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

  • Oilfaninvan

    I look at this forward group, and while it’s very very exciting, it’s still too young, inexperienced, small, and defensively irresponsible. Matthias is defensively capable and has size, but he’s too soft. All I hear out here in Van is how they wish he could bang more and raise his intensity in this playoff. A bonified two-way gritty guy that can score and smash you in the face because he likes to, not because he has to (not just a guy with will and heart) is needed to show the young guys the way. If someone would take Purcell’s contract (oilers probably have to retain half the salary) then you could go take a look. I still see all those young wingers, watch the playoffs, and realize one of Yak, Hall, or Ebs will have to go at some point if we wanna get real here.

  • freelancer

    I like the idea of signing a guy like Matthias. Without buying out a guy like Purcell, or trading one of Yak or Eberle I don’t think we are going to size any other big moves to the forward core. But for the sake of WWYDW, let’s say Purcell can be moved. Sign a guy like Chris Stewart.

    Pouliot-Nuge-Eberle

    Hall-McDavid-Yak

    Matthias-Lander-Stewart

    Hendricks-Gordon-Klinkhammer

  • Phuryous George

    Fraser is not a player here next season.

    I like to see MacT upgrade Purcell and get a more physical player who can play and throw them when needed. And that player is currently on Ottawa’s roster. Clark MCArthur. I like his grit and his compete. I like Chris Neil also.Either would be a good complimentary winger.

    My thought is MacT will probably find a wa to package that TP contract or buy him out.

    I wont waste time speculating about lines. But my thought this morning is that the roster that MacT promised us would see a 20% turnover this summer may just see an increase in that number.
    We all know goaltending is an issue. NN and Ference should not ever play another game for the Oilers (Dennis King).

    I see Marincin being moved this summer in a package deal. I also see our 2016 First round pick as a chip for trading at the draft.

    Its pressure time for MacT and this is our time.

  • 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.

  • Arr Dub

    I like the sounds of a Hall, McDavid, and Yakupov line. I don’t know a lot about McDavid. I don’t pretend to have watched him play many games. I assumed the Oilers would be better this year and not in a position to draft him. However, from what I hear, he’s very fast. Hall and Yak are also very good skaters. I think this would be the best chance to make Yakupov better as well. As for the Oilers needs, Perron, Petry, and Dubnyk, would fill a lot of holes. Just saying.

  • Hopeless in Etown

    Don’t spend a cent on forwards. Internal candidates for the last top nine forward only. The fact is that every cent of cap space that we have should be used for addressing defense and goaltending.

    We can’t address all our needs in one year. Are our forwards too soft for playoff hockey? Yes, but you need to make the playoffs before you worry about that. And we won’t make the playoffs until our defense and goaltending are better.

    As for the people thinking about trading McDavid, there is only one team that I can possibly see something that would entice me. It would have to involve a trade that included both of Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne in Nashville before I would even consider getting rid of a talent like McDavid. It would probably also require Ference or Nikitin going the other way.

  • 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.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Could probably get Antoine Vermette for free this summer. Play him in the middle or on the wing. That would add some sort of resemblance of sandpaper. You can slot in almost anywhere in your bottom nine. Vermette is an upgrade on Purcell.

    Good luck to Connor though. Unless he can come in here and make others him work twice as hard and implement/play with some urgency. They’re very likely to be selecting top 3 again next summer.

    With gaping holes in that 1 and 2 spots on the blueline, and in goal, none of us will be surprised. Management is still the same gong show crew. Any progress in that forward group this summer will be hampered by all the kids playing defence.

    • Hemmercules

      I had this exact attitude before Saturday. I thought for sure they would be picking top 3 again next year but now I’m not so sure. I think landing McDavid will speed things up upstairs and now I wanna see what they can do at the draft and free agency even if its Mact making the moves.

      If they let Roy walk and don’t bother picking anyone up other than a mediocre goalie then its top 3’s for sure.

  • Nuggets

    I don’t think you really need to bring in anyone new to fill forward spots, the outside focus should be on defense and then maybe a goalie.

    I think for now, your centremen are McDavid, RNH, Roy, Gordon. This way, the fourth line stays together, and Roy and Yakupov stay together. This leaves you with Eberle, Hall, Purcell, and Pouliot, plus one other for the top three lines. Hendricks stays with Gordon on the fourth line, fill the other spot there with whatever physical fourth-liner you want.

    If you want to keep Lander, is there any reason why he can’t become a winger? If so, it would be nice to have extra wingers to take draws if the centreman gets waived (waved?) out. I think you do the same with Draisaitl. Have him play wing in the AHL for a year or two and bring him back in as a winger when he’s ready. That gives us a physical presence on the wing that can take draws as well.

    In a year or two, when Draisaitl is ready to be a winger in the NHL, you should have had time to build trade value in the other wingers that have been playing with McDavid/RNH. Trade one of those wingers to make room for Draisaitl when he’s ready. If we want to get rid of Roy later, Lander or Draisaitl could swap back to center, no?

  • bonks4eva

    pou Nuge ebs
    Hall mcjesus Jagr
    Lander Roy/Horcoff/someone with experience Yak
    Henricks Gordon Matthais

    in D Ference higher than #6 would be unacceptable. NN should be bought out. I would say on of Yak or Drai is traded for a Dman….you would trade Yak.

  • 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.

  • hamandbun

    I agree with those suggesting that the 2nd line feature Purcell rather than Yak. When I looked at JW’s suggestion of 4-97-10 I liked the thought of it. When I thought a bit further (and i’m not trying to crap on Hall or Yak) there just seems like it would be a little scary on turnovers.

    • freelancer

      I can understand that. My biggest worry right now is too many elite players on a line. What I mean by that is you’ve got a top 6 full of guys who are used to being “the guy.” Guys who always want the puck and want to score. I think one of the reasons the Pouliot-RNH-Ebs line is so successful is the fact that each player fills a role. Pouliot is more of the agitator, RNH feeds and Eberle is the finisher. If you look at Hall-McDavid-Yak, you have Hall who is a finisher, starting to be a bit more of an agitator. Yakupov who is a finisher, and McDavid who is…well everything.

      While there are the definite highlight scoring possibilities from that line, I think there is definitely the possibility for turnovers due to too much passing back and forth.

  • hurricane

    #1
    Aquire a “man”, either a UFA (Curtis Glencross, Joel Ward) or via trade, to play with McDavid. A player with some talent/speed (NOT A GOON) that will step in when McDavid is getting a “face wash” in the corner or in front of the net. The Oilers current top 4 or 5 forwards would stand and watch or go for a change.

    #2
    Babcock is not going anywhere to be a head coach for 3 or 4 years. He is looking for a transition to management. Sign Nelson to a 2 year contract. Apart from Babcock I do not see a “must have” coach.

    #3
    The Oilers are not going to make the playoffs next year. Will they be better with McDavid, of course, but I wouldn’t start trading assests until we have a year with McDavid in the line-up. Get some veteran D (on the cheap) for transition, while Nurse, Marincin, and Klefbom develop, and do #1 above.

  • Jaxon

    I look at the 9.35M spent on Hendricks, Gordon and Purcell and can’t help but think they can do better via free agency. I think Comeau, Goc and Upshall could be signed for less than 4.35M. A savings of $5M! Trade them all for prospects and draft picks. The Oilers may need some cheap entry level contracts in the future if they want to hold onto their core. Then spend that on a goalie (Niemi, Neuvirth, Greiss?) and a Left D and a Right D (Ehrhoff & Franson maybe?).

    LW / C / RW

    Scoring Line 1A:
    Pouliot / Nugent-Hopkins / Eberle – done deal

    Scoring Line 1B:
    Hall / McDavid / Pakarinen or Fraser or maybe Chase (after some time in AHL). They all have a bit of a scoring touch, they can create some space for McDavid and Hall to do their thing, and create traffic in front)

    Scoring Line 3:
    Comeau / Draisaitl or Roy / Yakupov – Comeau played with Crosby and Malkin at times last season, so he can play up and down the lineup. He hits like crazy and is pretty fast and he’s from north-western Saskatchewan (Oilers would be his “hometown” team). Draisaitl would have to dethrone Roy to play here after starting in the AHL.

    D Zone Starts, Penalty Killers:
    Lander / Goc / Upshall – D Zone starts with 2 defensive players capable of winning a draw and a northern Alberta vet that plays hard.

    Extra Forwards: Klinkhammer & Roy if Draisaitl makes the team, & whoever loses the battle to be on the Hall/McDavid line (Pakarinen, Fraser, Chase)

  • 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.

  • A-Mc

    Sign Roy and Carl Soderberg

    lines are as follows…

    Pouliot-Nuge-Ebs
    Hall-McDavid-Soderberg
    Lander-Roy-Yak
    Hendricks-Gordon-Klink

    Extras would be some combination of Gazdic, Pitlick, Purcell and Miller (Lander and Soderberg can fill in at C so we can have 2 wingers as extras.)

    Draisaitl can be called up and down in event of injuries but it keeps him playing and developing

    All this puts real internal competition for spots also.

    I would also sign Slepeshev for the AHL.

    Now about the D…

  • Oilfaninvan

    The top 9 are way too soft, and McDavid can’t help much in that department. I would like to see MacT go out and acquire a big, mean forward that can jump start the team with a big physical shift. It is foolish to think we can win games by scoring 3.5 tic-tac-toe goals every night. But that appears to be the game plan at the moment. To me, when I hear “three scoring lines” I hear “one line capable of playing defense”.

    Obviously the other thing the top 9 is missing is a veteran with leadership skills that can mentor 97, 4, 93, 14 and 64.

    I like Mathias, but I wonder also wonder if Doan could be pried away from Arizona.

    • freelancer

      Another name that interests me would be Scott Hartnell. But any trade for him would start with losing one of Eberle or Yak. He’s 33, big guy, and looks to have lots of gas left in the tank. I would find it tough to swallow gaining 2-3 years of a guy like him and lose potentially 10+ years of Ebs or Yak.

      Bottom line with any of this potential line combo talk. If we can’t create a top 6 with physical players, we need our bottom 6 AND our D core to have more physicality.

      • Armchair_Gm

        I think Hartnell would be a great fit. He would address the need for grit and the need for a seasoned veteran.

        If the Oilers don’t beef up the top 6, the kids are going to get worked over physically. If the NHL were a non-contact league our forward group would be perfect. But it’s a big mans league and a team can only score off the rush so much.

    • mesa

      Every NHL team have a vendetta against Doan(most underrated dirty player in the nhl) for that reason and only reason you do not want him.you are putting every oiler in a position to get hurt.

      love to see iginla here

  • freelancer

    k wait a sec. are we really, actually, even saying the name paajarvi? its like looking at your 10th grade ex girlfriends mexico bikini pics on fbook and drooling over what coulda been?
    can we not maybe at least check tindy first? (aka ufa’s)

  • 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

  • A-Mc

    I would re-sign Roy. McDavid would play wing for his first season. The lines would be as follows for forwards:

    Pouliot – Nuge – Ebs
    Hall – Lander – McDavid
    Purcell – Roy – Yakupov
    Hendricks – Gordon – Gaz/Klink/Rookie

    Lander, in my eyes, is a perfect fit for those 2 guys. He is fully capable of being a skill guy but he’s also very responsible Defensively. He’s a horse of many colors and i think that’s going to be his primary value to the Oilers.

    After you re-sign Roy, your entire focus should be defense

      • A-Mc

        It doesnt matter how good you think he is, you don’t go into a season expecting him to perform well as one of your top 2 centermen. If he proves he has what it takes to cut it at Center then you can certainly move him there and shift the lines around but its fools gold to expect him to be a legit center in his first season.

        The Oilers need to move passed the gambles and start putting people in positions to succeed from game 1. no more “lets see how it goes, and hope for the best”.

        • freelancer

          This. Now if we don’t end up finding another top 6 centre and our top 6 centre depth is Nuge-McDavid… well there are worse things. Last season management expected Drasaitl to anchor the second line… that failed. That’s another reason I like the idea of signing Roy on a one year deal. He would be a cheap option that would look good as a third line winger and could slide into a top 6 role if needed. Bring on the likes of a Williams, Matthias for the other third line winger spot and you have a versatile forward group.

        • Craig1981

          McDavid is not a “gamble” on the 2nd line. Its not “fools gold” to expect him to be a number 2 center. Crosby scored 39 goals and 102 points his rookie season, Lemieux 43 goals and 100 points, Lindros 41 goals and 75 point (61 games)……….these are the players he is being compared to.

          I feel you are a person that thinks “the #1 draft pick should always play wing” without accessing the player himself. McDavid is not Draisaitl or even Tavares or MacKinnon…..he is far above them.

          • A-Mc

            Read this: http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2015/04/22/edmonton-oilers-shouldnt-expect-connor-mcdavid-to-match-sidney-crosbys-rookie-scoring/

            Those people broke into the league at a different time. The west is big, strong and fast. McDavid will be an excellent player but throwing an 18 year old into a top 2, center position, with out other options isn’t wise. Centers have the most responsibility of all forwards. Going into a season you want to be sure your center positions are covered with people you KNOW will be atleast adequate. If McDavid comes in and out performs them at the center position, then great! But if you go into the season with no other options, you’re accepting a certain level of risk.

            He will need to grow. He will need to learn. He will be excellent, but putting all your eggs in 1 basket isn’t smart.

            I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

          • Craig1981

            I think you are miss reading either that article or my point of view. Even is scoring is down a few percentages, he is still going to put up points far above the average 2nd line center…….hell he can put up half Crosby’s points and be an OK 2nd line center

            “He will need to grow”?!?!

            You do realize he is 6’2″ and 187lbs, we will put on a little weight this summer…he will get bigger and be a beast, but if he didn’t he still would be force.

            I do think we can a agree there does need to be extra centers playing wing, for options and injuries, but IMP not McDavid

  • A-Mc

    The draft is going to be the best in years.
    You have multiple teams that will be looking to change direction.
    If Ron Hextall does not go ape I would be shocked.Some have suggested Simmonds. Would LD for Simmonds and something else be doable? Who knows.
    Boston? Could there be a changing of the guard there? Could Lucic be available.
    All I know is MacT has to go to the draft and come away with Conner McDavid, a defenceman and a goalie. All those picks need to be up for trade to get this train wreck moving.

  • wiseguy

    The fact the team only has one minor hole to fill at forwards, and really that option is already there, is awesome.

    I would still like to see Roy resigned on a one year deal. It does a lot of things and gives the new coach a host of possible line combos. Yak isn’t producing on a wing with McDavid and Hall? Put him down on the third line with Roy and Lander.

    I don’t mind the internal option of having Draisaitl, Pitlick, or Pekirinen, fight it out for that spot, but Roy also helps the team with centre depth when injuries hit. As we watched last year, that’s important.

    I also see you did not mention a guy like Sodeburg, who now with McDavid might be a little redundant. Although, you have to think Purcell does not get qualified next year, so that opens up a spot. And maybe a guy like Sodoburg wants to be here and mentor the next great player.

    It would be great if for once one of these kids did not have the pressure of the team on their shoulders day one.

    So, top pick is Roy as I want to see what a full season of him and Yak can do. As much as I’m excited for McDavid, the key to this team is still to develop our high end draft picks into lethal top six players, and I’m not sure McDavid can do that for Yak.

  • Hopeless in Etown

    We need toughness on the McDavid, Hall line. Let Roy develop Yaks game some more and bring up his value and then trade them for size, speed and grit on the right side. But first they have to address the defence problem. We need to add a #1 and #2 dmen. We will never get to the playoffs without a def up grade. A good defense even makes a good goalie better and an offense more potent. Our offence spends to much time running around in their own end trying to help our def when they should be breaking out. That’s why I have such an issue with Lowe and steve,they needed a def in place to add these young draft picks too and they had nothing in place, only thing we had was two undersized, over paid forwards. A manager of a midget team could have done a better job. Time to get it fixed so lets get-er-done. Nice to see Bob running the show.