Making the Case for Another Right Wing

14-Eberle-14

Yesterday, I wrote that Radim Vrbata signing in Arizona was
a missed opportunity for the Oilers. Many in the comments section disagreed,
and so I thought it might be helpful to make the larger case as to why Edmonton
needs another good right wing.

The Forward Depth
Chart

97-McDavid-8

If we ignore right wing for a moment, the Oilers’ four
forward lines are going to look something like this:

  • Milan Lucic / Connor McDavid
  • Benoit Pouliot / Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
  • Patrick Maroon / Leon Draisaitl
  • Matt Hendricks / Mark Letestu

There’s a lot to like there. The top unit is incredibly
potent, Pouliot/RNH have had success together before (notably doing a
serviceable job as the first line under Todd Nelson) and Maroon/Draisaitl is
both the kind of third-line depth teams kill for and also a big, heavy, cycling
line. That’s the basis of three lines that the coaching staff can go to war
with, as well as a veteran fourth line that can contribute on special teams.

Right now, my best guess is that the first line right wing
is going to be Jordan Eberle (this line will be doing tough work, and nobody
else is nearly as qualified). He’ll do a fine job there, but the trouble is
that there’s only one of him and he’s needed elsewhere in the rotation, too.
This is where I picture an incoming right wing landing – Lucic and McDavid will
do the heavy lifting, so it’s only necessary to have a complementary talent
here for the time being. Radim Vrbata, Kris Versteeg, Teddy Purcell, P-A
Parenteau, Lee Stempniak; any of them would have been fine fits.

I say that because in Todd McLellan’s shoes I’d dearly love
to put Eberle on that second line. That trio was the Nelson first line during
his time as coach, and for McLellan it could be a Swiss Army knife, the kind of
line he can deploy in any situation and lean on. As it stands though, assuming
Eberle to be on the top unit he has three choices:

  • He can bring in a player who shouldn’t be asked to do
    defensive work (Nail Yakupov, Jesse Puljujarvi)
  • He can bring in a player who shouldn’t be asked to do
    offensive work (Zack Kassian, Iiro Pakarinen)
  • He can kneecap his third line (Draisaitl)

This is where I see that extra right wing as being so
important at 5-on-5. It gives McLellan that second killer forward line that can
be thrown into any matchup and expected to come out on top.

29-Draisaitl-4

The third line looks to me to be the logical home for either
Yakupov or Puljujarvi. Yakupov and Draisaitl have some history; their results
together have been much better than Yakupov/Nugent-Hopkins, a duo which has
never worked. Puljujarvi’s skill set is a natural fit for this line, though as
always my preference would be to give Puljujarvi a month in the AHL to let him
get used to North American ice at a level where the adjustment period won’t
hurt the team.

Finally, the fourth line is a great place for either Kassian
or Pakarinen, with the other filling the role of No. 13 forward.

The Power Play

93-RNH-18

I don’t have access to whatever McLellan and Jay Woodcroft
are planning for the power play this year, but my assumption would be that both
units will be built around left-shooting playmakers. McDavid, obviously, will
be the beating heart of the first unit, and he showed last year he can almost
single-handedly make it effective. My best guess would be that Nugent-Hopkins –
a left-shot playmaker who generally handles the same position on the ice as McDavid
– will anchor the second unit.

The best target for a left-shot playmaker on the power play half-wall
is a right-shot finisher. The Oilers don’t really have one. Eberle’s an
extremely competent offensive player and he’s been working on his one-timer
this summer, but in the past he’s been more playmaker than shooter. After that,
Edmonton has Mark Letestu (underrated on the power play but definitely not a
pure finisher) and Puljujarvi.

This is really where Vrbata intrigued me. He scored 12 power
play goals in 2014-15 – that’s one less than Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin and
John Tavares, twice as many as any Oilers forward that year. Even in 2015-16,
which was such an awful year for him, he scored more power play goals than
anyone in Edmonton not named Jordan Eberle. Stick that kind of finishing talent
on the opposite wall of a passer like McDavid, and the results could have been
extraordinary.

Now, there are virtually no right-shot wingers left in free
agency. There are a few plausible left-shooting right wingers – Jiri Hudler,
Brandon Pirri – but as far as right shots go the best name on the list is
probably Brad Boyes. Boyes is an interesting player, and given his pricepoint
(he signed a one-year, $800,000 deal a year ago) he strikes me as a guy the
Oilers could profitably take a cheap flyer on. But he doesn’t have the same recent history as Vrbata on the man advantage. 

It’s not absolutely essential that Peter Chiarelli bring in
another right wing. His coach could move Draisaitl to the starboard side and
make Letestu the third line centre, or just roll the dice on Kassian in an
offensive role or Puljujarvi/Yakupov in a two-way slot and hope that nobody
gets hurt over the course of the year.

But to my mind, bringing in another right wing would give
the coach the chance to run three brilliant lines at five-on-five, bolster a
power play unit which was hit and miss last year, and give Edmonton depth in
the event of injury. For a team desperately trying to improve, that seems like
a no-brainer.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Sjakk

    Pouliot- McDavid-Yak : Looked good at the start of last season
    Lucic – Nuge – Eberlie: You know this works
    Maroon – Draisaitl – Puljujarrvi : Softer minutes for the young guys

  • D.Sutton9

    I think myself and J. Willis could play on McDavid’s wings and he’d still put up points. No different than Crosby in the playoffs. These guys can play with anyone. Maroon and Yakupov would be much better options though and would really balance out the 2nd and 3rd lines. McDavid + a big guy with soft hands and a shooter makes sense.

    Other lines could be Lucic + Drai + Puljujarvi, Pouliot + Nuge + Ebs. Drai line would play the cycle game to grind other teams down, Nuge line would be shut down unit that could put up some points.

    I don’t think we ‘need’ another RW, but adding a vet would take the pressure off Puljujarvi out of camp. Throw a vet on there on a cheap 1 yr contract and then move him mid season if Puljujarvi is ready. I’d even put him on the PP with McDavid to pump his value up a bit.

    • passelin

      I hear ya – only thing is that maybe we want McDavid to have an excellent grade A player or line to play with – the Kurri to the Gretzky – gotta have the talent pleased. Appropriate royal treatment is quality protection (Lucic) and talent to finish (Ebs).

  • Oilerchild77

    Like most journalists, Jon has a hard time admitting when he’s wrong and will proceed in attempts to convince the rest of the world that they are all wrong. A valiant effort!

  • baxwar_580

    Too many young forwards fighting for roster spots to waste a spot on a fa signing right now for Oilers.I’d like to see JJ or Pitlick earn one of those winger spots.

  • Bubba Train

    Guys, the kids and prospects fighting for spots has been unsuccessful for ten years. McDavid needs to be surrounded with NHL talent or he’s the next Taylor Gall and blamed for Edomtons failure. Hire sons proven NHL talent!!! Prospects will get playing time through injury but start with an NHL line up.

  • knee deep in it

    I don’t mind pulj on a line with mcdavid and Lucic. All he would have to do is simplify his game because the other two will do the creative stuff.

    He is probably the best defensive rw we have. Mcdavid is smart enough to adjust his game for his wingers. We might lose 10 goals on this line compared to eberle but we more than make up for it with better balance

  • Serious Gord

    Sure the oilers should beef up the RW. But you could say that about every position.

    Chia’s off-season job Had one overwhelming priority:

    Get a first line Dman preferably with offensive ability.

    He has only done half that job.

    If the oil start the season with this defense he will have failed in addressing this number one priority.

  • Anton CP

    I don’t know if a never existed opportunity can be called a “missed” opportunity.

    A player at his age has only two career options: play for a contender (which is not the case for the Oilers) or play for money. Then if both of those options are not available, it is just play for retirement. He wants to play out his remainder of hia career in some place he is either comfortable or familiar, Edmonton is neither of that also.

    It is not a disagreement, it is just something not remotely possible.

    The conclusion? Not a heck a lot to talk about hockey during summer time.

  • ScottyPrime

    Seems your either forgetting about or intentionally omitting to Caggiula.

    Whether or not others are taking stock though I believe the Oilers are seeing him as an NHL player this year in the 3C role. He isn’t your garden variety prospect in that he’s already years out from draft and he’s quite a bit more offensively gifted than he gets credit for.
    If experimenting with him at center works then Drai a RW definitely changes the way we have to view the depth chart.