their peak and are just getting to that “sweet spot” age of defenders. Both are big and franson brings the offense and big point shot we sorely lack and McQuaid brings his size and great physicality that we also sorely lack on the back end. Our new “Gator” if you will. Oh yeah…and they’re both RHD, which is huge. We can than shelter Schultz properly and put him into situations where he can succeed and grow.

    Say bye to NN and Ference.

  • Serious Gord

    The playoffs point out what is really missing on the three forward lines: size and physicality.

    Trade prospects and picks for two players who can provide it. And unload Roy and Purcell (buyout?) along the way. Yak is going to have to learn to play well with others…

    • AJ88

      Totally agree with you on this one. Unless we add some toughness, size, physical play the Oilers will have difficulty with many teams that are in the playoffs including Calgary. Times have changed since the 80’s where only speed could win you hockey games, even back then, you had to have Semenko riding shotgun with Gretzky. We need one or two Lucic type players to round out the forwards, which may require bumping softer players like Purcell and Roy.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Please don’t count on Draisaitl!!
    If he’s an NHLer, great. If not (or if we have injuries there will be injuries there are always injuries), we should have a backup option (e.g. Derek Roy).

  • Quicksilver ballet

    What happens when Mcdavid gets hit hard/dirty or gets roughed up after the whistle?

    Hall, Eberle and Yak cannot be expected to protect Mcdavid.

    With the current roster, they have no choice but to put Pouliot with Mcdavid.
    He’s really the only forward on the team that can protect Mcdavid AND keep up with him.

    You could then put Eberle, Hall or Yak on his other wing, but i would stick to Lander or Purcell.

    Ideally they acquire another top 6 forward with Grit.

  • freelancer

    I don’t understand why everyone wants to move Lander to the W. Let him continue to develop at C until Leon is ready to take over the 3C spot and then maybe Lander anchors your Boyd Gordon line.

    Ideally you can find a C/W like Soderberg Matthias, but the main priority of D and G have to be solved first. Get the depth W in late July August. With this year’s cap there will be guys available