The struggle to find two consistent linemates for Connor McDavid has been going on all season, and you could make an argument that it’s been an issue ever since he became an Oiler.
A big knock on former Head Coach Todd McLellan was that he went to “the blender” far too often and never allowed his players to play long enough to develop solid chemistry, instead, he would just keep going back to the McDavid-Draisaitl duo as soon as things went slightly bad. So far under Ken Hitchcock, it’s been largely the same. Although, I will give him some credit for really sticking with the current McDavid-Lucic-Rattie combo through two losses.
This season, McDavid has been paired with six different linemates for more than 75 even strength minutes.
Leon Draisaitl – 537 ES mins
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – 333 ES mins
Alex Chiasson – 267 ES mins
Ty Rattie – 190 ES mins
Drake Caggiula – 144 ES mins
Kailer Yamamoto – 86 ES mins
Zack Kassian – 79 ES mins
To recap that, McDavid has basically had one full-time linemate (Draisaitl), one part-time linemate (Nugent-Hopkins), and five linemates who have seen brief stints.
For context, I decided to see how that compares to other star players around the league to see if the lack of consistency on McDavid’s wing was a problem that was exclusive to Edmonton or if other teams also struggle to find regular partners for their star players.
(over 500 mins)
(between 300-499 mins)
(between 75-299 mins)
Out of the players I looked into, only three of them have had two consistent linemates all season. MacKinnon has been a part of one of the best lines in hockey with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. Gaudreau has spent almost all year with Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm. John Tavares has been paired up with Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman.
Out of everyone else, while most players have seen a mix of different linemates, none of those stars have had as many linemates as McDavid. Seguin and Crosby have spent significant time with six different linemates while McDavid is at eight (and Lucic is two minutes away from meeting my minimum minutes).
There are a couple of reasons why. The first being the success of the team. Just like McDavid, Seguin and Crosby have seen their linemates changed on a regular basis because their teams have struggled at times this season. When teams find a winning formula, they rarely mess with their lines. The players on this list who have played with the fewest linemates are on teams that are having incredibly successful seasons.
From an Oilers perspective, it’s pretty simple: if they were winning more games, then they would have no need to change their lines so much.
Why aren’t they winning games? I think that can also be linked to McDavid’s multitude of linemates. The Oilers simply don’t have enough quality scoring forwards. To me, this once again shows that the teams biggest need is one or two bonafide scoring wingers.
They don’t even have to be star-quality additions either. To me, there’s nothing wrong with having a player like Alex Chiasson or Ty Rattie on a line with McDavid and Draisaitl. 97 and 29 are so good that they can still produce at an elite level even with an average winger on their line.
The problem is that the Oilers don’t have the secondary scoring necessary to win hockey games on a consistent basis. Since they aren’t winning, the coaching staff feels the need to jumble up the lines and that usually means mixing up the top line since they’re often the only line producing. It can be a vicious cycle and we’ve seen it over the past two seasons in Edmonton.
While it would be nice for the Oilers to go out and add a legit top line scoring threat, they could make a huge difference just by adding one or two solid middle-six options. Someone that they could pair with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to create a solid second scoring line which would help them win more games and also allow them to keep Connor McDavid’s linemates more consistent, which could help make their top line even more productive.