Head Coach Todd McLellan blended the lines at practice, just one game into the season, to try to find better chemistry. From what I’ve seen so far though preseason and game one, it’s a good move.
The most notable change to the line combinations was that
Hall and McDavid were split up. The team gave that duo the entire preseason and
one regular season game to gel together but it just never happened — to the liking of fans
and apparently the coaching staff as well. McLellan said:
“In particular I’m not sure that Taylor and Connor have
connected very well even throughout exhibition season so maybe, uh, give them a
different look and see if we can find something that, uh, that they’re
comfortable with and we’re comfortable with.”
This is something I’ve been concerned with since about the
halfway mark in camp when McDavid was showing flashes of brilliance but not
with his most common linemate. I have a personal theory that Hall has been so
used to being the puck carrier that he just might not be the best complement
for McDavid who is a virtuoso with the disc himself. There’s only one
puck on the ice (until the NHL updates the rules in an attempt to increase
scoring next year) and Hall can’t carry it down the left side while McDavid
walks it around an NHL defender at the same time.
Against the Blues, the Hall-McDavid-Slepyshev line didn’t fare
particularly well in basic possession metrics either. McDavid finished with a
44% CF with 70% offensive zone starts and Hall had a terrible 37% CF with 62%
offensive zone starts. It’s not just that they didn’t score, they weren’t in
the offensive zone enough for players of their caliber. That could have just
been one game, but if we’re counting the preseason then there’s enough of a
sample that I have no qualms about the switch this early.
What I’m not overly excited about was that McLellan had
McDavid playing with Pouliot and Korpikoski on Friday while Hall was with RNH and
I have nothing against Benoit Pouliot, in fact I quite like
the idea of him with McDavid. Pouliot does a lot of little things really well
and he has always added a significant amount of even strength scoring. He’s in
the offensive zone a lot and he forechecks like a man possessed. The part that doesn’t
excite me is him playing with Korpikoski.
We’re talking about a winger in Lauri Korpikoski who hasn’t hit
double digit goals since the 2011-2012 season. Forgive my concern that he might
not be the best fit for McDavid.
In game one we saw Nail Yakupov look sharp. He,
specifically, performed very well in shot attempts for and against, forechecked
aggressively, and was all over loose pucks. He also only played a little more
than 12 minutes in the game. I’m not going to say that the Oilers NEED to play
him with McDavid, but I’m not sure how many more games he can play like that
and be kept out of the top six.
That said, McDavid is a playmaking center who carries the
puck and needs to find a winger who can act as a shooter for him. Nail Yakupov
is a winger with obvious shooting ability who is trying to prove he can be the
player he was drafted to be. If it’s not worth a shot now I think it will be
soon if the Russian maintains solid possession numbers on the third
I have another player in mind who I believe had the best
chemistry and success with McDavid and he played RW with him while doing it,
but he’s not in the NHL right now. Naturally, I’m thinking about Leon
Draisaitl. I can’t imagine the Korpikoski experiment working out long term. It’s
difficult to look at that line and not picture Draisaitl on the right side. The
two of them clicked in the preseason and I thought it was bizarre that the
staff didn’t give them more time together.
How long before that happens? Hey, it’s just one game into
the season. Let’s just see how this plays out over the next couple weeks.