The Edmonton Oilers had a relatively quiet trade deadline,
shipping out Brandon Davidson and Taylor Beck and bringing in David Desharnais
and Justin Fontaine. How does this situate the team’s forward lines as it gears
up for the playoffs?
The arrival of Desharnais will allow head coach Todd
McLellan to keep doing what he’s shown he wants to do for most of the year:
play Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid together, likely alongside current left
wing Patrick Maroon.
It’s a reasonable bet that the second line will stay intact
for the time being, too. Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle are
all big-money players who will be vital to Edmonton’s postseason aspirations.
Perhaps more importantly, despite difficult seasons there really aren’t a lot
of challengers capable of unseating them.
That leaves the bottom two forward lines, and there are a dozen
potential candidates for the six jobs there, including the two newcomers:
- C David Desharnais: Peter Chiarelli indicated that
Desharnais would be the team’s third-line centre, and he should be a decent fit
for the role. He’s fast, experienced, and capable of producing offence at
- LW Benoit Pouliot: Another expensive veteran suffering
through a nightmare of a season, Pouliot (once he gets healthy) should get the
first crack at third line left wing. His speed should be a fit for Desharnais.
- C Mark Letestu: He shouldn’t be given too much work at
5-on-5; he just isn’t suited to it. Instead, he’ll centre the fourth line while
providing quality minutes on both the power play and penalty kill.
- RW Zack Kassian: Kassian will lock down one of the wing
positions in the bottom-six. My guess is that he slots in mostly with Letestu
given their effectiveness together this year, but he could also end up on the
Desharnais line for stretches.
- RW Iiro Pakarinen: Pakarinen is another clear favourite of
the coaches, and it’s not hard to understand why. He does a little bit of
everything and can slot in anywhere. There’s always room for guys who can hit
and like to shoot the puck.
- LW Matt Hendricks: We’re approaching the end of the line for
this player, but I wouldn’t be even the slightest bit surprised if he was a
regular on the fourth line when the playoffs roll around. Coaches love
experience, toughness and brains in the defensive zone and Hendricks has all
- C / LW Drake Caggiula: The Oilers clearly love this player,
but on a lot of clubs I expect he’d be in the AHL. He is the worst 5-on-5
scorer on the team this season and it isn’t close, and his shot metrics are
totally unremarkable. He’s 22 and absolutely should improve; there’s no shame
in a rookie pro looking like an AHL’er. Could wind up anywhere in the
- LW / RW Anton Slepyshev: He’s big, fast, and somewhat less
than the sum of his parts in terms of results, though he and Caggiula have done
each other no favours. I’d like to see him put with Pouliot/Desharnais on the
third line to see if he can produce there.
- C / LW Jujhar Khaira: Khaira was assigned to the AHL in a
paper transaction today, making him eligible for the playoffs down there. When
everyone’s healthy he’s probably the team’s 15th forward, though he’s been
quite competent when used.
- RW Jesse Puljujarvi: Currently in the minors, Puljujarvi has
a reasonable but somewhat unspectacular 16 points in 20 games. It wouldn’t be
even a little bit surprising if he got a shot at third-line minutes at some
point in the next month and a half.
- C / LW Anton Lander: He can kill penalties, he can win
faceoffs and he has 38 points in 23 AHL games. He’s a really decent option as a
No. 13/14 forward because of his versatility, but he isn’t big or fast and
probably needs some injury help to get an opportunity.
- RW Justin Fontaine: He isn’t special, but he’s a fast right
wing who can chip in offensively and be trusted in the defensive zone. He also
has 19 NHL playoff games under his belt, so presumably there’s a better chance
of the coaches using him if it comes to that than there was with Taylor Beck.
Chiarelli called him “a depth player” and specifically mentioned the AHL when
talking about him today.
Ultimately, it’s an approach that gives Edmonton a very good
first line and a second unit that is strong on paper but has been shy on
results this season. The third line is somewhat incomplete. If we take
Pouliot/Desharnais as the likely duo around which that unit will be built, the
Oilers still need to find a scoring right wing internally.
The fourth line, at least, shouldn’t be a problem. With two
new forwards in the rotation there are plenty of possibilities for those jobs.
When all is said and done, a healthy lineup looks something
L1: Maroon – McDavid – Draisaitl
L2: Lucic – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle
L3: Pouliot – Desharnais – Slepyshev or Puljujarvi
L4: Hendricks – Letestu – Kassian
Spares: Caggiula / Pakarinen
AHL: Khaira – Lander – Fontaine
The importance of Desharnais as a stabilizing force is
obvious, and if he and Pouliot can find some chemistry the Oilers have a shot
at an effective third line that brings some needed speed to the attack.
If Edmonton is going to make playoff noise, it’s going to
need both its second and its third units to be better than they have been this
season. Desharnais helps with that, but it’s clear that the greatest progress
will need to be made by players already in the organization.
Lucic, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Pouliot have all been much
better in the recent past than they have showed this season. Either of
Slepyshev or Puljujarvi could conceivably button down a regular role on that
third unit over the next month, and with the Oilers opting not to add a cheap
veteran right wing it’s clear that Edmonton is banking on one of them getting
the job done.
Both Chiarelli and McLellan have described the Oilers as a “growth”
team in the last month, and this deadline approach reflects that. Desharnais
was needed because there wasn’t a realistic candidate for the third line centre
job. Everywhere else, there are either veterans that need to get on-track or
younger players with a legitimate shot at proving themselves ready.
- Edmonton trades Davidson to Montreal for Desharnais
- Pittsburgh picks up Ron Hainsey from Carolina
- Kris Russell: Trap or opportunity?
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