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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

On a Wing and a Prayer

The Edmonton Oilers wingers are providing very little offence through seven games.

Patrick Maroon has scored in back-to-back games, and he has five points. Maroon has as many goals as the other seven wingers who dressed against Philadelphia.

They miss Leon Draisaitl immensely, and when he returns (which could be tomorrow) there should be no discussion or debate where he plays. Slot him in on the right side with Connor McDavid and hope he picks up where he left off. Draisailt had 1-2-3 in three games before suffering a concussion.

But even when he comes back, it would be beneficial if a winger not named Maroon could score a goal.

Milan Lucic and Ryan Strome each have a goal, but the other seven wingers all have a big goose egg in the G column.

Jussi Jokinen and Zack Kassian have no goals in seven games.
Kailer Yamamoto and Iiro Pakarinen are goalless in six games.
Anton Slepyshev has no goals and only five shots in five games.
Jujhar Khaira is goalless in two games.
Drake Caggiula is injured and only dressed twice, but he is still tied for fourth among wingers in goals. That isn’t a good sign.

I recognize it is only seven games, but before you know it, it could be game 20, and if the lack of production continues the Oilers will have a large crater to climb out of to get back in the playoff race.

I would hope we recognize goals are more important than assists. It doesn’t mean assists aren’t important, and of course you should tell your kids passing is key — no one likes a puck hog — but this is the NHL we are talking about, and finishing off plays is difficult. If goals and assists were equal there would be one assist per goal, not two.

The other factor is often the best playmakers play centre. They have the puck more and they distribute it to the wingers with the hope they’ll score.

Last year, the Oilers wingers were productive.

Maroon had 27 goals. Lucic scored 23. Jordan Eberle had 20. Leon Draisaitl had 15 as a winger. Benoit Pouliot and Tyler Pitlick had eight, Zack Kassian potted seven, Anton Slepyshev and Matt Hendricks had four, Iiro Pakarinen and Drake Caggiula had two and Jujhar Khaira, Anton Lander and Jesse Puljujarvi scored once.

The wingers produced 123 goals. They averaged 1.5 goals/game.

This year the Oilers wingers have five goals in seven games. They are averaging 0.71 goals/game, pretty much half of what they produced last season.

The centres have produced seven goals. Last year they had 85: Connor McDavid had 30, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored 18, Mark Letestu had 16, Draisaitl had 14, Caggiula had five and David Desharnais scored two.

The goal production from the centres last year was 1.03. This year they are basically the same at 1.00.

The defencemen scored 35 goals last year and averaged 0.42 goals/game. This year they have two goals in seven games, 0.29 goals/game. The defence is slightly under, but it’s a small sample size and goal scoring isn’t their main priority.

OFFENCE SPUTTERING

Sep 30, 2017; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) blocks a shot on net by Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Strome (18) during the third period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers offence is sputtering along with 14 goals in seven games. The drop in offence compared to last season points mainly to a lack of finish from the wingers. Draisaitl, when he returns, will help immensely and with such a lack of scoring on the wings right now, it makes way more sense to play him on the RW and have Strome or Malone play centre.

The wingers have generated 118 shots through seven games for an average of 16.8 shots/game, which is a big increase from last year when wingers averaged 13.4 shots/game.

It is likely the Oilers shots/game will go down, and their goal production will go up, but it needs to start turning now. You can’t just sit and wait and expect everything to regress towards the mean.

The Oilers are leading the NHL in shots/game at 38.9. Montreal is second at 38.4. The Habs are 31st in goals with 12 and the Oilers are 30th with 14. Shots on goals are nice, but goals matter much more and the ability to score is underrated in my eyes.

The Oilers don’t need Draisaitl to play centre right now, just so he can “carry a line,” they need someone to produce consistently with McDavid and he is easily their best winger. Sure, he is also their second best centre, but if RNH and Letestu can keep chipping in goals, the best place for Draisaitl for right now is to play wing with McDavid.

I’m sorry, but Kailer Yamamoto isn’t the answer in 2017. He could be in 2018 or 2019, but he isn’t right now and that is okay. He just turned 19. He isn’t strong enough to be an impact player and when you consider the salary cap, it makes much more sense to send him back to junior at the end of the month. Yamamoto has very good hockey sense. He knows where to go and is around the puck a lot. The issue right now is a lack of strength. So far his shot doesn’t look hard enough, but that will change as he matures. The biggest positive I see from Yamamoto is how he thinks and sees the game — he’s willing to go to the scoring areas and has the hockey smarts to know when to do so. It is difficult to teach that type of instinct and that part of his game has been extremely impressive.

Let’s be clear, I’m not blaming him for the lack of offence — he’s exceeded my expectations ten fold, but I also don’t think he is ready to be a contributing top-six forward. And when you include the salary cap implications in the future, it is best for Yamamoto’s development, and the Oilers future, to have him back in junior in November.

Yamamoto’s ELC has a base salary of $925,000, but he only has a maximum bonus of $230,000. He would need to reach two of the following to max out at $230,000 each year: 20 goals or 35 assists or 60 points, or top-six in TOI among forwards, a PPG of .73, top-three among forwards in +/- or selected to play in the All-Star game.

His max cap hit would be $1.155 million. From what I’ve seen thus far, and knowing that the season will only get more difficult, I don’t see the value in keeping him, especially when I would play Draisaitl on the top line. If you keep him and he produced 30-35 points, is that the smart move? Or would it be more prudent to have him next season and the following two years at $1.155 million when he could produce 40-50 points or possibly even more?

Even if you want to play Draisaitl at centre, I’m not sold that Yamamoto will produce more than Strome, Caggiula or Slepyshev, if any of them were to play a regular shift with McDavid.

IMPROVE THE OFFENCE?

Sep 18, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) controls the puck against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Draisaitl’s return should help, and so should Caggiula, albeit to a lesser extent. But GM Peter Chiarelli has over $7 million in cap space to use and if I was him I’d start looking at some trade options. I still don’t think he is in panic mode, but there are a few wingers who would entice me.

Vegas is off to an incredible start and James Neal is already on record saying he would be very interested in staying in Vegas. He is an unrestricted free agent and by the trade deadline I doubt Vegas is in a playoff spot. If he is available I’d look for him as a rental.

A more enticing player, mainly because I think the Oilers could re-sign him to a decent contract, is speedy right winger Michael Grabner. Grabner turned 30 earlier this month. He had 27 goals last year, none on the power play, and he’s scored 20 and 34 goals in other years. He also had 16 goals in the lockout shortened 2013 season. He can also kill penalties. The Rangers are struggling and with Henrik Lundqvist on the downside of his career, and Ondrej Pavelec as a backup, I don’t see them rebounding.

Historically, we don’t see a lot of trades early in the year. The last time the Oilers made a trade in October after the season had started was in 2013 when they traded Mike Brown to San Jose for a fourth round pick. Last year, they dealt Nail Yakupov to St.Louis three days before the season began and a few days (October 7th) before the 2002/2003 season began they traded Mike Grier to the Washington Capitals, for a second and third round pick.

The last big early season trade occurred on November 10th, 2000, when the Oilers traded Bill Guerin and a 2001 first round pick (Shaone Morrisson) to Boston for Anson Carter a second round pick in 2001 (Doug Lynch) and a first round pick in 2001 (Ales Hemsky). The Oilers had the right to swap first round picks in 2001 or 2002 and opted to do it in 2001. It turned out to be a pretty good trade for Edmonton.

Early season trades are rare because teams are cautious. General Managers don’t want to panic or second-guess themselves only ten or 20 games into a season.

I’m sure Chiarelli will want to see how the team looks with Draisaitl and Caggiula in the lineup. I think most of us expect Draisaitl’s return to jumpstart McDavid and the top line’s production, but with so much cap space Chiarelli doesn’t have to wait until the trade deadline to make a move. I’d keep my eyes on Grabner. The Oilers could use his speed and he is a solid complementary scorer.

PARTING SHOTS…

Head coach Todd McLellan said he anticipates Draisaitl and Caggiula will return tomorrow night in Pittsburgh, but stated they have yet to be cleared to play. It would seem like they are ready and if so, that means two forwards from Saturday’s lineup need to come out and one forward needs to be removed from the 23-man roster.

I’d guess we see these lines: (Not necessarily what I would run)

Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl
Lucic-RNH-Yamamoto
Caggiula-Strome-Kassian
Jokinen-Letestu-Slepyshev

Malone would seem like the easy choice to go down because he doesn’t need to clear waivers (he did after training camp). I’ve liked his game and if it was me, I’d keep him, but contracts play a bigger factor in roster decisions at times.

I could see the Oilers giving Yamamoto a few more games, but then he will be returned to junior and when that happens I’d recall Malone and play him at third line centre and move Strome back to the second line RW.

Where would you play Draisaitl and Caggiula?

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Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • oiler_head

    This is not about anything in this article other then to state that Doug Lynch is my son’s coach this season. Hell of a coach and great with the kids. He has a hockey school here in PDX along with Max Gordichuk who was another Olier draft pick.

  • The Perceptor

    It irritates me that the coach hasn’t put RNH on McDavid’s wing. And since nothing is gelling, why not give Draisaitl and a couple wingers a chance to gel. Why not try something like this:

    Maroon McDavid RNH
    Lucic Draisaitl Yamamoto
    Strome
    Letestu

    It also kinda bugs me that Maroon is always with McDavid, even when the team is struggling. There were a few games earlier in the year where it looked like Lucic had some jump and Maroon was off. Why not put him beside McDavid from time to time. I almost get the sense that Coach TM has unknowingly created some entitlement in the room with the way he distributes his lines.

    • Big Nuggets

      I dont think Coach trusts any other centers to handle 5 on 5 against the other teams top lines. Nuge is our man for the job. Maybe Drai can do it but ideally you want Drai gettibg offensive zone starts.

  • madjam

    Who’s on the diabolical bandwagon to run Yamamoto off of Gregor’s team and out of town ? To think Jason likes him 10 fold better than he used to makes you laugh .

  • OldOilFan

    Yam – agree with ‘madjam’ above, it’s too early to make a decision on Yam. He’s a genuine talent and he MIGHT start putting pucks in the net soon.
    As for questioning Yam’s strength-of-shot, I remember Mario Lemieux commenting on the importance to his own shot, “It’s not how hard you shoot it, it where’s you put it.”

  • camdog

    I expected Malone to be the first forward called up after he had an excellent pre season. He’s out played numerous players on our 3rd and 4th line. That’s not a good news when an AHL veteran is better than many of your NHL Pro’s. It’s also not good news when a guy that should be in the WHL is one of your best wingers. Malone and Yamamoto can be both sent packing tomorrow, it won’t make the Oilers a better hockey team though…