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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Early thoughts on the Hitchcock era?

Whether you’re killing company time or reacquainting yourself with your couch because you’re playing hooky from life, the mailbag is here to help you make it through another Monday. As always, I’ve taken your questions that need answers from our panel of heroes and experts, drawing from them the answers that you need to better live your lives. This feature depends on you and if you have a question you can email it to me at baggedmilk@oilersnation.com or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk. Without further adieu – the mailbag.

Nov 20, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock looks on from the bench before a game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

1) Tyler asks – We’re two weeks into the Ken Hitchcock regime and I’m curious to know everyone’s first impressions of having the future Hall of Famer behind the bench?

Robin Brownlee:

It’s not really a first impression as I’ve known Hitchcock for almost 35 years, dating back to when he coached the Kamloops Blazers. He is exactly what I expected him to be. Ken makes his expectations clear. He explains how he wants the game played and why he wants it played that way. He will find a way to get everything out of this line-up there is to get. It’s about time fans around here got that from their coach.

Jason Gregor:

Pretty much what I expected. He gives people a role and expects them to play role. Nothing more.

Matt Henderson:

He says all the right things. I mean, all of them. I think he has the stats guys as happy as the traditionalists. I think I see a stronger commitment to protecting the front of the net and he’s willing to use his timeouts. I have very few complaints.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Their record speaks for itself. I think the coaching change has definitely sparked this team. Hitchcock has a history of coming in and finding ways to get the most out of teams and I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing here. I also love the fact that he isn’t afraid to run up the minutes of the Oilers big guns. He’s fully embracing the fact that this is a top-heavy team and right now, it’s getting them wins. Can’t ask for more than that.

Christian Pagnani:

He’s new and clearly a favourite of the media. He says a lot of the right things and is on a good run so far. So far so good.

Chris the Intern:

I mean, you can’t argue with the winning record he’s given the Oilers so far. I’m not sure if it’s exactly the system he’s implemented that’s doing the trick so far, but the boys have definitely rallied around the new coach which is good to see. If Hitch can keep up the winning for the remainder of the season and make sure the team doesn’t faullter then we’ll be giving him a key to the city by the end of it.

Baggedmilk:

Obviously, there’s the defensive approach to hockey that we’re all seeing but one thing that I’ve really noticed since Hitchcock has been around is the endless positivity that comes out during his media availabilities. Even when the team plays poorly he seems to look for the positives and I think that’s the exact approach that the team needed.

Nov 27, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock watches a game against the Dallas Stars from the bench at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

2) Kurtis asks – I’ve noticed that Ken Hitchcock relies heavily on McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins with those three forwards playing far more minutes than any other forward, generally speaking. Do you think this is a sound long-term strategy or do the Oilers need to find a way to bring in more depth scoring and ease the pressure on those three players?

Robin Brownlee:

Ken has always relied on his best players this way. It is a sound long-term strategy — one only needs to look at his career record — as long as there is a proper supporting cast in place. That end of things needs some work right now.

Jason Gregor:

Playing your best players the most gives you the best chance to win. McDavid is still averaging under 23 minutes a game. He is playing 10 seconds/game more than Mark Schiefele and he is on a deeper Jets team. I don’t see McDavid’s minutes being an issue at all, especially since they aren’t PK minutes.

Matt Henderson:

I have never liked playing the fourth line for the sake of playing the fourth line. Great players in peak physical condition can handle a little extra cardio. Until the depth scoring shows up, I’m all for it.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I’m not sure if it’s a sustainable long-term strategy simply because, at some point, you would imagine Connor McDavid will hit a wall. He seems super-human at times, but you would think at some point fatigue will set in. With that being said, the lack of depth isn’t a Ken Hitchcock problem, it’s a Peter Chiarelli problem. Hitchcock’s job is to get wins and get this team into the playoffs, if he needs to play McDavid and Draisaitl 25 minutes a night to accomplish that, then all the power to him.

Christian Pagnani:

Nope. They need more than one line and three players, especially when two of them almost always play together.

Chris the Intern:

This question makes my blood boil based on the current situation the team is in. Obviously, we need to bring in more depth, but this is a coach doing the best that he can do with limited skill given to him from the GM. If he has to play those three centres 35 minutes every night in order to drag the team to the playoffs then so be it. This is all on Chia anyways.

Baggedmilk:

I mean, it’s certainly not ideal. I’m sure Hitchcock would like to be able to spread the minutes around a little bit more if he could. That said, the team is winning so I’m not going to argue.

Dec 7, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Valentin Zykov (73) takes a shot in front of Minnesota Wild forward Nine Niederreiter (22) during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

3) Garrett asks – I find Zykov to be a very interesting pickup for the Oilers based on what he’s done at the AHL level, and I’m wondering what you think would be a successful run for the forward?

Robin Brownlee:

I have not seen Zykov enough to have a firm opinion about him. I know what the stats say. I know what the scouting reports are. Beyond that, I’m in a wait-and-see position.

Jason Gregor:

He would have to score and he has two weeks to do something or he will be the easy guy to take out of lineup when Tobias Rieder and Drake Caggiula return. I don’t think he skates well enough to make a difference in NHL right now.

Matt Henderson:

He hasn’t played much yet but his line has controlled the puck in both games. If he’s a competent fourth liner that’s a win. He’s a waiver pick up. I have almost no expectations despite his offensive ability at the AHL level.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

If he can find a way to spark the Oilers third line and give this team a little offence from their bottom six, then this pickup will look very good. He clearly has good offensive instincts and that is something this team needs more of. He looked good on the third line, but I’d be interested to see what he can do in the top six as well. Give him a chance with a skilled centre and really see if he can reach his offensive potential.

Christian Pagnani:

The Oilers have 53 games left. I think 15-20 points would be a successful run for a player who is supposed to bring offence.

Chris the Intern:

Currently, if he can get on the scoresheet every other game that would be great. When Tobias Rieder and Drake Caggiula returns, it will be interesting. If he plays well, he’ll provide some good competition between our bottom six guys, which can only be a good thing.

Baggedmilk:

It’s only been a couple of games so far but I like what Zykov brings to the table. You can tell that the guy is skilled and it will be interesting to see if a change of venue will help him get established at the NHL level. He could be found money for the Oilers.

Apr 7, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a first period goal by forward Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

4) Larissa R. asks – For a while now, I’ve been wondering why the Oilers have never given RNH and Draisaitl a look together. It seems to me that you could create greater scoring depth by stacking line two, and then playing the complimentary wingers – like Caggiula, Chiasson, Rattie (or whoever is running hot) – with McDavid. You know McDavid is going to drive a line all by himself no matter who he plays with – look at the wingers Crosby has had over the years. But the constant debate about whether Draisaitl and/or RNH are capable of driving a line could potentially be solved by playing them together. Thoughts?

Robin Brownlee:

Crosby has nothing to do with McDavid. For starters, Pittsburgh has been a better, deeper team than the Oilers. Opposing coaches have had different and more difficult choices to make when facing Pittsburgh. My thoughts? I think there is more second-guessing about everything, including linemates, when a team has had as little success as the Oilers have. As for RNH and Draisaitl, both are on pace for their best offensive seasons, so I don’t share your concern or questions about how they’re being deployed.

Jason Gregor:

Why would you weaken your best weapon by not giving him at least one legit, proven winger? If the Oilers had another legit top line winger then I could see 29-93 together, but until then one should play with McDavid.

Matt Henderson:

I’m going to assume from the phrase “drive a line”, you mean can produce offensively and control play. Perhaps it’s a bit like the way Stu MacGregor said that Nuge was the straw that stirred the drink in Red Deer. I’d agree that McDavid can likely produce with players who don’t have well rounded ability. I’m all for seeing Nuge and Drai together on the second line. Even if just for a couple games. Drai might not be capable of picking up 70+ points without great linemates but being a complimentary player isn’t a crime.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I agree with your point. I think RNH and Draisaitl could be a really solid duo, but at the same time, McDavid and Draisaitl work so well together and I’m not sure it’s smart to split them up right now. You also have to consider the fact that Connor and Leon love playing together. You need to consider what Connor McDavid wants as well. In short, I think Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl could work on a line, but I don’t think this is the right time to try it. Find McDavid a legit scoring winger and then you can justify it.

Christian Pagnani:

I agree. McDavid scores with whoever and the stats back it up. McDavid and Draisaitl are a nice luxury, but it leaves lines 2-4 with almost no one. Daily Faceoff ranks lines and pairings through Corsica, and well it’s not pretty when McDavid and Draisaitl are together. Might as well try Nugent-Hopkins-Draisaitl. They need to do better when McDavid’s on the bench. Adding Draisaitl to McDavid’s line doesn’t help that at all.

Chris the Intern:

“drive a line” – everybody drink! Although you’re correct, I’m surprised we’ve never seen the two of them together, I still love to see one of them (either Drai or Nuge) play with McDavid. This is probably an unpopular opinion, but if I’m Connor McDavid, the best player in the world, I would be pissed if I was forced to play with two AHL/bottom-six calibre players all the time.

Baggedmilk:

I’d love to see Draisaitl and Nuge together because I think it would do a good job of spreading the offence around a little bit. Connor will always be Connor but the depth chart isn’t deep enough to have consistent scoring from everywhere else.

Oct 23, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates a second period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

5) Marc asks – I’ve always thought the Oilers biggest weakness is the lack of a true number one defenceman. Would you make a Draisaitl for Chabot trade and would Ottawa be interested if they believe Duchene is leaving?

Robin Brownlee:

Chabot is a talented offensive blueliner who produces points, but I’m not trading Draisaitl for a player with less than 100 games on his NHL resume. Now, if we’re talking down the road, like this off-season, and Chabot has finished this season the prolific way that he’s started it, that might be a call worth making. I’m not hung up on the 300 games some people use for judging D-men, but less than 100 games is a bit early for me.

Jason Gregor:

Trading Draisaitl for a top pair Dman just opens up another hole on your team. Also right now the Oilers best prospects are Dmen: Bouchard, Jones and Bear. They don’t have any forwards who could step in and fill Draisaitl void on McDavid’s wing. If the Oilers had other legit top line wingers then I could see exploring this trade scenario, but today I don’t see it.

Matt Henderson:

I don’t think Ottawa is interested in trading a stud young defender.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Oh, I love a little armchair GM action! I actually think the value is pretty much bang on when it comes to this offer. If Duchene leaves, Ottawa would no doubt be looking to add a #1 centre and Draisaitl has that potential. The Oilers would LOVE to have a guy like Chabot in their lineup as well. I don’t see this trade ever happening, but it’s a very interesting proposal!

Christian Pagnani:

I think the Oilers have lacked a real puck-moving defenceman for basically the last decade. Chabot’s on an unreal start to the season but that’s an interesting idea. I’d consider it, but the Oilers probably wouldn’t. If they didn’t move Leon Draisaitl for a Seth Jones/P.K Subban when they had the chance and could have kept Taylor Hall, they won’t do when they have even less depth up front.

Chris the Intern:

The Sens would definitely be interested in that trade, yes. My first impression of the deal would be a no. I’m so defensive when thinking of trade options for Draisaitl, cause he’s such a valuable tool for us. Chabot is having a great ELC and I”m curious as to what he would sign for after it’s done in a year and a half. For me to agree to that trade, the Sens would have to throw in something else to the pot. It Can’t be one for one.

Baggedmilk:

Obviously, the Oilers need an offensive minded defenceman but are you really wanting to give up a guy that’s on pace for 90 points for someone with so few career games? If Chabot is as good as he looks right now, would the Senators really be interested in giving him up? Tough one.

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  • Bills Bills

    I am not trading Draisaitl for Chabot. No way, no how. This team is starved for legit top line players. Creating a gaping hole in the top 6 in order to fill one that should be filled through drafting is a very bad idea.

    • Bills Bills

      Besides, you want to keep trading away Connors buddies? A happy Connor is what the Oilers want. Surround him with great players that he likes playing with and hanging out with and hope he never wants to leave.

  • OilTastic

    Re: Draisaitl….I wish we would stop trying to force him to be a centre and leave him on McDavids wing permanently! He’s having great success there so why change it?

    And no i’d never trade Leon for Chabot until I see more great scoring seasons from Chabot….I’m not yet convinced he’s going to be a consistent 50 or 60 point player every season! I personally wouldn’t make the deal because it opens up too big of a hole up front and takes away Connor’s most effective winger!

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Follow up to the Hitchcock era question: if this first ten games of the Hitch era “speak for themselves” and Hitch is doing what Hitch does everywhere he goes, then is this team a .750 hockey team with the right coaching?
    If so (and if the Oilers are approaching that level now), does Chiarelli deserve credit for putting together a .750 or even a .680 hockey team or is he still somehow at fault for the state of the team under McL?
    I not really interested in blaming or rewarding an individual for something as complex as a winning or losing hockey team, but I will find it interesting if over the next 50 games the Oilers can stay close to their current pts% and Chiarelli’s still castigated for the moves he’s made to put the team together. Currently the Oilers pts% is better than that of Vegas, San Jose, and the Wild, and it’s less than .10 behind the Ducks. Only Calgary has a significant lead over the Oilers right now and we all saw last night’s game, so there’s a reasonable chance that the Oilers will be in the top three of the Pacific teams. I guess my question is how would you grade Chiarelli if the team’s able to crack the Pacific top three by season’s end? Just curious, I don’t love or hate Chiarelli, I’m just interested in how the tides turn on this.

  • TKB2677

    I never quite understand when someone comments about McDavid and Leon’s minutes. They are the teams BEST players. Combined they make 21 mill. You have to play those 2 a lot. Plus no disrespect to any NHL 4th liner, let alone the Oilers. While having good bottom 6 guys are important in the NHL, every team relies heavily on their best players to win.

    When it comes to the whole #1 dman debate. I don’t know why it still comes up. Would it be great if the Oilers had that #1 guy, you bet. But is it necessary? No a chance. The Oilers defens right now is serviceable but not great, it needs to get better. BUT what they lack is a little bit of puck moving and offense. For their defense, they need a second pairing, right shot guy. Right now Russell is doing that job and doing a pretty decent job. With Bouchard coming who is a right shooting, puck moving, offensive guy. If you can insert him into the line up next season, that improves their defense. With the way he is playing, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Caleb Jones makes the team next year. Jones is an excellent skating, left shot, puck moving guy with some offense. If he comes in, plays on your 3rd pair and takes over Gravel’s spot who for the record, has been decent, that upgrades your puck moving. Then you have Bear or Persson who is apparently lighting up the Swedish league again. So they have guys coming who will significantly upgrade the defenses team speed and puck moving. So I think it would be foolish to trade Leon who might push 90 pts this season for any dman.

  • camdog

    Personally, I think people are getting confused by playing structured hockey and playing defensive hockey. Todd played a lot of man to man. How many teams play man to man now days? When a team lacks foot speed maybe man to man is and system for the players this team has. PC built a team to grind. Mact hired Todd to play fast paced. How everybody in the media keeps failing to identify this problem is bewildering. Nicholson hired a GM that likes to grind. Old Boys hired a coach that likes to free wheel.

  • Canoe Ride 27

    Great to see Looch get the biker helmet and vest last night. Hitch is getting everything out of him right now. He’s basically giving him the same instructions as the Avengers give Hulk…Looch, smash!

  • That's My Point

    Draisaitl and McDavid are the NUMBER 1 over-time duo in the NHL, why would anyone even think of wrecking it??
    Draisaitl this season is currently on pace to get HART trophy type numbers of 93 points (2018 winner Hall had 93 points last season).
    Do you want to trade another potential Hart trophy winner for a D?
    Hall was in his 8th NHL season when he got 93 points, looks like #29 can do that in his 5th season.

    Draisaitl’s playoff numbers are GREAT 16 points in 13 games.
    Draisaitl was also the MVP of the Memorial Cup, like Hall who would ever THINK of trading him??

  • Spydyr

    I’ve always thought the Oilers biggest weakness is the lack of a true number one defenceman.

    They have one coming next season and he will be a beast. His name is Evan Bouchard.

    • TKB2677

      I agree with you. That is why I would no do any trading for dmen. The 2 things I see the Oilers needing to do long term is:

      – Find a legit second pairing, right shot guy. Right now Russell is doing that and doing it decently but long term it’s not ideal. I think Bouchard will be that guy.

      – Find a replacement for Benning on the 3rd pairing. Benning is a right shot, passable at times but is still up and down. It would be nice to have an even more mobile, better puck moving, more offensive guy in his spot. I think internally that will be wither Bear or Persson.

      I think the Oilers defense next season could be something like:

      Klefbom-Larsson
      Nurse-Bouchard
      Russell-Bear/Persson/Jones(He’s a left shot is playing the right side)

  • BobbyCanuck

    but if I’m Connor McDavid, the best player in the world, I would be pissed if I was forced to play with two AHL/bottom-six calibre players all the time.

    I think not, the best players have a habit of making their line mates better, and they like a challenge, and the so called 3/4th liners, feel like they have to play the best they can, out of respect for the best player in the world, and because they do not want to be embarrassed out there

  • OilRider

    The Draisaitl-for-Chabot question angers me because, even though everyone else salivates over Matthew Barzal, Chabot is the one who I always figured we shoulda took with the 2015 #16 pick.

    We should have had both.

  • btrain

    Isn’t the last question such a shame. Chabot went 18th overall in the 2015 draft year. Oilers famously had the 16th pick that turned in to Barzal for the Islanders. However, considering the picks were traded for Reinheart, given the need on D, it seems quite probable that Chabot would have been the name called by the Oil had they held on to that pick. Makes me cringe knowing that we basically have to wait and hope Bouchard can be for the Oilers what Chabot already is for the Sens.

    • TKB2677

      Can’t we just all forget about the Reinhart trade and never speak of it again? It was brutal. I would argue it was the worst one that Chia made. The Hall trade was bad in that it was a 1 for 1 trade. Larsson is a really good dman and very important to the Oilers, he’s just not worth Hall straight up. If it was Larsson and something else, then it wouldn’t be that bad. The Reinhart trade is just brutal because he’s another NHLer.

      I am not sticking up for Chia, he’s done a crappy job. I just want to try to forget all those terrible moves because all it does is piss me off.

  • Redbird62

    While the Oilers have not had an upper echelon puck-moving defenseman since Pronger’s one season here, in 2016-2017, the Oilers D-core handled the task by committee with Sekera and Klefbom in particular being either low end first pairing or high end second pairing defensemen. Their injuries in 2017-18 that affected almost the entire season for both of them were one of the team’s big problems. Klefbom is starting to show a return to that form and perhaps even better. There is no way of knowing if Sekera can come back and perform substantially better than he did when he returned last season, but even if he does not, I don’t think the Oilers should trade Draisaitl for Chabot. It might help in the short run, but they would be giving up a huge forward asset for what may be a temporary upgrade on the backend. With Bouchard (a blue chip prospect) Jones and Bear, plus continued development even of Klefbom and Nurse, I don’t think the Oilers long term position would be improved by this trade.

  • grumpyKoala

    Drai won’t get a good enough return, the truth is everybody know by now he very skilled and very lasy, he not a popular player in the locker, He is a fantastic duo with mcd but an horrible player whitout him, + he leading the league in giveaway (forward) We also should be worry that he is definitely not a hitch type.

    • Redbird62

      You know he is not popular in the locker room how? Not all rumors are true. And not a Hitch type player? That’s funny. Somebody better tell Ken that since Draisaitl’s time on ice has gone up 20% since Ken took over. During those 10 games, he leads all forwards in ice time averaging almost 27 seconds more per game than even Connor.