Let’s assume Dave Tippett is going to play Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto for the next few weeks. Now that we’ve established that, it leaves the “lottery” left wing spot open to play alongside the league’s best player, Connor McDavid.
Who is the best option to play left wing with Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi?
I don’t think there is an obvious answer. Let’s look at the options *Pdrawn is penalties drawn.*
Let’s look at each player.
If he wasn’t ravaged by COVID and hadn’t been battling conditioning issues twice this season, he might be an option. He struggled coming back from COVID, and then when he was starting to feel better he got sick again (not COVID), and was down for over a week again. He has worked hard in practice, but trying to regain conditioning during the season is very difficult. I don’t see him being in a position to play top line minutes right now.
Pro: He has the best goal scoring resume of the group. With McDavid they have outscored teams 2-0 and outshot them 17-13.
Con: Foot speed is lacking, especially after health challenges.
Devin Shore would seem unlikely since he hasn’t played with McDavid. He isn’t a normal top six player, but he is good on the cycle, reliable defensively and left wing is his natural side. He could be the defensive conscience on the line, but I think he is better in the bottom six.
Pro: Versatile. Could take some draws when playing with McDavid. In limited time with McDavid they outshot opponents 9-4 and have a 65.1 XGF%.
Con: Hasn’t shown offensive production to suggest he could be a complementary top-six player.
He is smart and makes good plays with the puck, but his defensive positioning is why he isn’t on the active roster as I write this. Outside of Neal, he has played the most minutes with top-six players in his career. He would be comfortable in that role, but he hasn’t been on the roster and going from taxi squad to the top line seems unlikely.
Pro: Played with McDavid before. Has smarts and skills to complement McDavid
Con: Defensive concerns when he has to face opposing team’s top players. In his 37 minutes with McDavid, they have been outscored 3-1 and have a 48.4 XGF%.
He is good on the forecheck and his speed is a big asset. The problem is he doesn’t make many plays and hasn’t shown much offensive creativity at the NHL level. Will he be able to finish off some of the chances he will get playing with McDavid?
Pro: He draws penalties at a very good rate. He is quick on forecheck.
Con: Hasn’t shown much offensive output, hasn’t played against top players very often and gets knocked off puck too frequently.
Good at winning battles and his game is more suited to the rugged style of the playoffs, but foot speed is an issue. Chiasson was effective in the playoffs last season on a crash and bang fourth line with Neal and Jujhar Khaira, but his strength is not creating on the rush, which is where McDavid feasts.
Pro: Could help McDavid cycling puck and has experience.
Con: Doesn’t play left wing and lacks speed to attack on the rush.
I included him because I think Ryan McLeod and Jujhar Khaira, when he returns, will play centre. Haas has the speed and smarts to play with McDavid. But he hasn’t shown much ability to produce points at the NHL level. Admittedly, I included him because when I watch him I think he could produce more and I wonder what would happen if he plays with skilled players. But that just might be pie-in-the-sky thinking. His glaring weakness is how he gets knocked off pucks easily. I’m skeptical he has the strength to play against top pairing defenders.
Pro: Incredibly smart. Can make plays with the puck and reads the ice really well.
Con: Has barely played with McDavid or left wing in the NHL. No track record of offence in the NHL.
He has played the most with McDavid and had the most success. For a stretch of 82 games, Kassian was on fire scoring 22-23-45 at 5×5. That was 18th most in the NHL in the 2019 calendar year. But in 2020 and this season he hasn’t had the same success. He skates well, is good on the forecheck and plays well with McDavid because Kassian doesn’t need the puck. However, for this to work Puljujarvi has to play the left side. Kassian hasn’t played much on the left side and I don’t think Tippett wants to play him there.
Pro: Had a year-long solid run with McDavid. Could get hot again. Skates well and will go to the net for rebounds and garbage goals.
Con: Hasn’t done much in the past 70 games. Hasn’t played much left wing.
The speedy, feisty winger would add some physical pop to the line, but not much offensive finish. In his 66 minutes with McDavid they have outscored opposition 7-4, outshot them 47-31 and have a 63.6XGF%. He is sound defensively, and has defended top lines in his career. Can he chip in with offence is the main question. He has one goal in 66 minutes with McDavid this season and he had three in 144 minutes last year. He is comfortable playing his off-wing.
Pro: You know what you get from Archibald every game. He is consistent, a good forechecker and good defensively.
Con: Isn’t a finisher. Having two right shots with McDavid does limit offensive chances.
I didn’t notice Kahun in either game against Montreal. Granted, he only played five minutes on Wednesday due to Kassian leaving with an injury and Tippett running three lines. Is his game built to play in the top-six in the playoffs when the games become more physical? Hard to say. He has played the most in the top six and he does have six goals at 5×5, so while not killer numbers he has produced.
Pro: Smart player. Good positionally in his own end, has played in top-six role most of the season and has six goals at 5×5.
Con: Not a shooting threat and doesn’t excel playing in confined spaces. Outscored 4-1, outshot 11-8 and has 47XGF% with McDavid this season, albeit in limited time.
He skated with McDavid and Puljujarvi today so might get the first look Monday in Winnipeg, but I don’t think his spot is locked in whatsoever.
The first one isn’t a wildcard per se, because he is clearly the best option, but it weakens the rest of the lineup.
Leon Draisaitl and McDavid are the best offensive duo in the NHL and it isn’t close.
No duo in the NHL produces more offence than these two.
In 255 minutes this season they’ve produced 25 goals, which equates to 5.87 G/60.
Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have scored 4.38 G/60 (26 goals) in 356 minutes.
Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon have scored 4.18 G/60 (36 goals) in 517 minutes.
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have scored 3.66 G/60 (39 goals) in 639 minutes.
It is clear why Dave Tippett likes to play his dynamic duo together, but if he does that then Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or possibly Ryan McLeod, will be the second line centre. The scoring prowess from the second line takes a big hit when you move Draisaitl to the wing with McDavid. We will see it at times down the stretch and into the playoffs, but not on a regular basis.
The real wildcard would be Ryan McLeod. He’s never played an NHL game. He’s played centre in his two seasons in Bakersfield. But he is a left shot, can skate and has been lighting up the AHL. I don’t expect him to start on the LW, but I wonder, if he looks comfortable, if Tippett tries it for a game or two in early May.
It would be unexpected, but when I look at the other options, I could see why Tippett might be intrigued to try it.
Who do you think should play with McDavid and Puljujarvi down the stretch and into the playoffs?
Should Tippett try a few different players and see who fits?
THE DFO RUNDOWN
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