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Photo Credit: James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports

Separating McDavid and Draisaitl

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.

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

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

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?

  • Simba99

    Goes to show the coaching abilities of the oilers seein McLellan on the hot seat the duo is his only saving grace and the fact he’s riding talbot like a rented mule doesn’t help the only thing left to wonder is are the out by thanksgiving or Christmas

  • hockeyartist

    Trade away Hall and Eberle for Larsson and Strome and you just traded for a net loss of around 100 points per season. You can move forwards around like a shell game but the horses just arent there. Unless someone like Puljajarvi pulls off a Draisaitl like season the Oilers are going to struggle on offense all season long.

  • Reinman

    Once Shlep and Cagguila are back, I would seperate them. McDavid-Maroon-JP/Shlep, Drai-Lucic-Kass. Nuge-Shlep/JP- Cagguila Give Nuge whoever is playing better between JP and Shlep.

    • Reinman

      Oh, meant to say that Drai and McDavid have been getting shut down a lot this year. Splitting them up, plus Nuge give us 3 scoring lines, and makes us much more difficult to defend. Also, lately Strome’s line has been getting worked over badly. Getting a better 3rd line helps us there too. Of course, I agree, right now we don’t ahve the horses to do this. We need Shlep and Cagguila to have 3 scoring lines.

  • russ99

    I think we need to trade for a shooter for McDavid’s line before we split them up.
    Then it makes sense:

    Maroon – McDavid – Shooter X
    Lucic – Draisaitl – Slepyshev
    Strome – RNH – Pujuljarvi
    Caggiula – Letestu – Khaira

    • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

      Maybe JP can be the shooter for now? I posted a while ago that I think good line combinations (when Caggiula and Slepyshev are healthy) would be:

      Maroon – McDavid – JP
      Caggiula – Draisaitl – Slep
      Lucic – RNH – Strome
      Pak/Khaira – Letestu/Malone – Kassian

      You could also move RNH up to the 2nd line and have Strome center the third line, but I think this spreads out the offense better, because I’m not banking on any Strome centered line to provide offense. It gives the team a different look, if JP keeps shooting everything on net, I think that is good for McDavid, and the other two lines should be very good at cycling the puck and generating sustained pressure in the offensive end.

      I think people pay too much attention to who is being labelled 3C or 2C, and how the ice time will be divided. If the team has three legitimate scoring lines and starts producing, the guys will be a lot happier than they are now, guaranteed.

      Regardless, the team needs to get healthy before they have legitimate wingers to put beside Draisaitl.

    • Svart kaffe

      Who are you trading away? And an answer equivalent to “a bottom-6 bum for a proven 1RW scorer” doesn’t cut it in real life. And they haven’t got 2 years of waiting around for the perfect deal like Sakic did.

      Giving up picks on the other hand is doable, but stupid. This team doesn’t have a lot of promising prospects as it is and with the cap situation coming up they will need cheap, good players coming up through the system every now and then.

      My best bet would be on Chiarelli finding another Maroon. An unproven player who somehow gels with McDavid. I guess that’s what they were hoping for with Strome but the scouts forgot to mention he’s skating in cement and can’t shoot. He has brains though, I’ll give him that. (As opposed to, say Pakarinen, who has a lot of hustle and a decent shot but couldn’t anticipate a clever pass from a quality centre.)

    • ScottV

      Give LD 5 – 10 games playing 2c and it will quickly be no comparison. I guess we will never see it, but – the answer is Nuge to 1RW – switching on the fly at C – with McDavid. Well – maybe not the answer, but certainly worth an extended look.

      • AJ88

        Pure speculation by you on the “no comparison” comparison. I don’t think McLellan agrees with you or he would have done it. As for the sport writers and bloggers that have access to McLellan, “Mr. McLellan, why do you not entertain the idea of RNH switching places with Drai, is there a problem with McD and RNH on the same line”?

  • Svart kaffe

    McLellan’s reasoning is fair and should work as incentive for the bottom-6. If two of them can get some offence going on their own then they will be awarded with Draisaitl as C. I’d like that.

    I don’t like the idea of moving RNH to either 3C or 1W as he’s a legitimate 2C on this team at this moment. In his own zone he might even be their 1C. Should he struggle later on try something else with him but right now keep him where he is.

  • Cowboy Bill

    The bottom six consists of Jokinen , Strome , Pakarinen , Letestu , Kassian , Khaira & Malone , with Caggiula & Slepychev on IR . Should there really be any question as to why the third & fourth lines aren’t producing much of anything . What McLellan wants is for Chiarelli to find him some players to play on the bottom two lines because there’s nothing to work with . It starts with the centers Strome , Letestu & Malone . Even when Caggiula & Slepyshev return it will make no difference . Letestu is struggling , Strome looks to be better suited for the wing & Malone is inconsistent . It doesn’t matter who their wingers are , they aren’t getting it done . Why would the coach want any of his top six playing anywhere near any of those players ? This is a problem . Get the GM on that right away .

    • Svart kaffe

      That’s been discussed to death already and McLellan clearly thinks RNH is a really solid C. And he’s right. He’s probably their best C in their own zone.

    • Christian Pagnani

      RNH with McDavid is interesting, but it doesn’t change anything.

      The McDavid line is producing, although with a small slump. RNH and Lucic are doing fine on the second line. After that is just a wasteland for offensive productive. That’s why putting either Draisaitl or RNH on the third line is enticing. Either center with two capable wingers should win most matchups the opposing coach throws at them, since they’ll put their best players to defend McDavid and the second line.

      • AJ88

        So how much ice time do the three lines get? And the fourth line? In your scenario I see either Nuge or Drai getting 12 – 13 minutes a game. Does not make sense to me.

        • Christian Pagnani

          RNH gets ~14:40 of EV TOI/gp. Strome’s been the third-line center and he gets 12:50. Letestu is around 8 and I’d run three lines more and a fourth line that plays sparingly. Letestu and Kassian aren’t getting anything done 5-on-5, why not play them even less and have your top-nine out more?

          • Christian Pagnani

            That’s what he’s already playing. I’m saying cut the TOI for the fourth line and give it to lines two and three, with a better center on line three of course. Then you don’t have to worry about RNH/Draisaitl playing less than they should.

      • Serious Gord

        Mcd and drai are producing. Maroon is not. The combined production of the top two lines is well down from last season. Production from 3+4 is irrelevant if that remains the situation.

  • JimmyV1965

    On what frickin planet is it against the law to play Drai as RW with RNH? The coach automatically says we can’t split up McDavid and Drai because RNH goes to the third line. I don’t get it. If he plays with RNH that gives us two exceptionally dangerous lines instead of one.

    • Stack Pad Save

      Totally agree. But 5 x5 scoring isn’t a problem for the Oilers. The reason they cant win is because of specialty teams. Their Power Play and PK are abysmal. What I don’t understand is why they don’t move Letestu off of the first unit and place RNH on it to make it more dangerous and move the puck better.

  • TKB2677

    I am of the opinion and have been of the opinion since the playoffs that the Oilers best line up has McDavid and Leon on different lines. Those 2 are your best players. You are going to be paying them as your 2 best players so let them anchor 2 lines. As magic as they are together, I think they get too cute as they take turns trying to set each other up. They each often pass up golden opportunities to shoot in prime scoring positions in order to try and set the other guy up for what would be a spectacular goal but are very very low percentage. By separating them, you force them to be the MAN on each line. To be the guys that the puck goes through and to be the ones that are making the plays.

    PLUS most opposition teams have a decent top D pair but there is a bit of a drop off to the second pair. By splitting up your 2 best players, only one of them will be up against a teams top pair so the other should get lesser dmen. Most opposition teams have one really good line, then there is a drop off to the lower lines. So that means one of your 2 best players is going up against a slightly lesser line. By loading them up on one line, you are making the other coaches job easier because he can throw out his best d pairing and best line against one line.

    For the lines, there IS a difference between lines 1, 2 and 3. Most teams want to give the most mins to there top 2 lines in the neighborhood of 20 mins. Then the 3rd line gets maybe 15 mins. SO if you drop Nuge down to the 3rd line, he’s probably not getting enough mins, same goes for Leon.

    So I would do the lines like this.
    Maroon – McDavid – Nuge. – I think McDavid likes having a super creative guy with him. Nuge isn’t as good as Leon but he’s pretty good. You have center help for McDavid for draws. Nuge is going so you don’t want to cut mins. Nuge shoots a little more than Leon. Plus in the offseason, with Nuge playing SO well, with the game getting faster, Maroon being 30 and you have Lucic who isn’t going anywhere, maybe the smart move is to let Maroon go and find a way to keep Nuge. Nuge then slots in Maroon’s spot on the left side next year.

    Lucic – Leon – Puljujarvi – Leon and Lucic in the playoffs looked good together. They would be cycling beasts. Then you put in the big bodied, good skating, shooter in Puljujarvi who is pretty darn responsible and you have the making of an excellent second line.

    The 6 guys I listed above are your 6 best players and aren’t bottom 6 guys so it does nothing for your bottom 6. While every team needs their bottom 6 to chip in the odd goal, most teams live and die by their top 6 producing. The Oilers need their top 2 lines scoring on a regular basis. By loading up your top line like they do, you are making it easier for other teams to match up and you create more of a drop off between lines. If you split up McDavid and Leon, you would create 2, very good lines, you create match up problems and hopefully you create some healthy competition between 2 lines. When McDavid’s line has a good shift or scores, hopefully Leon’s line would want to go out there and respond. Creating a competition between lines is a good thing.

    • Svart kaffe

      “maybe the smart move is to let Maroon go and find a way to keep Nuge. Nuge then slots in Maroon’s spot on the left side next year.”

      I’m all for letting Maroon go, having RNH as 1LW and then finding a fast skating tough guy as RW. Maybe even Kassian could fill that void? He’s fast and provides muscle for the two skilled guys.

  • Mahaloeh

    Maroon is a plug on Connor’s LW! That man should have 10 goals easy with the set ups he’s had? He’s not a finisher. I’d separate him from Connor & get some speed on that wing. Lucic, Nuge & Puljujarvi (Spepyshev) have played great together in my opinion. Leave them be. Strome’s line looks much better without Jokinen on the wing, I think they can develop into a reliable line. Malone, Letestu & Kassian have the makings of a good 4th line, Letestu needs less minutes to be more effective!

  • bwar

    McClellan needs to have the option of splitting up McDavid and Draisaitl. Right now he’s put the team in a position where it doesn’t feel they are capable of doing that. There is nothing wrong with loading up one line but in games where they aren’t able to produce anything there needs to be another option. Right now that option doesn’t exist.

  • Spoils

    IF you bring in ONE more consistent scorer, than you can feasibly have 3 lines. you can push everyone down depth chart and and you can split McDavid and Drais… that’s our best move. A lot of people look at that and say, build from within. Or one scorer isn’t going to fix things, but if you can push people down the depth chart AND get them playing with more of the intangibles that are missing, than we have a team.

    That said. I would look at McDavid as pushing his own river. So why not load up the second line. Something to try, but it still leaves us with low likelihood of production from the bottom 6.

    Maroon-McDavid-Puljujarvi
    Lucic-RNH-Draisaitl
    Jokinen-Strome-Kassian
    Khaira-Letestu-Pakarinen

    versus

    Maroon-McDavid-???
    Lucic-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi
    “Benson etc.”-RNH-Strome
    Jokinen-Letestu-Kassian

    Either way Sekera back helps. So add the guarantee (Neal etc.) then, if you can get ONE guy from our system to start scoring… Benson/Rattie etc. you can pair that player with Strome and RNH and potentially get lighting in a bottle.

    The current team, getting some bounces, is not going to be elite/top tier.

    But it is a thin line… We can get there with a move like this, some buy-in, some help from the farm, return of Sekera…

  • kelvjn

    Why not keeping Maroon and Draisaitl together and give McDavid a pair of plugs? Call it the Corsby test if you will? It’s not like we can keep the 2017 Maroon for any length of time anyways as he will be in his 30s soon.

    Maroon – Draisaitl – Puljujarvi
    Lucic – Nuge – Strome
    Khaira – McDavid – Kassian
    Jokinen – Letestu – Pakarinen

    Once Strome is moved away from center we longer have a depth chart consist of Kassian plus a bunch of plugs who does not even scores 0.80ppg in the AHL.

  • Randaman

    What the hell does the bottom six have to do with 97 & 29? Put Nuge on Connors wing for gods sake. Put Leon with Lucic and #98 and see where it goes. Bottom six excuse is bull!

  • Da Great One ...

    Why should RNH get demoted to the third line he has been one of our best 14 points already this season definitely a stud so far .. Not bad for 6 million I say keep that second line … And that’s the bottom line ..