Opinion

What’s the Optimal Oilers’ Lineup?

Sports fans love to play coach.

In today’s post, I’ve asked four Oilers fans to pretend they’ve been given Todd McLellan‘s job for a day: Brian King (the inventor of PDO), Bruce McCurdy of Cult of Hockey, Darcy McLeod of Because Oilers, and SuperNova of The Oilers Rig. These four gentlemen have submitted their optimal Oilers’ lineup using the team’s current roster. AHL call-ups are also permitted.

In this post, we’re going to focus on the forward lines. Obviously everyone is starting Cam Talbot in net, and there’s no other realistic backup at this time other than Laurent Brossoit. And there wasn’t too much disagreement on the defensive pairings. Everyone has Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson on the top pairing. The only differences in the pairings were the right side defenders on the second and third pairings. Bruce and Darcy’s second and third pairings are Andrej SekeraKris Russell and Darnell NurseMatt Benning, while Brian and Super have Benning with Sekera and Russell with Nurse.

 

The First Line

McLellan has settled on Patrick Maroon, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl as his top line. However, neither Brian, Bruce, Darcy, nor Super have chosen the same three players for their first line. One spoiler: they all have McDavid centering the first line.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
McLellan Maroon McDavid Draisaitl
Brian Slepyshev McDavid Eberle
Bruce Lucic McDavid Eberle
Darcy Maroon McDavid Kassian
Super Maroon McDavid Puljujarvi
.

It was thought that Jordan Eberle could be the sniper to play on McDavid’s wing. That didn’t work out as well as many thought it would, but Brian and Bruce want to give Eberle another shot on the first line. Actually, Bruce’s top line is identical to the opening night’s top line.

Super has an AHL call-up on the first line: Jesse Puljujarvi. Super’s second choice for the top line’s right winger is Anton Slepyshev. And Super isn’t the only one who’d like to see Slepyshev playing next to McDavid. Brian thinks that McDavid and Slepyshev could be “an incredible combo.” Why? We all know about McDavid’s playmaking, but Brian claims that Slepyshev is “the best pure shooter on the team.”

Darcy continues with the theme of picking an unexpected player to man the first line’s right wing, pegging Zack Kassian for the job. According to Darcy, “Kassian is an excellent skater, is excellent at puck retrieval, and is the highest volume shooter of all the regular Oilers’ right wingers.”

No Draisaitl on the first line? Darcy gives his reasoning for Draisaitl’s omission: “We know now that McDavid’s production doesn’t get better with Draisaitl, so it seems like a waste to have him there.”

 

The Second Line

McLellan’s second line features three players who had been under-producing for much of this season: Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and the aforementioned Eberle. However, lately they’ve shown some chemistry together and picked up their offensive production.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
McLellan Lucic RNH Eberle
Brian Lucic Draisaitl Kassian
Bruce Maroon RNH Draisaitl
Darcy Lucic RNH Eberle
Super Lucic RNH Eberle
 .

Brian admits to being “in love” with the idea of a line featuring Lucic, Draisaitl, and Kassian. That’s a lot of beef for one line. Call it the “There’s the Beef!” line? Bruce has dropped Maroon and Draisatil down to the second line, with Nugent-Hopkins as the center.

Both Super and Darcy have left the second line as is. Darcy comments that “Lucic, Nugent-Hopkins, and Eberle have been excellent for the past month, so I’d leave that alone.” Lucic has been looking like a different player lately, so maybe keeping McLellan’s second line together isn’t a bad idea.

 

The Third Line

Since the addition of David Desharnais, the Oilers’ third line has been the former Montreal Canadien trio of Benoit Pouliot, Desharnais, and Kassian.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
McLellan Pouliot Desharnais Kassian
Brian Pouliot RNH Maroon
Bruce Pouliot Desharnais Kassian
Darcy Pouliot Draisaitl Slepyshev
Super Pouliot Desharnais Draisaitl
 .

Everyone has Pouliot as the third line’s left winger. Both Brian and Darcy have chosen to deploy Draisaitl as a center, so that pushes Desharnais down to the fourth line in their lineups. Meanwhile, Bruce agrees with McLellan about who should play on the third line.

 

The Fourth Line

McLellan continues to play Matt Hendricks on the fourth line, though many Oilers fans think he’s well past his best before date. Hendricks seems to be a great guy, and I’m sure he’s great in the dressing room. But perhaps it’s time to give his ice time to a younger player like Jujhar Khaira.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
McLellan Hendricks Letestu Slepyshev
Brian Lander Desharnais Letestu
Bruce Khaira Letestu Slepyshev
Darcy Khaira Desharnais Letestu
Super Lander Letestu Kassian
 .

Everyone has special teams wizard Mark Letestu on the fourth line, and everyone has sent Hendricks to the press box. Brian and Super have called up Anton Lander to play on the fourth line. Personally, I’d like to see Lander be given another shot with the Oilers. His faceoff prowess could be valuable in the playoffs.

What’s most interesting about the above lineups is that Slepyshev and Kassian appear on some people’s top line and other people’s fourth line.

My two cents? First, I agree that it’s time for Hendricks to be taken out of the lineup. Second, Slepyshev should be given a larger role. Third, this lineup will really be humming once Puljujarvi is the top line’s right winger.

Fourth, it would be risky to put Puljujarvi on the first line now, but if that happens next season, maybe the third line could consist of Pouliot, Draisaitl, and Kassian. (Edit: Of course it’s very possible that Pouliot might not be with the Oilers next year.)

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