59
Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Finding a partner for Leon Draisaitl

The Connor McDavid-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combination that fans and analysts wanted for weeks, if not months, was finally given a chance and it clicked.

They’ve only been together for a handful of games but it’s clear that #97 and #93 have chemistry. The duo’s success, to some extent, has ended the conversation about needing to find a winger to play with Connor McDavid for next season.

Could the team still use a skilled volume shooter to ride shotgun on their top-line? Sure, but you could argue that a more glaring need is finding a competent line mate for Leon Draisaitl who, if all stays the same, will be centring the teams second unit next season.

Draisaitl has been getting a fair amount of criticism for his play this season, very few of it deserved in my opinion (he’s 12th in even-strength points!), but no matter how you feel about his play, there’s no arguing the fact that a better linemate would do wonder for Leons’ game.

He’s spent a good amount of time with players like Drake Caggiula, Pontus Aberg, and Mike Cammalleri and when he’s been on the ice with them, they’ve all seen their goals for percentage increase. He makes the players around him better, and now it’s time for the team to simply give him better wingers.

With the team being tight up against the cap, there are really three options for how they could go about filling, what I believe, is a big hole.

FREE AGENCY

It doesn’t cost any assets to go grab a winger on the free agent market and although the team doesn’t have a lot of money available to spend, there are some intriguing names that shouldn’t cost too much.

Following his hat-trick on Tuesday, the name Thomas Vanek has been thrown around a fair bit. He’s an interesting case because while his reputation is one of a perimeter player who shies away when the games get important, the numbers suggest that he is a skilled winger who consistently produces points.

I would be hesitant to give Vanek any term on a contract, but I think he might fit in with this Oilers group. He can score at even strength, and could even help out their power play.

Michael Grabner is probably the best fit in my opinion. Leon Draisaitl has had the best success as a centerman when Taylor Hall was on his wing, so why not just find another fast winger who can score goals, right?

I’m not suggesting that Michael Grabner is close to a fraction of what Hall is, but he’s a free agent and shouldn’t be more than $4 million. He’s eclipsed 25 goals in back-to-back seasons and I believe he could do it again with Draisaitl as his centerman.

Patrick Maroon would also come cheap and the organization is familiar with him. I would be against bringing back “The Big Rig” because I think this team needs more speed on their wings, but he’s probably a pretty safe bet and we’ve seen him have success with a skilled centerman.

Some intriguing names, but none are really game-changing players. If the team wants that, they’ll likely have to rely on the trade market.

TRADE OPTIONS

Oct 4, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Ottawa Senators forward Mike Hoffman (68) celebrates a second period goal against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Mike Hoffman rumours have been beaten to death and although he’s probably the best option on the market, there are some other intriguing names.

Mats Zuccarello’s name was thrown around at the trade deadline and there’s no doubt the Rangers will look to find him a new home in the offseason. The 30-year-old has one year left on his contract with a cap hit of $4.5 million, something the Oilers could certainly afford.

Zuccarello has scored at least 49 points in each of the last five seasons and has continued to be productive on a dismal Rangers team. I think he’d be a great fit and if memory serves me correctly, he even spent some time on a line with Leon Draisaitl at the World Cup of Hockey, so there may even be some familiarity between the two.

Another name that interests me as a buy-low candidate is Richard Panik. The 27-year-old scored 20 goals last year with the Blackhawks but has struggled this year, scoring just 12 times.

The Coyotes acquired him earlier this year as part of the Anthony Duclair trade, but you’d have to imagine the Oilers could pry him loose pretty easily. He hasn’t done it consistently, but he proved last year that he can play with skill and with a cap hit of just $2.8 million, it might be a decent addition for the Oilers. Coyotes forward Max Domi has also been the subject of trade rumours, but I think the cost would be too high for the Oilers liking.

IN-HOUSE OPTIONS

Oct 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) skates during the warmup period against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Fans have been harping for Jesse Puljujarvi to get a long-term look on either Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid’s wing, and it would be reasonable to expect that he’ll be ready to assume that role next season.

There’s also Kailer Yamamoto, who hasn’t been lighting the WHL on fire like he was last year but is still a decent candidate to make the Oilers in 2018-19. He looked good during his nine-game trial at the beginning of the year, he just simply wasn’t ready for a full-time NHL job. An extra year of maturity, both physically and skill-wise, should do wonders for his game.

There isn’t much of a doubt that the two youngsters will be impact NHL players, but going into the season without solid, proven NHL options on the wings would be a colossal mistake.

Looking at the depth chart now, hoping that one of the young kids has a breakout season won’t be enough. This team needs to add two NHL level wingers in my opinion and it all starts with finding skill to put next to Leon Draisaitl should be one of the top priorities for Peter Chiarelli this summer.

  • Stack Pad Save

    RNH – McDavid – x
    X – Draisaitl- x
    Lucic – Strome – x
    Kassian – Khaira – Slepyshev

    I think the Oilers have 4 spots available next training camp. I would like to see Puljujarvi get a chance in the top 6 next year on either line 1 or 2, so we can finally see what this kid is capable of.

    I would hop that Yamamoto starts in the AHL next season. I think this forces Chiarelli to spend on free agency going after an Evander Kane or James Neal. It’s also super disappointing because I was hoping this year was the year the Oilers would get. John arlson type to fix the RHD but Chiarelli has no cap space to land 2 high priced free agents because he is a loser.

      • Johnny Utah

        If you could draw up exactly what this team needs, it would be Carlson. Just no way that fits under the cap unless we see a big increase to it. Would also think Edm would be a tough sell after the step back this year, uncertainty around the coaches, etc. Not an impossible sell but I’d think we’d have to overpay, so a second tier free agent might be all there’s room for

    • Ginbaby

      I don’t see enough assertiveness in JP yet. He needs to be physically stronger to compete on a top line against the oppositions best. Not saying he won’t get there next year, but to me he isn’t that guy yet.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      Nuge may have sealed his fate with his latest “upper body injury”. looked to me like in one of our recent games he took a similar bump to the one that put him out 15 games earlier this season with a chest/rib problem? we all know that Chia isn’t a big fan of Old Boys Club players who are constantly injured like Pitlick, who was going a good pace last year, then got injured and only played 31 games and was let go. i fear the same is now coming to Nuge this coming draft. if so it better be for something DAMN good and not more kids/magic beans !!

  • Johnny Utah

    Haven’t looked into cap or anything but the following forward lines would be decent… unspectacular, but decent, with some versatility:

    Nuge – McD – Puljujarvi
    Grabner – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
    Lucic – Strome – Aberg/Rattie
    Caggiula – Khaira – Kassian

    Also, wasn’t Yamamoto getting like 2 ppg after the World Juniors? Seems like he was lighting it up after the initial adjustment period.

  • Dan 1919

    The Oilers just don’t have the depth to get an all world winger right now. They will likely have to settle for a Vanek or someone with perhaps a slightly expensive contract.
    I would be targeting an Islander winger named Jordan Eberle. We could probably get him by trading away a depth center like Strome and a 2nd, at which point it’s easier to find a depth center on the open market than a top six winger.

    It would be nice to have a Taylor Hall but we’d have to trade a Larsson and a 1st to even start that conversation.

    Either way, Chiarelli will handle finding a winger just fine.

    • OilersBro

      Love where your heads at bcoil! Jujhar, JP and Drai as a line would be fun to watch! Both drai and jp have big one time shots, and Jujhar is proficient at winning puck battles and breaking out of his own zone in a controlled manner. Plus all 3 guys are versatile
      Then we only have to sign a free agent 4C instead of a 2LW.

      • Big Nuggets

        yup, sign Brodziak for 4th line center, grab a skilled winger to fit into the top six.
        Maybe give a PTO to a grizzled vet next preseason too. We should force these fringe players to actually crack an NHL roster or clear waivers, ie Pakarinen, Sleppy, Caggy.

        If Rattie finishes strong we could give him a dirt cheap 2 year deal and roll the dice on that gamble. pretty low risk.

  • Draisaitl’s cap hit is $200,000 less than Sidney Crosby’s. Chairelli needs to be loaded into a clown car with Benning & Cagguila, which is then loaded into a Cannon and shot into outer-space. That would solve a lot of the Oilers problems.

    • crabman

      people need to stop using contracts that aren’t even legal in today’s CBA as comparisons.
      Crosby signed a 12 year deal that is front loaded and pays him until he is almost 38 years old. And at the time of signing the cap was over $10M a season less than today.

      Draisaitl is signed for his prime years and not well into the twilight of his career like Crosby.

  • Koof

    I would prefer oilers make a play for an old f=draft pick and fellow german for leon. Tobias Reider. Hes fast young and needs a contract. he can kill penalties and has burned us numerous times. He will be cheaper than any other ufa and is under 30.
    RNH-MCD-JP
    REIDER-LEON-RATTIE/Whoever
    LUCIC-STROME-ABERG
    CAGUI-JJ-KASS

    Spending very little on a line mate for Leon allows OIlers to try and make a play or trade for a RHD. My choices would be BARRIE #1. It might cost us one of our LHD which Colorado needs i.e Klefbom but he only has 2 years remaining on his contract which would give Bear time to mature more, he would most likely rack up points passing to McDavid and Leon on PP and breaks, and we could then flip him for some serious return if not to resign him,

    • Big Nuggets

      I always liked the idea of adding Reider. I’m a sucker for matching countrymen but he is a pretty good player. We already have heavy players so there is room for a smart little guy.

  • Slipknot 8

    Honestly, the Oilers should be targeting M.Stone from the Senators. He is a RFA and looking for a pay raise, could be had for a prospect or pick if the Sen’s don’t want to pay.

    • crabman

      Stone would look great on either McDavid’s or Draisaitl’s wing but outside of Karlsson he is their best trade chip. I think the ask is probably going to be more than we want to pay as there would be many teams interested if he does become available.

  • Butters

    The Oilers need value contracts. It is unlikely those will be found in the UFA market. The Oilers have pretty much capped themselves out of that market anyway. At best, they can get lucky with a reclamation project.
    Next Oiler playoff game April 2020. Maybe.

  • bwar

    JP just hasn’t looked ready for the spotlight yet. I would open the conversation for next year with:
    RNH-McDavid-Rattie

    They have been doing very well together and having a million dollar winger producing with McDavid is a blessing.

    For Draisaitl things get quite a bit more complicated and I think you have to go into next season knowing that he is going to have a carousel of wingers around him. One trio I would like to take a look at is:

    Lucic-Draisaitl-Yamamoto

    They played briefly together last preseason and showed very well. Gives Draisaitl some size to cycle the puck with some skill to play with. Could swap in Khaira for Lucic or Puljujarvi for Yamamoto for a similar design. Draisaitl doesn’t drive a line the way McDavid does so I really think he needs two solid players flanking him.

    Adding a veteran winger to the mix would be great but I don’t see any point penciling in Vanek, Hoffman or Grabner until I see them with an Oilers uniform on. (As a sidenote: Vanek would be pretty sweet considering he started his NA hockey career in central Alberta)

    • Steve26

      Just curious where you get Vanek ever playing in central Alberta? He started on a junior team in Rochester, New York before moving to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, This was followed at the University of Minnesota.

  • The Future Never Comes

    The writer said most people have been suggesting to put Nuge and 97 together for weeks and possibly even months? Try 2-3 years for wanting to see that very obvious option.

  • Hickster94

    Has no one else read that Ilya Kovalchuk is eyeing a return to the NHL? He says he wants to win a cup and at 34 years old I could see him possibly signing a mid range deal, say 4-5 mil or less to get on a contending team. Is anyone else picturing that or am I just off my rocker?

    • crabman

      Question is would Kovalchuck consider the Oilers a cup contender next year? If he really wants to win a cup he doesn’t have much time. I would think he would target more sure teams and take less in term and dollars if he was serious about winning a cup.

  • Serious Gord

    I think the reality is sinking and n for oilers nation – cap limits and too many holes means that the oil only make the playoffs next season on a wing and a prayer on the wings. IOW the prospects of pujuljarvi and Yamamoto et al have to make the leap to being capable nhlers NEXT YEAR.

    • Matt Turner

      Frankly it’s almost pointless discussing forward combos when most of the Oilers defense is incapable of moving the puck to them.
      That is the area of most concern.

      Watch how many times the Oilers D get the puck and move it to a forward quickly. Almost never happens.

      • RJ

        If you read the Athletic, they had a good article about Columbus’ defence and were interviewing the GM.

        “It doesn’t matter what kind of forwards you have if the D can’t get them the puck. […]

        You need guys who can process the game quickly and make the transition pass right away, without hesitation and without taking it back without going D to D to D to D to D to D. By then everyone’s set in their forecheck of the neutral zone. It gets clogged up and it’s hard to create offence out of it. They have to be able to defend too, obviously, but a good part of a good offence is having defencemen who can move the puck.”

        Over the last few years they had quality forwards who could skate, but no defencemen who knew how to make a breakout pass.

        They finally have one who fits the model the Columbus GM is talking about, and he’s a rookie.

      • Serious Gord

        Klefbom was supposed to perform that function along with sekera. Which they both somewhat did last year.

        There is no way they can be replaced – their value is far too low and there is no cap room. They have to regain their former form or god willing improve. If either or both do not next season is sewered.

  • Arfguy

    The thing I noticed about Leon is that he has not yet gotten good at zone entry with the puck. When he was with McDavid, he would let Connor breach the zone and then would look good handling & cycling the puck.

    Basically, the Oilers need a value contract for a potentially speedy winger. I do like the Tobias Rieder suggestion or even the Vanek option. Signing someone like John Carlsson or James Neal should be considered a death sentence to the Oilers fan. Not only will these two players cost way too much (think of the cement shoes Lucic contract, with more value).

    What the Oilers need to do is get faster. Personally, I don’t think adding Carlson, Neal or Vanek will lead to the team getting faster. This team needs speed, speed and more speed.

    p.s. we seriously need to put a moratorium on trying to get Patrick Maroon baqck. IMO, he hasn’t done squat this season…even by going to a team like New Jersey.

  • RJ

    This is the simplest discussion yet. From a production standpoint, the obvious choice is Puljujarvi. He’s the only RW on the roster who produces at a top-6 level is JP, so of course McLellan won’t play him there.

  • crabman

    Yamamoto has produced better this season over last by .08pts/game and has gone on a tear since the wjc. He may break out next year like Draisiatl did after being sent back down to tear up the Dub. The difference being he is still very undersized and could use some more time to get stronger. I wouldn’t count on him next year but if he is ready it would be a happy surprise.

    Puljujarvi should be at the point in his development where he should be able to give us a regular shift in the top 6 but he hasn’t shown enough consistency to guarantee he will be ready next year so he is still a question mark.

    Neither Rattie or Aberg have looked out of place in the top 6 but it has been a very small sample size.

    If they add an experienced top 6 winger they should have enough pieces to fill in the blanks on the rest of the wings.

    Nuge-McDavid-XXX
    UFA/Trade-Draisaitl-XXX
    Lucic-Strome-XXX
    XXX-Khaira-Kassian

    extras- Pakarinen( Ideal 4th liner, pk)
    Caggiula, Aberg, Rattie, Yamamoto, Puljujarvi, Slepyshev.

    with a new top 6 winger there will be enough experience and the extras are all cheap and can be moved around as needed. out of that group I would like to believe that 2 of them will be able to fill the last 2 top 6 spots.

    • RJ

      “He hasn’t shown enough consistency to be in the top-six”.

      You’re right on this. He needs to be more consistent to earn that top-6 time.

      Like Lucic and his one goal since Christmas or Cammellari and his one goal since Christmas. That’s the kind of consistency that McLellan rewards with top-6 time.

  • Not McDavid's Fault

    Everyone wants the team be a contender next year by a mixture of big FA signing our a big trade. The roster we have right now is from Pete trying to do the same thing. Do you want to sign another player for 7 years and 5-7 million for what we did on another team so if there production starts to fall off you can’t trade them. We are stuck with Lucic already in three years do we Neal playing on the third line for 6 million for the next 5 years also.We have are forward core with McDavid, Nuge and Draisaitl, we also have some promising prospect with potential. Are did good use some improvement but there is no way the trade is a win if you force it and with Russel and Sekera NMC we are pretty much stuck with the d we have. Yes John Carlson makes us better team next year but he is going to want a long term deal which could end up with the oilers having a Brent Seabrook contract of there own when Mcdavid is in his prime. I would rather have the team for the next two years be a maybe wildcard team then a contender. McDavid and Draisaitl are not in there prime and still learning the game look at how he is a scoring threat this year all of a sudden. Would you rather they build a team that can contend for 6-10 years and you might have a few more bad years of hockey our they sell the farm to build a contender next year and hope the wheels don’t fall off in the future?

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I really hope PC brings in enough short term veteran help on the wings so it pushes Yamo to the AHL for next season. Kid is good, no doubt, but I don’t want him rushed(top 2 lines) or gets the JP/Yak treatment with the big club. As “slow” as Cammalleri is, he still has a good shot, vet presence, this team needs more of, forcing the kids like Yamo, JP, Benson to really up their game if they want to stick in the NHL.

    Nuge-McDavid-Rattie
    Lucic-Drai-Puljujarvi
    Kassian-Strome-Caggiula
    Slepy-Kharia-Cammalleri

    I hope the upper management learned from this year that you can’t bank on the young players taking the steps you want to see(Caggiula, Slepy, Pakarinen etc). If they do take big steps in production, great but the team can’t expect players with under 200 games in the NHL to be top 6 players.

    • KMA

      Man, lets get serious, this is the type of creative thinking that gets teams into trouble. Rattie is not a first line winger, period. Playing Lucic and JP on a second line is suspect decision at best. We can’t will this lineup to be good, they are what they are, average. IMHO.

      • RJ

        Out of all the wingers on this team who aren’t Drai and Nuge, the only one who has produced at a top-six rate is Puljujarvi. He should be in the top-six. Lucic is a sunk cost, so leave him in the press box.

        • crabman

          Puljujarvi has scored at a 26 pts pace pro rated to 82 games. He has shown flashes at times but has been wildly inconsistent. He hasn’t scored at 2nd line rate let alone a 1st line rate.
          Both Rattie, and Aberg are well out scoring him the problem.being it is too small a sample size. Puljujarvi is barely out scoring Caggiula.

          I would be fine with Puljujarvi being given a shot at 1 of the top 6 wing positions as long as the other 2 on the line are the players we are counting on and he is the 3rd. He was drafted to play in the top6 and I would like to see him given the opportunity. But to put him on a line with Draisaitl and another inexperienced player is just setting the team up for repeat of this year. We need 1 more experienced top6 winger.

  • Heschultzhescores

    I like Drai, he’s fine when he wants to play, but he takes too many days off. He could be a Force if he worked on his cardio and his work ethic!

  • Arfguy

    For all those that might be complaining that Draisaitl is over-paid, you should compare Draisaitl and Ryan Johansen of the Nashville Predators. They were both taken around the same spot in the draft, have similar numbers in last year’s playoffs and have about the same contract. The difference between Draisaitl and Johansen is that Ryan is playing with the likes of the remarkable Filip Forsberg and Victor Arvidsson, two players that have put up 30 goals in the NHL and looks to be continuing to do so for the next few years. If you want production from Draisaitl, getting him affordable wingers that can put the puck into the net will be something that is a must.

  • JG

    In hindsight I’d bet there are a few things Chiarelli and McLellan would have done differently. Things looked so good after last season. Remember being tied with Pittsburgh for Cup favourite Vegas odds?

    The optimism was misplaced.

    Locking up McDavid and Draisaitl was job #1.

    Maybe Chiarelli thought this team could contend until trade deadline without addressing an experienced backup (Talbot was a workhorse last season) and the long term injury to Sekera.

    Sat on a lot of cap space. Maybe he hoped the team would be in the mix and he could pick up an expensive rental or two (Kane) to put the team over the top.

    Still, it’s hard to stomach a losing season with McDavid on a high value contract. Having him on your team is like starting every game up a goal. You should be able to compete.

    I don’t know why it took so long to put RNH on McDavid’s wing. I don’t know why the penalty kill was worst in the league at home, and great on the road. I don’t know why the power play that wasn’t working remained unchanged for most of the season.

    Maybe coaching staff were too wedded to what worked last season, and other teams made adjustments.

    Overall it seems pretty clear when the game got faster, the Oilers got heavier. It’s understandable to a point – they had to compete in the Pacific, where they’d been pushed around for a decade.

    But the game zigged, and the Oilers zagged. Ironic, in that the game got faster, and the Oilers got the fastest player in the game.

    • crabman

      @Kneedroptalbot, I’ve heard you say this on several occasions. I’m just wondering why you feel so strongly about this less than a year after his draft.
      I’ll compare him to Barzal because everyone around here, myself included, likes to talk about what could have been.
      Barzal was a top 10 talent that fell in his draft year largely because he missed a significant amount of time with a broken Kneecap.
      Yamamoto was considered a top 10 skill player but is very small so he fell to the late 1st round.
      Barzal’s production;
      draft-1 .91pts/g
      draft year 1.29pts/g.
      draft+1 1.52 pts/g

      Yamamoto;
      draft-1 1.24pts/g
      draft year 1.52pts/g
      draft+1 1.60pts/g

      I’m not saying I expect Yamamoto to come in and lead all rookies in scoring in his draft+3 season like Barzal is this year. Although Yamamoto would need another year of development next year if he is going to be a rookie in his draft+2 instead of draft+3 like Barzal.
      I am mearly pointing out that the only knock on Yamamoto so far is his size. He has been a better offensive producer at every step in junior than this years best rookie. There is no way anyone at this point can say that was a wasted pick.
      The Oilers are desperate for skill in the wings. At 22nd pick who would have been a more skilled winger for the Oilers to draft?

  • Big Nuggets

    If we are giving the offensive zone starts to Leon next season then Vanek on his wing might work. I’m not a huge Vanek guy but the McDavid-Nuge combo is probably good enough to take many of the tougher match-ups and we might as well utilize McDavid’s ability to gain the offensive zone which would free up Drai’s line for o-zone starts and theoretically kick-start the secondary scoring. Drai isn’t exactly a 200 ft dominant center at this point anyway, but his offense ability is already elite. For this to work I would want to sign a legit 4th line center like Brodziak or Cullen to shoulder the d-zone starts. If Drai isn’t getting zone starts slanted heavily to the o-zone I wouldn’t want Vanek as his winger.