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WWYDW: Organizing the McDrai lineup

With the Oilers mired in a four-game losing skid, Todd McLellan went back to old reliable. He paired up the dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, loading the top line with the team’s top two weapons.

McDrai responded by absolutely shredding the Montreal Canadiens apart. McDavid and Draisaitl each recorded three points and the duo easily could have had more but Draisaitl hit the post twice and got robbed in close by Antti Niemi on multiple occasions. Montreal’s defence didn’t have an answer for the McDrai line and the Oilers would go on to pick up a dominant 6-2 win.

That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. The Oilers’ biggest issue this year is playing without McDavid, so how do they structure the lineup with Draisaitl, their second best forward, joining him on the top line? I wrote about this over the weekend. While McDavid and Draisaitl together are excellent, it still leaves the team with the issue of how to navigate the other ~40 minutes of ice time when those two are simultaneously watching from the bench.

Tobias Reider and Alex Chiasson were the two wingers who operated with Leon Draisaitl on the team’s second line and, presumably, they’ll roll with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for now. Does that mean the third line, flanked by Ryan Strome and Milan Lucic, who have been a black hole offensively, will remain intact? Maybe Cooper Marody, a centre who has produced well in the AHL, can centre the third line while giving Strome an opportunity to play a more offensive role on the wings. Will Milan Lucic ever be demoted to a fourth-line, crash and bang role with Zack Kassian on the other wing? If Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi can light things up in the AHL, they can press the issue for a recall, but I wouldn’t count on that happening soon.

What about external options? Elliotte Freidman wrote earlier this week in his 31 Thoughts article that he figured the Oilers were poised for some kind of shakeup…

There is a lot of debate as to whether playing Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid together is a recipe for long-term, team-wide success, but after watching them dominate Montreal on Tuesday night, you can’t blame Todd McLellan for doing it. First, those two are tremendous to watch. Draisaitl could have scored eight goals if it wasn’t for Antti Niemi. Second, no one is running away with the Pacific Division, keeping the Oilers very much in it. Third, Boston and Colorado benefit from loading up one line. And, while I don’t profess to know which direction the organization will go, everyone from top to bottom is expecting some kind of a shakeup — on or off the ice — eventually. Go with your best.

Heading into the season, I think Peter Chiarelli hoped that one of, if not both of Yamamoto and Puljujarvi could take a top-six scoring role and run with that. As we know, that hasn’t happened. That’s fine, as both players are still great long-term prospects, but the Oilers are more than likely going to need to add some flare to their lineup.

It’s difficult to say which impending UFAs could be available as rentals this season given how cluttered the league is right now. Mark Stone, a big, two-way winger in Ottawa, comes to mind as the Sens are most certainly going to continue to blow things up before Feb. 25 rolls around. If things go south for the Stars, veteran forward Jason Spezza could become available. He’s thrived since the end of the Ken Hitchcock era in Dallas. Other names off the top of my head from mediocre Eastern Conference teams are Wayne Simmonds and Mats Zuccarello, both of whom would be a nice upgrade on the wings for the Oilers

What say you, Nation? Do the Oilers need to go external to upgrade their lineup? How else could they fill up the lineup with McDrai at the top?  

  • samakehurst16

    No rental. oilers aren’t going to win the cup this year. They don’t have the forward depth. Missing just a couple pieces. Make some
    Smart future moves to open cap space to be able to sign another big name. Look at PIT. Crosby (8.7) Malkin (9.5) Kessel (8.0) that’s a lot of money for 3 players. Oilers should be looking to trade away Milan ‘the anchor’ Lucic and throw Talbot in a trade, Keep Koskinin and let him take the reigns and bring in one more scoring winger. We over paid Leon that’s fine. But we don’t have a consistent scoring. Chia can’t win a 1-1 trade obviously. Let’s look to dump cap and bring in a scoring forward so we can actually have a double threat. McDavid can be with anyone. You want Leon to drive his own line? Give him a finisher who can tuck and pass.

    • VvV

      That may be the smart plan but there’s no way Chirellli stands pat if they are in or close to a playoff position come trade deadline, his job and frankly his career as an NHL GM are on the line. In 2016-17 he did next to nothing at the trade deadline, his reasons were to give the young players a chance to get experience. Turns out if he would of made a bigger splash they probably would of got past the Ducks. Then last year he banked on the team and let all the cap space just sit there and in the end it burned a year a McDavids ELC. So I see no way he doesn’t try to land some big rentals come trade deadline.

      • samakehurst16

        Why would we give up a prospect and a pick for a rental who’s going to leave in the summer? Do you honestly think if the oilers got a big rental we would still get passed the second round? Why waste a prospect and a pick for a rental? Maybe if in feb we were leading the pacific and demolishing teams on a nightly basis, scraping together 4 game win streaks between losses. Theh yeah that makes sense. But right now we’re still building, still waiting. Patiently.

        • VvV

          I didn’t say I would, trade future for a big rental this year, I was purely recapping what has happened and how I think Chirellli will act with his job on the line, if they don’t make the playoffs he will lose his job, if they are in the hunt come trade deadline he will absolutely make a deal to save his job in the present. Also the Oilers went to game 7 vs the ducks, they ran into a bit of injury trouble and didn’t have depth scoring or defence near the end as well as the injury issues ie sekera got hurt. So more scoring or more depth on defense would of definitely put them over, no sekera injury and they win that series.

  • I’d simply recall Puljujarvi. His shot metrics per 60 were on par with Rantenen believe it or not. He was on a bad line. Strome hasn’t produced as a 3rd line centre so put Nuge there. Rieder is injured. Give Lucic another shot. Leave the 4th line as it is–it’s been fantastic.

    Caggiula – McDavid – Puljujarvi
    Lucic – Draisaitl – Rattie
    Marody – Nuge – Chaisson
    Khaira – Brodziak – Kassian

    • samakehurst16

      I am team PoolParty all the way. He has so much potential. He’s way faster then Leon with the puck. He just needs to build confidence and can’t be scared to mess up. That’s why he’s in the minors to rebuild that trust he has with the system and himself. Does he listen? No, is he young? Yes. Does he need a someone to take him under his wing? Absolutely the kid has a lot to learn about being a pro athlete. One day he will dominate. He needs to mature. Look how good he looked in pre season? Flying around burning people with the puck on his stick tuckin Genos. What changed? Regular season hits he gets 3rd line min playing with 3rd line people. Once it clicks it will click and boy oh boy will he be 🍕

      • Hemmercules

        What changed? The regular season is an entirely different animal is what changed. Being a pre-season superstar means zero playing against half rosters where most players aren’t even going full effort. Right now all he is is potential. Which could also mean potentially a career AHL player. I hope he turns out but I’m not holding my breath. I haven’t seen anything from JP that tells me he will be a solid NHL player. He’s got time on his side though, hope he can buckle down, gain some confidence in himself and make his draft position not look like a huge mistake.

        The Oilers needed a now player with that pick and they ended up with a 4-5 year project. Should have taken Tkachuk.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      So,… you are comparing Rantenen to Puljujarvi & suggesting they are similar skillset and playmaking? Rantenen is a major surprise to his team on the scoreboard this season.
      We have just seen it scribed to death the last few weeks about Pully going down to the minors to work on stuff, which has finally happened, thank goodness (i hope he stays until he can’t learn anymore & leads the team in all offensive categories)…
      And there is you, you want to bring him back to the first line and start this stupid discussion all over again.????? Yeah, just when we are on a 1 game winning streak….
      You even took the time to write out these pathetic line combos that have been proven to death not to work… except your 4th, as you pointed out… I think they’ll be the point of difference on this team.

      • Woodguy posted on Twitter comparing Rantenen with McKinnon and Puljujarvi with McDavid:

        Goals/60 with Star
        1.14 Rantenen
        1.16 Puljujarvi

        Goals/60 without Star
        0.31 Rantenen
        0.54 Puljujarvi

        Pts/60 with Star
        1.66 Rantenen
        1.87 Puljujarvi

        Pts/60 without Star
        1.09 Rantenen
        0.87 Puljujarvi

        Relate GF% with Star
        14.4 Rantenen
        15.2 Puljujarvi

        Relative GF% without Star
        2.2 Rantenen
        -5.1 Puljujarvi

        Star Relative GF without Player
        12.3 Rantenen
        9.0 Puljujarvi

        That’s why I’m having a “stupid discussion” that Puljujarvi can be on McDavid’s right wing. Caggiula is proving to be effective on McDavid’s left wing.

        You know what line combo was also “proven to death” not to work?
        Lucic – Strome – Puljujarvi

        Do you think Marody or P. Russell are going to be more effective as call ups than Puljujarvi?

        • Glencontrolurstik

          I think the point is that Pulijarvi will become a more complete mature professional, better in all areas of his game & life, if he is allowed to develop without the limelight shining on him.
          He should stay where he is until he cannot learn anything more, both as a hockey player & a professional. He has the potential to be an amazing power-forward in this league. However, he has to mature in many areas. Heck, he is from a remote part of Finland north of the 60th parallel, very secluded all his life, I don’t even think he knew what pizza was & you want him to be an instant star at 20 years old…
          He’ll be even better than HE could even imagine if he listens to those teaching him… Forget about Pully for a couple of years. Oiler fans will be greatful.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    After the last game you leave them together for now, until it doesnt work for some reason or the Oilers cant get the 2nd or 3rd lines going production wise. The 2nd will need some time to gel, the 5th seems to be fine, they are working hard and making plays. I liked the Chaisson Reider Draisaitl line, if the the Oilers need to they can go back to it, but the 1st line as it sits, I dont see how you take them apart right now, let it roll and see what takes shape with the other lines

  • Dave2

    I like this comment from an article in the Journal.

    “The perfect fit for McDrai might just be Ty Rattie. The play rarely dies on his stick and he’s got the ability to get off Grade A scoring chance shots. He’s got the third most per game of any Oilers player this year, right after McD and Drai. If McLellan is going to load up one line, might as well go for broke, eh.”

    • Delirious

      Finally a guy who agrees with me. Why does Rattie get demoted instantly. Everyone says we need a scoring winger when Rattie has been that his whole hockey career. Just doesn’t get a shot.

  • A-co

    Benson- mcdavid – draisaitl
    Reider- nuge – hebig
    Strome- marody- caguilla
    JJ- brodziak – Kassian
    Why not give a look to some other young forwards that are doing well on the farm

  • Gravis82

    Keep those two on the top line and turn our prior top line into the second line (Hall Nuge Eberle).

    I am sorry, but there is nothing but this answer that would be better at this point in time.

  • Ratt McNuge

    McDrai is a deadly combo. The Oilers need a good winger to play with Nuge, but you have to keep McDrai together. They both play their best when together.

  • slats-west

    Im all in for getting a high powered Super offensive line. Why – because we win and I think if they keep going other teams fits as they change their entire game plans to stop us….. thus hopefully getting easier matchups for our struggling fwds in #2 and #3 line. Strome is hurting at centre get him off it OR give him a checking role with Jujar. So for me I would go:

    Caggiula – McDavid – Drai
    Lucic – Nuge– Rattie
    Strome –Jujar– Chaisson
    Marody – Brodziak – Kassian

  • Beer

    Switch it up between Drai and Nuge on second line as needed, just to keep the other making adjustments.

    As a smoker, I know when the TV time out is coming. I am sure a NHL coach could/would figure that out. Load up the big three just before.

  • toprightcorner

    Keep McDrai together as long as the team is winning.

    Then put Nuge back with McDavid, but drop his minutes to 17-18 a night, that is how he was most effective last year.

    Play Draisaitl up with McDavid 5-6 min a night when Mcdavid double shifts and when Draisaitl Double shifts.

    Would try to do a rotation of McDavid with Nuge, McDavid with Draisaitl and Draisaitl and Nuge. Rotate Rattie, Caggulia and Chaisson amongst them. The other coach won’t be able to match lines and it keeps the top 6 jumping with offensive potential.

  • toprightcorner

    If the Oilers could add a 3C somehow, I would get Strome on RW in the top 6. that was never really tested much last year but I think could get Strome going again.

  • Oil9744

    I think it’s pretty safe to say Stone is available because Ottawa is not going to make the playoffs and Stone is not going to resign with Ottawa especially because it’s a tire fire and a half over there, They are going to want young talent and picks back for him but Edmonton will have to trade a big contract somehow to get him. Maybe Sekera(5.5) JP and a 1st rounder for Stone? This is of coarse he is willing to sign an extension with Edmonton but if we can move Sekera (hopefully Lucic contract but I doubt it) then we should be able to sign Stone. He’s exactly what Edmonton needs.

    • Battman

      That is way too much to be giving up for stone. Way too much. 3 assets for him, one being a young high potential prospect and a second a first round pick? Think someone’s been playing too much nhl 18

      • Oil9744

        Really? And what do you think it would cost to get one of the best wingers in the game who’s already getting 7 mill a season and only 26 years old? A bag of pucks?? Edmonton can only hope that JP would ever develop in to a player like Stone, as so far he doesn’t even look close to doing that, especially in Edmonton, 1st round pick is almost automatic when your dealing for a star player unless your sending a star in return, Sekera is totally expendable seeing as how he barely has played on this team for TWO seasons already and is the oldest dman on the oilers, plus we would still have Klefbomb, Nurse, Russel on the left side which are all better options at this point, plus his cap hit which is ridiculous cause he’s our highest paid defencemen.

        • Arfguy

          I think the Oilers need to figure out how to play with players they draft. I think trying to sign or trade for need is how they got into the trouble they did. I like Mark Stone. A lot. However, at 26 and already a proven point getter, I doubt he signs for any less than $8 million/season. That is money the Oilers do not have. They are better off trying to figure out if they can make NHL players out of Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, Hebig, Benson, Maksimov, etc.

  • Arfguy

    Roll with:

    Caggiula-McDavid-Draisaitl
    Strome-RNH-Chiasson
    Lucic-Marody-Rattie
    Khaira-Brodziak-Kassian

    I know that if Strome is usually slotted as a RW when not at centre, but I think with RNH’s speed, Chiasson’s ability to find open ice, Strome could slot in on the left wing as the “forgotten” shooting threat.

    I also liked the very little I saw of Marody and I think he’s got some creative flair to help both Rattie and Lucic.

    At this point, McDavid and Draisaitl seems like the one safe bet. I don’t care how much their combined salary is. Give them 10-15 games together to contribute offence. If they don’t score in one or two games, don’t split them up because they will bounce back and get you points.

    Go with the proven line combination. Right now, McDavid and Draisaitl are magic together. Leave them be.