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.

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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.

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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

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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


  • lav

    On the plus side, since the summer many of the discussions surrounding the forwards have talked about keeping them in pairs and rotating the third guy. We now know exactly who the pairs should be when McDavid is healthy and going forward:

    RNH-Eberle

    Draisatl-Hall

    McDavid-Yakupov

    Fill in the rest with Pouliot, Purcell and whoever and you’ve actually got the mythical creature known as three scoring lines. Replace Purcell with Slepyshev next season, sign some free agent forward, and fill out the bottom line with some combo of Lander, Letestu, Hendricks, Gazdic, Pitlick, Pakarainen, Yakimov, or Khaira, and you’ve got a good looking forward group.

    Alas, if only the defence and goaltending were so simple…

    • GeneralJultz

      Hendricks proved he can be a reasonable complimentary player on a skill line earlier this year.

      Hall-Drai-Purcell
      Pouliot-McDavid-Yakupov
      Hendricks-Nuge-Eberle

      Boom, three scoring lines

  • BobbyCanuck

    I just don’t get this attitude against Yak. What difference does it make that he was picked first overall and is not performing to the standard of a first overall ? He was the odds on favorite to go first in 2012. The only other name being considered by any pundit was Ryan Murray. Murray has been injury prone for his whole career. I would also bet real money ( if it’s possible to find the stats) that he has been a healthy scratch more times than Yak. Reinhart went fourth that year. Now, in his draft year + 4 he is just starting to feel his way into a pro career. Again, so what ?
    The truth is that draft pedigree means squat. If YAK had been picked 41st would people still not want him on this team? He is a serviceable middle six RW who has lots of potential to score 30/40 goals/year on McDavid’s right side. He is value-priced at $2.5.
    Get over it folks.

    • neojanus

      No, Talbot is still a problem. It’s like having two infections at once. They both contribute to poor health.

      No matter how bad a defense is, they have nothing to do with not being able to close the gaps at the post or force you to mishandle pucks on low risk plays.

      Don’t get me wrong; this Oilers defense is still tragically flawed (Christ on a pogo stick), but Talbot is not just a symptom, he’s a big reason we don’t have 3-6 more points.

      Put in the D corps, and they eat 10 more points.

      Now I will go to my room and cry.

    • S cottV

      Yes and No. yes the D has left Talbot vulnerable and not helping him much but coupled with a few boneheaded plays and weak goals an NHL goalie would never let in is also contributing to his poor numbers.

      Talbot regaining focus and playing better will improve the team, a little.

  • 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.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    If Yakupov can’t find his game without McDavid, you can bet that once McDavid returns, they will:
    – reunite the pair
    – inflate Yak’s numbers
    – trade Yak

    I like Yak. The idea of pairing Yak with McDavid for the next few years, since they seem to have good chemistry, is alluring. But if Yakupov can’t drive his own line, then he’s not really worth keeping… especially if we can get a decent return for him (I’m not sure if we can).

    • For Pete's Sake!

      complimentary players are not worth keeping? only players who can drive a line are worth keeping?

      Cool, so we only need 10 more top 5 picks for our forwards group then…

    • Semi

      Yes good idea he can’t drive a line so he should be traded.

      Because Hall, Eberle, Nuge really rack up points when playing with career 3rd and 4th liners.

      Lol give your head a shake man, if the guy is given an opportunity, like with Roy last year and McDavid this year he is a top 6 offensive player on the team.
      He may not be elite but guess what….your not going to have a line up full of Taylor Halls…you need secondary scoring.

      He makes 2.5 million and is second on the team in assists. Lay off the guy, just because he was drafted 1st overall doesn’t mean you should expect him to produce like a superstar when he’s playing with grinders.

      Hall “drives” a line, yet he was a disaster with McDavid…Crosby has been looking for a forward to play with for years. Don’t downplay chemistry, it’s not always easy to find

      So what if Yak is a complimentary player, you still need those.

      Personally I’m sick of all the slack Eberle is being given because he’s not “100%”

      If he’s not a 100% then what the hell is he doing playing? All the other young guns have always been gifted talented line mates and prime minutes yet when they don’t produce its non stop excuses but yak gets grilled.

      I’m a huge fan of ebs, but, there’s a lot of Canadian bias in this city.

    • I used to work with a guy. He was a fantastic tradesmen, really detail-oriented, very experienced, highly competent. He got bumped into a foreman position and it was a struggle; his emotions got the better of him and ultimately he wasn’t a good fit for the role despite his exceptional technical ability.

      If I were running a company in the same line of work right now, I’d hire him tomorrow for any number of positions because in certain jobs he was brilliant. I wouldn’t hire him on as a manager.

      I would imagine that Peter Chiarelli is evaluating the personnel he has to see if they are good fits for given roles inside the Oilers organization. I further expect that if they are he will keep them, regardless of history in other roles, and that if they aren’t they’ll eventually be pushed out of the organization.

      • bradleypi

        What you have described is called “Peters Principle” ..no kidding look it up! .It is the theory that people rise through an organization to their level of incompentcy and then if you take them back down a step instead of firing them you will have a very good employee

      • tileguy

        I got no problem with that. I bet that guy was an excellent tradesman. You’d have to be to get promoted. Once the company realized they made a mistake promoting him and he wasn’t a good fit for the role what did they do? Probably either fired him or put him back down as a tradesman. I’m sure they didn’t just promote him again or keep him around to advise their next hire.

        And it’s nice to know that you thought so highly of him that you would hire him. im sure the OBC know other people in the league that will hire them too.

    • BobbyCanuck

      Maybe he cannot just fire them, perhaps they are going to be some part of the management team for the rest of their lives.

      Why? Management gets their name on the Cup, this would full fill Katz dream of winning the cup with the good ole boys.

      Would it sicken us to see KLowe, Mact, and Howsens name on the cup? Or would we not care, because we won the cup!

  • BobbyCanuck

    You don’t trade Yak when he’s on a 2.5M deal unless someone comes offering a deal you can’t turn down (not happening).

    So he’s not going to put up 60 points – but he’ll put up twice as many as Korpikoski who is getting paid the same. The best case scenario is that Yak continues to improve as a complimentary player and he and his agent recognize he is just that – a complimentary player. If he accepts he isn’t a superstar player and ends up on a deal in the 2.5-4M range I don’t think you can really complain about that and the Oilers would be smart to keep him around as cheap wingers who can finish will be hard to pay once Drai, McD, Nurse, and Reinhart are extended.

    • AJ88

      As a former #1 pick Yak should be making line mates look better no matter who they are. If Yak can only play with certain players and not others then it is time to make a decision on him. Time for Yak to sink or swim.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    It is too bad Yak gets relegated to 3rd line, but 100% agree with those lines.

    Now if only McDavid were back already…

    Pouliot – Nuge – Ebs

    Hall – Drai – Purcell

    Lander – McDavid – Yak

    Hendricks/Lander – Letestu – Pakarinen/Klink

    McDavid is a guy who makes those around him better – I think Lander and Yak would flourish and we’d all be wondering which of those top 3 lines is the 3rd line.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    I’d have Letestu play with Hendricks and Pakarinen, bring up big Bogdan and Slepy and have an all Russian line of Slepy + Yak + Yak.

    That would be fun to watch. Why not stir things up bit?

    Let Lander sit in the press box for awhile. Might help him figure things out.