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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Line Shuffling

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?

Up front…

Apr 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates Draisaitl’s third period goal against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place. The goal marked McDavid’s 100th point of the season. The Oilers won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

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…

Apr 16, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks right wing Melker Karlsson (68) stumbles trying to get the puck as Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell (4) watches in the third period of game three in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center at San Jose. The Oilers won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

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?

    • pkam

      McLellan has tried more than half a dozen of RWs on Connors line (Drisaitl, Eberle, Slepyshev, Pitlick, Yamamoto, Strome, Caggiula). I believe even Khaira had a couple of shifts, but no RNH. I think it tells how much McLellan trusts RNH as a centre despite his poor FO. I doubt we will ever see Nuge plays on the wing under McLellan.

      • Spydyr

        Kurri was the centre in the defensive zone with Gretzky. Nuge could provide the same thing for Connor. Connor’s line had three goals scored against them last game.

  • Checker + Skilled Centre + Shooter = Success

    For the next 6 games:

    1st Line: I liked the Maroon-McDavid-Strome line in the pre-season provided that McDavid is the one heading the puck up the ice and toward the net and if there’s rebounds, Maroon and Strome are there. This happened twice in one pre-season game alone. And yes, if McDavid is having a rare off night, Draisaitl needs to drive his own line, but the Oilers need the deep attack.

    2nd Line: Lucic-Draisaitl-Yamamoto I’m not sure who fits here. It was supposed to be Puljujarvi. Yam should get his 9 games. Slepyshev is the next best option as he’s a good shooter, but he’s gonna need at least 5 games to get back into stride. This is a real hole for the Oilers with Eberle gone and why Kassian is filling it. Keep Yamamoto on it for now then send him down.

    3rd Line: Caggiula/Jokinen – Nuge – Kassian/Jokinen. While paying Nugent-Hopkins $6m a year to play 3rd line centre doesn’t make much sense, a triple attack does and Caggiula and Nuge can work together as skilled guys. This line has three guys who can take faceoffs. Nuge needs a guy like Jokinen to handle those. I wouldn’t play Caggiula or Jokinen every game either. If the cap goes up to $80m as rumoured, Nuge doesn’t need to be traded for cap space. He should stay to anchor the 3rd line and score tonnes on generally weaker competition on that line as a difference-maker.

    4th Line: Khaira – Letestu – Pakarinen. This is a good grinder line with some skill. Pak is proving himself with some speed as well. But I love to see Kassian stay with Letestu on this line to form one of the best 4th lines in the league.

    On defense, the Oilers can’t do it every game with the current 2nd pair. Team defense only takes you so far. The Oilers desperately need a 2nd pair right-shot puck mover who still plays decent coverage, and currently, Benning is not that guy. He may be one day. Like 2nd line right wing, this is a huge hole on the team and Chiarelli needs to find someone soon. Benson’s injured and Autivu isn’t great to be the 7th d-man. What happens if Russell gets injured from all the pucks he blocks? Big trouble. Big big trouble.

    Klefbom – Larsson
    Russell – ???
    Nurse – Gryba/Benning

    And did anyone forget that Matt Hendricks may have given the Jets some inside info on the Oilers and how to beat them? I bet he did.

  • TruthHurts98

    PC’s hope of players stepping up hasn’t happened, the RW depth and defense are in need of help. Benning will develop into a nice RD but needs time. I hope he makes a trade or two, up front after Connor Leon and Nuge there’s literally not much secondary offense. Coming out and working much harder will change a lot and Brossoit deserves another start IMO.

  • bwar

    The club needs to be managed so that McClellan can juggle the lines mid game. I think the general strategy should be opening each game with Draisaitl and McDavid split up. Leaving the option to load up the top line when needed. Draisaitl proved he can drive a line in the playoffs last year and having two dominant lines would be a huge boon for the club. That being said this strategy also requires capable wingers, which it appears we don’t currently have. I’d be very flexible with the RW position but my aim would be to fill those slots with the most skilled players possible.

    19-97-93
    27-29-56
    36-18-91
    16-55-44

    That’s where I would start with Slepyshev and Pakarinen as my extra forwards. Slepyshev is my first replacement in virtually every scenario as he is more capable to filling any role needed. Nuge gets a chance to see what he can do with McDavid and Yamamoto gets 500lbs of linemates. Still end up with a very solid third line that should be able to either produce against weaker competition or play a very solid defensive game against more skilled opposition. Fourth line is pretty standard with all three being able of moving around the lineup as needed.

  • madjam

    After a fine performance against the Flames , the Oiler squad looks like they took next two games to lackadaisical and maybe felt it was easy part of schedule . With intensity down , and lack of defensive awareness and full battle readiness , along with Talbot’s poor showing the two results were losses . Talbot not yet ready for battle tests so far and was tested little in first game . First game against Flames only Smith was battle ready and it showed massively , maybe giving our team a bit of over confidence going into next two games against teams we should be able to beat when club shows up in right frame of mind and goalie performs up to form . Commitment by forwards to help more defensively seems to be in order for next while and return of form from Talbot who might be on a short lease after last two performances .

  • QuitForRealThisTime

    What would I do? Let the person with like 1000+ games coaching good Hockey teams for the past dozen or so years make the decision….

    So it looks like Nuge will be playing with Conner and trade/waiver for a new new defenseman. So says the Spydyr

  • EzraElliott

    I don’t see Russel performing as badly as a lot of the blog/newspaper coverage seems to suggest. Benning, however, looks entirely out of his league on the second pairing and is, as a result, making Russel look worse than he is. It’s frustrating that Chia didn’t pick up a one-year RD over the summer while we still have some options/cap-space. As far as RW goes—and I’ve said this before—either play Yamamoto in the top six or send him back to the Chiefs. Playing a skilled, top-six playmaker as a fourth-line grinder is only going to kill his confidence. Strome is shooting, yes, but he also looks extremely slow out there (along with Jokinen), so I worry about how slow he’d look on McD’s wing, and if he can’t handle that role (and Drai centres the second line, which I think he should), we really don’t have a first-line right winger (unless Yamamoto kicks things into another gear or Puljujarvi figures things out in a hurry in the AHL). Overall, an admittedly worrisome couple games, but if we can (quickly) figure things out internally or fill these holes externally, we should be fine.

  • Serious Gord

    While I’m not saying to put the lines into a blender this early I do wonder if a second line of rnh drai lucic could work – putting Strome Down as the 3rd centre

  • TKB2677

    I have no problem trying Nuge on the win. Whether it be with Leon or with McDavid it doesn’t matter to me. I would load up the top 6. With Caggulia banged up and quite frankly playing lousy, I would then role with a 3rd line of Slep – Jokinen – Kassian as Jokinen can play center and is quite good at draws. Then you’d have some speed, size and some bang and crash on the wings. You’d have 2 righties but so what. Slep is a Russian, most Russians can play their opposite side. I’d role with a 4th line of Kharia – Letestu – Pakarinen. When Caggulia comes back you put him in the bottom 6. What lines will depend on how is going but I would see Pakarien coming out first.

    In the top lines. You traded Eberle for Strome. Now to expect Strome to outscore Eberle I think is not realistic but you’d hope he could recover the majority of Eberle’s goals and points while adding more size and playing a better all around game. So put him in the top 6 and actually give him a look. They put him with McDavid for what 2 preseason games. Now apparently based on reports, he didn’t look terrible but he wasn’t bad either. He got 2 goals in 2 games with McDavid so I don’t think he was that bad. He didn’t knock the socks off the coaches but I think McLellan was WAY too quick to pull him off. If you hear Strudwick talk, most NHL vets give MAYBE 75% effort in the preseason, even the last game. It’s pretty obvious its true because the difference in intensity between a regular season game and the last preseason game when the line up is usually pretty set isn’t even close. So to yank Strome off McDavid’s line because he had a couple of mediocre preseason games early was way too premature.

    What surprises me a bit with Strome is how long did McLellan stick with Eberle on McDavid’s wing last season when Eberle was beyond bad. It was into November I think. So give Strome a legit chance.

  • Spoils

    looking at these lines we need more scoring from the wing. Doesn’t matter how you shuffle this deck. Yamamoto and Puljujarvi just aren’t ready yet.

    We are giving up 20-30 regular season points moving from Strome to Eberle. it isn’t coming from Yams or JP… sooo nobody should be that surprised.

  • Our biggest “acquisition” this offseason has not showed up, and that’s inner growth. Aside from RNH, McDavid, and maybe Khaira this growth we were looking forward to hasn’t shown itself. Nurse looks worse then he did last year, Benning can’t handle the top 4 minutes, Drake hasn’t even been visible yet, JP is in the AHL and while Leon hasn’t looked bad he hasn’t taken an ever bigger step forward this offseason like we thought he would. I hope it’s just rust but they didn’t seem too rusty on Wednesday. I agree that we should separate McDavid and Draisaitl, that is the pairing teams spent the last few months studying and watching. This where the versatility that Chiarelli has built through trades and FA comes in.

  • HOCKEY83

    They need to send Yamamoto back down to junior…he clearly isn’t ready and bring up Puljujarvi. He’s bigger and stronger and will do as well or better than Yamamoto.

  • Neumann

    I love line shuffling for 3 reasons.

    1. It provides for excellent comments on blog posts.
    2. It gives the coach plenty of options during the push for the post season and during the post season.
    3. It can help a player get out of a funk/send a message.

    Take the first 10 games to figure out what works. Then continue to tinker for the rest of the year. A championship team isn’t a finished product it is a work in progress.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    Here’s my lines

    Maroon-McDavid-Strome
    Lucic-Draisitl-Slepyshev
    Jokinen-Nuge-Pakarinen/Caggiula
    Caggiula-Letestu-Kassian

    Klefbom-Larsson
    Russell-Gryba/Auvitu
    Nurse-Benning

    Talbot
    Brossoit

    That being said, Montreal is reportedly shopping Mark Streit. Maybe he’s worth a look as a temporary replacement for Sekera

      • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

        Thanks. I modeled it after the lines Edmonton rolled with when they played Game 7. For reference, here was that lineup.

        Maroon-McDavid-Caggiula(injured)
        Lucic-Draisitl-Slepyshev
        Pouliot(gone)-Nuge-Eberle(gone)
        Desharnais(gone)-Letestu-Kassian

        Klefbom-Larsson
        Sekera(injured)-Russell
        Nurse-Benning
        Reinhart-Gryba

        Talbot
        Brossoit

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    Oilers need more depth up and down the lineup and it’s time to break up McD and Drai and only put then together in extreme situations. Drai and Lucic seem to play well together. Put Slep on the wing. Strome might work with McDavid, but RNH has looked like he has something to prove. He might work with McD, but does McLellan think so?

  • madjam

    Do we have another problem to be addressed ? Only 4 Oilers have a shooting % above 0.00 % (McDavid , Draisaitl ,Lucic and Hopkins ) after 3 games . Secondary goal scoring is zero so far . Where has all the scoring power gone that we are supposed to have ? Taking on a vision of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight ?

  • Leaking5w-30

    I say put Yamamoto on one of the top 2 lines and give him pp time. Or send him back to junior. Don’t play him 8 min on the forth line. Other than that trust in tmac

  • Stack Pad Save

    I think the Oilers need to create to lrgitimate scoring lines. The other team is able to to focus 100% on the McDavid line and outside of Nuge, their is no legitimate scoring threat as of yet. I would run 3rd line as a shutdown role and a 4th line energy line.

    Maroon-McDavid-Strome
    Lucic-Nuge-Drai (sharing face offs Nuge plays Center)
    Kassian-Letestu-Jokinen
    Khaira-Cagullia-Slepyshev/Pakarinen

    On D I split up Benning and Russell as it is a tire fire. Make Benning and Nurse a combo again.

  • Chainsawz

    Kassian/McDavid/Puljujarvi
    Lucic/Draisaitl/Nugent-Hopkins
    Maroon/Strome/Pakarinen
    Khairi/Letestu/Caggiula

    Klefbom/Larsson
    Gryba/Nurse
    Russel/Auvitu

    You could win out the rest of the season with this line up every night. Book it!