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

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • Serious Gord

    What about Pouliot and Ebs with McDavid ,rah gets Hall and Leon, Lander Yak and Purcell plus Gordon’s line . Gives size on each line and Hopkins would still draw tougher assignments than McDavid . Obviously Leon must be ready but I’m expecting him to be with a max of 20 AHL games

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • bwar

    I would go with:

    Pouliot – Nuge -Eberle

    Hall – McDavid – Purcell

    Paajarvi/Mattais – Lander – Yakupov

    Hendricks – Gordon – Klinkhammer

    Extra fwd – Roy

    Yak and Purcell would flip during camp and the first ten games of the season To see where the chemistry was.

    I like both Paajarvi and Mathais and would look hard at both. If both could be landed, I would consider moving Hendricks out and saving a little cap space playing Matthais on the third line and Paajarvi on the fourth.

    Roy is Yak insurance and could be subbed in on the third line LW where his defensive responsibilities would be less but he could still be the Yak whisperer.

    • MGD

      I don’t know why everyone has a love-on for Paajarvi. Sure he’s got size and speed, but he’s soft! Hitchcock said he’d teach Magnus how to hit, but gave up on him 1/2 way thru the first season. We DO NOT need more softies on this team!

    • Rob...

      Purcell is not a #2 winger in the NHL. He is a plumber who is making big money. Probably a great guy but not a number 2 winger. Yes he has size, how many break always did he miss last season, he is just not a goal scorer, that’s why he was traded.

  • Armchair_Gm

    Sign Todd mclellan. Trade this pick, schultz and lander with buffalo, for their pick, ristolainen zemgus girgensons and their pick next year and their other pick this year. Eichel will go back.to college and that gives the team another year to.continue to.build for eichel.rather than draft mcdavid and then dump all the teams problems on his shoulders.

    • O.C.

      You’re an idiot. You want to trade McDavid? You are an absolute idiot. I’m sorry but that is the worst idea in the world. Second is whatever is about to come out of your mouth next!

      • Armchair_Gm

        Imagine if we got the third pick in this draft and had à chance to get eichel. Oiler fans would be ecstatic and talking about him as the savior. Suggest it now and im an idiot. Hilarious. We can not only get him but other elite pieces, you rube. But i guess dumping the future.of.the team.on one 18 year sounds better

        • wiseguy

          We are at a point where we need 3 for 1 deals where we get the best player not the other way around. We’ve had enough “pieces” or magic beans when we were tearing up the team over the last decade. More picks and prospects for this management group means nothing.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • Ever the Optimist

    I would retain half of Purcell’s salarie for the final year of his contract just to get Paajarvi back because I value Paajarvi’s defensive game more than Purcell’s moderate offence on nights when he actually decides to try. With so many young offensive minded forwards on the team, it would be refreshing to actually have a big fast forward like Paajarvi who actually back checks shift after shift. Paajarvi is young enough and cheap enough to actually be around for a while if you use him in a bottom 6 role. With so many forwards who have the potential to score… I wouldn’t care if Paajarvi got a measily 5 points on the year if it meant freeing up a guy like Yakupov to concentrate on what he does best… Which is score. Remember how many points Yakupov and Gagner put up Paajarvi’s last year on the team because they always relied on him to be the first forward back on the majority of shifts? …And people wondered why he never put up a lot of points. News flash… He was the only defensive conscience on that line… And when he wasn’t on that line, he was usually playing with scubs that aren’t even in the league anymore.

    If it was possible, my forward lines for next year would be:

    Pouliot, Hopkins, Eberle
    Hall, McDavid, Yakupov
    Paajarvi, Lander, Pitlick or Pakarinen
    Hendricks, Gordon, Klinkhammer

    – With Draisaitl developing in the minors until Gordon gets traded at the deadline.

    .

  • MGD

    Our top six forwards are set. For the 3rd line I think we need two wingers who work hard, have size and skill. Two players in Matthias mold.

    Look at our neighbors compete in the playoffs. Majority of their line consist of hard workers. We need a RPM type line. Purcell is too soft and should be traded to bring in that tough hard nosed player.

    Boyd Gordon has been great and is entering his 3rd yr. Resign him on a 2 yr at 3.

  • vetinari

    I’d see if I could move some assets for a “heavy winger” and run:

    L1 Pouliot-RNH-Eberle
    L2 Hall-McDavid-Heavywinger/Lander
    L3 Draisatl-Roy-Yakupov
    L4 Hendricks-Gordon-Klinkhammer
    Spares: Yakimov, Pitlick, UFA/Trade acquisition

    Trade bait: Gordon (would move Lander into his role as defensive speacialist), Purcell (size and moderate offensive punch but pricey and soft, Gazdic (great heart but limited use player that can’t be deployed for regular defensive duties)

  • MGD

    Forward lines look to be fairly decent and it shouldn’t be too hard to improve them for season.

    I would be concerned with toughness. I hope they’re looking for one or two defencemen that will stick up for these young forwards.

  • Rob...

    I got to thinking what it would take for the Oilers to trade away the number one pick. I don’t think a condition exists anymore where it could happen. However, if things went differently and the Kane/Myers trade didn’t happen, would a scenario have developed where Buffalo offered the 2nd and Myers for the 1st? Would that have been enough to sway a GM to give up a generational talent for another player thought to be a generational talent of slightly lesser potential?

  • Jprime

    The top-9 forward should be the last thing tackled this offseason. Not only is it the least pressing need but it’s also the one that should get the least cap space devoted to it. Hence, waiting makes sense.

    My order of preference is 1) Matthias 2) Beleskey 3) Tlusty 4) Roy. Whoever from that group you can bring in for $2 million or less, you bring them in. If not them, sign some other center or LW (RW is set).

  • Big red ginger snap

    sign a veteran center maybe Roy i would look around though. Play Mcdavid on the wing let him learn the ropes i don’t think you can have to many centers.

  • S cottV

    I would agree with Serious Gord, it all looks way too soft for me.

    3 scoring lines is not important, if there was a way to use some of the scoring depth, to shore up the back end and or add some truculence.

    McD is going to struggle in his own end for a year or two, particularly without legit top 4 defencemen to shelter him out there.

    McD is a god send but there is still a long way to go – toward a playoff spot.

    The way it sits – expect to lose too many 5-4 hockey games.

    Get a heavy weight coach with systems to follow, get him the personnel changes he wants and maybe – just maybe, we get back to the post season show in a couple of years.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • Rdubb

    In my opinion, I think that since the Oilers seem to have far more forward depth then defensive depth and that it is always easier to pick-up a forward FA, i’d like to see MacT make a deal for both goaltending help and for defensive help.
    Since the Oiler won the lottery (literally and figuratively), I feel that MacT should try and bundle Leon with PIT’s pick (16th right now I do believe) and go grab a top pairing D-man or goalie. Let’s not forget that there is going to be a fair amount of teams that will be in trouble trying to come in under the cap, and perhaps MacT can swindle himself a goalie for a late 1st round or 2nd round pick, say a tender from CHI, maybe Darling or Rannata (even with Crawford on the bench I cannot see CHI trading him), or grab Jones out of LA. Or, maybe a Talbot becomes available from our former GM and pal of MacT, Glen Sather. This could be his last act of “goodwill” towards the team he won 5 cups with (or was it 4?)?
    All-in-all. i think that this could be perhaps the most exciting off season we fans have had in decades…
    And if MacT can somehow deal Scrivens away too, then we’d get a real good look Brossiot. Has he not shown that he has the ability to become this teams top tender come a yr or two? Perhaps he even pulls a price and steps up sooner rather then later?

  • El Pindo

    As uncertain as it may be, I think I’d be very tempted to try our Drai on the wing

    But now that I’m hearing what I’m saying I fear I’ve been watching Oilers “management” for too long AND I’M STARTING TO PICK UP THEIR HABITS OH GOD NO PLEASE DON’T EVER LET ME ONTO ANOTHER WWYDW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Also this probably marks the end of my NHL15 GM mode…