Who is going to play up the middle?

Yesterday, Oilers play-by-play voice Jack Michaels put out an interesting thought looking at the Oilers roster makeup. Does it make sense?

Up the middle 

As we all know, the Oilers currently have a number of players competing for the four centre spots on the roster.

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2015-2016 5v5 stats, per stats.hockeyanalysis.com:

Connor McDavid: 45 GP, 2.69 P/60, 51.3 CF%, slides in as the Oilers first line centre

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 55 GP, 1.36 P/60, 47.9 CF%, slides into the second line centre role

Leon Draisaitl: 72 GP, 2.20 P/60, 51.8 CF%, likely third line centre

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Mark Letestu, 82 GP, 0.61 P/60, 45.1 CF%, likely fourth line centre

Anton Lander, 61 GP, 0.33 P/60, 47.3 CF%, battling for a roster spot

Jujhar Khaira, 15 GP, 0.39 P/60, 46.2 CF%, likely to be in Bakersfield, could battle for a spot

Drake Caggiula: College boxcars – 39 GP, 25 G, 26 A, 51 P – NHLE – 82 GP, 22G, 22A, 44 P

As Michaels noted above, the true battle comes for the 3C spot, which was filled by Anton Lander last season. Currently, Mark Letestu, Anton Lander, Jujhar Khaira and Drake Caggiula are all battling for the 3C/4C spots, with Caggiula and Khaira both having the potential to play the wing as well.

If Michaels is correct, then the Oilers depth chart is going to be shifted significantly in a few ways. T

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Does this work?

Nation scribe Matt Henderson gave his impression of what the forward depth chart would look like. 

The move of Draisatil to the wing would likely entail Jesse Puljujarvi playing in a bottom-six role, given that Lucic, Eberle, Pouliot and Draisaitl would take up the top-six roles. With Draisaitl in a top-six, winger role rather than at 3C, it begins to pose more questions. 

Is Drake Caggiula good enough to play in the top six, and does it make sense to play two rookies on the third line?

Both Caggiula and Puljujarvi are rookies coming into the NHL, and clearly don’t yet have a grasp on what the level of play entails. Caggiula, who is coming from the NCAA, plays a hard style of game that will translate well to the NHL. His NHLE suggests he can contribute right away in the NHL and TSN’s Bob McKenzie has suggested he will be given every opportunity to make the Oilers roster out of camp. Source, Source.

Playing them in a third line role with a veteran winger like Patrick Maroon or Kris Versteeg would allow for them to play sheltered minutes and minutes against lower quality of competition. 

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Protecting these two players will be a key for the Oilers moving forward given that they are two of the most promising Oilers forward prospects in the ranks right now. 

What about Anton Lander?

Well, if he isn’t able to win the spot as the Oilers 3C then he will either be sitting as an extra forward, which wouldn’t be the worst, or he will be in Bakersfield. This camp is key for his NHL future as he has the tools to be an effective NHL’er, but just hasn’t been able to piece it all together. 


The move of Draisaitl into the top-six likely also means that Yakupov will get forced further down the depth chart into what would be a fourth-line role. According to Ryan Rishaug, the Oilers will likely be looking to move on from him as soon as possible. 

Well, Nation, what do you all think of this? What would you do with the Oilers lineup?

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The latest from Laing:

  • @S_2_H

    Two rookies, regardless of their pedigree, should not be starting their NHL career on a line together – at least not if the Oilers plan to move up the standings.

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    Henderson . Two rookies on the third line? I think Caggiula might slot in on the third but why not have Puljujarvi start in the AHL and have Versteeg as your 3rd line rw?

    Lucic McD Ebs
    Pou RNH Drai
    Maroon Caggiula versteeg
    Hendricks Letestu Kassian

    Sorry but I have no love for Yak anymore I guess

    • CaptainLander

      Agreed, also maybe the Oil should look to have rookies start in the AHL. I think Drai would benefit from playing less minutes with experienced NHL players.

      Lucic McD Ebs
      Pou RNH Yak
      Maroon Drai Versteeg
      Hendy Letestu Kassian

      However I think you may see a lot of changes to the middle two line depending on the opponent. For example if the Oil feel they need more defensive help you may see Lander in and Yak come out. Drai to RW.

      Hmm..depth, pretty cool. Oiler should have tried this years ago.

  • For me we go with the three Centers, when we need a push Drai moves up and we shorten to 3 lines. We should sign both vestige and Gryba. As far as rookies or prospects making the team, unless they are standing out far and above the experienced players, they all start in Bakersfield, the final “tie breaker” should be NHL experience, over the first 10 to 30 games we can adjust, trade and strengthen the line up by moving players up and down.

  • S cottV

    McD – Drai – RNH in that order.

    Drai’s size and presence is going to be a key for top 6 match ups in the Western Conference.

    RNH is going to get too exposed in his own end vs top 6 opposition centerman who have skill, size and who play hard. He gets confused on who to cover and physically dominated in close quarters battles.

    • BM

      Nuge is our best two-way forward. I’m always comfortable when he’s on the ice. The nuge is good in every zone and seems to always make the smart play, not to mention he’s been playing against other teams best players night in night out ever since he was 18..Have you ever even watched him play ?

      • S cottV

        I would give Nuge pretty good marks in the o zone and neutral zone – 5vs5 – in his own zone? No – he’s not that good and not built for it.

        A true high end two way top 6 centerman? A guy like Kopitar comes to mind.

        Who reminds you of Kopitar? Drai…

        The quicker Drai develops towards being Kopitar like – the better.

      • McRaj

        Connor is our best two – way player. Nuge is a good two-way player but among Oilers fan’s he has a reputation of being selke caliber which he is not. That does not mean he is not an effective two way player or that he is not good, just means that he is not kopitar, toews, bergeron, etc.

      • S cottV

        I would concede – maybe our best 2 way forward, but lets see – 29th place last year – 30th the year before?

        Worst GA’s in the league.

        Comparing to guys like Hall, Eberle, Yak for best 2 way forward?

        It’s like being the best of the worst – 2 way kinda guy….

    • Oilerchild77

      They’re keeping Yakupov around as a carrot in the hopes that he gets taken in the expansion draft instead of one of Davidson, Reinhart, Brossoit, or Pouliot.

  • freelancer

    It’s nice to see the waters becoming a bit more murky in regards to who starts where. As always the pre-season means almost zilch when it comes to how the finished on ice product will perform but nice to see some guys having a good start.

    Versteeg should absolutely make the team, he’s a perfect veteran RW to have in the bottom 6. Really glad to see Pitlick start strong, going to be almost impossible for him to make it onto the roster but I’m still rooting for the kid.

  • Petrolero

    Puljujarvi is nor going to start in the NHL this season. That will leave ebs yakupov versteeg and kassian on the rw. I see draisaitl starting at 3c and then depending how things go he will move to wing or Puljujarvi will be recalled. Caggiula is not the answer at 3c.

  • Glass

    I really hope they don’t force JP into some of the regular season games too early. By the time we play through all the preseason games I have a hunch that he will have improved to where he will be a floater at the NHL level. Last night gave us the impression he’d sink, but in reality we want someone who will swim.

    I’d certainly be happy if he just played his draft+1 season in Finland. Numerous very successful European players have done this and came out to be elite players despite not playing draft+1 in the AHL. Jesse can still get a tutor.

    In sending him to Finland he wouldnt be pushing down the likes of Pitlick, Beck, and Slepyshev who demonstrated they are pretty close.

  • HockeyYoda

    I’d like to see Drai as the 3C. Because you don’t need to get too wrapped up in the label of a 3C thinking we need to force a spot in the top 6 for him just because he’s “top 6” talent.

    We’ve seen in Pitsburgh the damage a skilled 3rd line can cause. There’s enough skill up front to make 3 skilled lines which forces a good matchup against 3rd pairing D men. Also, I think JP will bring more to the table than many think, and it’s best not to saddle a talent like him with a plumber as his centre. This also helps the match-ups for a 1st year player.

    They can also experiment with sliding JP up to 2nd RW with this lineup. Most importantly, they need to keep Lander off this roster. He is a giant vacuum of production for any poor bastard you saddle him with.

    Lou McD Ebs

    Pou RNH Yak/Kassian/Versteeg depending on who’s playing well.
    Maroon Drai. JP

    (Whoever)Letestu Kassian

  • tkfisher

    Based on that info i’d say we’re more likely to see:





    And JP starts in the minors, with Yak traded. That would be my guess.

    But that’s assuming Drake can handle the role.

    Hopefully management can swing a yak, Reinheart/Davidson and second/a solid prospect LD for Trouba

    • TKB2677

      I actually think your lines might be bang on.

      I really wish the Oilers had of brought in another center. I know they tried to bring in Richards on a PTO. I have to think the Oilers will be watching the waiver wire or active. A guy that I will be watching for is Mark McNeil from the Hawks. Stauffer has mentioned this guy a lot over the last year or 2. He’s a right shot, 23, spent lots of time in the minors with offensive success yet can’t seem to crack the Hawks which I don’t get.

      I didn’t even think Caggiula was a center because even the Oilers have him listed as a LW.

      For Yak, I don’t see how he makes the team because unless Versteeg is bad, I think he’s here. They need some vet help that can play. Any Yak trade means they are basically trading him for nothing.

  • Ready to Win

    I think Drai playing 3C or 2RW will come down to who isn’t playing based on his position. If he is a centre then Lander, Caggiula, or Kharia sits. If he is a winger one of Yak, Puljujarvi or Versteeg is bumped.

  • TruthHurts98

    JP needs to earn his spot on the wing, he ghosted the 1st preseason game while Versteeg and Pitlick were very noticeable. I don’t like the idea of Leon on the wing unless it’s a push at the end of the game to score a goal. Not with all the players capable of playing that position while the centre slot would be significantly weakened. Caggiula is looking better and better, but I still like the idea of him starting in the A and wouldn’t care if JP did either. I was surprised he had such a quiet game. Maybe he just needs a quality centre, but that’s a weak argument. I don’t think PC is getting any decent offers for Nail, thus no trade.

  • madjam

    The versatility and effectiveness of Lander could cloud the issue at center position . He showed well in Calgary tilt and seems to be progressing better this season . Nail did not show same type advancing in his game , he looked like last years Nail . I am not a fan of Lander , but could not help see he looks much better to start this season .

  • I am Batman

    No rookie at center, enough with that storyline. We just don’t learn? This is the first year in which we can have a Center with at least one year experience. Previous year we had rookies down the middle and they got burnt time and again.

    You all saw how Eberle (established and amazing sniper) does with a rookie centre….

    If the oilers want RNH or Drai on the wing, bring Richards to centre the third line and stop the experimenting… 6 years of experiments are enough. I know you guys love the story about the rookie that comes in and tears it up, but…. That doesn’t happen often and it will NEVER happen to the oilers.

    Down the middle, experience is key

    • Word to the Bird

      Yup. With how Draisaitl played last year, he has a solid chance to steal RNH’s spot in due time, but for now we should have 3 scoring lines.

      Lucic – McDavid – Eberle

      Pouliot – Nuge – Versteeg

      Maroon – Draisaitl – Yakupov

      Hendricks – Letestu – Kassian

      Keep Pulj and Drake in the A until they show that they’re 100% ready for NHL duty then slowly feed them minutes as they prove themselves. Its about time players started earning their minutes on this team.

  • Max

    Hopefully Jesse will play in the AHL – his performance last night affirmed that he needs more time in the minors. I’d like to see Pitlick get a chance. I believe Yak will be gone within the next few months, if not sooner. PC plays his cards VERY close to his chest. Whatever he decides to do usually flies under the radar until the deal is done.

  • NewPants

    Looks like Letestu is the only right handed center.

    I just looked up right handed players in the NHL and 60 to 70% are left handed. Strange but that would explain the lack of right handed Oiler D and centers.

    Go Oil!!!

  • This chart also ignores Versteeg, who I think will take Puljujarvi’s spot in this scenario. I really like Puljujarvi, but after watching him last night, I think the kid could use some seasoning. I would be fine with a Maroon, Caggulia, Versteeg line.

    On another note, how good did Larsson look last night? I am a bit worried about Klefbom, but Larsson looks so solid.

  • Muddy

    Here is my top 4 lines (like you care) lol

    Lucic McDavid Ebs –
    Maroon Nuge Versteeg –
    Pou Dri Yak –
    Hendrick Letestu Kass

    Yes that means Puljujarvi starts in the AHL – not ends in the AHL simply starts there to get his feet wet. Dri has to play down the middle, the Oilers are notorious for switching guys out of position, make him the power centre his is meant to be.

    I am also a massive fan of Jujhar Khaira. If Letestu didn’t have a contract I think he could easily make 4th line centre. It will be interesting to see how Kass develops, remember he played on the second line in his career and if he can regain his form he is a legitimate top 6 power forward.

    All in all if they stay healthy we have some trade bait and if not we have finally a bit of depth. This is going to be a very interesting first 10 games.

  • madjam

    Far to early to make a poor judgement on Jesse from just the first exhibition game . He trended extremely well up to last night . Give him some time with McDavid , Hopkins or Draisaitl and see the possibilities that might bring .

    • It is indeed too early, but he just wasn’t a factor out there last night. He lost puck battles against smaller opponents and I think really only generated like one scoring chance. It makes sense to give him time, but if they don’t have to why give him time in the NHL? It’s not a development league. He will have to contribute if he wants to play. And with Caggulia, Versteeg, and Pitlick showing well in Edmonton, and I hear Slepyshev well down in Calgary, he’s gonna need to do better than ‘needs time.’

  • OilersRidersChargers

    You guys are mixing up “handed” and “shoots”. I’m left-handed and I shoot right. Most people are right-handed and most shoot opposite to their handedness, hence 70% NHLers shoot left.

    If only I could play defence and QB the powerplay.

    If only I could play hockey!