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Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Who gets the honour to play with Connor?

Ty Rattie played a total of 7:39 last night before leaving the game in the second period. Todd McLellan didn’t know the exact injury but said Rattie and Matt Benning are both doubtful for tomorrow’s clash against Nashville.

Watching the replay it looks like Rattie has some sort of groin or hip flexor issue, which often means a player misses one game, or sometimes the issue lingers and stretches into a week or longer.

Rattie’s injury creates a wonderful opportunity for one lucky winger to play on Connor McDavid’s right wing.

Rattie definitely didn’t play his way off the line. He scored a goal had two points in 4 1/2 games, was good defensively and had been solid on the forecheck, digging out pucks for McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. But his injury opens the door, and every winger would love the chance to slide into this spot.

McDavid played 20:40 at 5×5 last night and due to Rattie’s injury he had a variety of different linemates.

Nugent-Hopkins played 17:39 with him and he is a lock to be his left winger for the foreseeable future.

Leon Draisaitl played 5:24 with McDavid and often that was due to McLellan going head-to-head with his best three forwards against the Patrice Bergeron line. It was fun to watch those six forwards on the ice at one time. But Draisaitl won’t be lining up as McDavid’s regular right winger tomorrow.

So who will?

Let’s rule out those we know won’t be there. Milan Lucic is a left winger. He, along with linemates Ryan Strome and Kailer Yamamoto, had a very strong game as a unit. McLellan talked post-game about the need to get four lines going who can creates some chances, so I’d be very surprised if he split up this line. They will remain a trio.

Kyle Brodziak won’t be moving up. Alex Chiasson hasn’t played a game and he won’t be getting his first game on the #1 RW spot. Jujhar Khaira has played RW on the fourth line, but I don’t see him getting the bump either.

That leaves Tobias Rieder, Drake Caggiula, Jesse Puljujarvi and Zack Kassian.

I’d be surprised if it was Kassian, but last night Kassian played the fourth most minutes (2:58) with McDavid, behind RNH, Rattie and Draisaitl. Kassian was much more involved in the game last night. He made some strong plays along the wall to get the puck out. However, I don’t see him skating there at practice this morning.

I know some fans, and Dustin Nielson, will want Puljujarvi there. He could get a look. I sense the coaches are still a bit concerned with his decisions with the puck defensively, and might shy away from playing him with McDavid against Nashville’s best line.

Caggiula has played a little with McDavid over the past two seasons, skating 67 minutes with him in 2017 and 146 last year. Yesterday he told me he was confident he would be ready to play on Saturday. Caggiula has played arguably his three most consistent games as an Oiler this year. He was engaged every game. He hasn’t turned the puck over once, has been physical and is generating some chances. I think they put him on Draisaitl’s left wing, because he has created some offence and as McLellan said, they’d like to get four lines creating chances.

That leaves Tobias Rieder. He has done nothing to deserve playing on the the top line, however, he is responsible defensively, and he did play 2:55 with McDavid yesterday. Maybe a stint on the top line can get him some confidence and get him going, so when Rattie does return they could slide Rieder back to the bottom six and he’d be able to build off some renewed confidence playing with McDavid.

I think it will be either Rieder or Caggiula who gets a look, but I’d lean to Rieder, only because I think Caggiula might be able to help Draisaitl more at this moment based on how he has played.

When Rattie returns I think he has earned the right to keep his spot on McDavid’s wing, but in the meantime, one winger will be placed in a very enviable spot. Maybe McLellan rotates different players there during the game, but someone will start there.

My prediction is Rieder. Who would you put there and why?

PARTING SHOTS…

Draisaitl hasn’t been great to this point, especially 5×5, but he has six points in five games. He still has more points than all the other skaters on lines 2-4 combined. Lucic has two points and Yamamoto and Puljujarvi have one each. It is fair to say Draisaitl needs to pick it up, but he is still producing points, and last I checked points are still pretty important. The good news for the Oilers is they are 3-2 and one of their best players has yet to play his best. That is a positive. You’d rather they find ways to win when he is playing average, because the odds are he will pick up his play soon and when he does they should be a better team.

Goaltending and special teams won the Oilers the game last night. Cam Talbot was excellent early in the game as the Oilers were outshot 10-1 in the first ten minutes. He kept them in the game until they found their stride. In the final 50 minutes the Oilers outshot the Bruins 21-19. The special teams were excellent. The penalty kill was perfect, killing off three powerplays, and they were at their best late in the third period for the second consecutive game. In Winnipeg they were extremely aggressive on the BS Lucic penalty, and last night they only allowed one shot during Rieder’s penalty with 5:37 remaining. The powerplay scored again and is now 37.5% on the season. The five lefties is working, and I’m not too surprised because of the talent of McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins. And before you ask, no, that was not a set play. McDavid’s pass was intended for Lucic, but the Oilers got a bounce off the boards and Nugent-Hopkins buried it.

The only negative about the powerplay is they don’t get many chances. They’ve only had 14 powerplays thus far, but they’ve also only taken 14 penalties.

Matt Benning only played four shifts last night for a total of 2:27. He left after his fourth shift and didn’t return. He was in concussion protocol and I’ve learned it happened when he delivered a hard hit on David Backes on his first shift. Watching the replay, there isn’t anything that sticks out, but it was a high speed collision and they can do damage even if you are the player delivering the body check. It is too bad he was injured, because he did look better in those shifts than he had in previous games. A source told me Benning was feeling good and he doesn’t think it will be too serious, but because they deem it a concussion, then he could be out a week at least, meaning he’d miss games against Nashville and Pittsburgh.

What a goal by Yamamoto.

His celebration was awesome. He looked almost in shock. “I was. I was like, did that just happen? Then I think I blacked out for a bit,” he said. During our interview/conversation he was beaming. As he should be. What a thrill it must be to score your first NHL goal, and to score it in that fashion is even better. But Yamamoto’s biggest smile came when I asked about his parents. They were actually in the building. They are in town from Spokane and got to see his first NHL goal live.

His dad runs his own tile business. “It is really hard work. I have worked a bit with him in the summer and it is tough, especially when you have to remove it,” said Yamamoto. His mother works for the county. “They are very hard workers and I learned hard work and respect from them,” he continued. I could tell as excited as he was for his first goal it was a bit more special for him that his parents were here to watch it.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Redbird62

    Jason. Am I correct that if the Oilers believe that the injuries to Rattie and Benning are only for a game or two, that the Oilers likely won’t put them on injury reserve to allow them to call up anyone from the farm just yet? I think if either goes on the injury reserve to allow for a call up, it is for a minimum of 7 days and it needs to be confirmed by the team doctor.

    • Jason Gregor

      Benning has a concussion. He would be out a week, two games, so yes they will recall a Dman. Gravel probably because they don’t want to play Garrison.

  • brian_d

    Should we be dismissing the idea of Yamamoto making the top line so quickly? He was buzzing last night, and I don’t know that the chemistry with Lucic and Strome is enough of a reason to deny him the chance at top line minutes.

  • OriginalPouzar

    If niether go on IR then I think they must waive Jason Garrison as they need to call up Kevin Gravel – its a must.

    With Russell playing 2RD, and doing yeoman’s work, they desperately need a 3LD.

    This is exactly what Gravel was signed for and he’s had success as a serviceable 3rd pairing guy in LA.

  • OriginalPouzar

    I didn’t like Rieder’s bump to the 2nd line and I am definitely not in favor of Rieder being the replacement 1RW.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Tobias’ game, however, he’s a proven bottom 6 forward and a very effective bottom 6 forward. He’s played his best hockey this year in the bottom 6. Whenever he’s been asked to play in the top 6, in the exhibition season and during last night’s game, he’s been ineffective.

    Tobias Rieder can help this team win hockey games but the place for him to do it is the bottom 6. Asking him to play in the top 6 is asking him to punch above his pay grade and play a game that isn’t suited to his skill set.

    I think its got to be Yamamoto at this point (even though he’s also shown to be the most effective in the bottom six) as he has the more top 6 skill set and, right now, must be as confident as he’s ever been as a pro.

  • 18% body fat

    Caggulia is garbage! sop suggesting he is a top 6 forward. He is a 12-13 forward. If he is the only option you are better moving strome to the top Right wing and having Khaira step in as 3C

    was caggulia noticable in the last couple of games yes! does that mean he was great? No.

    Look how much better the team looked with him not in the lineup. Same thing with Benning.

    The oilers optimal lineup right now doesnt have either of these 2 in it.

    Call up Bear and waive Benning and Caggulia, they will not get claimed. And if the do. Good ridence. 3.4M saved.

    • Hemmercules

      The Oilers don’t have nearly enough depth to just say good riddance to a forward an a dman. Even lower end ones. I agree about Benning though, let Bear play some minutes and see if he’s better. Not sure about Bears waiver status?? Surely don’t want lose him.

      • Spydyr

        IMO at this moment Bear is a better defenceman than Benning. It looks like the Oilers are afraid of losing Benning if they put him on waivers. So Bear gets the short straw and gets sent down.

      • 18% body fat

        your right they dont have enough NHL depth, but those 2 are not nhl players.

        Is Bear, or Jones better than Benning. Probably. Bouchard definitely already is.

        Malone, Russel, Currie and Marody, are all probably better than Caggulia.

        Why have all the other college free agent forwards, who were better and had better number than Caggulia in college still working there game out in the AHL or did spend time there.

        Look at gamberdella, he was just as good as caggulia and he is not a great AHL player. So why is one given every opportunity despite never doing anything,

        • Rock11

          The “probably better” is the problem with your argument. At best any of the 4 guys you mentioned would a very marginal upgrade on Drake(and I’m no fan of his). So why would you risk losing what little depth you have and take a chance on a slight upgrade. For all we know it may be a downgrade and if Drake ends up in another organization then an injury or two leaves us only marginal AHL players as recall options. Hopefully next year we can have this conversation for real as guys like Benson, Safin, Maksimov, Mcleod etc will be providing legitimate prospect depth. For this year though the awful drafting of kids who would now be 21 or 22 and pushing is still kicking our ass.

        • Hemmercules

          Not saying I like either Drake or Matt all that much but they are depth guys none the less. Injuries will happen. Bear will get his shot this year Im sure of that. Especially with Benning getting eaten alive right now, he might clear waivers right now no problem.

          Bouchard may be better than Benning already but they need to send him down purely for developments sake. Saving that year on his ELC is a no brainer.

          Drake is an interesting situation. They overpaid him as per status quo, he can be a warrior at times but he’s not really that great. Not sure those other 4 you mentioned are any better than him though. He’s still capable of 20-25 point in the NHL so thats something.

          The team obviously needs to improve the quality of their depth players among a bunch of other things.

          • ed from edmonton

            Why does a player who has shown, at the very least, the ability to keep hos head above water in the NHL need more development in the CHL? Bouchard has already had 3 development years in London. I’m more concerned that a 4th year will result in stagnation.

    • That is pretty much word for word what I was going to post. Cagullia may be first line material in the AHL , even that is debatable. The other is on the roster because our old friend nepotism still has too much influence on the roster decisions. If both are off the roster, whichever way that happens, the roster just got better.

    • crabman

      1st off not to be that guy but waiving Benning and Caggiula would save at the very most $2M because they would still need to be replaced.
      And 2nd who do we replace them with in our organization? I could see Bear being an upgrade on Benning today but I would still think Benning would be the teams best option for 7th D. In a position to succeed, in Benning’s case that’s bottom pairing, Benning was top3 on this team last year in every catagory for defencemen. Benning has had a rough start to the season but the only thing he is guilty of is not being a top4 defenceman. He has already proven he is a more than capable bottom pairing guy and this team doesn’t have the depth to send players like that away.
      And who replaces Caggiula? The hardest thing to do in the NHL is to score goals. Caggiula had 13 goals last year which tied him for 5th in goals on the team. For a team struggling with secondary scoring I think it would be foolish to send him away for nothing. And there is no gaurentee anyone who gets called up to replace him will do any better. Infact we have had our share of playrs who produced well in the AHL and completley disappeared in the NHL. Pakarinen, Beck, Lander to name a few over the past few seasons.
      If the plan was to upgrade these players through signings and trades in the offseason I could get behind that but at this point we don’t have better options.

  • Jayamania

    Before reading the article, I knew that Caggiula would be one of Gregor’s top options. And he shouldn’t be. He’s fine as a 10-12 forward. The numbers back it up. He does not play good with McDavid or Drai. I’m not a Drake fan at all, but as 4LW, he’s been fine. And why play him out of position on his off-wing when you have 2 young RW’s available that were drafted as offensive players? Don’t overthink this Todd.

  • ed from edmonton

    The safest play is to slide in Reider with McD and RNH. Reider is a excellent skater and good defensive instincts. I think keeping JP with Drai for a while is the way to go for now.

  • ed from edmonton

    What I have liked about DG’s games this year is that he seems to have embraced a bottom 6 role. i.e. using his quickness to get into the play, taking the body above his weight class and not seeming too worried about fancy plays. If he gets time with McD, DC might think he’s a scoring winger to his detriment.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    I think you have to throw Jesse on the McD line. Last year when Jesse was up he was on McDavids wing for a spell and they were starting to click whenTM took him off that line. Jesse can skate and as we saw in the preseason he cant contribute so it cant hurt, plus the Oil dont have too many other options other than Yamamoto or Reider, Drake is hurt, Strome will not be able to keep up, yes the Oilers could use draisaitl but then you have to figure out a second line and then that trickles down to the third line.

    As for who plays in benjnings spot , Bear is the logical candidate and I would use Garrison as his partner, Bear has upside and I think he will do. okay

  • jamesrob56

    Benning’s injury… watch the hit on Benning from 14 Wagner that happened right after the hit to Backes. Looks like he took either a forearm or shoulder to the head.