Asked on Thursday about the possibility of moving 2014 third overall pick Leon Draisaitl out of his natural position at centre and on to the wing, Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan admitted that he’d thought about it.
His subsequent comments made it clear that he’d thought about it a lot.
In a wide-ranging interview with 630 CHED’s Bob Stauffer, McLellan was asked at one point whether Draisaitl would see time at both centre and on the wing in training camp. He didn’t hold back on his answer:
There’s a chance that can happen. You’re referencing the San Jose situation; Patrick Marleau had already established himself as a star player in the league and when we got there he went on to the wing. We had Marleau and Pavelski playing the wing, for a couple of reasons. One, we felt that they were consistent top-six players, and with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture taking the one and two spots in San Jose, Pavelski and Marleau would be wasting some of their talent in the third-line role a lot of the time.
I look at Leon Draisaitl, and in my opinion Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid are going to be one and two centremen in our organization for a long, long time. They’re that talented and that good, not that Leon isn’t. But does Leon want to play on that third line year after year? It doesn’t mean he can’t take and steal ice time from the other two, but career-wise he might love to be on one of their wings and playing in the top-six rather than being that third-line centre. I think it’s really unfair to peg him there, but we also have to look at it from that perspective. Your responsibilities as a winger are somewhat less, his board work is actually quite good, and one of the things that impressed me about Leon was the ability to play on his backhand. Joe Thornton has incredible eyes and makes incredible passes on his back hand; for a young man like Leon he did the exact same thing at the summer development camp, which is something I wasn’t aware of.
Who This (Might) Work For
Leon Draisaitl. Maybe he’s playing with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. Maybe he’s on the port side of Connor McDavid. Regardless, if he’s in a winger role it’s a pretty good bet he finds himself on one of the Oilers’ scoring lines immediately, and given the firepower up front that’s a pretty nice place to be. As McLellan notes, this also makes it easier for him to jump to the NHL, by reducing his defensive assignments.
Anton Lander. It doesn’t take a genius to know that Lander’s long-term future with the Oilers is under threat as long as he has to compete with Draisaitl (obviously a long-term piece) and Mark Letestu (signed for three years, and with the same versatility as Lander). I wrote an unpopular piece early last month which questioned where Lander fits given the short- and long-term threats to his niche on the roster, but if Draisaitl moves over primarily to the wing it makes it much easier to envision Lander winning a long-term role with Edmonton.
Teddy Purcell/Nail Yakupov. If Draisaitl is pushed to left wing (logically, given that he’s a left shot) it means that the Oilers’ left wing depth chart suddenly features Benoit Pouliot in the No. 3 hole. That’s a pretty massive boost to the third line, and it means that whichever of Purcell or Yakupov ends up in that slot most of the time can count on having two quality linemates.
It’s not just the individuals above who could plausibly benefit from this. Whichever line Draisaitl ends up on has an injection of size and a second faceoff option if the first pivot gets thrown out of the dot (which in turn allows that centre to be a bit more aggressive than he otherwise might be). It gives McLellan a spare centre outside of his regular four, allowing him to rejig his lines in a hurry in the event of injury, penalty or poor performance. It gives the third line a stable veteran in Pouliot, and thereby improves the Oilers’ ability to take advantage of clubs with weak forward depth.
This is a really interesting idea in a lot of ways, and one of the major subplots to follow at training camp this fall.