The New Forward Order


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


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.


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.


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.


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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.


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.


    • 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!

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • bradleypi

        What you have described is called “Peters Principle” 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

  • S cottV

    The Yak – McD thing was about to come to an end, even if McD was still playing.

    You could see that McD’s performance while looking damn good, might be even better away from Yak. You could see through McD’s veiled body language, that he was getting frustrated with Yak.

    Think about it? Yak can’t play with anyone but McD? Tells me that McD is probably better off playing with the best possible wingers that can be allotted to him.

    Oilers were bound to test him with others for stretches of time. I really think that it would not have taken long before it was pretty obvious – McD could not be re-saddled with Yak.

    Sorry – but Yak is a complete mess and the only reason to screw with McD’s max potential, might be a short term plan to prop him up in any kind of trade scenario.

    That being said – no nuts and bolts hockey guy is gonna touch that one with a 10 foot pole. Need someone dumber than whoever took Yak #1 overall and I’m not sure that guy exists amongst the other 29 teams.

  • Hemmercules

    Yak is a bust. He can only play well if he has a star centre with him. Maybe we should pump up his numbers when McD returns and then trade him (package Purcell and Nikitan in the deal for free).

    • bradleypi

      If he’s such a bust, how would you go about “pumping up his numbers”? And if he’s putting up numbers then why would you trade him? I dont get the logic here…..

    • 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!

    Hall and Leon carried the team the last couple games. Why did this article say that we had a outstanding game and out show his linemateds. he got a lucky goal but otherwise he has been brutal.

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    Used to be 5 in 7 meant 5 Stanley Cups in 7 years. Now it means 5 1st overall draft picks in 7 years. The Oilers 1st overall selection in the 2016 draft is Auston Matthews! (17 points in 14 games in the Swiss league this year) Maybe next year is the Oilers year. Auston Matthews is the new forward!

  • BobbyCanuck

    I do not like those line combos

    But, I guess with our lack of depth down the centre we have no choice

    Hall-RNH-Dria were on fire,

    Purcell finally played a game like he was a top 6 player

    I was stunned a few games back, when Eberle actually chased the puck all the way back to our goal line, perhaps he is entering into the two-way player phase of his career. One can hope.

    This is Yak’s chance to prove that he can carry a line…if not he could be trade bait. Remember Semenko got 32 goals playing with Gretz one year (or something like that).

    Lets hope this little line shake-up lights a collective fire under the team

  • 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.