Opinion

Oilers Jumble Lines To Find Offence

Fresh off their 5-day bye week, the Edmonton Oilers got back to work this past Saturday, serving up a stinker in the form of a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite a strong start to the game, in which Maroon potted his team leading 19th goal of the season, the team struggled to generate much offence and looked noticeably rusty. While the team received shaky goaltending from Cam Talbot, it was quite obvious that the long rest had taken its toll on the group. From lazy defensive plays to wasted offensive opportunities, coach, Todd McLellan decided that it was time to put the lines back into the blender

The Lines:

Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) gave us a look on Twitter at the new lines seen at yesterday’s practice:

Analysis:

First Line: Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Jordan Eberle

The most glaring change we see up front is the shaking up of the McDavid line. While the trio of Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl has been nothing short of fantastic for the Oilers of late, it was time to find new ways to generate offense. While Connor McDavid will still have Patrick Maroon beside him, it will be up to the young Oilers captain to keep the ship afloat. If the Oilers have a chance at ending their 11-year playoff drought, McDavid will have to continue his league-leading pace.

Jordan Eberle will find himself back on Connor McDavid’s right side. The 26-year-old has had a season to forget thus far, notching only 11 goals through 56 games, and this is a chance for Eberle to finally show his worth to the club. The trade rumours have been becoming more and more evident, and if he doesn’t find his game quick, he could be moved out of town sooner rather than later. The good news here is that Eberle and McDavid have a history of chemistry together, although it hasn’t been quite as noticable this season. Ebs has looked better recently, but he will have to start finding the score sheet down the stretch, and what better line-mate to have than Connor McDavid.

The emergence of Patrick Maroon has been a godsend for this Oilers team. Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks for nearly nothing, Maroon has taken advantage of his spot on the Oilers top line. He leads the team with 19 goals on the season and has been the biggest beneficiary of playing with Connor McDavid. Maroon and McDavid have proved to be dynamic duo this season, one that Todd McLellan obviously doesn’t want to mess with.

While McDavid and Maroon are very important pieces to Edmonton’s offence, the key to this line will be Jordan Eberle. He is a proven goalscorer in this league and the Oilers need him to rediscover his scoring touch if they want to lock up that elusive playoff spot.

Second Line: Milan Lucic – Leon Draisaitl – Anton Slepyshev 

We then shift our way down to the newly minted second line. Leon Draisaitl finds himself back at his natural center-ice position in-between Milan Lucic and Anton Slepyshev. Leon has been one of the better Oilers outside of #97 this year, so putting him on the second line makes too much sense not to happen. While he was producing at an elite level with McDavid, the Oilers want to spread the scoring throughout the lineup.

On his left side, we see an under-performing Milan Lucic make another appearance in the top 6. The struggling behemoth has had a hard time finding consistency this year, looking slow and lethargic beside the Oiler’s youth. Lucic has to find his niche, and do it quickly. The Oilers are a better team when Lucic is playing to his full potential, the recent game against Nashville showed this fact. Lucic has shown that he isn’t afraid to put pucks towards the net so he must start trying to find ways to get open for Draisaitl, who is an excellent passer. Looch is built for playoff hockey, and  its about time he starts showing his value.

Flanking Draisaitl’s right-side will be Anton Slepyshev, who has looked good in his short time with the big club. He’s only tallied 7pts through 28 games thus far, but he has looked a lot better in recent games. He possess a wicked shot and good mix of size and skill. If he can continue to play the way he has, we should see an increase in production. Having Draisaitl as his center only strengthens this sentiment.

While Leon Draisaitl has had himself an excellent year, the key to this line will be the production generated by the wingers. Lucic has been very disappointing this season, and will need to pick up the pace. Anton Slepyshev will also need to see some improvement, as right-wing depth isn’t exactly a strong point for the Oilers at the moment.

Third Line: Drake Caggiula – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Zack Kassian

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, fresh off his tilt with Vinnie Hinostroza, will be centering the third line for the Oilers. The 2011 first-overall pick has been another player that the Oilers will need more from. Much has been made of his defensive play this season but the fact of the matter is that he is not producing like he has in years past. His 26pts in 56 games played this year is nowhere near what it should be. So, in an attempt to jump-start #93, he is now in charge of heading up the third line with Drake Caggiula and Zack Kassian.

Drake Caggiula has performed to basic expectations this year. He has seen his fair share of time in his natural center position, but the feel from the coaching staff is that they want him on the wing for now. His tenacity on the puck isn’t in question, and he can produce when given the right mix of guys. Caggiula may not be a game-breaking prospect but, he is a skilled player that could work well with RNH. He could play the roll of finisher on this line if all goes according to plan.

Zack Kassian then enters the fray. The former villain-turned fan favourite has been playing exceptionally well for the Oilers this year. Although he doesn’t chip in with much offence, Kassian provides a hard-hitting presence up front. His engagement level is rivaled by few on this team and he deserves the promotion. Alongside RNH and Caggiula, Kassian will be an important piece in maintaining the cycle within the O-zone.

The key player on this line will be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Much like Jordan Eberle, the Nuge will be relied upon heavily in the coming months to provide some secondary scoring. If he gets going, so will the other two on this line.

Fourth Line: Hendricks – Letestu – Pouliot

The wagon line remains fairly untouched, despite the addition of Benoit Pouliot. For a fourth line to be effective in today’s league it must be able to grind down it’s opponents. While Mark Letestu may not be your typical 4th line center, he is beginning to embrace the role that the Oilers have handed him. Even finding ways to chip in with a few points here and there, Letestu has been everything that the team has needed him to be.

The inclusion of Matt Hendricks on this line was a bit puzzling for me at first. His foot-speed and quality of play recently has been put into question, and I am sure better options exist within the organization. He does provide a exceptional work ethic and has a nose for the net but, I assume we will see Jujhar Kharia take his spot as soon as he returns from injury.

And then we have good ol’ Benoit Pouliot. This guy has been a source for frustration among many Oiler fans this season. He has offensive instincts but he simply cannot act on them of late. His poor play has seen him go from a regular top 6 player to a bottom line player on this team and we can only hope he figures it out soon, although I find that hard to believe. Pouliot will have to combat some tremendous odds if he hopes to stay in Edmonton for much longer.

The key to this line is obviously Benoit Pouliot. He has had an absolutely awful year and the Oilers would love for him to finally start pulling his weight.

 

That does it for the new-look lines!

Thanks for Reading!

Find me on Twitter @PrestonKixFM

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