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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

A Third Wheel for the Second Line

There has been a lot of discussion about the lack of offence from the Oilers bottom six but if you look a little bit deeper you’ll see that the issue actually starts with the second line.

So far this season only four forwards have scored 5 on 5 goals for the club. Draisaitl has five while each of McDavid, Neal and Kassian have three. No other forward has found the back of the net at 5 on 5, Joakim Nygard scored at even strength but it was in a four on four situation.

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There is no reason to worry about the top line as they’ll find a way to generate offence no matter the situation but what about the Nugent-Hopkins trio?

The Nuge has yet to find the back of the net at 5 on 5 and hasn’t chipped in on any of Neal’s three even-strength markers. Neal has one unassisted goal, one assisted by Jurco and Klefbom, one assisted by Chiasson and Nurse. So yeah, Nugent-Hopkins and Neal have yet to combine on a 5-on-5 goal this season. As long as Dave Tippett wants to keep his top unit intact Nugent-Hopkins and Neal will remain together. I still feel like their styles of play will eventually lead to some chemistry, so the reason question is who should be on the other wing?

Nugent-Hopkins has played over 117 5 on 5 minutes with Neal. Alex Chiasson has spent over 58 minutes with Nuge while Tomas Jurco had 41 minutes earlier in the season. Nygard has seen a bit of time on the second line having spent just over 15 minutes with Nugent-Hopkins so far this season.

THE OPTIONS

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Second line success will always come down to the play of Nugent-Hopkins, but with Neal off to a good start, it would be nice to have the third member of that line also contribute. Here is a look at the pros and cons of guys who have already had a crack at it and a few that could also end up being a fit.

Alex Chiasson:

PRO: He had 22 goals last season and loves to shoot the puck. He’s also willing to battle for pucks along the boards which could be an important asset for the third wheel on the second line.

NEGATIVE: He isn’t as fast as a few of the other options Tippett has and is probably best suited to play the right side which is right where Neal feels most comfortable.

NIELSON’S TAKE: I feel like Chiasson could have the ability to get hot for a few games but he’s not likely a perfect long term fit for the second group.

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Tomas Jurco:

PRO: In my opinion Jurco has the best hands and offensive instincts of all available candidates. He gets around the ice pretty well and is more willing to battle for pucks than I thought he’d be.

CONS: He’s been a little inconsistent from game to game and within individual games as well.

NIELSON’S TAKE: I’d like to see Jurco get another look with Nuge and Neal. I feel like his leash was a little short the first time around so I’d like to see an extended look at some point in the first half of the season.

Joakim Nygard:

PRO: He would provide some much needed speed to the trio and is not shy to throw what weight he does have around.

CON: An early season injury has stalled any momentum he may have had. He hasn’t killed penalties yet so it may end up being second line or bust for the slick Swede.

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NIELSON’S TAKE: When he returns from his injury I’d like to see him get a three to five game stint on the line.

Sam Gagner:

PRO: Sam should be hungry after being recalled from the American League and certainly thinks the game at a high enough level to play with Nuge and Neal.

CON: His lack of speed would be my biggest concern. Gagner on one side and Neal on the other isn’t likely a recipe for success.

NIELSON’S TAKE: I could see Sam being used as a guy who gets bumped up into that spot mid-game once in a while to try and generate a spark.

Jujhar Khaira:

PRO: He has a little experience playing with Nugent-Hopkins and actually looked not bad prior to a suspension last season.

CON: His offense has dried up with just three goals in his last 71 games and nothing about his game this year is saying he should be moved up the line up.

NIELSON’S TAKE: I think Jujhar is likely closer to being a healthy scratch than he is to getting a look on the second line.

THE SLEEPER?

Kailer Yamamoto:

I’m only putting him on the list because everyone online seems to think he’s the answer, I’m not one of them. Yamamoto has had a nice start to the season but how in the world can the same people who bitched about the Oilers refusing to properly develop prospects for the past ten years so desperately want him to be called up.

He’s averaging just over two shots per game with Bakersfield and has six points in eight games. He has 24 points in 35 career AHL games and one goal in 26 NHL games so tell me again why he is the right guy to put with Nugent-Hopkins and Neal? It wouldn’t be fair to put Yamamoto in that spot at this stage of his career and as I’ve mentioned in the past I’d be very surprised to see Ken Holland make that move.

THE REAL ANSWER

The real answer to second line 5 on 5 scoring woes is a simple one, the Nuge needs to play better. You all love the Nuge, you want him to stay forever so I’m sure you also have faith in him to get his line up to speed, I know I do.

Previously by Dustin Nielson: