After a dominant performance that saw Edmonton spank Calgary 3-0 on opening night, things have gone south for the Oilers. They got outworked by the Canucks, then dropped an ugly one to the Jets on home ice, and now sit 1-2-0 for the season. I don’t think three games is any reason to smash the panic button, but it seems some changes need to be made in order for the team to start playing better.
This week’s What Would You Do Wednesday? question is about how the Oilers should shuffle the lines. Specifically, should the Oilers split up Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? Should Matt Benning be put back with Darnell Nurse? Should Ryan Strome or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins be put on McDavid’s wing? Are there any other out of left field ideas that could spark the team?
At the top of all of this are McDavid and Draisaitl, really. The top line of Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl has really been Edmonton’s only consistent offensive threat through the first three games. They’ve accounted for four of the team’s seven goals and control 66 percent of the shot attempts when on the ice together.
But after that? It’s been dicey. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has shown some offensive flair and has two goals, one at even strength and one on the power play, centring a line with Milan Lucic and a revolving door of right wingers. The third line, currently centred by Ryan Strome, has been out of sorts offensively as new Oilers try to create some chemistry.
I like the idea of having McDavid-Draisaitl-RNH as the top three centres. There’s certainly an argument to be made that RNH could excel on McDavid’s wing, but having your three best centres each anchor their own line gives the team a deep attack. The most important part for me is having McDavid and Draisaitl split up, like we saw in the playoffs. Sure, put them together and double shift them in the third if you need a goal, but having them out together all game makes the Oilers easier to match against.
Ryan Strome, who’s looked very trigger happy through three games, could be a right wing fit next to Maroon and McDavid. Zack Kassian has skated very well through three games and could excel in an offensive role with either Leon Draisaitl or RNH. Kailer Yamamoto, if he’s going to be in the NHL, really shouldn’t be playing on the fourth line. He looked good with Draisaitl in pre-season, though that’s a very small sample size.
On the blueline…
With the steadying presence of Andrej Sekera out for the first few months of the season, it was inevitable the Oilers’ blueline was going to struggle out of the gate.
I think Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson are a pairing you don’t split up. They’re developing into the team’s top pairing and have excellent chemistry together. But after that? While Eric Gryba and Darnell Nurse have looked solid so far, Matt Benning and Kris Russell have struggled. Everyone on the Oilers has a shot attempt differential above 50 percent so far, and Benning and Russell are two of them who don’t. Part of this comes down to Russell’s game of giving up the blueline to protect a high danger chance against, but another part is Benning possibly not being ready to take on a bigger role in his sophomore season.
The only real option here is to make a swap and put Benning and Nurse back together while sliding Gryba alongside Russell. I mean, you could put Russell on the right side because he’s comfortable either way, but it seems the best course of action is putting Nurse and Benning, a pair who excelled together last season, back together.
What do you do?
The Oilers don’t play again until Saturday, giving them quite a bit of time to practice with new lines and pairings and to work out kinks. What changes, if any, do you make?