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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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


    • 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” ..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

  • 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

  • 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

    • 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.

  • BobbyCanuck

    With your lines in mind, McDavid’s return (with Yakupov) would push Letestu down to the fourth line, leaving Lander as a healthy scratch at best. Pouliot could play first or third line, and heaven knows we have any number of utility wingers to fill the other wing, be it Hendricks or, if Hendricks plays fourth line with Letestu, someone else.

  • camdog

    Eberle hasn’t looking 100% healthy in over 2 years. Whether it’s a hand injury or something else, but then again if I played in the NHL I’d never be move than 75% healthy..

    Yak with Hendricks is good (Letestu not so much). It’s tough to generate offence on the Oilers 3rd line because they usually get paired with the d-man that can’t move the puck. There aren’t many wingers in the league (maybe 20)that will score goals with the Oilers 3rd/4th line centres and the third pairing d pair.

    • 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.

  • Hemmercules

    If Eberle isn’t 100% I would swap him and Yak. I don’t see Yak getting a lot going with Hendricks and Letestu. That will give Ebs a few less minutes and some easier competition.

    • TKB2677

      The problem with that is ever since McDavid went down, Yak has completely disappeared. 1 goal in 12 games, 1 point since McDavid went down if I am not mistaken. In fact, every since McDavid went down, he’s been a drag on his line as the play seems to die on his stick. The Oilers desperately need some secondary scoring and if putting Pouliot, Nuge and Eberle can produce even close to what they did at the end of last year, you have to try it.

  • 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…..

  • 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.

  • Our saving grace will be an unbelievably skilled (while not particularly heavy) top-9, when healthy. Or should I say if…

    67-93-14
    51-97-10
    4-29-16
    28-55-23

    That’s a pretty damn solid forward group imo, and pretty much guarantees a high number of chances even if a player or an entire line is slumping. Fourth line players all have the ability to move up as needed.

  • bradleypi

    Man I feel bad for this team. Willis can you think of any other team that has had to constantly shuffle lines and still had success?

    It seems like just as a line builds chemistry, it’s being switched up. I remember Nail saying last year under Nelson having the same lines in practice then in games really helped. I know, the top six could and should be okay, but how much is the bottom six not contributing because they are playing with brand new people every night?

    Same goes for defence I think.

    • Maybe that’s an argument against trading players so often, so there’s some built-in familiarity with the rest of the roster.

      Chicago shuffled their lines repeatedly in last year’s playoffs, including going to and then away from a Toews/Kane super-line. Plus, with injuries and the like it’s hard to maintain lines a lot of times.

  • BobbyCanuck

    JW,

    You’re categorizing Yak’s placement on the 3rd line as a mistake then? If so you advocate for ice time and linemates based on something other than merit?

    He was red hot but playing with hockey GOD. He’s been all but quiet since the injury to McDavid, and while his defenseively play looks better, he’s still doing some weird stuff out there. For example, and this is one thing that will drive coaches absolutely INSANE. At the end of a shift where turnovers oft happen, Nail still thinks this is a good time to glide and actually appear to make a production of coming off the ice slowly. Until he figures out he needs to bust is ass to that bench Todd’s going to have trouble rewarding lacklustre play.

    Purcell takes a lot of flack for his hockey DNA. Not physical. That Newf has a sweet pair of hands however, and more imortantly is smart out there. One piece of anecdotal nuance that analytics don’t cover. But that’s why so long as there are players drafted into the pro game, there’s going to be paid eyes watching. Real humans processing things in their own internal calculator and computer.

    • I didn’t say it was a mistake to play Yakupov on the third line. I don’t think it is. A coach has to juggle many demands and sometimes there’s no choice but to make an unpleasant decision.

      Having said that, yes, I do believe in building lines on things other than merit. So does Todd McLellan:

      As roster decisions are made they’re made for a number of different reasons. One, performance, two gaining experience, three the opposition that we’re playing and the ingredients we might need, four, sometimes is asset management with our team and around the league, five might be an organizational plan that we have for an individual player. So there’s a lot of different reasons why those decisions are made. It’s not always just based purely on performance, although most of it does come down to that.

    • Semi

      And which games, exactly, can I go back and watch Yak “make a production” out of a line change?

      I don’t like to assume, but it seems to me like you watched last game, saw the announcers call him out for 1 bad change, and are now trying to make it seem like this is a problem you’ve identified for some time.

      I could very well be wrong, so if you have examples, I would genuinely like to see them.

      • lav

        I’m not about to go back through the PVR to find the last one. It was against the Ducks or Chicago I think. I saw him do it live against the Bruins last year. Painful to watch… Watch him closely at the end of shifts and you’ll see it. And I like Yak. I do. I think he’s got a good attitude and a great toolset but just does some head scratching stuff out there. And I don’t think him playing in the 3rd line for a few games “stinks” as JW so eloquently states. I believe it may be more about rewarding Purcell for his effort and that’s just good coaching.

  • Delete

    Perhaps a right handed center would be a good fit for Yakupov? I can’t recall him playing with a right handed forward this season, although it looks like he took a few shifts with Slepyshev and Purcell at some point.

  • Delete

    When McDavid returns put yak on his wing to showcase him. When he’s streaking trade him for a quality D man prospect to a team like Nashville or St Louis (stacked with D men). Pump and dump.

  • I think Yak sees the game differently than most “North-South” players, which is why he doesn’t work with bottom sixers. He is absolutely chaotic and it seems he needs a player like McDavid who can see the game more three-dimensionally. Yak likes to go to open spaces to anticipate a pass or opportunity for a scoring chance. In that way he’s a perfect foil for McDavid’s talents.

    Problem is he’ll basically be in a holding pattern until Connor gets back. It’s a damn shame but I suppose it’s the hand he’s been dealt.

    Come to think of it he might work with non-confidence shattered Lander, if and when that guy comes back.

  • Rob...

    Can’t help but feel bad for Derek Roy. I keep hearing talk about how Yak can’t play with anything but an elite generational talent center and yet there’s Roy, who couldn’t even make another NHL team. Yet when he was combined with Yak they became a duo that gave other teams fits.

  • 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.

  • 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!

    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.

  • 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.

  • Rob...

    If those top 2 lines work and McDavid returns between Yak and Hendy we could have 3 scoring line (each with 15min of 5on5, the elites getting pp time on top). I’d say the odds are against that working but us Oilers fans are taught to hope, aren’t we?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    10 games with this line up will tells what we have;

    Pouliot-McDavid-Yakupov
    Hall-Driasaitl-Pakarinen
    Slepyshev-Hopkins-Eberle
    Hendricks-Letestu-Klinkhammer

    Nurse-Sekera
    Klefbom-Davidson
    Reinhart-Shultz

    Talbot
    Nilsson