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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Do the Oilers have the depth to load up the top line?

Will new Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock play Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl together? Once again Todd McLellan’s went back to McDavid and Draisaitl. It wasn’t a surprise. The McDavid-Draisaitl combo was a McLellan favourite. Only Patrick Maroon and Jordan Eberle have played more with McDavid 5-on-5 since 2015.

The Oilers made the playoffs when Draisaitl spent most of the season on right wing with McDavid in 2016-17. McLellan needed to win to keep his job, so he returned to that duo that got it done two years ago, but it didn’t matter. The Ken Hitchcock era begins.

McDavid and Draisaitl produce well together, but does their success create even shakier depth? They’ve outscored teams 7-4 (5-on-5) since reuniting against Montreal, but the Oilers have been outscored 7-4 without McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice.

Does McDavid-Draisaitl give the Oilers the best chance to win? That means Ryan Nugent-Hopkins centers the second line with a pair of leftovers wingers. So far that’s been Alex Chiasson and Ryan Spooner.

McDavid Linemates 5-on-5 CF% and GF% since 2016-17

CF% measures the amount of shot attempts for and against (CF/CF+CA). GF% is the number of goals scored while that player is on the ice (GF/GF+GA).

I like looking at shot and goal stats. If a duo/line out-shoots and outscores their opposition, things are going right.

McDavid and Draisaitl have played a lot together. Draisaitl’s results with McDavid aren’t much different than other options. Jordan Eberle and Jesse Puljujarvi had similar production, although in significantly fewer minutes with McDavid.

Nugent-Hopkins-McDavid is an interesting combination. The difference between Nugent-Hopkins-McDavid and McDavid-Draisaitl is negligible and Draisaitl’s salary suggests he should be provide better secondary scoring than Nugent-Hopkins.

This season, Nugent-Hopkins has a 45.99 CF% and the Oilers have been outscored 6-4 in Nugent-Hopkins minutes without McDavid. Draisaitl has 44.26 CF% and the Oilers have been outscored 9-6 in Draisaitl minutes without McDavid.

Edmonton simply doesn’t have the depth beyond McDavid. You’d hope Draisaitl could provide that secondary scoring without McDavid. He’s the 12th highest player in the league. The Oilers haven’t outscored teams 5-on-5 in Draisaitl minutes without McDavid since 2015-16. I don’t think that’s all Draisaitl’s fault, but highlights the Edmonton’s depth issues.

I’d be interested to see Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins together on the second line without McDavid. McDavid can carry two lesser players better than either Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins. There isn’t much help outside of McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins, so why not play Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins in an attempt to build another competent scoring line?

McDavid and Draisaitl get a lot of comparisons to super lines in Boston and Colorado, but both those teams don’t get outmatched when Bergeron or MacKinnon are on the bench.

Hitchcock stuck with McDavid-Draisaitl in his first game as Oilers head coach. McDavid and Draisaitl were both over 22 minutes. Kyle Brodziak and Zack Kassian got a noticeable bump in ice time. Hitchcock may continue with McDavid-Draisaitl, but he’ll run into the same problem as McLellan: finding a combination of players that doesn’t give back everything the McDavid line creates.

  • Big Nuggets

    If that new ‘4th line’ with Luc Brodz and Kass can bring it every night that will help tip the scales in our favour. I imagine Nuge will continue to center the 2nd line. that leaves the 3rd line as a soft match up/soft zone starts group. I’m really interested to see how Hitch plqys around with the line up.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      “Luc Brodz and Kass” is the 3rd line now, I believe?
      Khaira’s line is the 4th? Last (first) game, anyway?
      I’m sure things will change, it’s fun to watch what different line combos we’ll see coming up. They’ll be totally different depending on the competition’s style of play. I have faith it’ll work, because the communication should be there now?
      We really don’t have bad players, skill-wise. They were just poorly utilized and looked lost outside of the top 6. Good communication will change that, one would hope, anyway.

      • Total Points

        I like McDavid taking shifts on the 3rd line – JJ and Rattie. That is why it is called the 3rd line as McDavid can come out every second shift as long as there are no penalties.

        • El Petrolero

          McDavid double shifting and playing a few minutes on the line does not make it the third line. The line was fourth in both average time on ice and deployment, but you can just keep making up definitions for what constitutes a third line too if you want.

  • camdog

    I’ll be interested too see what this team does when everybody is forced to work as hard as McDavid. The adrenaline rush should be good for a number of games, especially against the Pacific division. That new third line should be able to bounce a few pucks in the net by crashing the net. Until they find another centre this is a 3 line hockey team. No chance they’ll be able to trade Spooner for a good defensively aware centre, but that’s the hand Hitch has been dealt, by the previous bumbling duo. Once the system is implemented JP is going to be called up whether he’s ready or not.

  • Spydyr

    Things the Oilers are missing depth wise:

    1) A starting goalie.

    2) Two top four defenceman.

    3)Two top six wingers.

    4)A GM to replace the one that left these gaping holes in the line-up.

    5) Finally and most important competent executive management from the owner on down to the GM.

  • Quoteright

    Please
    Try
    Nuge Leon pool party (or whoever but I believe in chemistry so I would try what we want pool to be as he was drafted for, top line talent)
    McDavid with whoever as second line
    3rd line
    Brozdiac Lucic Kharia
    4th Line
    McDavid and whoever
    In this format I would ride the Nuge line like a first and matchup against the toughest apponents. 20 + min
    McDavid would then have to drive the second line and the sparsely used 4th line. It would mean we need one less talented player, and the 4th line would kill. Lean a little harder on the grinding 3rd line when they have leads.
    Let all our middle wingers compete for spots on the 2nd Line and power play time. Constant biscuits
    McDavid can drive it by himself
    Nuge and Leon are both cerebral passers who can finish and will be a DOMINANT 1st line
    Possibly the best in the league if Pool steps up.

  • Quoteright

    Also
    Call me crazy 😜
    But Connor is sooo good that everyone defers to him sooo much which might be one of the problems on the Pp. They don’t always work hard enough as a team cause it’s so easy to give the puck to him because he’s the Best ever, but there is only one puck.
    It’s almost a waste to have Nuge and Drai out with him.
    Honestly, Nuge always ran a good pp, and Drai could too, so why have them all out together for long shifts, instead come in waves, 2 talented lines, fresher or hotter one starts
    Trash away
    But McDavid makes 12 1/2 mill
    The salary cap has turned the NHL into money ball

  • Oilers4477

    Yes we all know McDavid and Draisaitl produce at an elite level, but McDavid will score no matter who he plays with so why don’t they try something like this to get the second line going?
    Spooner-McDavid-Chiasson
    Nuge-Draisaitl-caguilla
    Bottom 6 is interchangeable

  • TrentonL

    The only way to solve the with / without McDavid gap is to play McDavid as much as possible (double shift) and spread the wealth as best as possible otherwise.

    1) Spooner-McDavid-Chiasson
    2) Caggiula-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi
    3) Khaira-RNH-Rattie
    4) Lucic-Brodziak-Kassian

    McDavid double shifts alternating between 2nd/3rd line pushing Draisaitl to RW and RNH to LW on that shift. Order as below with McDaivd shifts indicated by *.

    1*-2-3-4-1*-2-3*-4-1*-3-2*-4-1*-2-3-4

    Oilers have been getting about 10.5 mins/game of combined PP and PK time so that leaves McDavid on ice for ~18.5mins/g of even strength + 4mins/gm PP = same 22.5mins/g he is playing now. Get rid of the 4th line if behind in the 3rd period.

    • TKB2677

      Is your name Dustin Nielsen?

      I have high hopes for Puljujarvi. He has all the makings of a really good right winger. But he didn’t look good at all against NHL 3rd liners. If you can’t look good against NHL 3rd liners, I am sorry, putting you on the top line where you are going against the teams BEST line and BEST defense pairing is nuts. He’s not ready. Every time I see someone use GF and CF as an argument, it bothers me. Because who doesn’t have good numbers with McDavid. Maroon scored 27 goals one season with McDavid. I am sure is numbers were great with McDavid. Maroon in St. Louis in 14 games has 7 assists, no goals.

  • 0W-20

    When everyone is healthy, I’d like to see the following line combinations (LW-C-RW):
    Spooner – McDavid – Chiasson
    Nugent-Hopkins – Draisaitl – Rieder
    Lucic – Brodziak – Kassian
    Caggiula – Khaira – Rattie

    Spooner can be a forecheck demon that skates with McDavid and Chiasson makes the little plays and goes to the hard spots on the ice.
    The second line offers a real scoring threat for a change.
    Veteran checking third line that will lay the body and cycle hard.
    Youthful fourth line that should actually ask questions and generate favorable matchups.

    Loading up Draisaitl/McDavid should be reserved for power play and OT. Team doesn’t have enough depth at evens otherwise.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      All players in a Hitchcock system are forecheck demons or they sit. As Hitch describes it, speed is massively important on offence but more important on D. He argues that players/ teams that defend with speed cause the opposition to panic. I’ll expect to see McDrai (mostly Draisaitl because McDavid’s 85% of the way there) defending with more speed, and the resulting opposition panic will create more touches and high danger chances for McDrai. Spooner won’t be a difference-maker and Caggiula plays a better net-front and corner game than Spooner. If Caggiula can actually implement Hitch’s advice I expect that he’ll continue to earn his spot on MDrai’s line.

  • CMG30

    Do the oil have the depth to run RNH McD LD? No, but if all the supporting role players were willing to play lights out just to prevent any bleeding when the top line was off the ice, it could work…

  • grumpyKoala

    I would love for Drai to be a stud 2nd line center, reality is he have a way bigger impact on the game riding connor wing. Since Hitch is aboard, I do not think we will see a lot of night with nuge playing the wing. The only question is who Drai playing with.

  • Jaxon

    Chiasson – McDavid – Puljujarvi (Puljujarvi is one of the few players to improve McDavid’s CF% and GF%)
    Khaira – Nugent-Hopkins – Draisaitl – Khaira and Nuge are two of the only players to improve Draisaitl’s CF% and GF% above 50%.
    Caggiula – Marody – Spooner – not a big fan of this line. Caggiula has been a big drag on McDavid’s CF% and GF% so here is better than 1st line. I’d rather have Chiasson with McDavid than Spooner.
    Lucic – Brodziak – Kassian – Hitch seems to like it. I’m good with that.

  • OnDaWagon

    The Oilers made the playoffs when Draisaitl spent most of the season on right wing with McDavid in 2016-17.
    You can believe that’s the cog in the wheel that made it spin, but, the real reason they made the playoffs, is, Cam Talbot played most games like an NHL starting goalie. Cam should come out of retirement, and be the puck stopper we used to think he was.

    And maybe he can help you guys fix the redirects. Seems you certainly have no intention of doing it yourselves.