The Edmonton Oilers, for all there shortcomings, have all of a sudden had a gold mine of center-ice talent with Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins coming into their own. The big question isn’t who will play where and with who, but whether or not the Oilers can find a way to keep all three in the long-term future plans.
This is a unique situation for the Oilers, who for all their history, haven’t exactly had three, let alone one, true No.1 center in, not years, but decades. The last solid long-term one-two punch the team had was Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in the 1980s during the dynasty years. Remember those years where the Oilers won five Stanley Cups in seven years (including the one “We Can Do It Without Gretzky” victory in 1990)?
Since then, the Oilers have had some interesting combinations up the middle. For the better part of the 1990s, the Oilers had Doug Weight as a legit No.1 center in the NHL with varying No.2 centers with a mixed bag of mainly poor results in Jason Arnott, Mats Lindgren, Josef Beranek and Boyd Devereaux.
Weight was traded in the summer of 2001 to St. Louis and since then it’s been a precarious list at center; Mike Comrie, Jochen Hecht, Anson Carter, Mike York, Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll, Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano all made up No. 1/2 spots for the team.
Now after having five Top-5 picks in the NHL draft (including four first overall picks), the Oilers suddenly have a glut of developing top-tier centers in Draisaitl, McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins.
In the short-term, the Oilers have some options and have the ability to play all three on separate lines as they develop and spread the scoring around. With the current McDavid injury, the depth chart for the Oilers looks like this:
|Taylor Hall||Leon Draisaitl||Teddy Purcell|
|Benoit Pouliot||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Jordan Eberle|
|Matt Hendricks||Mark Letestu||Lauri Korpikoski|
|Rob Klinkhammer||Anton Lander||Jujhar Khaira|
McDavid is coming back in a few weeks and that means the Oilers are going to have to get creative, something head coach Todd McLellan is good at. Remember at the beginning of the year that McLellan was playing Pouliot-McDavid-Yakupov as a unit with Hall-RNH-Purcell as the other unit (Eberle was injured to start the year). Draisaitl eventually came up and took a spot on the wing, sometimes playing with Hall and RNH; he even did a short stint with Yakupov.
The fit seems to be with Draisaitl and Hall as a unit. Collectively, the duo has 73 points through the first half of the season. That’s more than the duo in Anaheim of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry (48), the John Tavares and Kyle Okposo duo with the New York Islanders (60) and a few others.
To make a short list, here are the teams that have offensively productive duos throughout the NHL:
1. Dallas – Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin (102)
2. Chicago – Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin (98)
3. St.Louis – Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen (80)
4. Edmonton – Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl (73)
5. Winnipeg – Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little (73)
RNH and Eberle seem to be a good fit and have had a great deal of success together in the past. This year, the duo is struggling but like all good pairings, McLellan is giving them the opportunity to work out of their funks together.
So where does that fit McDavid? Well, when he comes back, he could end up back with a healthy Yakupov to give the Oilers three solid scoring lines, or Edmonton could try to load up a scoring line to make a solid push for the playoffs.
The big part of this is going to be the financial breakdown. As you can see on the chart, if we look at 2015-16 as year one in a five year window, RNH is signed through all five years with a $6 million cap hit (something that could be very welcomed if he breaks out offensively in a year or two).
Draisaitl is an RFA in year three (next summer), McDavid (not shown because he’s on IR) will be an RFA the summer after in 2018-19.
The only contracts on the books when McDavid hits his RFA status will be Pouliot, Eberle, Hall, RNH and most likely Draisaitl. If we factor in a probable $10 million per season for McDavid and possibly $6 million for Draisaitl (if he still is on par and meets the expectations of what he’s expected to be) that gives the Oilers $38 million tied to just six players.
Given that the Oilers will have Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera as three of their potential top four for $13.7 million (if you see Nurse getting the same deal as Klefbom), that’s $51.7 million for nine core players.
How Does Edmonton Keep All Three?
If the Oilers can learn any cap lessons from the Pittsburgh Penguins, who once held Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, it’s very difficult in a cap world to have three very talented centers. Eventually the Penguins dealt Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes and now have a depleted forward group built around the combined $18.2 million cap hits for Crosby and Malkin.
Pittsburgh tried to shift one of Malkin or Staal to the wing to play along Crosby, but ultimately it didn’t work out, thus forcing the deal. Edmonton however might be able to make it work and have one of RNH, McDavid or Draisaitl shift to the wing in the long-term, if neccessary. Draisaitl looks great as a winger, especially on the hashmarks where he made a huge impact for the WHL Kelowna Rockets last season during the Memorial Cup run.
|Taylor Hall||Connor McDavid||Leon Draisaitl|
|Benoit Pouliot||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Jordan Eberle|
What if the Oilers re-jigged their future top-six core to look something like that? Would that spread the wealth and give the Oilers a competitive top six?
Related: Ryan Johansen Traded To Nashville
Leaving on this point here — The Nashville Predators and general manager David Poile loved their defense (and when we say they loved their defense they L-O-V-E-D rolling out Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis in their top four). Unfortunately, the Predators were always chasing after an elusive No.1 center and had to part with a player they were extremely high on in Jones to get Ryan Johansen from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Edmonton fans might have to take this as a precursor, because as long as the Oilers are missing a No.1 defenseman, one of these three will always be linked to trade rumors.
Edmonton Oilers regular contributor providing insight on all things Oilers including club history, prospect profiles, trade breakdowns, and everything else in between. Check back regularly for new and exciting content. Follow on Twitter @SanderTHW.