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?