The Edmonton Oilers have lost their last four games and are facing their first bit of adversity of the season. It doesn’t help that the team has only scored three 5-on-5 goals within that timeframe, but there’s no need to hit the panic button yet. Good teams go through lulls throughout the course of an 82-game season, and sometimes they need to reset.
Head coach Dave Tippett has turned on the blender throughout the season and has experimented with a few different line combinations to give the team a new look. With their even-strength scoring coming up dry as of late, it’s time to consider running his big three centres down the middle — Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins— in the same game. Let’s take a look at some possible line combinations.
Oilers First Line- Foegele – McDavid – Puljujarvi
A promotion to the first line while only producing eight points in 26 games may seem like a reach for Warren Foegele, but he’s a big man (6-foot-2) that skates well and can handle the puck. His game hasn’t been bad — in fact, last game against the Boston Bruins he was buzzing all night, with six shots on net, but couldn’t bury the puck. Not too long ago there was another big man with hands, Pat Maroon, who earned his paycheque playing alongside the captain; and in 2016-2017 he produced his best offensive output with 27 goals. With that said, he didn’t have anywhere near the speed that the Oilers’ No. 37 currently has.
Foegele protects the puck well and can hold onto it long enough to make plays with No. 97. On Oct. 21 against the Arizona Coyotes, Foegele did his best McDavid-lite impression when he turned a defender inside and out for a highlight-reel goal on a solo effort.
Another benefit is that Foegele and McDavid have known each other for over 12 years, with No. 37 stating, “I think it was Grade 8, we were on the same rep team coached by Connor’s dad. Yeah, we didn’t lose too many.” (from “Carolina Hurricanes’ Warren Foegele is This Spring’s Fernando Pisani, Circa 2006,” Edmonton Sun, 4/30/19) There could be untapped chemistry between the two that could be worth the look. Add in the presence of Jesse Puljujarvi — who would serve as the triggerman on the line — and you have two big men that can create space while the Oilers’ captain works his magic.
Oilers’ Second Line – McLeod – Draisaitl- Kassian
Back in 2017, when offence dried up between McDavid and Draisaitl in the playoffs, then-head coach Todd McLellan split them up and created a heavy line for Draisaitl to centre. He played in the middle between Anton Slepyshev (6-foot-2) and Milan Lucic (6-foot-3) and the trio ground down opposing defensemen. They combined for eight points in a game to tie the series 3-3 against the Anaheim Ducks and in total played parts of 12 games together. (from “Lowetide: Oilers’ European Prospects Offer Interesting Options For the Future,” The Athletic, 2/23/20)
A line of Draisaitl, Ryan McLeod and Zack Kassian would be a heavy force that can forecheck and wear the other team down. All three players are big and skate very well for their size and they’d be able to generate chances off the cycle and create momentum for the team.
McLeod has shown glimpses of his offensive ability and him and Draisaitl have also connected on a goal this year. On Nov. 23 against the Dallas Stars, the rookie finished off a 2-on-1 play off of a saucer pass from the big German. He hasn’t spent time on the wing in his limited NHL games, but playing on the left side of No. 29 could further improve his offensive game. Kassian, on the other hand, already has familiarity playing with the former Hart Trophy winner, and often raises his game when he gets the call to play with skilled players. The trio would be a unique combination of size and skill that would be hard for defenders to contain.
Oilers Third Line – Hyman- Nugent-Hopkins – Yamamoto
McDavid and Draisaitl have proven they can run their own lines and produce despite their quality of linemates in the past. The “X-Factor” will be if Nugent-Hopkins ran his own line with offensive-minded players on line three and took advantage playing against other team’s less skilled lines. The current cast of Foegele, McLeod and Kassian have had their moments as the third line, but at times they’ve been too inconsistent and unable to provide clutch secondary scoring.
With the first two lines facing other team’s first and second pairings, a line of Zach Hyman, Kailer Yamamoto and Nugent-Hopkins would have a favourable matchup against the opposing team’s bottom six and worst defensive pairings. All three are top six regulars and offensively gifted. Although they haven’t produced many goals in their limited time this season, they’ve already shown good chemistry by generating chances off the cycle and sustained offensive pressure. Against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night in their short time together, they kept the Bruins hemmed in their zone and the line drew a penalty when Charlie Coyle took down No. 56 in the third period.
The team’s fourth line can be a rotation of Devin Shore, Derek Ryan, Colton Sceviour, Kyle Turris and Tyler Benson, and Tipett should ride whichever one is playing best. Line four has been inconsistent throughout the season and has only combined for three goals between the above mentioned players. In order to keep the minutes up between the first three lines, there would be no harm if this line took a reduction in ice time.
These line combinations are projections to help kickstart the team’s 5-on-5 scoring with a well-balanced attack and to create favourable matchups against other team’s less skilled lines and defensive pairings. Whatever the case, the Oilers need to figure out their scoring woes as they get set to host an important game against Foegele’s former team, the Carolina Hurricanes, on Dec. 11 at Rogers Place.
First ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – CBC Radio Oilers’ Fan Panel Analyst – Freelance Writer. Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.