The Oilers were dealt an unfortunate blow in Game 3 as Tyler Ennis left the game with a leg injury.
Ennis got driven hard into the boards from behind by Blackhawks forward Kirby Dach and he appeared to be in a considerable amount of pain after the play. Today, Dave Tippett told reporters that Ennis is “unfit to play” in Game 4 and that he’ll be out “indefinitely.”
It’s safe to assume that Ennis won’t be able to return in the next few days, so, if the Oilers are going to come back and win this series, they’ll be doing so without him. That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday THURSDAY EDITION question. How should Tippett replace Ennis in the lineup? Who moves up to the top-six and who draws in from the press box?
Edmonton rolled into Game 3 operating with a top-six of Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Josh Archibald along with Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ennis. When Ennis left the game, Andreas Athanasiou moved up from the third line to join the Draisaitl and Yamamoto duo.
Keeping Athanasiou with Draisaitl and Yamamoto would seem like the obvious move here. He hasn’t had a big series by any stretch, but Athanasiou has posted solid underlying numbers through three games and is the best bet among players in the bottom-six to thrive in a top-six role.
Another thing to consider is that Tippett could go back to the Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yamamoto trio that was so dominant during the regular season. That would then leave McDavid with Athanasiou on his left and either Archibald or Kassian on his left. It’s obviously not a great support cast for McDavid, but bringing the Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yamamoto trio back to life is tempting.
What about the bottom-six? The team’s fourth line of Jujhar Khaira, James Neal, and Alex Chiasson has been very effective thus far as Edmonton’s heavy line that can forecheck hard and gain possession in the offensive zone. Moving Athanasiou into the top-six would open up a spot on the team’s third line alongside Riley Sheahan, assuming that effective fourth line remains intact.
The options to draw in are Gaetan Haas, Joakim Nygard, Patrick Russell, and Tyler Benson. I can’t imagine that Benson, a rookie, will get thrown into the lineup in an elimination game, so Tippett can choose from any Haas, Nygard, or Russell. Nygard would be the best bet to provide offensively, Haas would be a nice versatile option as he can also play centre if necessary, and Russell is a strong option on the penalty kill though he doesn’t provide any offence.
I would go with Haas for the added versatility. Having a right-handed shot available to take face-offs and play on the penalty kill would be a nice addition to the lineup for Tippett, and Haas brings speed and a little bit of offensive flair to the mix. I would also slide Athanasiou up with McDavid, start Kassian on that line, and reunite Nugent-Hopkins with Draisatil and Yamamoto.
Athanasiou – McDavid – Kassian
Nugent-Hopkins – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Haas – Sheahan – Archibald
Neal – Khaira – Chiasson
What say you, Nation? How do you rejig the forward lines with Ennis out of the lineup?