Is it time for Todd McLellan to split Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl up 5-on-5? McDavid and Draisaitl have played together virtually all season, and both are on pace for stellar individual campaigns again, but the Oilers remain dead last in the league in goals scored. They’re a wonderful combination, but loading up one line means less depth overall and the Oilers need more scoring with their 6-9-2 record.
The Patrick Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl line hasn’t scored 5-on-5 in five games. Draisaitl and McDavid have connected for two clutch overtime goals, and those still count, but the majority of games are played 5-on-5. Draisaitl scored against the Islanders, but that was on a mishmash line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic after Edmonton had a power play.
I’m starting to get frustrated watching the #EdmontonOilers play with Mcdavid and Draisaitl on the same line. Spread the wealth..Crosby/Malkin Toews/Kane Gretz/Mess Mario/Jagr They never played together!!
— marc savard (@MSavvy91) November 13, 2017
Edmonton’s lines have been pretty consistent for most of the season. McDavid with Maroon and Draisaitl. Nugent-Hopkins with Milan Lucic and a rotating cast of right-wings. Ryan Strome is generally centring the third line with Jussi Jokinen and Drake Caggiulla as his most frequent wingers, and Mark Letestu, Zack Kassian, and Iiro Pakarinen mopping up on the fourth line.
Mclellan hasn’t backed off the McDavid-Draisaitl duo much this season. Draisaitl played center between Caggiula and Letestu in Pittsburgh one night but was summoned to McDavid’s starboard in the third period. They were even split up on the power play for a stretch, but remained linemates at even strength.
The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson asked McLellan if there’s a tendency to spread his top talent around to boost offence for the third and fourth lines in his pre-game press conference in Washington:
Matheson: “As a coach you’ve got your three guys on the first line with Connor, Patty, and Leon, is there a tendency as a coach to spread it around then cause the third and fourth lines aren’t [going], we’ll move one of those guys down?”
McLellan: “You know what, it’s the age-old adage. We can put Leon on his own line and give him wingers, then Nuge moves down a line and, in my opinion, he’s been one of our better players so why would we do that? We can put Leon down on the third line and then he’s got to be productive with some players that aren’t producing right now. They’re not getting it going. So, until we see a little bit of life from the bottom six we’ll keep our lines the way they are, and if they show a little bit of life, a little bit of ability to score and to create chances, then Leon will have some wingers, and it’s as simple as that.” Source: Oilers TV
McLellan’s point about saddling either Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins with unproductive players is fair. The Oilers’ third line wingers against Washington, Jujhar Khaira and Iiro Pakarinen, had a combined 23 career NHL points going into the game, and although that line scored, putting one of your most productive players with such limited scorers isn’t the best idea. The other options include Drake Caggiula and Anton Slepyshev, but both out with injuries and still are relatively unproven at the NHL level. McLellan doesn’t have the horses right now to run a third line like Tampa Bay or Toronto can.
A third line could be made with either Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins if the Oilers had another middle-six winger or two. McDavid can turn mediocre players into great scorers, so he doesn’t need exceptional linemates.
The bottom six offence has been anemic. Khaira’s goal last night is just the third 5-on-5 goal from lines not centered by McDavid or Nugent-Hopkins. The others include Maroon after a shift with Kassian and Brad Malone against Philadelphia, and the Jokinen-Strome-Caggiula line against New Jersey at home.
Jesse Puljujarvi could change things if he can be a productive top-nine player, but the Oilers still need more options so they’re not just a one or two-line threat. McLellan said as much and he’ll keep running McDavid and Draisaitl together with a lack of offensive choices, but a team with Connor McDavid on it should not be last in goals.
Would you separate McDavid and Draisaitl, even if that means less talented linemates for one of the Oilers’ centers? Do the Oilers need to acquire another winger to create flexibility in the top six/nine?