This holiday season, there’s a lot the Edmonton Oilers can be thankful for. Technically, the team is still in a playoff spot. So too, the team has mostly avoided major injury, although Mike Smith’s situation is a bit confusing and the COVID situation has left the team in a bit of a pickle when it comes to the left side of the blue line. Finally, the best players are playing like the best players, even if both superstars have been a bit cold of late.
All that said, the holiday season is often seen as a time for giving and if Santa Claus could bring the Oilers one present this season, I might ask that he think about Connor McDavid, who for years hasn’t had a consistent stud winger to play on his top line.
Someone Other Than Leon Draisaitl
The combination of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is arguably the best one-two punch in the NHL. However, it’s not the pairing Edmonton and coach Dave Tippett would like to run with if he had any other choice. This duo is dynamic, but Tippett uses it when he feels like he doesn’t have a better option, which is far too often to be ideal.
In certain situations, it’s best to have them together, but the argument has long been that Draisaitl and McDavid help the Oilers more when driving their own lines. It’s probably true if the Oilers want to be considered a serious playoff threat. Depth and flexibility are going to be the club’s keys to success and two deadly lines may be too much for the opposition to handle. Let these two team up on the power play or coming off of a penalty kill, but get them the pieces they need to run their own lines, specifically someone McDavid can build incredible chemistry with.
Why Not Hyman?
While the odd game has seen him moved off that top line, Jesse Puljujarvi has found a comfortable home alongside McDavid. That position seems to be secure. It’s the left-wing position that remains unclear and the Oilers have tried a rotating cast of players there for years now.
The belief was that Zach Hyman would come in and fill that role. He was signed to a lucrative deal this offseason and, injury aside, the investment has paid dividends. To his credit, he’s done an admirable job with 11 goals and 19 points in 26 games and he’s on pace for a career year in points if he plays top-line minutes the rest of the season. Still, the Oilers seem to like him on the second line and he might even get consideration as a third-line option if the Oilers choose to move Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down to fill in the third-line center position.
One of the luxuries of having a player like Hyman on the roster is that he can be moved around and find a home virtually anywhere. Fans have learned he can be an excellent complimentary piece or drive his own line. That’s important down the road when the team needs offense from other sources.
Why Not Another Player?
Warren Foegele has seen a cup of coffee with McDavid in the last couple of games and he’s shown well. It’s a good news situation for Edmonton as the team really needed Foegele to do more than wreak havoc on the forecheck. He needed to produce. Zack Kassian shows glimpses of being a good fit, but consistency is his issue and he flops back and forth between being a fan favorite and driving Oilers’ nation nuts.
Tyler Benson is not that guy (at least not yet) and the Oilers don’t know what they have yet in a player like Dylan Holloway. Nugent-Hopkins has been there before but his underlying numbers with McDavid are not wonderful.
Three Options for the Oilers on McDavid’s Line
Insiders will argue that goaltending, a left-shot defenseman, and a third-line center are bigger priorities than a left-winger. It’s a fair argument considering the question marks at all three positions. None of them directly help McDavid, other than the fact filling any of those holes with an experience NHL player helps the team overall. Selfishly, it would be great if the Oilers could find a winger that just clicks with McDavid and there are options are out there.
If the St. Louis Blues are a playoff team, David Perron won’t be available. If they aren’t, he would be a nice addition prior to his hitting free agency this summer. Perron was back on the ice for practice a couple of weeks ago and word is he was feeling good after being out for some time with an upper-body injury. Perron is a player who knows how to score. He’s a playoff performer with a reputation for picking it up in big games. His $4 million cap hit is workable when you prorate his salary near the deadline, but it would take the Blues selling off assets for him to even potentially be available.
Phil Kessel is a more expensive option that might not be workable under the salary cap, but if the Arizona Coyotes are willing to retain salary, a trade could work and the cost shouldn’t be too outrageous. The Coyotes will move Kessel before the deadline and he’s exactly the type of proven scorer that could click with McDavid. If a third team jumps in and retains some salary, this becomes an easy trade to make and it’s likely Kessel says yes to the deal in an effort to boost his production ahead of free agency.
If the Oilers are looking for something inexpensive and still want to tackle other positions, a player like Ryan Donato out of Seattle might be a fit. His $750K contract is attractive, as are his eight goals in 26 games. He’s got some skill and in the right situation, could score when placed beside a skilled player like McDavid.
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Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”