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Photo Credit: © James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers are a Better Team When Leon Draisaitl is a Centre

The Edmonton Oilers have stumbled since the All-Star break. They’re 7-9-1 since the break, and this is after enjoying a 7-0-1 run before the break. They’ve won just two games in their last seven, and it might be time for head coach Todd McLellan to play with the lines.

The Oilers started off the season playing all three of Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl down the middle. 

This went from Oct. 12 until Dec. 1 against the Winnipeg Jets. Milan Lucic primarily played with McDavid, with Patrick Maroon alternating with him at times, and Jordan Eberle as the usual right-wing. McDavid and Leon Draisaitl spent 35 five-on-five minutes together during this time. They played on the same line during the loss against Buffalo, but that was a game that got away from them and Draisaitl started as a centre. Draisaitl joined McDavid and Lucic against Arizona on Nov. 27th, but Puljujarvi started the game on their line initially. (12-9-2).

Draisaitl played with McDavid and Lucic on the top line in Winnipeg and played on their right-wing from Dec. 1 to Dec. 6. McDavid and Draisaitl played over 40 minutes of five-on-five time together during this stretch. They started the Buffalo game on the same line, but the pair only ended up with 5:42 even strength minutes.  (2-0-2)

The Oilers ran all three centres again from Dec. 8 to Dec. 19. Caggiula got a game on McDavid’s wing in Philadelphia (that one that Jonas Gustavsson gave away), McDavid and Draisaitl played less than six five-on-five minutes together, while RNH and Draisaitl played 13 minutes together. Tyler Pitlick suffered a season-ending injury against St. Louis, which might have motivated Todd McLellan to play Draisaitl on the wing with the lack of available right-wingers. (3-2-1)

With Pitlick hurt and Jesse Puljujarvi not accomplishing much as he was coming in and out of the lineup, Draisaitl moved up to right-wing with either RNH or McDavid from Dec 21 to Jan. 3. Maroon replaces Lucic to play with McDavid. (2-2-1)

Draisaitl is promoted to McDavid’s line on Jan. 5 to Feb. 11. The Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl line plays over 220 minutes at five-on-five together during this time-frame. Lucic splits time between the Caggiula and RNH lines. The Oilers have one of their best stretches, including a 7-0-1 run in January. (10-6-1)

Draisaitl moved back to centre on Feb. 14th against the Arizona and Philadelphia, and only plays five five-on-five minutes with McDavid in a win against Chicago. (3-0)

Draisaitl is summoned to McDavid’s wing during the Tampa Bay and Florida games. McLellan brings out the blender against the Lightning when the Oilers fall behind, which ends up with Draisaitl playing the entire game against Florida alongside McDavid. Draisaitl has stayed at right-wing on the McDavid line since then. The Oilers  acquired David Desharnais to play on their third line, leaving most to assume McLellan wants the McDavid-Draisaitl combination together. (3-5-2)

The Oilers record with all three of McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, and Draisaitl together is 18-11-3, with a 0.56 winning percentage. With Draisaitl on RW with either Nugent-Hopkins or McDavid, the Oilers have a 17-13-6 record, and a 0.47 winning percentage. Although, McLellan will often resort to playing Draisaitl on the wing to jumpstart the Oilers’ offence if they’re losing, so it’s not entirely surprising to see McDavid-Draisaitl appear together in some losses. The Oilers also had a strong start to the season as a very good possession team, which has fallen a bit in February and March. 

The Oilers play Dallas tonight and the expected lines feature Draisaitl with McDavid and Maroon. That line has only one goal scored at five-on-five the last four games, and Draisaitl may benefit from some lesser competition at centre rather than facing some of the opposition’s best when with McDavid. The Lucic-RNH-Eberle line has recovered recently, but it’s imperative the Oilers get McDavid going during this last home stretch of the season.

  • Hemmercules

    They are going to have to find someone else to play with Mcdavid eventually, either this summer on the market or from within. Cant keep Drai there forever. Drai seems to be burning out a bit playing big minutes against top opposition every night too. McDavid has slowed down a little maybe but he still looks dangerous all the time, I dont think he’s human.

    Tough call to flip lines at the moment, Ebs-lucic-Nuge have been playing way better and you would probably have to separate them. I guess when the team isn’t winning might as well hit the blender. Blender time should have been that last 3 day break, they have a stretch of games now every other night.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      I think McDavids conditioning is so good that he can continue to play a lot of minutes. That’s what happens when you’ve trained with Gary Roberts since you were 15.

      He just hasn’t cashed in recently. It will come though.

    • Hemmercules

      I think people got way too ahead of themselves on Jesse. Great prospect, likely to play on the team next year, but I just don’t see him making the jump to first line next season. He should have been in Bakersfield way sooner than he was and while it sounds like he’s playing fairly well down there I don’t think he’s really lighting it up. I would be surprised to see him called up this season unless a rash of injuries hit or they fall right out of contention. I say don’t rush him what so ever and search the market this summer.

      • Dwayne Roloson 35

        we should also have realistic expectations. PizzaParty might end up being just a solid 40-50pt winger with size. Just because he’s Finnish, doesn’t mean he’s Kurri.

  • Lamar's Javelin

    Um, point of clarification. Per pts in the standings they win 61% and 56% respectfully. While the writer may use the sub .500 based on absolute wins & losses, the reality of our pts system says otherwise.

    • TrueBlue

      Totally agree. Think it would be great, even if its just for a couple of games to mix things up. Kassian has been playing hard the last couple of games as well.

  • Duke of OiL

    This Eberle character is still bringing the team down.Lack of character,hustle,heart is spreading.Kass should have taken his spot long ago!!!T Mac cant see this,its time man,c,com i cant keep watching him….

    • He is hard to watch, even my Flames buddies down here in southern Alberta comment on his excessive lack of passion for the game of hockey. We are seeing a repeat of the cycle, just took a little longer this year. New players, vets and rookies alike, come in like a house on fire, usually for a few weeks, this year for a few months, they bust their asses and then see the lack of accountability with the previous regime and their players and figure why should I bust my ass , when the 6 million dollar men just coast through the games, going through the motions, as it has been and is doomed to be again until we part ways with the non contributors.

  • Consultant

    If we are behind or tied 0-0 half way through this one tonight then I’d put Drai and Maroon down on the third line and bring Kass and another winger up with McD, try that for about a period and see if it helps. Keep Nuge, Ebs and Lucic together for now – everyone seems in agreement on that one, they’ve been good.

  • 4000miaway

    I see what you’re saying, but Lucic-RNH-Eberle is starting to gel and it would be risky to break them up now. So where would Drai slot in? As 3rd line C? Might work, but that would invalidate the Desharnais trade and mean we lost both Davidson and whomever Las Vegas choses for nothing.

    I think there’s value in letting the players and lines work things out among themselves. McLellan should focus on the bigger picture and the systems that he uses. Players will get tired och stuck in a rut at times, but it’s a challange for them to overcome. It sounds like they’re letting Draisaitl rest at practice instead of at games which sounds reasonable.

    • Gravis82

      Exactly. I would have rather had Davidson for a playoff run than Desharnais. That one didn’t make sense, and I think its in the process of backfiring. Davidson right now is a better defender than nurse, with a better shot. So what gives.

      You have three great centers, let them play center.

      • 4000miaway

        I think Desharnais have looked decent so far. But hypothetically, if Draisaitl would play centre for a while and the 2nd line remains intact – Who would be our 1st RW? And don’t say Puljujärvi! I like Kassian and Slepyshev a lot but they’re not 1st line material as long as the LW isn’t either.

  • LordVallko

    Couldnt agree more, this team is full of Todd forced errors, we are doomed if in Todd we trust. Calgary is trash compared to this team except for coaching and they have won 9 straight. When a team completely falls apart in the last 5 minutes as many times as the oilers have, how can you blame anything but coaching. Todd is an overpaid overrated coach. Sorry guys but this team will go no where unless he leaves first. You can take that to the bank.

  • Oil9744

    Good points here with Drai at centre but Edmonton is lucky that Draisaital is good enough to play centre of wing, It’s not Draisaital’s fault if he has a bit of a slump here and there if he’s not even playing in his normal position, look at number 14 if you want to know the main reason for all this line juggling all season, this was suppose to be Eberle’s break out year playing with Connor since day 1 and being in his prime, but he has done the complete opposite and handcuffed Mclellan to play guys out of their positions, I do hope Ebs turns it up in the playoffs though

  • 4000miaway

    Oh boy is this site quiet since the change. I don’t mind the new look but the comments/discussions were a big part of why I kept coming back and that has certainly slowed down. It’s Pouliot level since the update! (Sorry!)

  • Simba99

    Comments by nug just resonates the lack of heart and commitment to going to war this time in the season eberle’s a no heart wonder kid kassian deserves a shot least he’s got the wheels to keep up wins battles against boards ain’t afraid to got to net. Wonder if we see any jersey on the ice tonight if they shit the bed mise well keep that tradition alive