Oilers Can Address Third-Line Centre Woes By Trading for a Winger

Edmonton Oilers‘ commentator and host of Oilers Now, Bob Stauffer, has suggested another solution the team can look at in the coming weeks to address the forward group.

This would widen the options for the Oilers since the market for cheap centre upgrades is minimal, while there are many possible wingers out there that should become available, even some who have asked for trades already. The internal solution comes from icing the three-headed monster in Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at centre and allowing the coaches to mix and match wingers with each of them. Along with creating a wider variety of options to possibly add via trade before the deadline, a young player in Dylan Holloway should make a return from injury and could slot in on the wing.

Elevated Play From Wingers Should Allow Nugent-Hopkins to Play Centre

A minor injury to Zach Hyman and a couple of top-six players in Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi on COVID-protocol have allowed Warren Foegele and Brendan Perlini to step up and play with higher-skilled centremen like McDavid and Draisaitl. This provides the Oilers with more wingers who can contribute, allowing Nugent-Hopkins to centre the third line.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Before the pause, Foegele got an opportunity to play on the left wing with McDavid where he scored three goals in two games. He is a high-energy player that plays hard around the net and has so far been a great complement to how McDavid plays the game and likes to feed his linemates and get pucks to the net. Foegele is a big body that won’t be moved very easily, and has the speed and ability to help control the play in the offensive zone and get chances off the rush.

Perlini got his second chance with the Oilers after the aforementioned players were out of the lineup. He was elevated and even though it’s a very small sample size since returning, the scoring touch he had in the first couple seasons of his career could come back with his increased shot count.

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Of the seven players I could see them using in the top nine on the wing, they can play around with and hope to find the right fit with Hyman, Foegele, Perlini, McLeod, Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, and Zack Kassian right now, and see what they have in a possible new addition in Holloway off the injured reserve.

Can Holloway Make an Immediate Impact Once Healthy?

The Oilers’ 2020 first-round selection, Holloway, is going to make an impact in the NHL sooner rather than later. But the question remains, will he be able to step in this season and do so or does he need time in the American Hockey League (AHL) to play some games at the pro level before making the jump to the NHL?

I believe that it would help with development more for Holloway if he were to at least spend some time in the AHL and then get the call, depending on his performance. This decision would likely have to be made before the trade deadline, so that Ken Holland knows exactly what holes he has to fill.

Mark Spector suggests that Holloway should finish the season with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL before being called up to help the Oilers in their playoff run. If that’s the case and the Oilers want to still run with these types of lines, they will have to find an internal placeholder, possibly Ryan McLeod on the third-line left wing.

More Available Wingers to Trade For

An addition of a winger via trade would further add to the depth that the Oilers would then have on the wing, allowing even more security if Nugent-Hopkins were to move to centre. Since the centre market will be pretty thin and the Oilers’ budget limited, they may have to overpay to acquire someone to play third-line centre and not have him make the impact they were hoping for. Nothing should be forced and assets shouldn’t just be thrown away.

By the trade deadline, the Oilers will see if they have a solution in Holloway this year for the wing. Even if they don’t, there are a lot more options from teams that will be out of contention to add a more impactful winger, and that’s something that is more likely.

Penguins’ 2016 Stanley Cup Success Icing Similar Line Combinations

Many may remember the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The reason I bring this particular team up is because of how they found massive success by icing an impactful three-line format. By this I mean Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were of course centering their own lines, while they had a third centre in Nick Bonino playing on the third line.

Instead of loading up their top-six, they spread the wealth out a bit so that they could create better matchups and have a legitimate scoring threat on each line. This involved playing Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist on the top line while Phil Kessel was on the third line. Their third line, called the “HBK” line, which ended up being the most popular line, was much more impactful than if they had just loaded up the top two lines.

Nick Bonino (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

McDavid and Draisaitl are close comparisons to Crosby and Malkin, while Nugent-Hopkins is actually better than Bonino was. Add a player like Hyman on the third line, since he can play anywhere up and down the lineup and still give the same to the team, and you have a combination that could be as effective as the HBK line was.

Depth was the ultimate downfall of the Oilers in their last playoff exit. Once scoring dries up a bit or the team plays a good shutdown team, they will sorely need scoring from more than the top six. I hope we see this implemented in some way this season, as it could be what gets the Oilers over the hump.

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