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WWYDW: The Playoff Lineup

After a three-game slump, the Edmonton Oilers broke out on Tuesday, pumping five goals past a hapless Antti Niemi and then adding two more on Kari Lehtonen just for good measure, in a 7-1 win over Dallas. In this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday, we ask whether Todd McLellan has found the optimal lineup for the postseason.

The Forwards

Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Leon Draisaitl. There really shouldn’t be any concern as to McDavid’s role, but his linemates deserve scrutiny. Draisaitl picked up two assists on Tuesday and now has seven points in his last 11 games, though only one of those is a goal and he’s been held to a single shot or less in eight of those contests. Maroon’s goal and assist bump him up to four points over that 11-game span.

Milan Lucic – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle. This line has been rolling pretty well. Lucic is playing the most inspired hockey we’ve seen in an Oilers’ uniform. Eberle’s eight-game pointless streak is well in the rearview mirror now. Nugent-Hopkins had been held off the score sheet for four games, but ended that with a goal against the Stars.

Benoit Pouliot – David Desharnais – Zack Kassian. Desharnais has three points in five games since landing in Edmonton. Pouliot’s been back for three of those, and scored against the Stars, ending a brutal 28-game drought. More impressively, after firing three-or-more shots in just four of his first 50 games, he’s done it in all three games post-injury. Kassian has four points in his last four games.

Matt Hendricks – Mark Letestu – Anton Slepyshev. Slepyshev saw some time on the third line and both showed off some shooting acumen and picked up an assist. Hendricks had another difficult game, while Letestu was vanilla.

Scratched: Drake Caggiula, Jujhar Khaira, Iiro Pakarinen. Caggiula is undersized but competitive, and has some value at both ends of the rink, though his scoring has been minimal this year. Khaira plays a heavy, cycle game and can handle duty on the wing or at centre. Pakarinen is an all-purpose forward and clearly a favourite of the coach. Both bring size and some offensive ability to the mix.

In the minors: Justin Fontaine, Anton Lander, Jesse Puljujarvi. Lander is probably the best player in the AHL this season, an elite two-way centre at that level. Fontaine is 29 and has more than 200 games of NHL experience, including 19 in the postseason. Puljujarvi has been scoring at an impressive clip since his demotion.

The Defence

Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson. This all-purpose pairing features two players who complement each other nicely. Larsson is somewhat one-dimensional, but that dimension is vital: the shutdown defender. He’s big, smart and mean, which makes up for modest puck-moving ability and average speed. Klefbom brings those two qualities in abundance, as well as size, but lacks Larsson’s defensive zone acumen. Since January 1, this is a 50 percent Corsi pair which has been on the ice for 26 goals for and only 12 against.

Andrej Sekera – Kris Russell. This pair stormed to prominence with a glorious October, but has cooled considerably since. Since January 1, the duo has been on the ice for just 46% of goals and Corsi events, which even given their defensive assignments isn’t good enough. Oddly, both Sekera and Russell have better shot metrics apart, with each being over 50 percent with other partners.

Darnell Nurse – Matt Benning. Nurse and Benning haven’t played together long enough to get a firm read on them as a duo. Obviously experience isn’t a strength, but both are versatile players. Nurse both is big and plays big, but complements that with speed and confidence with the puck. Benning is smaller, but plays a surprisingly robust physical game for a college defender with puck-moving ability.

Scratched: Eric Gryba. Gryba lacks ability with the puck, but he’s big, physical and is now in his fifth season in the majors at the age of 28. He also has 10 games of NHL playoff experience and has worked reasonably well with Nurse.

In the minors: Mark Fayne, Jordan Oesterle, Griffin Reinhart. I doubt Fayne’s done in the NHL; he’s just 29, and is laying waste to the minors. From a playoff experience perspective, he was also a top-four option for the Devils in their run in 2012. He isn’t fast or particularly good with the puck, but he’s big and smart. Prospects Oesterle and Reinhart bring different skills; wheels and offence in the former case, size and strength in the latter.

That takes us to this week’s question. Is the lineup assembled to beat Dallas the optimal playoff setup for the Oilers? If not, how would you calibrate the lines and defence pairings?


  • Draisaitl can’t handle more than 18 minutes a game. McDavid needs a righty sniper. Eberle is not a sniper. Try out Slepyshev. Problem is, the lineup starts to look weird.


  • Oil9744

    Absolutely, those line ups have shown success before and last night was the best they have all played together since Nurse came back, I’m not sure about the actual stats but it seems like any time Slepysev is in the line up they play very well, I would rather have Slepyshev in then Drake, Jujar, Pakarinen, Sekera and Russel are still a solid 2nd pairing but they have cooled off a bit, Russel has been playing on his opposite side all season so he’s doing a very good job considering, people were getting carried away with the Sekera, Russel pairing as well saying either one of them are the best defencemen on the team Haa that title still belongs to Larsson I think

  • Hemmercules

    I think I would have them pretty close to that. The second and third lines seem to be doing well together. Probably swap out Hendricks with Khaira or Pakarinen. I would like to see Nuge and Drai swapped for a bit just to see it, or even to give Drai a break/change.

    D is fine as well, maybe swap Russel and Benning for a bit?

    Looking at that roster its nice too see that this off seasons wish list is only a few things rather than everything.

  • Jonathan Willis

    Up front, I’m reasonably happy with the top nine, though it may become necessary to rotate Draisaitl and Eberle. I would change the fourth line, and I kind of like the idea of running Slepyshev – Lander – Letestu as the fourth unit.

    Defensively, I’d bring Fayne up and sub him in for Benning. If he plays well, I’d consider going back to last year’s Sekera/Fayne shutdown pairing and then run Nurse/Russell (who I think might complement each other nicely) as the third pair, with Benning the spare.

    • AJ88

      How many times do you give Lander a chance to play in the NHL? His game speed is suited for the AHL not the NHL as we have seen on numerous occasions. Time to move on from this scenario unless he improves his skating.

    • slats-west

      If a dman goes down and one will in the playoffs typically two – then we look very thin. If it’s a quick team then you go with Ostesterle, heavy team then Gryba.

      Forward – is it just me or has Letestu lost a step lately. He can’t skate with anyone. To me JJ needs back in as I’ve really like his poise with puck, is big and fast. I would also alternate Pako and Hendricks. Lander belongs in AHL.

      Wild card is Puj…. you can’t play him with any but MCD and Big Sexy 2.0 – but this cause big changes everywhere. If we our offence starts to sputter on 1 goal outings then I bring him up in the next 3 games to see how he has progressed

    • ricardo2000

      Thoughtful, but I wouldn’t do to much to change the chemistry of the D-pairs. I like exchanging Hendrix-Lander-Cagguila depending on opponent and sense of who is hot or not. Khaira needs to develop better legs and softer hands. I seem to remember the puck clanking off his stick during the last game played.

    • Hemmercules

      Were Sekera and Fayne decent together last season, I can’t recall??

      Its really too bad they have no other true RW besides Eberle to play 1st line. I dont really like Eberle on that first line. Maroon and Drai are much better at maintaining possession, Mcdavid will have to work even harder if you take a Drai out of there. I do think Drai needs a break or something though, he looks a bit sluggish.

      • Jaxon

        Yes, at the end of last season (due to injuries) they were the top pairing facing the toughest competition and they posted pretty good underlying numbers (50% Corsi together on a 29th place team). So going from that to the AHL must have been pretty shocking. From career top 4, to AHL stint, to top pair, to injury and AHL all season, must have been a tough year for Fayne.

  • Natejax97

    If we play the flames…dig up the lineup from the last 7-3 drubbing and start that lineup…

    If we play a bigger team like Anaheim or San Jose then put as much size as possible in the lineup.

    Chicago put your fastest team forward.

    Minnesota…just try to keep everyone awake for a boring game after boring game series.