Have the Oilers struck gold with a new look second line?
Photo credit:Alan Poizner-USA TODAY Sports
By Zach Laing1 month ago
This newspaperman will be the first to admit when a bunch of new-look Edmonton Oilers lines rolled out Monday morning, I was none too impressed.
There, of course, wasn’t much that had gone right in games one and two of the club’s season, but the all-too-tempting ability to put Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl together appeared to woo Jay Woodcroft and his staff once again.
The displeasure came from the fact that Woodcroft, and so many before him, were always quick on the draw to put the Dynamic Duo together when things weren’t quite going right. I could only imagine it’s as tempting as the One Ring was to Gollum. The inherent issue isn’t so much putting those two together; it’s more about what happens beyond them.
In years past, we’ve seen this Oilers club with middling depth in the forward ranks and a group that, as a whole, could get overwhelmed. After rolling a specific set of lines through the pre-season and game two — which was admittedly better than game one — it seemed like all the chemistry that had been built could’ve been lost.
Instead, I’m left eating crow.
McDavid and Draisaitl had six points between the two last night against Nashville — something everyone and their mother could’ve predicted — but the success went far beyond that. The Oilers’ new-look second line, featuring Ryan Nugent-Hopkins flanked by Warren Foegele and Zach Hyman, connected on two goals where all three players were involved on the scoresheet.
They played nine minutes at 5×5 on the dot together last night, controlling 58.85 percent of the shot attempts and 60 percent of the scoring chances while outscoring their foes 2-0.
Leon Draisaitl called them the Oilers’ best line last night, and Woodcroft echoed that sentiment.
“I would agree with him. I thought that line clicked,” he said. “It’s a credit to our guys.
“They went to hard areas to find success against a really, really top goaltender in the National Hockey League in Juuse Saros. To be able to do that, assert your game right in the first period, I think it started with that line pacing us. Warren should feel real good about his game. He’s been good since day one of training camp, and he’s carried it over to a good start to his regular season.”
That is high praise for a trio who had only played 16:19 of 5×5 time before last night.
And honestly, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they clicked. Hyman and Foegele are both workhorses on the ice, never taking a shift off and never shying from the dirty areas. Couple those two with a cerebral player in Nugent-Hopkins, and suddenly, you have a line that can get in the mix.
For the Oilers, having a second line that could genuinely be trusted would be nothing short of a massive boon. It would allow McDavid and Draisaitl to play on the top line together and play with Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard, while Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci could stick with the second line. The work ethic of the second line in all three zones could help insulate the Nurse-Ceci pairing, one that is inexplicably still together and still struggling all the time.
We’ll see what the coming days bring, and a sample size of one game shouldn’t be looked into too heavily, but at the end of the day, we’re still in the early days of this season.
Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing or reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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