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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

CENTERPIECE

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES

    • Jack Dupp

      Ever wonder if it’s the universe restoring balance after Oilers fans getting screwed during the great dismantling and sell offs of the late 80’s/early 90’s? Or is it history repeating itself? Similar things were said when they got to keep Gretzky as they entered the league. In any event, your envy is showing…

      • That's My Point

        Oilers could have hung on to all their old stars like the Islanders did after their 4 in a row. Where did it get them? Oilers won a cup after the Gretzky trade and Wayne never won again. Oilers win trade. End of story.

    • Alberta Bound Edmonton

      Ah! Little man. Little man! Surely you can do better than this. But given your afficalition I do not expect better. Perphaps when you grow up can you think thoughtfully about your comments before posting. We can then engage in meaningful conversation. Please can we engage in a meaningful conversation.

    • Bob Cobb

      Beat it Troll!…Or at the very least come back with new material that hasnt been said numerous times! Im fine if u want to trash the Oilers but be original!

  • Serious Gord

    The weak play of RNH is a very big reason why the oil did not go further in the playoffs.

    During the upcoming regular season if he is just a decent third line Center he will have to be moved before the following season.

    Either he or drai will have to be moved to the wing in one of the top two pairings and the other become an excellent second centre.

    I’m thinking that it will be drai who stays at centre and rnh will be in another team’s silks. I doubt he has the skill set to be an effective elite winger (if he did he would probably already have become that though i concede that eberle may have blocked a serious attempt at trying that last season).

    Either way I expect he will be given ample opportunity to succeed somewhere this season. I think it would be an if mistake to start him on the third line.

    • NoBuBlackOPS

      In oder to become an effective elite winger as you put it. One needs to play on the wing an good amount of time before you can make that assumption. RNH has all the tools to be an effective top 6 winger he needs a chance on the wing before you pass judgment about his ability to play on the wing.

      • Serious Gord

        I think he deserves a shot on the wing.

        But I disagree that he has “all the tools”. He certainly isn’t physical. It remains to be seen whether he has either the playmaking or the scoring skills from the wing to succeed on the first or second line.

  • ScottV

    McL should start the process of cementing McD and Drai as potentially the best 1 2c punch in hockey. They both need the experience in the elite pivot role, to work on the details involved with consistently outplaying top end competitor c’s. Faceoffs, game management, transition, d zone, – the whole bit, is only gonna get the best that is possible through experience.

    I don’t mind Maroon – McD – Strome and I like Lucic – Drai. However – until Puljujarvi is ready for top 6 (probably another year), PC has to get Drai a proven RW to work with. Slepy is not gonna cut it there. He’s almost as scattered as Yak. Running around – not getting much tangible done. I like the idea of someone like Iginla – as the stop gap measure in that spot for a year.

  • Spydyr

    I hope Nuge gets a chance with Connor. Nuge is defensively sound and if they do have to move Nuge for cap reasons ( something I don’t like ) boosting Nuge’s numbers would be a good thing.

  • OriginalPouzar

    We should also mention that Strome is a natural center – although I’d rather see him on the wing (he’s Nuge at center without the defensive accumen).

    Jokinen can fill in for faceoffs on his strong side (I wouldn’t want him playing center though).

    Lets not forget about Brad Malone who has played almost 200 NHL game and will compete for a job and brings Lander like attributes.

  • madjam

    Nice to see the strength of center . Just as important is the strides last year and this season of Wingers to compliment them . The vast majority of wingers bring size and good board work , winning key battles for puck and possession .

  • wiseguy

    “Brett Callighen and B.J. MacDonald scored well with Gretzky but faded to below average when sent away or demoted.”

    This is exactly the reason why I’m cautious about signing Leon or Maroon to big contracts or bragging about our centre depth as much of Leon’s stats were with McDavid.

    • JimmyV1965

      Then I think of the crucial game 5 against the Sharks where Leon was the best player on either team. That saucer pass to Desharnais for the game winner was magnificent. There’s probably not 10 Cs in the league that can make the pass so perfectly that Desharnais gets it in full stride. Even more stunning was the pass he made on the PP through four bodies to Letestu for the open netter. That was amazing.

  • nuge2drai

    Maroon – McDavid – Strome

    Lucic – Drai – Nuge

    Cagguila – Jokinen – Puljujarvi

    Khaira – Letestu – Kassian

    I absolutely love this lineup. Slepy as the extra fwd. Lots of cap space to add asst the deadline(Neal).

  • Swordfishtrombones

    One thing I worry about is Strome on Connors starboard for the season, inflating his stats thus possibly expecting a larger raise against the cap (see Leon). But then again a more spread out top 6 or 9 may be for the best and winning is all that matters. I dunno