Oilers Optimal Lines: Assuming the NHL Completes the Season

If the NHL pause has done one good thing for NHL teams, it’s that it has allowed players to get healthy. The Edmonton Oilers were no different as a few of their key additions and some of the roster was nursing injuries or out altogether as the season was expected to close before things shut down.

Now, the Oilers are completely healthy and ready to roll. Edmonton is in the playoffs should playoffs take place and the Oilers will have a deep roster from which to ice a group of players who may try to compete for a Stanley Cup.

Oilers are Completely Healthy Now

The big question marks surrounding the team as the final run of games were set to take place was newly acquired Mike Green and speed-demon Joakim Nygard. Both are definitely good to go.

On the blue line Kris Russell and Matt Benning were a bit banged up, as was James Neal at forward, and while you wouldn’t know it from watching him, captain Connor McDavid still had people holding their breath that his knee would hold up come postseason play.

So, What Would The Oilers Roster Look Like?

With as much depth as the team now has, there are some interesting choices to make if Dave Tippett is given the opportunity. Top lines need to find quick chemistry, the bottom-six has extra pieces and the blue line no stud, but a nice combination of reliable skill sets and youngsters who can contribute.

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Oilers At Forward

Amazingly, there might be some debate as to what the first line in Edmonton should be. Some will argue a team that doesn’t put McDavid on the top line has no idea what they’re doing. And, while he might be the most effective player, the most effective line of late has been the Oilers go-to second line: Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto.

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ross D. Franklin)

The idea behind moving them up is that they’ll still be effective against teams’ top-unit defensemen, while McDavid gets second-pairing blueliners to tear up with a combination of Zack Kassian, Tyler Ennis, James Neal, or Andreas Athanasiou.

Some may argue that Athanasiou hasn’t proven to be a good fit there yet and as such, he’s the odd man out. That may be true. But, he’s also the type of talent that could go on a run or in the playoffs be one of Edmonton’s top goal-scorers.

On the third line, it makes sense to keep Josh Archibald and Riley Sheahan together as the duo has been dynamite most of the year. Sheahan was likely brought in to be a fourth line center, but he’s done a fine job up one slot. No need to fix what isn’t broken.

The bottom line is the deepest the Oilers have offered in years. When you consider leftover parts consist of Alex Chiasson, Jujhar Khaira, and a combination of Athansiou, Neal or Ennis, this line has the ability to put up big numbers against weaker opposition. It also gives the Oilers extreme confidence to roll four lines, key for longevity in a playoff run.

Factor in that Gaetan Haas, Tyler Benson, Markus Granlund, and Patrick Russell are waiting in the wings, this is good luxury to have.

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Oilers on Defense

As the Oilers put together their top pairs, the question becomes do you like Ethan Bear and Darnell Nurse as the top two, or Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom better? Honestly, it feels like a win/win, even if the Oilers don’t have a stud d-man to send out there for 30 minutes per night.

Oscar Klefbom Edmonton Oilers
Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But, there’s no good reason to switch up these pairs as they have history or they’ve played well together this season. From there, you have a good pool to pick from in your bottom two.

Do you want Mike Green for his pass-first and power play ability? Do you want Kris Russell as your shot-blocker and penalty killer? I guess that depends on Tippett’s priority as coach. There’s Caleb Jones who has come on strong and Matt Benning who has been injury-prone, but reliable and underrated. The dark horse is William Lagesson who may not see much time. The bottom-pair may be determined based on the opponent.

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In Goal for the Oilers

While the tendency might be to run one goalie and have them go on a hot streak, there’s no good reason to stop doing what Tippett has been doing all season. He’s got a good feel for how these goalies work best together and alternating them, keeping them fresh, and showing confidence in both may be key to Edmonton’s success.

Edmonton Oilers Mikko Koskinen
Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Koskinen’s numbers show he’s had a better season so he’s likely the defacto starter but both choices could make sense depending on how you view what’s most important for a playoff run — experience or production.

The Final Roster

If it were up to me, here’s how my roster would look:

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Leon Draisaitl Kailer Yamamoto
Tyler EnnisConnor McDavidZack Kassian
James NealRiley SheahanJosh Archibald
Andreas AthanasiouJujhar KhairaAlex Chiasson
Oscar KlefbomAdam Larsson
Darnell NurseEthan Bear
Kris Russell Mike Green
Mikko Koskinen (starter)Mike Smith (backup)

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