Todd McLellan is going to have a lot of options this fall when it comes to filling out his lineup. Most of us are focused (with good reason) on the scoring lines as the mind soars with the possibilities. One thing we should be prepared for? As was the case in the 1980’s, forward pairs may be the order of the day.
BEFORE THE WHEEL
During the 1980’s Glen Sather established forward ‘pairs’ that ran all over defensemen from California to the New York islands, from English Bay to 250 Boulevard Wilfrid-Hamel. Among the most famous pairs? Gretzky and Kurri, Messier and Anderson.
The Oilers have been running a 1line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle for much of the last four seasons. Since arriving in the NHL, the Nuge has played 3800 minutes at even strength, 2800 (74%) with Eberle and 1962 (51.5%) with Hall.
The addition of Connor McDavid means Edmonton has a tremendous chance to ice two significant scoring lines for 2015-16 and beyond. The young trio have been joined by a fourth option—who may eventually be the top option—and that means Todd McLellan will have some high octane choices to make this fall.
Yes, don’t mind if I do. Benoit Pouliot spent significant time with Ryan Nugent Hopkins during the 2014-15 season and the pair had real success. They had great possession stats (53.9%) and Pouliot scored 6-6-12 in 372 even strength minutes (that’s 1.94/60) with Nuge as his center.
Hall played a ton with the Nuge too, but the Oilers would be wise to give McDavid top-end skill players because very few Oilers forwards are going to be able to cash what this young phenom is going to do if he brings all of his talents to the NHL. I think Hall is an obvious choice to pair up with McDavid (your mileage may vary, he’s certainly not going to get protection when lining up with Hall—other teams will focus on that line with their best players).
If we can agree that Pouliot—Nuge and Hall—McDavid are good pairs, then it’s on to next-step: Right wing.
WHO GETS EBERLE?
That’s the million dollar question. My own preference would be putting Eberle with Hall and McDavid, giving the gifted rookie the best possible situation (Edmonton doesn’t have better wingers than those two and they have great chem).
That would leave Pouliot—Nuge with someone named Teddy Purcell, Nail Yakupov or Leon Draisaitl, but the top line would be getting the tougher opposition so there might be some more room for the Nuge trio.
Teddy Purcell has gone the Biosteel/Gary Roberts training route. Will skate with Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid mid’ August at Roberts’ camp
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) July 26, 2015
That’s an attention getter, no doubt about it. If Purcell can improve his foot speed a little, and find himself on either line, he and the organization would benefit in a big way.
Yakupov’s center from a year ago (Derek Roy) is gone and Nuge might be a good fit but there’s a disconnect in terms of defensive play that McLellan will have to factor in. Draisaitl is a brilliant player who may end up on the wing next season (he says he’s willing) but for me half a season in the AHL at center might be the better play.
You know what could blow the entire race out of the water? A strong TC from Leon. I wouldn’t bet against him.
(Photo by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved)