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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins to start at Centre?

Will Dave Tippett start the season with his three most skilled players on separate lines? At practice today it looked that way. It is possible he starts the season that way, but the only way he keeps Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on separate lines is if the wingers produce.

The lines at practice today were:

Jurco-McDavid-Neal
Nygard-Draisaitl-Kassian
Granlund-RNH-Chiasson
Khaira-Cave-Archibald

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Russell and Haas were the extra forwards. Riley Sheahan wasn’t on the ice.

Three scoring lines has been discussed in Edmonton for a long time due to the skill of McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH. It makes sense in theory, but it only works if you have enough skilled wingers who can produce. Right now the Oilers don’t have enough proven scoring wingers.

Maybe Tomas Jurco or Joakim Nygard can become 20-goal scorers, but that is a pretty big ask based on their track record thus far. Now, that doesn’t mean it isn’t impossible. We’ve seen late developers recently like Yanni Gourde in Tampa Bay. He wasn’t drafted, then played four and half seasons in the AHL, with 38 games in the ECHL, before he was recalled for 20 games near the end of the 2017 season with Tampa Bay. The next year he scored 25-39-64 for the Bolts and followed it up with 22-26-48 last year.

Maybe Jurco does that, or Nygard, but it would be a major outlier.

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Sheahan is in concussion protocol and will be out 7-10 days. That is why Tippett had the lines like this today. He wanted to see some players (he didn’t specify who) in roles and see how they do. I still believe we will see McDavid with Draisaitl a lot. The Oilers need a good start and that duo gives them the best chance to produce offence.

QUICK HITS…

1. I always try to remember the human side of sports. I realize it is a business and players make good money, but money can’t buy you time. Sam Gagner was placed on waivers today and he likely won’t be claimed with his $3.1 million salary. He and his wife, Rachel, just had a baby girl ten days ago. They bought a house in Edmonton. Moving to Bakersfield away from a newborn — I could not imagine how difficult that is. Luckily Rachel’s parents reside in Edmonton so she will have support, but from a father’s perspective it would be very tough not seeing the first few months of his daughter’s life.

The paycheque doesn’t replace missing hugging and kissing her. As a father, I have a lot of empathy for Gagner the father. We should always remember NHL players are people first and missing out on the first few months of a child’s life would be very tough.

2. The Oilers roster is essentially set. Tomorrow they will place Kyle Brodziak, Riley Sheahan and Joel Persson on IR. Because they aren’t going on LTIR, the Oilers don’t have to have them on the 23-man roster. Hope that clears up early confusion I had mentioned regarding potential paper transactions.

3. The first PP unit was McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH, Chiasson and Klefbom. The second unit PP was Neal, Kassian, Nygard, Bear and Nurse. I believe that is what you will see on opening night.

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4. Tippett wouldn’t announce who will start in goal on Wednesday. He believes they will push each other and he is hoping both give the Oilers solid goaltending. I asked him if he has a plan all season on when to run with a guy or not, and outside of going back to a guy after a shutout (except on back-to-back nights), he will ad-lib as he goes. He did mention numerous times who fatigues will be a factor. Recent history in the NHL suggests playing a starter fewer games helps you in the long run, especially if you want to go deep in the playoffs. I’m not sure the Oilers are thinking about that just yet, but I say there is zero chance you will see one of the Oilers goalies start 26 of 32 games, like Koskinen did down the stretch last year. He was noticeably fatigued because of it.

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