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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – First Impressions of Ennis and Athanasiou

Happy Monday, Nation! The march towards the postseason is well underway and your friendly Nation writers are back to start off your week by answering your questions and making sense of all things Edmonton Oilers. As always, I need you guys to make this feature work so if you’ve got a question you’d like to ask you can email it to me at [email protected] or DM on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk. Until then, have a great day, everybody.

Feb 23, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) shoots the puck against the Los Angeles Kings in the third period at Staples Center. The Oiers defeated the Kings 4-2.

1) James in Peterborough asks – While the Draisaitl line has been clearly excelling, Connor McDavid has not really had consistent linemates. With a healthy forward group, who would you most like to see playing regularly with him in 5v5 situations? ***BM Note: Question submitted before Tippett switched things up on Saturday***

Jason Gregor:

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Now that RNH has been placed on his line…I’m curious to see how long that lasts. RNH was the shooter on Draisaitl’s line and — granted it was only one game — Ennis found the openings like RNH, but he didn’t finish them. Athanasiou or Neal are better finishers and I think one of them will be in the top six before the playoffs begin.

Robin Brownlee:

I’m partial to having him between Neal and Kassian, with Kassian being the key guy in the stretch and playoffs because he can skate, hit, score a little and has shown to be a pretty good fit.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

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I like the trio that Tippett went with on Saturday against Columbus. I think if they got more time together they could be really effective. At the same time, I wouldn’t be against putting Nugent-Hopkins back with Draisaitl and Yamamoto and then sliding Ennis up with Kassian and McDavid. I think that come playoff time, Kassian should stick on McDavid’s wing though. I know they’ve been up and down at points this season, but when they’re on, they’re a very effective duo.

Baggedmilk:

I think Nuge should be back with Draisaitl and Yamamoto because that line was ridiculously good for months. As for Connor’s line, I’d like to see Kassian on his right side and maybe give Athanasiou another shot on the left side. He only got to play one full game beside Connor before getting banged up a little bit and I wonder when or if Tippett will give that another shot. If not AA then I think James Neal would be a good stopgap.

February 25, 2020; Anaheim, California, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Jakob Silfverberg (33) shoots on goal against Edmonton Oilers left wing Andreas Athanasiou (28) during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2) Trent asks – What are everyone’s first impressions of Tyler Ennis and Andreas Athanasiou?

Jason Gregor:

Skilled players. Athanasiou looked better in the past three games. He has a better upside. I like his speed, size and shot. Ennis is a smart player who can play up and down the lineup, but I don’t see him being on the top line in the playoffs.

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Robin Brownlee:

I’ve liked Ennis more because he’s quick, has good offensive instincts and gets to where the puck is. Athanasiou obviously has speed and a high skill level, but he is inconsistent, which is the book on him. Trying to give him the benefit of the doubt as he settles in, but hasn’t shown much yet.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I really like what I’ve seen from Ennis. The fact that Holland got him for a fifth round pick is stunning. He works hard in the offensive zone and has the skill to play alongside either McDavid or Draisaitl. It’s been a bit of a more difficult adjustment for Athanasiou, but I still see lots of good things in his game. He obviously skates like the wind and he can make plays when he’s moving at top speed. I’m willing to be patient with a player that is as skilled as he is. I have confidence he’ll figure it out and find a place in their top six eventually.

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Baggedmilk:

I like the way Ennis has played so far but think Athanasiou will need more time to get over the shock from the horror that was playing in Detroit. No doubt he needs to be better, but I’ve got plenty of patience for him.

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Mar 2, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) skates with the puck during the first period against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

3) Levi asks – I’ve read on Twitter that some media out east don’t think Leon Draisaitl deserves the Hart Trophy because he a) plays with Connor McDavid, b) has too many powerplay points, and c) has a negative +/- and I’m looking for everyone’s opinion on the matter because I don’t get how they don’t see how dominant he is?

Jason Gregor:

Did you also read the eastern writers who said he does deserve it? There are many who have applauded him. Not everyone is going to agree on it. If any voter doesn’t do their research to see Draisaitl hasn’t played with McDavid since December 31st they are doing a disservice. And just because one voter uses “too many powerplay points” as a reason, don’t worry about it. Joe Haggerty isn’t speaking for anyone other than himself. He is allowed his opinion.

Draisaitl is a minus player. He isn’t at 5×5, but overall he is and while it isn’t the best stat some will take it into account. The Hart isn’t won on March 9th. There is a still a month left and those who are in the mix today, which Draisaitl is, will need a strong final month to be a finalist in June.

The problem I have is some feel the need to want to find fault in one of the top candidates. If you like a candidate, just explain why they are great. There is no need to insult or try to disparage the others. Nathan MacKinnon, David Pastrnak and Artemi Panarin have had great seasons as well. Draisaitl’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. I’d be stunned if Draisailt wasn’t a finalist. I’ve seen just as many writers pump up Draisaitl as others who like MacKinnon have, and if one or two don’t agree with you that is okay. If we all agreed it would be boring.

Robin Brownlee:

I think every writer here has written about this at least once. Scroll through the site and you’ll get a really good cross-section. To summarize, those who don’t see Draisaitl as the favourite for the Hart aren’t paying attention. He’s the MVP.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

He’s also a fixture on the second-best penalty kill in the NHL, which is something that doesn’t get mentioned enough. As much as I want to say that they haven’t watched him play enough, there are a lot of Oilers fans who haven’t watched Panarin or MacKinnon very much this season. I believe Draisaitl deserves to be the favourite right now, but MacKinnon and Panarin are right behind him. I do agree that people knocking Draisaitl haven’t been paying close enough attention to him on a game-to-game basis.

Baggedmilk:

It’s the dumbest argument I’ve ever read because these guys are just being fanboys for the players they cover. Leon Draisaitl is the best player in the NHL this year. Full stop.

Dec 31, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett is seen out on the players bench talking with Referee Ian Walsh (29) as they played the New York Rangers during the second period at Rogers Place. Oilers won the game 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

4) Clay asks – The Oilers are playing quite well in 2020 but I’d like to know what everyone thinks they still need to improve upon as we head down the final stretch of the regular season?

Jason Gregor:

Reduce their GA at 5×5.

Robin Brownlee:

Shot suppression and better defensive play. They’ve been leaning on their goaltending far too much lately. Latest example was against Columbus Saturday. Koskinen stole that that game. Oilers could have been out of the game before the second intermission.

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Tyler Yaremchuk:

They need to get better at 5v5. They’re still bottom third in the league when it comes to 5v5 GF%. They’re proving that their specials teams and goaltending is good enough to win them games despite their sub-par play at even strength, and the system Dave Tippett has helps as well. They could win a playoff round without being great at 5v5 as well but in the long-term, they need to be better at even strength.

Baggedmilk:

They need to be better at even strength because they won’t be able to rely on special teams as much in the playoffs. That said, the Oilers don’t get many calls as it is so maybe this whole season of missed penalties has been the preparation they need?

5) David asks – With the NHL seemingly moving in the direction of getting the Women’s NHL going, is it realistic that Edmonton might get a franchise? If so, what would the panel suggest for a team name?

Jason Gregor:

It is not realistic. They will start with six teams in the east, all within close proximity to cut down on travel costs and play in markets with larger populations. It makes sense. Just like when the NHL started out with six teams in the east, except Chicago, I expect the WNHL to do the same.

Robin Brownlee:

You are way, way ahead of the game here. Could Edmonton get a franchise at some point? Sure, but how many teams would there be at start-up in all of North America? Is there enough interest in a women’s league, as in the ability to draw enough fans and sponsorship to make it viable? Haven’t seen it yet. People pushing the NHL to subsidize a women’s league, as the NBA does, want to see women’s hockey grow and that’s worth trying, but in the end, people have to want to watch it and pay to do so. Are we there yet? I don’t know.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

First of all, it’s great that the NHL is looking into helping grow the women’s game. I believe if it’s done right, it can be a huge success. It just needs to be done properly and I’m glad that they’re taking their time in developing a plan and not just writing a blank check to an existing league. As for an Edmonton team, I’m not sure. It would probably be some sort of spin on Oilers since I’d imagine the NHL club would be partnered with them. I know the ‘Edmonton Grads’ were a basketball team, but maybe that would be a cool way to link a future professional women’s hockey team to the history of women’s sports in this city.

Baggedmilk:

I think it would be great if Edmonton got a women’s team. Why not? The more people that are playing and interested in hockey the better for the overall health of the game.

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