The Edmonton Oilers lost 6-5 to the New Jersey Devils in a matinee matchup last Friday, and in the process, they lost versatile forward, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a lower-body injury. He flew back to Edmonton on Saturday to be re-assessed and will be out of the lineup for at least the last two games of the road trip.
Heading into Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders, Nugent-Hopkins’ injury created a vacancy on the left side of Leon Draisaitl’s line and the Oilers filled the spot with Devin Shore. He hadn’t shown much offensive flair throughout the season — tallying only three points in 15 games — so it was surprising to see him chosen as the replacement as the left-winger on the second line.
The team lost 3-2 in overtime for the second time in as many nights, with Shore logging 17:00 minutes of ice time— fifth-most among Oilers forwards. In the process, he didn’t register any points, had no shots on goal, or even any hits. Chalk it up to head coach Dave Tippett’s preference to play veteran NHL players over budding youngsters, but at this stage in the 27-year old’s career, he’s best served as a bottom-six forward. If Nugent-Hopkins is out of the lineup for a considerable amount of time, there are stronger options the Oilers could use as his replacement on the second line.
There’s been more poise and calmness in Ryan McLeod’s game this season. His long-term outlook is to hopefully become a staple as the team’s third-line centre but he’d be a great candidate to temporarily fill Nugent-Hopkins’ spot on the second line.
In the game against the Devils last Friday, it was the first time the Oilers used him as a winger on a line with Connor McDavid. New Jersey scored an early goal to take the lead and moments later, McLeod fed the Oilers captain with a nice cross-ice pass to tie the game. In the third period, he transported the puck up ice with speed, chipped it past five Devils’ players, and set up (ironically), Shore for another tying goal.
In only 8:41 minutes of ice time, McLeod played the best game of his NHL career. That should’ve earned him more ice time for the next game against the Islanders, right? Well, that wasn’t the case. It’s a missed opportunity that the Oilers didn’t allow him to carry his confidence over to the next game and line up with Draisaitl on the second line. Instead, he played seven minutes less than Shore.
If given a chance as a temporary replacement for Nugent-Hopkins, McLeod’s skillset would complement the pair of Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto. He has the size to play a heavy game down low and the wheels to keep up with No. 29’s speed to attack on the rush. McLeod has already proven he can keep up to the big German’s pace— in a game against the Dallas Stars, No. 71 scored a goal off of a 2-on-1 play from a saucer pass from the Oilers’ alternate captain.
Warren Foegele would be the first person to tell you that he should have more than five goals and six assists on the year but it’s not due to a lack of effort and determination. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he’s a big man that skates well. He makes plays with the puck, is tenacious on the forecheck, and has enough skill to be able to play with offensive-minded players.
In the last few games, he’d been bumped up to the first line with the Oilers’ captain when the team lost players to injuries and COVID protocol. Just three games ago, he scored two goals against the Seattle Kraken, including the game-winner. Having said that, it’s also puzzling why he wasn’t given the chance against the Islanders to occupy the left wing on the second line — given his recent ability to contribute — while playing with top-end talent. He was dropped down to the third line, and in six fewer minutes than Shore, he contributed more on the stats sheet (one hit, one shot on net).
He’d be a great complimentary player alongside Draisaitl. A noticeable feature of Foegele is his ability to protect pucks along the boards using his size and drive it towards the net. He and No. 29 would be a heavy duo to cycle down low and create chances. Add in Kailer Yamamoto’s dogged effort in puck pursuit and the trio has the ingredients to be an effective line. Another option is that he could also rejoin McDavid on the top line, and in doing so, Zach Hyman could drop down to the second line.
It may seem like a reach to have a player who hasn’t registered an NHL point given a shot on a second line with a former Hart Trophy winner, but as a former point-per-game player in the American Hockey League (AHL), Tyler Benson has never been given an opportunity to play with skilled players with the big club.
He hasn’t been able to translate his offensive success from the AHL to the NHL level but it’s admirable the way he’s transformed his game in an attempt to carve a niche in a bottom-six role. He’s playing hard in front of the net, hitting in his limited ice time and trying to fill an agitator role for the team.
Benson played his best game in an Oilers uniform against the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 18. He didn’t register a point but he was given the most ice time of his career (over 15 minutes), made smart plays, and created chances around the net all night. When the Oilers returned to play after their prolonged Christmas break, he was a healthy scratch for two games (which in itself is a questionable coaching decision). But, in 10 minutes of ice time against the Islanders, he had three hits and was just shy of scoring his first NHL when he was unable to convert on a chance in the slot.
Shore may have more points than Benson on the season but No. 16’s offensive ceiling is higher. He’s missed chances to score this year but once he does, the game will slow down for him and there will be less panic in his play. His willingness to hit each shift while possessing untapped offensive potential could be a feisty addition to fill the vacant spot on the second line.
The Oilers are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games and the absence of Nugent-Nugent Hopkins adds additional insult to injury. But to steer the ship in the right direction, they need to make better decisions, and employing Shore on the second line is not one of them when there are more suitable internal options.
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