At this point, it looks like the Oilers’ roster is largely set heading into the 2018-19 season. The team made a few low-key additions over free agency, but, as expected, nothing major. Edmonton has about $8 million in cap room left to play with, but Ryan Strome and Darnell Nurse still don’t have contracts, so that’ll eat up the rest of their free room.
We have all summer to obsess over line combinations and pairings, so let’s get started early. That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. Who should play with who? How should Todd McLellan organize his forward lines and his defensive pairings? To me, there are a few interesting questions to ask in regards to this lineup…
Connor McDavid’s wingers
Towards the end of the season, we saw the formation of McNuge. Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were dynamite together. While many players have a difficult time keeping up with McDavid, RNH and his elite on-ice vision complimented the former MVP perfectly. Many have pencilled RNH as the top left winger alongside McDavid already, which is fair given the pair’s success last season. I have a bit of an issue with this that I’ll address in a minute.
The other winger who seems to have the inside track to play alongside McDavid is Ty Rattie. Rattie was called up from the AHL during garbage time in 2017-18 and found instant chemistry with McDavid. He scored five goals in 14 games and earned himself a one-year contract extension because of it. Rattie has been a prolific scorer in the WHL and AHL, so there’s some reason to believe he can score at the NHL level if put in the right situation.
As of right now, it seems like RNH-McDavid-Rattie will be the team’s top line heading into the season.
Leon and the second line
One issue with last season was Leon Draisaitl’s inability to carry a good second line on his own. He did score 70 points, which is great, but a lot of his success came on McDavid’s wing. When he wasn’t playing with McDavid, Draisaitl had a negative even strength goal differential. Of course, some of that blame can be put on the fact the team’s wingers were largely very bad.
Personally, I’m not extremely into the idea of pasting RNH with McDavid. McDavid is good enough to carry a line with pretty much anybody. Rather than loading his wings with the team’s other good forward options, why not stack a second line? We haven’t seen much of Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins together and I wonder if that could be the solution to giving the Oilers a formidable attack when McDavid isn’t on the ice.
I’d like to see Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Tobias Rieder form a second line. I’d also be interested to see what JJ Khaira could do on McDavid’s left wing.
The blueline and Evan Bouchard’s nine games
I kind of just expect Evan Bouchard to get a nine-game cup of coffee at the NHL level this fall. He’s the perfect example of why the CHL/AHL thing of keeping U-20 players out of the AHL is really bad. Bouchard has played three years with the London Knights. He put up 87 points in 67 games last year and he would learn a lot more playing professional hockey. That said, he shouldn’t be rushed into a full NHL season. He’s just stuck in limbo, which is really unfortunate.
Regardless, I figure Bouchard will get nine games with the Oilers over the first month of play, and then he’ll get sent back to London knowing specifically what he has to work on.
Elsewhere on the blueline? Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson played together a lot last year when things were out of flux due to injuries to Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera. With everyone healthy, I’d go back to the 2016-17 pairings of Klefbom and Larsson, Sekera and Russell, and Nurse and Benning.
Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto
Jesse Puljujarvi has been a focus of conversation around here the past couple days. Puljujarvi has had a difficult time adjusting to the NHL game and the Oilers have put him on a bit of a developmental roller coaster. At this point, we really don’t know what to expect from Puljujarvi heading into next season. He’s going into the final year of his entry-level deal and has 13 career goals in 93 games.
Will the Oilers have both Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto on the roster next season? Both are eligible to be sent to the AHL and neither require waivers so I doubt both start the season with the team.
Where does Milan Lucic fit?
This is a really big enigma. Where does Lucic fit on the roster? A few weeks ago, it seemed his time with the Oilers was over. He could still be dealt, but, as of right now, Lucic is still a member of the organization. I think he thrives best in a third line role alongside Ryan Strome largely because he’s never been able to find chemistry with either McDavid or Draisaitl. I don’t know. He’s a tough one to predict.
What say you, Nation? How do you think the team should shape up next year? Who should be on McDavid’s wing? How do you stack a non-McDavid line? How do Puljujarvi and Yamamoto fit on the team? Does Evan Bouchard get a nine-game look?
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