Despite going into a slump a few weeks ago, the Oilers powerplay has actually climbed itself back up to a respectable number. They currently sit 11th in the league at 20.8%. But that’s not good enough for me.
When you have the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Oscar Klefbom, you should have a powerplay that comfortably sits in the top ten, even the top five. So what should the Oilers do to turn their power play into an elite unit? I have a solution:
NO MORE MARK LETESTU
Even when the powerplay was ice cold, there were two constants: Connor McDavid was on the top unit and he was always accompanied by Mark Letestu. Only two Oilers forwards have played more than 50 minutes with the man advantage this season, and its #97 and #55.
Yes, Letestu is tied for the team lead in PP goals but is that a result of skill or simply playing in a system that is designed to have him as the trigger man? Don’t get me wrong he’s fine at what he’s supposed to do, which is sit back-door and wait for a tap-in, but lately, the other areas in his game have been driving me crazy and hurting the team’s productivity.
He’s honestly a liability if the puck comes to him and he’s forced to make an actual play with it. That goes for continuing the cycle once the team is in the zone or trying to break into the zone.
An example: the go to play for the Oilers is to carry the puck into the neutral zone and then drop it off to Connor McDavid, who does the rest. Well, what happens when the opposition takes that away? Well, I’ve seen Oscar Klefbom and Leon Draisaitl recognize that and simply continue forward with the puck themselves. But on Thursday’s game against the Blues, that option wasn’t there for Letestu and he panicked and threw the puck away. The play continued for about 15 seconds and it resulted in Talbot turning it over and the Blues grabbing a lead.
On the surface, that’s Talbots fault for the turnover, but that play doesn’t happen if the Oilers have a top unit with 5 players capable of carrying the puck up ice.
I floated the idea of taking Letestu off the top unit on Twitter last week and I got a few replies saying that he’s there because there simply isn’t a better option. I don’t think that’s true.
Last year, Letestu led the Oilers in shots/60 with the man advantage and finished the year with ten goals. This year, while he’s tied with Nugent-Hopkins for the team lead in PPG’s (3), he’s sitting fourth in shots/60 and despite being on the ice for well over half of the team’s total powerplay time, he’s only been in on 4 of the Oilers powerplay goals.
He’s clearly declining in his ability (or just not getting as lucky as last year) and Todd McLellan refuses to take him off of the top unit, even though I believe there are better options.
After looking through the numbers and re-watching some powerplays, I’ve thought of a few players who I would like the see at least get a chance with #97 and #29 on the powerplay. If it doesn’t work, then perhaps I’d live with Letestu.
First is Ryan Strome. He was brought in to be a cheap source of offence, yet McLellan doesn’t really give him the best opportunities to succeed.
So far this year he’s shot the puck at a higher rate than Letestu and despite playing 20 minutes less than #55 (that’s almost 10 whole powerplays, which is crazy) he has two goals. His second one really showed off the potential in his shot when he roofed a wrister over the shoulder of Jake Allen.
He’s also a right shot which would make it an easy switch for the coaching staff to try.
Then there’s Jesse Puljujarvi, who like Strome, was brought up to try and ignite the offense. Once again, the coaching staff hasn’t given him a fair shot in prime offensive situations. Jesse has played less than a minute on the man-advantage since being recalled but what he has shown is that he’s a volume shooter at 5v5. He has a wicked release, shoots right and isn’t afraid to let it go. He could also bring some speed off the rush and has shown both confidence and ability with the puck.
Another option is newly acquired Mike Cammalleri who possess a strong shot and has a tonne of experience playing with skilled players over the course of his career. However, he shoots left, which wouldn’t really work.
Drake Caggiula does have a powerplay goal this year and during his 72 game NHL career has shown a nose for the net. From a distance, it seems like he clicks fairly well with Connor McDavid, but like Cammalleri, he shoots left so it wouldn’t be as easy of a swap as the first two options.
The powerplay has shown that it’s fine, but in my eyes, swapping Letestu for a player with better overall offensive instincts could turn their top-unit into one that is feared league wide.