For the first time in a long, long time, the Oilers have legit options to spread across their top three lines. Running @Connor McDavid, @Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the top-three centres for the remainder of the season (barring injury) will give the Oilers more flexibility and, in theory, more balanced scoring.
The centre position is clear and with the addition of Evander Kane, the Oilers’ left side is very solid with him and @Zach Hyman, but the right-wingers need more consistency.
Since Christmas, @Kailer Yamamoto has eight points in 13 games at 5×5, second only to Leon Draisaitl’s nine points. Yamamoto only had five points in his first 29 games at 5×5, so the recent surge is overdue.
@Jesse Puljujarvi has one assist at 5×5 in his last 14 games. People point to Puljujarvi’s possession numbers as a positive, and they do help, but when you play mainly with Connor McDavid or Draisaitl at some point you need to produce points. Puljujarvi had a very strong start to the season with 23 points in his first 28 games (14 of them at 5×5), but since December 1st he has 1-3-4 at 5×5 in 20 games.
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Puljujarvi will skate on a line with RNH and Hyman tonight. Some view it as a demotion out of the top six, but is playing with those two really that much of a downgrade from skating with @Ryan McLeod and Draisaitl? I’m not sure it is. I view it as the coach switching things up in hopes that Puljujarvi gets going. They need him.
Puljujarvi switched lines with @Zack Kassian. Kassian has 5-9-14 in 33 games this season. He’s on pace for his second highest points/game of his career, but like Puljujarvi he has struggled to produce recently. He has 0-4-4- in his last 18 games at 5×5.
He leads the Oilers forwards in hits with 87 in 33 games, while Warren Foegele is second with 62 in 42 games. Kassian ranks 30th among NHL forwards (20 GP) in hits/60 at 12.13. I disagree with the notion Kassian has done very little this season. Like many players there have been games you didn’t notice him, but if you look at his overall production, okay possession numbers and physical play, I disagree with claims he has added nothing.
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The only reason Kassian gets looks in the top six is that Yamamoto and Puljujarvi have struggled to produce at different times. Tippett has played both of them quite regularly with either McDavid or Draisaitl at 5×5.
Player
GP
TOI 
%TOI  97 or 29
G-A-PTS 
P/60 
Puljujarvi
40
581
87.9%
6-9-15
1.55
Yamamoto
42
605
76.7%
7-6-13
1.29
Kassian
33
403
25.9%
3-7-10
1.46
Kassian has a higher P/60 than Yamamoto and almost the same as Puljujarvi despite only playing 25.9% of his 5×5 time with McDavid or Draisaitl. The outrage over Kassian is incredibly misguided when you look at actual production and possession numbers.
I understand why Tippett made a switch, as he’d like Puljujarvi to start producing again. If the Oilers can get consistent production at 5×5 from two of the right-wingers over the final 40 games then Edmonton should be quite productive offensively.

LINEUPS…

Oilers

Kane – McDavid – Yamamoto
McLeod – Draisaitl – Kassian
Hyman – RNH – Puljujarvi
Foegele – Shore – Ryan
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Nurse – Bouchard
Keith – Ceci
Lagesson – Barrie
Smith
With Mikko on the shelf for a week or so, it is time for him to jump in and get the job done for us,” said Dave Tippett on Mike Smith. Smith starts tonight and he is hoping for the same success he had last season when he returned to the lineup on February 8th. Smith partially tore a ligament in his thumb in early January and he’s been out since January 5th. He could have played last week in Washington, but they opted to give him another week off.
When Smith returned after two months off with an ankle injury I thought he was fine in his first start against St. Louis. The Blues’ first two goals came on a 2-on-0 and on another breakaway. He wasn’t rusty in that game. He struggled in New Jersey two days later, and then a week after in Toronto I thought he was fine again. The New Jersey game was rough and he simply can’t afford another game like that. He doesn’t need to be great, just consistent.
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Golden Knights

Pacioretty – Stephenson – Stone
Marchessault – Karlsson – Smith
Janmark – Roy – Dadonov
Carrier – Howden – Kolesar
Hague – Pietrangelo
McNabb – Theodore
Hutton – Coghlan
Lehner
The Knights are getting close to having a healthy lineup. Jack Eichel skated in a regular jersey yesterday and Alex Martinez is also close to returning. The challenge for Vegas is how to fit Eichel on the roster. GM Kelly McCrimmon needs to move out $5m to activate him from LTIR. Will be interesting to see who they move in the coming days or weeks.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton defeats Vegas for the third time this season with a 4-3 win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Evander Kane scores for the third time in four games with the Oilers.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers score a power play goal. This is only the second time they’ve scored a PP goal in consecutive games since November 16th.
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