The Pittsburgh Penguins & Three Scoring Lines

Watching the Pittsburgh Penguins dominate
the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup final had to be interesting for the
managers of the Edmonton Oilers. In a lot of ways, the Pens’ roster—though obviously
better—has similarities to that of the Oilers.

Like Edmonton, Pittsburgh has a
relatively weak defence that needed careful management. Like Edmonton, the
Penguins boast a collection of high-end scoring stars mixed with less potent
depth pieces. It’s worth looking at how Pittsburgh found success with that
profile of roster. It starts with how they use their forwards.

Edmonton’s approach in Todd
McLellan’s first year with the team has been to concentrate scoring power on
two lines. In fairness to McLellan, a) injuries didn’t leave him much choice
and b) it’s still debatable to what degree a coach should load lines up and/or
distribute talent throughout his top-nine.

What isn’t debatable is that the
last two Cup winners have for the most part taken a “distributed” approach.
Chicago has generally played Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on separate lines,
creating matchup problems for the opposition. Pittsburgh took things a step
further in the playoffs with three potent lines:

  • Conor Sheary / Sidney Crosby / Patric Hornqvist. The top line was
    built on the duo of Crosby and Hornqvist, with the left wing varying depending
    on any number of factors. For the most part, though, Sheary was the choice
    despite bringing even less size to the mix than his linemates and despite being
    a 23-year-old NHL rookie of no particular pedigree.
  • Carl Hagelin / Nick Bonino / Phil Kessel. This was perhaps the team’s
    most “loaded” line. Bonino has been a stats darling for years despite his seeming
    lack of cachet league-wide. Hagelin’s a brilliant player in a lot of ways and skates
    like the wind, though the “he’s never scored 20 goals or had 40 points” club
    doesn’t like him. Kessel, meanwhile, was much
    during his time in Toronto but was the Penguins most reliable
    offensive contributor in the postseason.
  • Chris Kunitz / Evgeni Malkin / Bryan Rust. Malkin had a disappointing
    playoffs in some ways, but still put up 18 points in 24 games. Kunitz scored at
    the ~40 point pace which seems to be his new level. Rust, another tiny rookie
    with an unremarkable past, scored six goals. This unit had some key moments, particularly
    in the third round.

Coach Mike Sullivan clearly
believes it’s a top-nine league and deployed his talent accordingly. Sheary and
Rust are unconventional choices for the top-nine, but both have some key points
in their favour. A key one is salary. Pittsburgh spends big on its stars
(Crosby, Malkin, to a lesser degree Kessel) and has some pricey complementary
pieces in Hornqvist, Hagelin and Kunitz. Rust and Sheary combined have a cap
hit of just $1.3 million next year.

Additionally, both guys can play.
Sheary is tiny but put up big numbers in the AHL and scored 1.8 points/hour at
evens in the playoffs. Rust is another player who fits the “soft skill” mold so
derided in Edmonton (he’s a 5’11”, 192-pound winger who has taken just 16 minor
penalties in 118 career pro games) but he had a 54 percent Corsi rating in the

Obviously, neither guy is driving
results on his line, but being able to play a complementary role at that price
point makes both great bargains.


The funny thing is that if
Edmonton wants to do so, it can follow Pittsburgh’s lead easily enough by
building three lines around forward pairs:

  • Connor McDavid and one of Benoit
    Pouliot or Jordan Eberle
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the other
    of Pouliot/Eberle
  • Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl

Split those six players over
three lines, fill in the gaps with complementary pieces (there are probably a
half-dozen options just internally, starting with Patrick Maroon) and then use
the fourth line in a defensive zone role as Pittsburgh did with Matt Cullen’s

Reading the tea leaves, I’m
skeptical that Edmonton plans to employ a three-line attack, but I wonder
whether Pittsburgh’s success late in the year might not change that view.  

The Draft Party

Tuxedo layout

There are few certainties in life – we can always count on the sun coming up in the morning, Edmonton winters being dreadful, and the Oilers missing the playoffs. As such, we present the annual OilersNation Draft Party! It’s time to honour the the anniversary of drafting our beloved Connor, celebrate the rewards of another failed season, and raise some money for charity.

Here’s what you need to know…

The party is happening at the Pint Downtown on Friday, June 24th. The goal is to raise as much money as possible for the Red Cross and their efforts to bring normalcy back to Fort McMurray, and have a little bit of fun while we’re at it. For $30 you get a Draft Party t-shirt, a $10 Pint GC, a $10 Oodle Noodle GC, a draft party collectors cup, and a chance for prizes and eternal glory.

All proceeds from tickets sold will be donated directly to the Red Cross so bring your friends, get involved, and help us support a community in need. Tickets are still available here.

One day, the Oilers will be a good hockey team and we’ll all be able to laugh about this. Until then, we party.

  • Jordanzza

    I’d say hanging onto Yak could make this really interesting if they tell him he’s got this next season to pump up his value. Attach him to the opposite hip of McDavid again and let him ride all the way to the trade deadline. If we still want to part ways next March great, otherwise I think there’s a really good chance he’s worth more to us as a complimentary top 6 winger than whatever another NHL club is willing to give us this summer for him. (I like Sanheim’s development but do we REALLY need another up and coming LHD?)

    Trade Fayne, Pouliot, ++ to get a legit top 4 RHD (i.e. Faulk), sign Lucic, Demers and Gryba and we are rolling in the right direction to push for a Western Wildcard.

    Lucic – McDavid – Yakupov

    Hall – Draisaitl – Pakarinen

    Maroon – Nuge – Eberle

    Hendricks – Letestu – Kassian

    Sekera – Faulk

    Klefbom – Demers

    Davidson – Gryba

    Kinda gotta look past the “2 players on the 3rd line making $6m” hangup when you’re deploying the top 9 evenly as 1A/B/C like the Pens.

    • One thing about dealing Pouliot and adding Lucic at left wing is that it makes you a lot slower than the Penguins.

      One of the reasons I like Pouliot/Maroon in the middle six is that they have different skills. Both have good hands, but Pouliot gives you speed while Maroon gives you incredible size.

      If you switch to Lucic/Maroon as your the middle-six LWs you’re more vulnerable against speed because of duplicated skills.

          • Is it not just a case of big guy looks slow? I mean, I still think Draisaitl is slow but he won fastest skater at the skills comp. Pouliot is big, but he has a thinner frame which maybe gives him the illusion of speed?

            I’ll defer to you on this, but just from what I’ve heard from Boston fans, Lucic is not actually as slow as people might think. The one report I read is that he doesn’t play his hardest game every single night. But when he’s on, he’s unstoppable.

            Maybe its a moot point given he is not an Oiler, but I am really warming up to the idea of having him on the team, even in the face of a cup win from a team that outpaced its competition.

          • fran huckzky

            History tells us that big tough power forwards tend to wear out a lot faster than speedy finesse players and have much shorter careers. I don’t mind the Oil going after Lucic but I will be peed off if they sign him for big bucks for longer than 3 years.

      • Jordanzza

        Fair enough, but if Lucic is riding shotgun for McDavid (and in this case another faster winger in Yakupov), then I’m not really worried about Milan’s ability to headman the puck with speed and beat guys wide or split defenders. With his ability to protect the puck down low, own the front of the net and generally open up space for the other two forwards he can play pinball bumper in the neutral zone for all I care.

        As long as the Coke machines aren’t on the ice together, I think we are okay with Lucic, Draisaitl, Maroon and Kassian literally anchoring each line. Especially with the speed of Connor, Hall, Nuge etc.

      • a lg dubl dubl

        But wouldn’t the speed in the 3 different lines come from Eberle, RNH, Hall, McDavid, Drai, to offset the slower footed Lucic, Maroon on the top 9?

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Still would prefer to see Lucic over Pouliot in the top 6.

    I’ve been of the mindset that if PC can trade Pouliot and Yak in a package of some form and sign Lucic, he won’t have to think about trading “the old core” til 2 years from now.

    Pou, Yak, + for Hanzal. 6mil for 3.5. Yotes get to the cap floor.

  • Couple of things:

    Thing one – glad to see you guys are still supporting the Fort Mac relief effort / Red Cross. Like make ups in hockey teams, charity can be in vogue for a while then disappear.

    b) This is the second cup the Pens have won with good goal tending and THREE SCORING LINES. I hope Gregor takes note as he doesn’t believe it’s possible.

    4 – While I can see the similarities, I think everyone forgets Malkin has scored over a hundred points a few times in his career. I am a big Draisailt fan, but I’m not sure our 3 centres directly line up to theirs… yet.

    While I would love to see three scoring lines, the Oilers do not have a Letang. That to me is more important than watching another year of high powered forwards with no one on D to shoulder the load. If eventually Chi can put together a third line that contributes well, great, but for now he has to improve the defence before he falls into a 3 scoring lines situation.

    Also, does anyone realize we didn’t see Hall, McDavid, and Eberle. I mean, if Hall stays, they have to at least try that line right?

  • Bubba Train

    Edmonton could easily put together three scoring lines – unless they raid the forwards to upgrade the defence.

    Trading Nuge to bring in Barrie leaves a hole but is a net gain for the team.

    Keeping Nuge and bringing in a free agent like Demers does not create a hole and allows a greater net gain for the team.

    Keep the forwards together. Look for a third line Center. Boom, three excellent scoring lines available in so many combinations.

  • madjam

    Nice you kept Hall , Hopkins and Eberle on team , and not dealt anyone of them , which I find is the wise thing to do .Draisaitl and McDavid gives us 5 . Maroon and Pouliot makes 7 . 2 more additions makes 9 , and only one needed or less if Kassian and Yakupov fits the third line roll . We need another top 6 R. forward to be honest . On defence we could get by with a top R defenseman that can also quarterback the Power play and transition game . Two major acquisitions ( both right side ) will go a long way to making us far more competitive .

    We could also deal Yak (RW currently) and/or Pouliot (LW) and add two more better pieces even if they need to be protected . 7-3-1 expansion .

  • While I am pretty high on at least being able to see the three scoring lines, I also really like the idea of forming up that killer Hall, Nuge, Draisaitl line. That to me is a classic McLellan line with two centres and a scoring winger.

    Draisaitl was just so dangerous on his off wing using his back hand along the half wall. No to mention he could gain entry then turn back and have complete puck protection, allowing the rest of the team to gain the zone and set up. That strategy was lethal for the few games they had it together before Nuge got hurt.

    That would mean the second line would be whatever the best combination of Marroon / Pouliot, McDavid, and Eberle is. (Assuming of course Pouliot stays). I like Eberle, am still not really believing McDavid is on our team, but cannot wait to watch a full year of Maroon. That guy is incredible. How Chi got him for so cheap AND they kept some of his salary. It is really sad to think they almost had both Maroon AND Vatanen before Pouliot got injured.

    And while a team with that top six doesn’t have a great third line, I do think there is hope. For one, the Oilers have that 4th overall pick this year. That player could easily be the bed rock of a future all star third line.

    Second, while Yak is likely gone, the team does still have Kassian. Yes, he cooled off offensively last year, but he’s still Kassian. I don’t think Kunitz levels of production are out of the question for this guy.

    Finally, I do believe Letestu has some offensive upside, but because he was handed the Gordon role, he ate a lot of tough minutes. And if he’s not the guy, well then maybe one of Kaharia or Yakimov are. Or if not them, then maybe Chi can go out and find a Bonino (i.e. trade garbage to a GM that significantly underrates his assets and has no idea if his team is in a rebuild or wants to try and make a push for the cup).

  • Explicit

    “Coach Mike Sullivan clearly believes it’s a top-nine league and deployed his talent accordingly”

    Does he clearly believe it’s a top 9 league, or did he just run those lines because Kessel had no chemistry with Crosby or Malkin?

    I think what the oilers should take away from the pens is you need different elements on each line and not just filled with star offensive players.

  • fisherprice

    I’ve thought the idea of three scoring lines on the Oilers is something they could try. Just need to get us a Kris Letang type (hmm.. maybe this will be hard) and hope multiple top 6 forwards don’t get injured this season (hahaha yea right).

    I think the Oilers have the forward personnel to pull this off, but you also need defencemen who can actually get them the puck. I fully believe Chiarelli’s main objective is to get those kinds of defencemen, but who knows at what cost that will be to the forwards corp?

    I guess we’re just in this weird limbo – this team feels like it could be drastically different in the next few weeks so it’s hard to project lineups and team strategies at this point.

  • McRaj

    Good article JW but you forgot to mention that Pitts has a stud on the back end in Kris Letang. 23 games: 29 minutes a night, 15 points, 53 hits, and 38 blocks. +3.2% relative corsi and +2.1% relative fenwick.

    Pitts has 3 major offensive pieces (Sid, Geno, Kessel) who can run three lines. The Oilers could do the same with McDavid, Hall, and then one of Drai/Nuge. Making Eberle and the other of Drai/Nuge expendable for that stud D-Man. We do not need 5 high end skill forwards in our Top 9. As long as one player can carry his line, the other two players on that line can be complimentary pieces (i.e. Pouliot with Connor; Free agent pickup (Lucic/Okposo) with Drai; and either a drafted player or someone like Andrew Shaw with hall).

    • TKB2677

      Really good points. When you count up the really “elite” scoring forwards for the Pens, they have 3. Crosby, Malkin, Kessel. 2 centers, 1 winger. Then they have a whole bunch of good, complimentary players that found chemistry with the 3 elite guys.

      Count up the high end offensive guys on the Oilers, McDavid, Hall, Nuge, Eberle, Draisatl. That’s 5 guys. Then you have the stats guys fav in Pouliot and Maroon who is a decent top 9 forward.

      So I don’t get how the Oilers can’t sacrifice 1 high end guy to get a really good dman even if that guy is Nuge. Willis in his article just listed off Bonino. Are you telling me the Oilers can’t go find a Bonino who makes less than 2 mill? Bonino scored 9 goals and 29 pts this year in 63 games. His career high is 49 pts.

      • McRaj

        Exactly!! If we were to keep Connor, Hall, Drai, and Ebs, we would need 5 more players to fill out Top 9. Maroon and Pouliot would leave us with 3 more. One top end free agent acquisition to be a complimentary piece (Lucic, Okposo, Eriksson) and then two players under 3M or 2M (Stempniak, Shaw, Nielsen, etc). A package headlined by Nuge and then added to with draft picks/Reinhart/Yak should be able to land us a Faulk or Barrie.

        • TKB2677

          Hagelin had a career high 39 pts this year. The guy makes 4 mill. I doubt he will even be there next season. Rust in 41 games had 11 pts, Sheary in 44 games at 10 pts. Before the playoffs, did anyone say “oh wow, look at Pitts 3 scoring lines”. With guys that had 10 and 11 pts? Not a chance.

          Their team came together at the right time. They got some guys who got hot. They got good goaltending. Letand played out of his mind. Plus if Tampa is healthy, I don’t think the Pens win. Tampa was without Bishop and Stamkos didn’t play until the last game of the series and the Pens needed 7 games to win and they were down in the series.

    • madjam

      Great strategy , takes us right back thru another 10 year decade of futility by dealing away our youth before or near their primes – just like we have done last ten years . That , despite us having some pretty darn good defences in that time .I think it pretty evident how poorly we did in replacing almost all of them . I doubt Oiler fans want to go back into that cycle again , time to build to finish complimenting them (Hall,Eberle and Hopkins) this time .

      • McRaj

        Who out of that D was a bonafide stud? Who out of that youth was a top end player? You trying to tell me that Cogs is a top end player? How about Nilson? Or Stoll? Give it a rest madjam. On the bright side, 11 more days until one of your top 3 (not the Oilers top 3) are traded for a D-Man and the team improves immensely with the addition of that stud.

        • madjam

          So your trying to say Barrie and Faulk are studs where Souray and Visnovsky were not ? We could not win with those two along with a young Smid , Staios , Gilbert Strudwick , etc.. We ended up dead last in goals against despite those studs and dead last in league to boot . Faulk and Barrie likely to meet same fate if we start dealing away our young 3 now , just like it happened before . You sure like to diss Oiler players once they have left our club . Stoll , Torres , Brodziak , Cogs and a lot of other youth went on to be exemplary roll players of which we have little of in present club.

          All things being relative , i’d still take Souray and Visnovsky over Faulk and Barrie .

      • madjam

        Stay the course like we did in the eighties , and compliment the youth as we did back then to our dynasty years . We only let them go when economics got bad for us , but not before that . History can repeat itself again if we hold onto our good youth , I don’t understand why people can’t see that same template from our dynasty years .

        • Reg Dunlop

          Not sure if you are being sarcastic. If you are …haha, excellent, very funny. If you are seriously comparing Gretz and company to Conner and this motley crew… well, words can’t express my concern for your mental state.

        • McRaj

          When Souray and Lubo were here, the best forward was Hemsky (big difference between Con/Hall and Hemmer), Those teams did not have top end forwards (love Hemmer tho). In 08 we finished 9th, missing playoffs by 3 points. In 09 we finished 11th in the West, missing playoffs by 6 points. How have we finished the last 5 years?

          I don’t bash players when they leave the Oilers, Cogs and Stoll are great depth players, but not these young stars you’re making them out to be.

          And as for your why don’t we build our team like we did in our dynasty years, maybe because the NHL has changed big time since then. And hey, even those teams had 4 top end forwards (Gretz, Mess, Kurri, Anderson) and a Stud D Man (Coffey) and filled out with complimentary players.

          I love how you are so passionate but you are misguided immensely. You may have experience of watching hockey for 50 years but Sir the game has changed. I am sorry to inform you that a young player is getting traded, and the team will improve because that young player will bring us a bonafide D-Man.

          And lastly, judging by the trashes you get on your comments regarding keeping Hall, Ebs, and Nuge, others too agree that, that is not a smart idea.

          • madjam

            The latest ones you choose to ignor showed 20 in favor of keeping them and only 11 trash , so looks like you are losing momentum . I see very well how game has changed over the years , but template to build winner still remains basically the same . Obviously you do not see or believe it .

          • McRaj

            Not sure which comment you are looking at Sir, all I see is trashes after trashes. Oilers fans realize that we need a #1 D, not 5 high end skill forwards with another likely to be drafted.

  • TKB2677

    I am all for the Oilers having 3 scoring lines. However, they aren’t going anywhere until they upgrade the defense. If you can get him to come here, signing Demers would help for sure but it’s not enough. Especially if you plan on playing Fayne as your second pairing guy like the advanced stats guys say. The Pens and their “3 scoring lines” had an elite, right shot, 30 min a night dman in Letang. Demers isn’t that guy, Fayne definitely isn’t that guy.

    So I would love to have 3 scoring lines and if you can bring in a really good dman without trading on of the 6 mill guys or Draisaitl, then of course you do it but in my opinion, it would take magic to make that happen.

  • camdog

    It could be said that Matt Cullen made this Pens team a 4 line scoring threat. The fourth line may not have had dazzle but given their lack of minutes played at even strength, they did very well.

  • The Rookie

    This is part of the reason I’m ok to not trade yak. There is no reason he can’t be a complimentary guy on a third scoring line. Stop asking him to be defensive player of the year!!

  • BobbyCanuck

    Maybe we do not need 2 top RHD?

    Maybe 1 will do

    Pens only have 2 top end D Men that carry the club (Letang, Schultz)the rest is defense by committee,

    Pens play like a 5 man unit, with the F Corp very aware of when they need to back check

    I cannot help but think, that if our forwards back checked, perhaps our D would not look so bad

    So glad Pens won, could not handle Chia modeling our club after anything resembling the broadstreet bullies, cause that is his MO, hope he can adapt, or the Oilers are due for another 10 yrs of playing big heavy hockey, which usually loses to the speed and skill game

    btw, kidding about Schultz

  • Slats 101

    Crosby is probably the best overall player in the league right now. He’s pretty gritty and is the unquestioned leader on that team.

    Malkin is an big elite centre, Kessel is an elite goal scorer. Letang is a top right shooting d-man.

    We have Conner, who will likely eventually take over from Crosby as the leagues best player.

    We have Draisaitl, who hopefully can be a big elite centre, and we have Eberle who is a good goal scorer, but not elite.

    Size is important but the Pens played a pretty gritty game with speed. Hall can play gritty and is elite, but there is nothing gritty about RNH and Eberle. And the Oilers have no elite d-men.

    I like the idea of 3 scoring lines, but the Oilers have bigger needs than trying to have 3 scoring lines. Lets improve our defence, and surround Conner and Leon with a better mix of forwards.

  • Zarny

    It’s always been about the right mix. Teams win the SC; not individuals.

    Sports is riddled with cliches; like “building down the middle”. Pit 2nd line was driven by Kessel, a winger, not Bonino, an average C.

    All things being equal you take the bigger player. All things being equal you take a C over a W.

    When talking about Oilers like Hall, Eberle and Nuge…all things are not equal.

  • TKB2677

    You would think that Oilers fans would clue in how much having a lousy defense holds back the Oilers top end forwards. You don’t have to look any farther than the World Championships. Every year, the Oilers top end players go over to the Worlds because they aren’t in the playoffs. The World Champ team for Canada usually has a decent defense. Every year the top end Oiler players are some of the best forwards in the tournament. Hall was been one of the best forwards at the Worlds 2 years in a row. That included last year when Crosby was on the team. McDavid was one of the best forwards this year along with Hall.

    The Oilers have iced a bunch of AHLers, rookies and #5 dmen for years and years and it has crushed the progression of the young forwards. If trading away ONE FORWARD allows you to bring in a really good dman to play along with Sekera who’s decent and Klefbom who looks to be decent, Davidson who looks to be decent so you actually have a even average NHL defense, this team will explode and might challenge for a playoff spot.

    If they trade ONE forward to bring in a really good right shot dman, the sign a Demers so all of a sudden you have a Klefbomb and Dman, Sekera & Demers, which would be a decent top 4, actual NHL defense, this team will for sure make the playoffs.

    We aren’t talking scorched earth, we are talking about one of the FIVE HIGH END, YOUNG FORWARDS. Most teams are luck to have 3 high end forwards, the Oilers have 5. I think they can probably spare 1 forward and still be in decent shape.

  • Oiler Al

    Penquins survived and won the SC, because they bought into Sullivans plan, which was all about
    5 guys on the ice playing a solid defense game 200 feet long.Evident by the low scoring, it was defense first.

    They blocked shots, were relentless on the puck in all areas and the whole plan was moving the puck north. You didn’t see the D-men “dusting pucks” and dicking around in their own end. Its one and out,all the time. Don’t give Sharks the puck and a chance to set up their boring cycle game and choking off the shots from the backend.

    HOw else do you think a rookie goalie and “no name defense” could survie these playoffs. I exclude Letang from the no name clan.PS He should have won the Conn Smyth.

    Oilers could only play this type of game in their dreams.

  • MrBung

    “Like Edmonton, the Penguins boast a collection of high-end scoring stars mixed with less potent depth pieces.” – Willis

    I don’t know where this myth comes from that Edmonton has high scoring stars. The Oilers can barely put together two scoring lines. The Oilers are not a high octane offensive team. Their numbers tell a totally different story. Edmonton was 26th in the league for goals for this past season. Their top goal scorer was 43rd in the league for goals.

  • Hockeyfan

    Where are these high end scoring stars? Are you hiding them? When was the last time an Oiler scored 30 goals or even 70 points? That has to be the funniest comparison I have seen in a long time. Pens and Oilers, cmon, not even in the same league. Did anyone see how all the forwards were backchecking hard? Did anyone see the minutes Letang put up? This Oiler team shows none of those qualities that Pens had to apply to win. Just more Oiler writer fantasy foofoo.

  • toprightcorner

    I think the playoffs were very misleading for an actual 3 scoring lines. Each line had a player that played way above any past signs of offence, with Rust, Sheary and Bonino scoring between 40% – 90% more than the regular season. This is not likely sustainable and it was more an act of timing than anything, no different than Pisani scoring 14 goals in 2006.

    to be comparable, Yak would have to score at a 60 pt a season pace, Kassian at a 45 pt a season pace and Maroon at a 55 pt a season pace. This is very unlikely to happen in 1 season, much less continuously.

    I would suspect PIT offense will drop from each of those lines next season.

    Don’t forget Bickells amazing post-season with 17 pts in 23 games and he spent most of last year in the AHL.

    Lets try not to compare the Oilers to a team who happened to get hot at the right time when on paper, they should not have been close.

  • Speed Junky

    Stick to your guns.

    don’t be like the Leafs and give away players.

    oh. like Phil K. got a cup. good 4 Phil

    3 lines works.

    San Jose ran out of gas

    Youth and speed kills

    keep 97,4,14,29,93 which is proven 50 + point players

    hope klefbom and nurse RISE

    and the 4 th pick Tkachuk or Dub. both great young guys. take 1

    free agent a Veteran D please. stop messing around and make

    the 8th seed