The Edmonton Oilers have an exceptional group of young talents but are not yet a team. This fall, for the first time since Tom Renney’s hiring, the club will be led by a veteran NHL coach. That’s a big deal, and one of the more interesting things we’ll be looking for is how Todd McLellan deploys the troops. Here’s a quick first glance.
The Oilers are set up for three offensive lines—if they choose to approach things that way. Why? As it happens, the heart of the cluster looks more logical in pairs up front, with other parts roving in and out of the set pieces as home/road and hot/cold dictates.
LOGICAL FORWARD DUOS….
- Hall—McDavid: It makes complete sense to have your elite offensive talents on the same line and in the case of McDavid there aren’t going to be many wingers available to him who are as naturally talented as Hall. The likely third is Eberle, problem being Edmonton needs more than one No. 14 to make this thing go.
- Pouliot—Nuge: This pairing made good music last season, with (again) Eberle being the ideal third man. Pouliot’s value to this group comes in his size/speed combination of skills and that he can cash. Underrated player, he’s going to be a big part of the Oilers’ success. Nuge is the key cog for next season in my opinion, in that he showed last year that teams couldn’t focus only on Hall’s line, that Nuge’s line would make you pay. One of the lines we’ll hear a lot from media next year? “RNH is emerging as an impact player” even though he’s been fine and getting better all along.
- Draisaitl—Yakupov: This is perhaps less obvious but could be the most important pairing for the long term success of the team. Why? Well, to be honest, Nail Yakupov isn’t yet established as a useful scoring winger and this is season four on the way. He had nice chem with Leon a year ago and they were given great zone starts AND had just about 50% of the possession. Source
MATCH THE SETS!
Now, we arrive at the problem. The Oilers have too few Eberle’s, too many Purcell’s (I like the player but speed is going to be even more of an issue with this young, emerging team) and not a lot of depth if someone gets hurt or falters. Let’s take things one at a time:
- Jordan Eberle: A great fit for either line, my guess is Todd McLellan has Eberle playing with both the McDavid and Nuge lines depending on circumstance.
- Teddy Purcell: He’s a valuable player, great hands and can help on the power play. He isn’t a physical player and he’s not a fantastic checker, plus the speed means he’d have to cheat for defense on the Leon line (and that takes away most of his game).
- Anton Lander: He might be a nice fit with Leon-Yak and his two-way ability could be useful with the Nuge line. I like him with Draisaitl because it means two centers and a defensive conscience on a line that badly needs one.
- Lauri Korpikoski: Despite struggling in the desert for the last couple of seasons, I like the Finn as a two-way option for any of these lines and as a mentor for the Leon line.
- Matt Hendricks: Edmonton will need some physical element to their skill lines and Hendricks—despite being shy offensively—could jump in as required. If we poo-poo the idea, then we need to discuss the possibility of bringing in someone who can play that crash and bang role with skill.
- Iiro Pakarinen: Like Hendricks, there’s every chance he won’t bring enough offense, but there’s a lot to like with this player. Physical, fast, it’ll be interesting to see how far up the depth chart he could go with a strong TC.
- Andrew Miller: The more I look at this situation, the better Miller’s chances appear to be. Inexpensive, fast, intelligent, he could be used in an extra forward/utility role but play on a skill line as needed. Andrew Miller is in a terrific spot this season, and has from now until Teddy Purcell’s contract expires to show himself as an option.
MY TOP 9F
Todd McLellan’s decision is several months away, but waiting is boring. So, let’s have a lash at the top 9F and see if we agree. Here’s mine:
I’d work Miller in as needed, put Korpikoski on the 3line when nothing rhymes, and be prepared to move Yakupov up to the Nuge line if he responds to the new coach and begins to shine.