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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Practice Notes: Hitchcock Changes Lines

The Hitchcock Honeymoon is over. I’ve noticed Hitchcock being more vocal with his players on the bench, and for a coach with a reputation of demanding a lot from players, often his best players, it will be interesting to see how things unfold over the next month with the Oilers.

Hitchcock was ultra positive for the first 15 games, and wanted to get to know the players and their personalities, and now that he has I think we will see him push guys he believes can handle it, and he will also challenge those who aren’t playing how he wants them to.

Today Hitchcock unveiled four new line combinations.

RNH-McDavid-Puljujarvi
Rieder-Draisaitl-Chiasson
Caggiula-Brodziak-Kassian
Lucic-Khaira-Rattie

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Spooner will be the 4th line centre for the next two games while Jujhar Khaira serves his two-game suspension, but when he returns Hitchcock will use Khaira down the middle. Khaira has been very good of late with eight points in ten games and the Oilers will miss his depth scoring. Only Connor McDavid (15), Leon Draisaitl (14) and Darnell Nurse (9) have more points than Khaira in December.

With so many Oilers struggling to score I don’t think these lines are set in stone by any means. If players play well, and produce, especially Puljujarvi and Rieder, in the top six they will stay there, but I expect Hitchcock will start to demand more from players and if they play well, he’ll keep playing them, but if not he won’t hesitate to move them around.

Tobias Rieder has no goals in 22 games and no points in his last ten. He has played four games after missing a month with a shoulder injury, so he likely needed a few games to get back up to speed, but no goals in 22 games is still no goals in 22 games. They need him to get going offensively.

Jesse Puljujarvi couldn’t ask for a better opportunity, but he will need to score some goals playing with McDavid. It is a lot to ask a young player, but to stick on a top line long-term you have to score some goals. It is that way for any player, not just a youngster, but the main reason Patrick Maroon stuck with McDavid for as long as he did was because he scored goals. No different than Ty Rattie at the end of last season when he tallied five times in 14 games.

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Puljujarvi is in great shape. He’s always tested well, but as Alex Chiasson pointed out, minutes with McDavid are tougher because of how fast he plays. You have to keep your pace up for long periods and I’ll be curious to see how many minutes Hitchcock gives Puljujarvi right away. He isn’t conditioned to play 20 minutes yet. I’m sure he can do it for a few games, but to do it long-term will take some adjusting when he hasn’t played that much in two and a half years.

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And if he doesn’t light it up with McDavid, no one should freak out. He is only 20 years young. If he stays there for a few games and his switched out, don’t be the one claiming “he’s a bust,” Hitchcock is using this as a teaching tool for Puljujarvi. Try to get him up to speed with the other top-six forwards — not in physical speed, but more so thinking — reacting and playing fast.

Milan Lucic has one goal and none in 34 games. He played a season-low 6:43 at 5×5 against the Blues on Tuesday. He is in a position now where he will need to earn more icetime. Veterans often get a longer rope to play out a slump, but Lucic’s slump has reached a level none of his would have expected. Two goals in 78 games in the 2018 calendar has earned him a spot on the fourth line. 2019 can’t come fast enough for him.

Hitchcock said Lucic wasn’t a demotion, but instead an opportunity to push Spooner and Rattie. Hitchcock always tries to focus on the positive.

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POWERPLAY…

Dec 5, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) scores against St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen (34) during shootouts at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The top unit remained the same with McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH, Chiasson and Nurse. They worked on quicker puck movement today and more overall movement on the PP. They have been standing still way too much lately.

The second unit consisted of Puljujarv, Lucic, Ryan Spooner, Ty Rattie and Caleb Jones. Spooner was running it off the right side, Lucic in front of the net, with Rattie and Puljujarvi on the left side and middle in positions for one-timers.

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The first unit will ultimately be the group that gets the PP going, but if they don’t show more urgency and a willingness to not settle for outside passes, we could see the second unit get 45 seconds on each PP.

PARTING SHOTS…

Adam Larsson didn’t skate, but is expected on the ice tomorrow. The D pairs remain the same. Chris Wideman and Andrej Sekera rotated in with Darnell Nurse in Larsson’s spot. Sekera was a part of every drill and is getting closer. Tomorrow he will see the doctor again and undergo some testing to see how strong his Achilles is. “The doctor said it will improve very fast now. It is pain free. It feels good, it is just a matter of gaining strength,” explained Sekera.

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He reiterated how he’d really like to play some games in the AHL once he is cleared. Just to get a feel of the game again. I love this attitude. He is also very excited about how he feels overall. His knee is 100%. It is way more flexible than it was when he returned last year. Pivoting was a major problem, as the knee brace limited his range of motion. He doesn’t need a brace now and he said he feels so much better today coming back from the Achilles injury than he did returning from his knee injury last season.

He will know more tomorrow on when he could be back. He desperately wants to play and is hoping he can get in some AHL games in late January.  When he is activated and presumably sent to the AHL on a conditioning stint he will not count on the 23-man roster because he is coming of LTIR. But he can only play three games or be there for six days. If he needs to play more then he would need to be placed on the active roster and then sent down on a conditioning stint.

Kris Russell wasn’t on the ice and won’t play this weekend, and it seems unlikely he will get into any of the remaining four games in 2018.

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MONTH OF GIVING…

Thank you to Ken and Brent for their bids and the Brick and Leading Edge Physio for the great packages.

Day 15: Dinner with Strudwick, Chimera and Brown at Vivo Ristorante

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  • Dinner for six people at Vivo Ristorante(West end or Sherwood Park) in their private room. You will dine with Jason Strudwick, Jason Chimera, Rob Brown and I will fill the glasses.
  • Includes five course meal, all beverages and wine of your choice
  • Blue Sky Limos will pick you up and drop you off at the end of the evening.

You can bid by listening to TSN 1260 and calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-5:55 p.m. today.

Recently by Jason Gregor:


  • oilpower

    Cant even read a full article on oilersnation. Redirected me 2x This site is junk and keeps getting worse. Any amateur programmer could have this fixed in a day lol

    • As I mentioned the other day, we’re currently working with Google Ad-x and WordPress’ tech people to fix the issue. With 12 ad networks and 350 million pageviews per year coming into the network, it’s a little more complicated than what you’re assuming. That said, we’re far more annoyed than anyone and will keep working to find a fix. We’re always open to suggestions to try and speed this up.

      • sweetweb

        I work in advertising…tell me the 12 ad networks you guys are working with and I’ll tell you which network is sending that survey sweepstake redirect crap.

        • That’s what Google Ad-X is doing right now. They’re going through all of them individually to see where the fake ad buys are coming in. Essentially, they’re purchasing what looks to be a legitimate ad, but then it triggers the redirect. In the meantime, we’re doing tests with raising the ad floor to try and see where the cutoff is for these fake ad buys to try and speed this up. WordPress VIP is reviewing all site code to see if there’s anything there.

          • Coach My PP

            This site is in its Decade of Darkness now too.
            I swear they’ve been fixing this problem for years.
            You guys should hire Hall and Eberle to work on it for a few years, I’m sure the too of them will land you a programming generational gem.

          • dangersuede

            What do you mean this free website occasionally has set backs?????

            Also, if that guy gets made at the odd redirect or ad, i hope he never discovers Youtube or that there is porn online…..

          • Joy S. Lee

            Seems to me it’s happening to a lot more than just you guys, so we’ll see how that goes. My only real ON beef would be the load times for the enormous number of advertisements you guys have, but the content is good, I appreciate it.

    • Datsyukian

      How come I never have this problem that so many here complain about? I have accessed this site both on my desktop and on my iPhone and it has been problem-free and easy to navigate. Maybe try AdBlock or AdGuard?

    • Gravis82

      As I have said before, this has never happened to me on any computer. Work, or home. With two different internet providers (shaw and techSavvy) and I dont have anything special for antivirus or even use a blocker.

      Why the difference?

    • ON1990

      *oilpower — you can try ublock origin or adguard adblocker, they will block like 90% of the ads and prevent re-directs. you can find them in the extensions/addons section of your web browser. good luck!

  • Leichs

    Finally. Drai has looked awful on that line for weeks now. Sure he was putting up good points for a while, but it was only a matter of time before the multiple turnovers a game outweight the 1 or 2 points. He completely stopped skaing and moving his feet since getting put with Connor. FlyByDrai lol. Hopefully this lights a fire under his ass.

    • nbandito

      I wouldn’t say he’s looked awful by any means, but he has been guilty of a noticeable amount of turnovers. I think of the big name players on the team Drai falls victim to fatigue easier than the other two. Maybe it’s his style of play, maybe it’s conditioning, but I’m betting he’ll come back and dominate shifts again after some rest.

  • hockeyartist

    Too bad, I kind of liked the lines. One thing I like(d) about the new coach is hes wasnt flipping lines every game or period, giving the lines a little stability and a chance to get in sync with one another. Hopefully this isnt the beginning of the MacBlender. Rieder has a shot like his sticks a wet noodle, I guess hes there as a set up man.

  • The Plan

    The more I see of Hitch the more I appreciate Chia’s decisions to fire TMac. The only first line action JP got was being first in line for popcorn, or pizza in this case. I really hope JP “pops”. I see him progressing.

  • Whaler

    That top line is something I’ve been dreaming about. It’s been my top line in NHL19 forever! Love baby Nuge with Connor. Hope JP can take advantage of playing with the two best players on the team (yes I said it)

    • Retort2

      I’m glad you did. There is no doubt that Nugent-Hopkins is the second best forward on the team, actually there’s been quite a few games lately that he’s out preformed McDavid.

    • IRONman

      I like the centers. JJ should drive 4 th line. Leon needs to fire up. 93 and 97 are gold. Puljujarvi can fly and has chemistry with Nuge. I can see this winning.

        • Quoteright

          Also if you crunch the numbers
          Leon is on pace to score 12.4 points per million earned.
          Nuge is running at about 12.9 points per million.
          The league average for offensive players is around 11.3 points per million million. defence gets 7.8 points per million.
          Connor is on pace for 9.8 points per million.
          Last year Hall and McKinnon were both above 15 points per million
          Lucic was at 4 last year (rough)
          So I’m not ditching McDavid as much as I’m defending Drai.
          Also
          I want to see Drai and Nuge together. They play similar tempos.
          Listening to Chaisson talk about the effort required to keep up with McDavid makes me think it would be better if he centred two separate lines.
          This way Drai and Nuge can tip the ice for 20 minutes.
          McDavid tips it for 25 minutes.
          Also, I would split it into two powerplays instead of dragging on the first one and messing with the flow of lines.

    • Randaman

      So if Jesse can’t cut it on the first line, then what excuse will fans use for him. He better really be thinking out there with Connor. The speed just ramped up for him. We’ll see I guess…

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I noticed that Hitch had put him in “the Laine Position” for that awesome one timer… Theis is the next stage of his development. Was I the only one that noticed the elation on his face when he scored that goal last game?
      Wait till he perfects this. He’ll have McDavid feeding him in the right circle… I’m looking forward to it.

    • slats-west

      I would put Pujiarvi on the #1 unit and Move Drai or Nuge to #2 unit as they have no real puck possession forward

      Also i hope Drai shortens his shifts. He’s really guilty of staying on too long then a five away. I think he will have a big night against Bolts he always rises up.

  • Soccer Steve

    I’m pretty surprised to see any comment saying this site is riddled with ads, etc. I use this regularly on two different computers and my phone, never had one problem.

  • TKB2677

    With Puljujarvi on McDavid’s wing, is someone checking on Nielsen to make sure he doesn’t get too excited and have a heart attack. I don’t think there is a bigger Puljujarvi booster out there no matter how he plays. Reminds me a little of when Matt Henderson no matter how crappy Yakupov was constantly beat the drum that he was a top 6 guy.

      • TKB2677

        So you are telling me that 1.5 years of playing under a poor coach destroyed Yakupov forever? He sucked when he went to St. Louis and played under a hall of fame coach in Hitchcock and Mike Yeo. THEN went to the Avs and he sucked there. The Avs were a 95 pt team and made the playoffs so the coach can’t be that bad. Now he went to the KHL and easier league and he still sucks as he doesn’t even stay in the line up on a regular basis.

        Sorry man. I think people need to face the fact that Yakupov was just a BUST and he’s not a very good player. If you don’t believe me, you should listen to Brian Burke on Stauffer’s show talk about how lousy a player they felt Yak was in his draft year and how they wouldn’t have touched him EVER.

  • Randomfan

    So how many years with mcdavid as an oiler and we still can’t figure out what our top line is supposed to be? SMFH. Someone shoot PC into the saturn’s moon already. I just hope KH doesnt become TM 2.0 with his blender out in full force.

  • JariCurry

    Confirmed ads. Wife asleep, I figure I’ll catch up on some oilers news. Even with my phone on silent this robot lady starts yelling. WARNING! YOUR DEVICE IS INFECTED. Really loud. Gives you a heart attack. That happening once is once too many.

  • Can’t be too mad about this. We have the luxury of having 2 top-6 centers that can switch on and off of Connor’s wing when things gets cold. Lines getting cold over time is nothing new. The Rieder-Leon-Chia line was really hitting it’s stride before Tobi got hurt so that’s a welcome sign too.

  • Just a heads up, im having two main issues here.

    1.There are times on mobile(I use safari) where I login and it still has me signed out when I scroll down to the comment section

    2.There are times where I post my comment and it doesn’t go through

  • CMG30

    Not supprised to see RNH back with McDavid. Hitch needs someone who is defensivly responsible in order to let JP have his shot on the top line. That and LDs contract dictates that he needs to center his own line at some point or the dollars just don’t work…

    Not exactly accurate to say no one saw the Lucic slump coming… many, many people vocally worried about it over the summer including the Hockey News who published an article that was roundly criticised by the authors on this site as being totally out to lunch…. Everyone hopes he rounds back into form but we need to be prepared for the eventually that he’s done as a top NHL forward….

  • PrairieDog19

    Really don’t like any part of this – especially breaking up the effective Kassian-Brodziak-Lucic line. The line blending is a slippery slope. It gives the players an excuse to not focus on their own poor efforts. What happens the next time lines go cold? It wasn’t very long ago we were praising these line combinations. Mix up the power play because its absolutely listless, but stick to the lines we have been running and push the players to perform and put in the effort required.

  • Arfguy

    The power play is atrocious. I don’t care how fast they are passing it around…if your players are reluctant to shoot, you need to find people who will actually shoot on the power play.

    I don’t care if it’s Jesse or Ty or frikkin’ Kassian. Find players that actually want to score goals! This entire Oilers team seem to want to make glorious plays, but do not have proven 40-50 goal scorers who can finish.

    I have hope that Puljujarvi will click with McDavid. At this point, I think it’s even a waste to put RNH on the LW with Jesse and Connor, as I think RNH should be on the second line with Draisaitl and Chiasson. I’d switch out Rieder and RNH between the top two lines. Maybe this is a move by Hitchcock to have both RNH and McDavid feed Jesse for some goals…I don’t know.

    • OilersBro

      I feel like the puck isn’t moving fast at all though, the defence has to move every time the puck is passed but everytime someone recieves the puck, they hold it, wait, and then move it. We never get the defence out of position that way. Think about how many goals we scored ni 2016 with Klefbom quickly reversing the puck to Letestu. The D and the goalie never would have time to shift. We need to bring that back

      • Arfguy

        I hate to say it, but I find Nurse to be a lot more mobile than Klefbom. I get scared when I watch Klefbom on the point during the power play due to the sheer amount of times he either bobbles the puck or accepts a pass and recoils his stick back within millimetres of going offside.

        I know people don’t like Darnell on the PP, but honestly…I’d much rather Nurse on the PP for the rest of the season than Klefbom when he comes back.

        As far as giving the puck to a Letestu type…we have a couple of people that are right-shots that I’m sure would love more opportunities to shoot. I like where Chiasson is on the first PP unit. Now I think it’s time to try Puljujarvi or Rattie in the one-timer position.

  • OilersBro

    A few attitude things i love:
    Reggie talking about walking before running by spending time in the AHL
    The way Ken phrased Lucic playing less. “It’s an opportunity” is not only empowering to Lucic, it’s empowering to Rattie and Spooner who have what I would classify as dissapointing seasons as well.

    • OldOilFan

      Agreed, Spooner has some tools (I think) and Rattie has demonstrated earlier this season he can score. Looch is a bit of mystery, but I don’t believe for a minute that his hands “evaporated” in the past 12 months. Unless he has some kind of neurological problem. I doubt that, and I certainly hope not for his sake. Great guy and still relatively young

  • OldOilFan

    Jesse Pul: crashing the net, etc, is fine as a learning step. But for god’s sake, the kid has to be told he’s free (i.e. he has “permission” from Hitch – and his center is “on board” with it) to find some open ice and utilize his shot from there

  • Arfguy

    RNH-McDavid-Puljujarvi
    Rieder-Draisaitl-Chiasson
    Caggiula-Brodziak-Kassian
    Lucic-Khaira-Rattie

    I have to question the need to consistently playing Lucic and Kassian.

    I like that a line exists that has been decent at not allowing many goals. However, when your team is starving for goals…maybe play some new blood like Spooner and Zykov and sit those two. They may be able to offer you some scoring punch.

    I’d try these lines:

    Rieder-McDavid-Puljujarvi (lots of speed on this line)
    Draisaitl-RNH-Chiasson (the defensively responsible RNH being the centre)
    Spooner-Brodziak-Rattie (I like their chances to score more)
    Caggiula-Khaira-Zykov (I know Jujhar is suspended, but when he comes back it gives Khaira’s line some sneaky scoring opportunities)