Oilers fans should take a moment, while they can, to contemplate the possibilities available to a team that boasts a center depth chart of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Teams have been building championships ‘up the middle’ since forever and Edmonton’s center depth—as it stands—is championship calibre and then some.
There’s plenty of talk about winning faceoffs and McDavid (43.2 percent), Draisaitl (49.0) and Nugent-Hopkins (43.8) have plenty of room for improvement. Even with that weakness understood, the depth chart is tremendous for 2017-18.
- Connor McDavid. Back in the olden days, 99’s wingers would all have elevated status for fans. Brett Callighen and B.J. MacDonald scored well with Gretzky but faded to below average when sent away or demoted. In this era it appears we’ll be spending summers talking about possible linemates for 97, with Patrick Maroon and Ryan Strome looking like strong bets to win the lottery this winter. Leon Draisaitl is the easiest fit, but the Oilers may want to see him spend most of his time at center in 2017-18. McDavid’s line scored more than a goal a game last season (30 for CMD, 29 for LD, 27 for Patrick Maroon) and it might be hard for Todd McLellan to turn his back on that kind of production.
- Leon Draisaitl. I had a long look at Draisaitl without Connor McDavid at 5×5 last season, and projected the big man would post 62 points as a stone alone (No. 1 power play, 2C). That might seem like a disappointing total but running a solo line against tough competition won’t be easy. I see LD as as C-R for one more season with Ryan Strome as his mirror man (playing center when Leon is with 97, move to R when LD heads back to center). That wonderful playoff run by the big center during the playoffs shouldn’t be regarded as normal or a reasonable expectation, but it did suggest he should be able to have success centering his own line.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Back in the day, the Montreal Canadiens had stunning depth at center, allowing them to rest their men more often than opponents while still icing a strong lineup. Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard were the top centers and Ralph Backstrom played a secondary (but vital role) as the third man in the middle. Nuge makes $6 million a year, so a secondary role is an insane luxury but it gives Edmonton tremendous cover and the ability to move Draisaitl to the wing. RNH has lost some of his offense, important he gets it back, but playing CMD and LD at center ahead of him may well give the Nuge a push against lesser opposition.
- Mark Letestu. One of the benefits of playing the trio above at center is that Letestu can spend more time (and be more effective) on special teams. Letestu is a savant on the power play and plays a lot 4×5 too. A trio of centers as above should allow Todd McLellan to spot his fourth line as required by game state.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The four men listed as centers scored a total of 93 goals a year ago, can they do it again? Edmonton has some areas of weakness across the roster but center is ridiculous. The Oilers have a championship depth chart at the position.