Collecting Centermen

Gotta Catch Em All

Before the game against the Canucks, the Oilers had its
customary pregame availability for Head Coach Todd McLellan and he went over his
Power Play, some expectations for Kassian, but – more important to the
long-term makeup of the Oilers—he delved deeper into his position on having centermen
like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the lineup.

Running counter to any sort of common sense has been this
ever-present question of what the Oilers are going to do with too many quality
centermen. I mean, <Melodramatic Voice> what ever could the Oilers do
with Draisaitl, McDavid, and RNH?</Melodramatic Voice> That’s three
centers and the last time I checked there were only two centers on the top two
lines. I did the math. It checks out. Obviously one of them has to be traded to
the Leafs for the negotiating rights to the ghost of Darcy Tucker or something.

I jest, but the way people have been talking about the
Oilers all year (looking at you Nick Kypreos) you would think the Oilers have
no options whatsoever when it comes to their centers moving forward. However,
yesterday Todd McLellan went a little deeper into his philosophy at the pivot
position. As you can imagine, he doesn’t see much of a problem at all. Nor
should he.

The availability, I believe, gives pretty good insight into
the priorities this coaching staff has for its roster. And, by extensions, we
can likely link McLellan’s thoughts to those of his General Manager. If we can
assume that the two are on the same page or very close to it then all of the
speculation about the Nuge is starting to feel unnecessary. RNH allows this
coaching staff to have a wide variety of options with the other pieces the
Oilers have acquired. Here’s what McLellan had to say.

Nuge is the key there. We’ve got to figure out…he’s got to get
his game going first of all, and get it up and running. And I think in the
three that he’s played he’s improved on a nightly basis. You know, listening to
him talk a little bit he’s feeling a little better and a little more confident
in his hand and his hands, and the timing and that type of stuff. So we’ll
continue on that way. It can be a tough matchup for other teams if all three
lines are playing well but I still believe at some point we’ll put some groups
of players together just to see what we have. We need to answer a few questions
before April 10th.

Mark Spector asked McLellan about using three centers down the middle or loading up a line with two centers and a winger.

My position is I firmly believe a center can go over to the
wing and be comfortable. I feel fairly good, he’s got to experience the boards
a little bit, pinching and that type of stuff. I think its much more difficult
to take wingers and put them in the middle. So collecting centermen isn’t a
problem from my perspective. We can move them around a little bit and I feel
comfortable about that. We’ve done that before. Good players want to play with
good players. And it’s as simple as that.

If you have a perception, the Sedins – they’re probably
lining up in Vancouver to play with Daniel and Henrik. Even the defensemen may even
sneak in line every now and then and want to play up there with them. They’re
that good.  

Jim Matheson asked McLellan about what it was like moving Pavelski to the wing.

There are four centermen in this photo

Well the first one was Marleau to the wing. It was fine. He
wanted to play with Joe Thornton. So it was a pretty easy explanation. “Patty,
I’d like to put you on the wing so that you can play with Joe Thornton.” Done.
Let’s go practice, and away he went. And then Pavelski was the same thing. “We
can put you in the 3 hole or we can move you up to play with Joe Thornton. What
would you like to do?” Joe, lets go practice. It wasn’t difficult at all.

Matheson followed up with asking about having a player like Couture down the middle as well.

And you know when Logan came up in a playoff series against
Detroit we had Manny Malhotra in the middle and we put Logan to the wing. Just
because we trusted Manny in the middle there a little more, he had that
experience. So it’s ever evolving.

If you look at the way we play, the centers take the draw,
sometimes the wingers take draws, lefties and righties. If you watch San Jose,
Joe Pavelski takes draws on the right hand side, Jumbo takes them on the left
hand side. You go to center ice and they’ll switch off based on which side the
referee is standing on so they have comfort. It doesn’t matter. There’s three
forwards that interact and they move around and they trust each other and they
have chemistry. That’s what we’ll look for.

The whole segment of the availability highlights how many
options you have as a coach and as a team when you have a multitude of quality
centers. The Oilers are able to go three lines deep, especially when healthy,
having enough duos to run Draisaitl-Hall, McDavid-Pouliot, and RNH-Eberle one
after the other.

Three scoring lines are only possible when you have three
quality centermen.

But starting the game running three lines doesn’t necessitate
finishing the same way, as the Oilers showed last night. Once the game was in
its back half the coaching staff put RNH up with Hall and Draisaitl. Leon
shifted to the wing while the more defensively established Nugent-Hopkins
provided stability.

So three quality centers can stretch the defense thin over
the first half of the game then allow the club to show a completely different
look in the second half. McLellan applied during the game what he was referring
to in theory before it.

There’s a certain fluidity to how McLellan envisions the
forward groups, and that fluidity is derived from his centers’ ability to play
all over the lineup. Edmonton, today, has the roster to support that. While
there were injuries it was much more rigid in its structure. Now that he has
three centers the possibilities open up all over the ice to be more effective
in a multitude of situations.

Does that sound like something either McLellan or Chiarelli
is going to want to give up easily?

No, I imagine not.

  • OILFANMEXICO

    I can only hope that some day we will open up our season with 98% or more of the same players and staff we had the previous season.Playoff teams have been gelling together for years with rentals coming in at trade deadline.

    We will take a huge step forward when we can sort out our lines and fill in the missing pieces. Trading half our team every year is killing us, over and over imo.

  • CMG30

    Don’t know why it bares repeating but any player can and should be traded if the GM thinks the return will be a net benefit to the team both now and in the long term.

    That being said, it’s difficult to imagine plausible scenarios where a trade involving RNH makes sense for the Oil. Especially when you consider what they would be giving up.

    The other aspect that must be guarded against is cashing RNH for a lesser player and spare change ‘to equal up the value’. This is the precise formula that Oiler management have been following throughout the decade of despair. The old maxim holds true: ‘the team who gets the best player wins the trade’ and I can’t think of many trades the Oil have made since Pronger (and maybe now Maroon) that they’ve won.

    IMHO, it’s high time the Oilers started to win some trades. In PC we trust.