The New Forward Order

29-Draisaitl-3

Necessity, according to the old saying, is the mother of invention. It certainly explains how the line of Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl and Teddy Purcell ended up playing together against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

The surprise is that the line worked. If it continues to work as other players get healthy, the Oilers may just be able to run two competent scoring lines even in the absence of Connor McDavid.

Certainly that’s what head coach Todd McLellan is hoping for; he hinted on Monday that the plan was to keep that unit together and perhaps build a second line around Ryan Nugent-Hopkins:

We’ll see how strong Nuge is when he gets healthy and when that happens and then we’ll make some decisions moving forward. I liked Teddy Purcell’s game; I thought it was his best of the year against a heavy team. I thought that line with Leon and Taylor drove the team that night, provided a lot of offence, fairly good defensively. That’s a really positive sign. I know that Pouliot, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle have played in the past and been productive, so maybe we’re working towards something to get a little bit of depth, offensive depth from two lines, but we need to get guys healthy and up and running to get to that point.

That’s a pretty reasonable plan, and might lead to a forward depth chart that looks something like this:

  • Pouliot—Nugent-Hopkins—Eberle
  • Hall—Draisaitl—Purcell
  • Hendricks—Letestu—Yakupov
  • Gazdic—Lander—Pakarinen

Possible Problems

14-Eberle-7

That looks good on paper, but there are some potential challenges.

Jordan Eberle. Eberle’s health has been an issue this season; I doubt we’ve even seen one game yet from him where he’s truly at 100 percent. It’s hard not to flash back to last season, where he had real difficulty shooting in the early months of the year and was a major contributor to the Oilers problems in the shooting percentage department. If he’s healthy, he can help carry a line. Edmonton needs that right now.

16-Purcell-6

Teddy Purcell. Purcell had a brilliant game against the Kings; arguably he out-shone even his impressive linemates. Still, there are going to be those who wonder if he’s really capable of holding down this job for more than a game or two at a time; Purcell’s stint in Edmonton hasn’t exactly been an unqualified success. Of interest: He was at his best in limited minutes with Hall last season, and has a history as a complementary winger to marquee talent. Since joining the Oilers, Purcell and Hall together have a 52.5% Corsi number, which represents a massive bump on Purcell’s work without Hall but also represents a small bump on Hall’s work without Purcell. I’m not saying it’s definitely going to work, but there’s a decent chance it does. It’s also worth keeping in mind that Purcell is in a contract year.

67-Pouliot-6

Benoit Pouliot. One of the problems with looking at just point totals is that it doesn’t show the difference between power play success and five-on-five success (it also doesn’t account for ice-time, but that’s another matter). Pouliot has always been underrated at five-on-five because he’s not very good on the power play, but since 2010-11 he’s scored 138 points at even-strength. That ranks No. 116 in the league, which is top-end second line production even before we allow for the fact that he’s generally played bottom-six minutes. In terms of points/hour at evens over the same span, he’s tied for No. 60 in NHL scoring, with Brandon Saad and Henrik Zetterberg, ahead of people like Jeff Carter, Eric Staal and Logan Couture. The man can play top-six minutes in the NHL at five-on-five so there’s no need to worry about him.

55-Letestu-2

Anton Lander/Mark Letestu. Yes, the bottom two lines are centered by men who have been offensive non-factors so far this season. Lander’s a mess, seemingly having reverted to his pre-Todd Nelson impotence. Letestu wasn’t placed in a position to produce offence early, so there’s at least a chance he breaks out (relatively speaking) in a top-nine role, but it needs to happen fast. Looking long-term, Lander’s only being paid to be a fourth-line guy, but Letestu is 30 years old and pulling down $1.8 million per season this year and two more; that’s pricey if he ends up being a pure fourth-line centre.

64-Yakupov-8

Nail Yakupov. Sticking Yakupov in this role stinks. It really does. There’s an off chance it could work; it gives him two veterans with good defensive credentials, it makes him the feature player on the line and if Letestu can recapture some of his past scoring touch Yakupov might not even have to carry the offensive load alone. It’s still not close to ideal, and if we’re coming up with reasons the McDavid injury is a huge problem it’s hard to look past this one.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Aendayana777

    hey so cool story guys, my wife and I were leaving downtown around 2 and ran into Yakupov. We said hi and he was kind of reserved then we told the story of seeing his best ever game and he’s like what? Told him we were at the Canada VS Russia game in Calgary and his face lit up. this kid is a keeper he wants to win and with 97 he will.

  • Semi

    Re Yak: Love the kid, but honestly he needs to settle down. He is all over the place going nowhere fast.!His jitterbug skating is a machine for off sides too often. Not sure about his hockey IQ either.

    The bottom line is playing him with MxcDavid is a dis-service to the team and to McDavid.

    McDavid is a heck of play maker. and you are asking him to feed the puck to a guy who has a
    4.80 shooting %. Yak has the third most shots on the team but couldn’t hit the barn door with a pail of pucks.

    McDavid needs to be feeding pucks to guys that can hit the net.

  • S cottV

    Why keep excusing Eberle?
    Even when “healthy” he is a physical non-factor.
    It is overdue that he was not traded for real defensive help.

    As for the abuse of Yakupov, yes it is awful. Playing him with Letustu and Hendricks is like asking him to fail. Hardly a wise move when his trade value has to be increased. He should be playing with Draisatl.

    At some point, both Yakupov and Eberle are gone. At some point, this point needs to be deconstructed.

    That should have been in the summer and wasn’t. Incompetence

    Lastly, playing Gryba and Schultz is a concession to losing. That is probably the Chiarelli objective funciton, lose, save money, find cap space, lower the bar, stay out of sight.

    How not playing Reinhart and Nurse for the rest of the season doesn’t happen I cannot understand if the actual intention of Chiarelli was to have competed in this season. Evident that he has no intention to do so.

    He should dismissed tonight.

    • You’re only figuring out NOW that there wasn’t any intention to compete this year? Dude we started the season with AHL level D and two backup goalies. There was NEVER any intent to compete.

  • Yak thrives under vocal centers that know what they’re talking about, whether it was an experienced Roy or a confident McDavid.

    Letestu has a decent amount of experience and seems well spoken and not very shy in interviews, I’m not averse to giving this a few games while Purcell has found his feet and was trending upward since McDavid’s injury.

  • Randaman

    Thoughts on the Yak controversy (within ON anyways);

    Yak was a #1 overall pick. Lesser draft class? Yes

    Hall was a#1 overall pick. Nuge was a #1 overall pick. McDavid was a #1 overall pick. Drai was a #3 overall pick. Eberle was a #22 overall pick. Pouliot was a#4 overall pick.

    The second group are all better hockey players than Yak (hands down)and are more valuable long term in my view. We’re trying to build a complete team going forward, right?

    Nurse or Klefbom are not going anywhere so who out of that second group would you package in a deal ahead of Yak? Eberle, maybe and that’s a pretty big maybe

    I’m not dissing Yak but…

    Some players will not be here next year. I think we can all see that coming.

  • lav

    Our Lines will be awesome when McDavid Returns.

    Hall-Drai-Purcell
    Pouliot-RNH-Eberle
    Hendricks-McDavid-Yak
    Lander-Letestu-Pak

    Put Hendricks out there with McDavid and Yak since he has speed, good 2-way play, and he can drop the gloves too, if anyone tries anything with McDavid.

    Makes our 4th line look better too, with 2 good face-off men, and guys that have strong defensive play.

    Now lets solidify the D and get Talbot playing better.

  • Jaxon

    I don’t like the idea of trading any of the forwards in the soon-to-be top 9, except maybe Purcell. I’m guessing Slepyshev will be an impact player before the end of the season. Roll these lines and teams will have fits trying to defend them, especially by the 2017-2018 season, which is before we have any real cap problems (ages shown for October 1st, 2017). I think it’s generally accepted that forwards hit their prime in the 24,25,26 year range and tail off slowly. And McDavid and Draisaitl are already looking elite, so wow, I’d hate to defend this team:

    Pouliot (31) / McDavid (20) / Yakupov (23)

    Hall (25) / Draisaitl (21) / Pakarinen (26), Purcell (32) or RW replacement?

    Slepyshev (23) / Nugent-Hopkins (24) / Eberle (27)

    Spend max $3 million on the entire 4th line full of speedy checkers that get maybe 2-3 minutes per period (Yakimov, Lander, Pakarinen?) give the top 9 forwards 17-18 minutes per game.

  • Spiel

    With Drai playing so well, and McDavid being McDavid, how until the Oilers have a 3rd line C in RNH making $6M per season?

    Cap crunch is coming. If it looks like Drai and McDavid are going to be the #1/#2C for this team, wouldn’t it make sense to trade RNH for the ever elusive d-man. He might actually get a quality player in return.