So here we are. Thanks to Connor McDavid crashing into the end boards against the Philadelphia Flyers and breaking his collarbone, the Edmonton Oilers suddenly find themselves in an all too familiar situation. For the last number of years, this organization has lacked depth at the centre position and, while it was still an issue heading into 2015-16, having No. 97 in the mix allowed them to be competitive on a nightly basis.
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After watching his offence go quiet for the entire 60 minutes against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the first 20 in their next outing against the Chicago Blackhawks, head coach Todd McLellan decided to make a move. By pulling Leon Draisaitl off his second line and reuniting him with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the former San Jose Sharks’ bench boss has left himself in a bit of pickle when it comes to the middle of the rink.
Lines: Hall-Draisaitl-RNH, Pouliot-Letestu-Yak, Purcell-Lander-Eberle, Gazdic-Miller-Pakarinen. Hendricks left ice before battle drills.
— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) November 10, 2015
If yesterday’s line combinations are what we can expect to see on Wednesday evening in Anaheim, it will certainly feel like Groundhog Day to the vast majority of Oilers Nation. That is right folks, the plan is for this team to skate into the Honda Center and try to hold their own against the Ducks with the quartet of Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Letestu, Anton Lander and Andrew Miller at centre. While it may sound like a bad joke, unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
Good Luck Dealing With Getzlaf and Kesler
Compare that with what Bruce Boudreau will have at his disposal. A legitimate first- and second-line duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler followed on most nights by former long-time Oiler Shawn Horcoff and whatever combination of Rickard Rakell, Mike Santorelli or Chris Wagner they decide to use on any given night. Not to mention the fact they also have a guy like Andrew Cogliano playing on the wing, despite having been used at centre for much of his career. That, my friends, is what you call depth.
It is a mix of everything. Experience, youth, high-end skill, hard-workers and defensively responsible players. You name it and someone in that group can likely do it. There is no question that having the likes of a Getzlaf and Kesler in your lineup allows a team more leeway to try different things, but so does having useful bottom-six players. The same cannot be said about the Oilers and that is on Peter Chiarelli. Outside of swapping Letestu for Boyd Gordon, the former Boston Bruins GM did nothing to improve the club’s shortcomings down the middle.
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While giving Lander the opportunity to prove his worth was the right route to take, perhaps bringing in someone to use on the wing with experience at centre, as a potential backup plan, may have been the wiser approach to take. That may seem like a convenient way to look at things after the fact but this was always going to be a roster that was one Nugent-Hopkins or McDavid injury away from being in deep trouble … and here we are.
From a coach’s standpoint, it has to be frustrating. McLellan’s hands are essentially tied and because of it Jordan Eberle will probably find himself on a line with Lander and Teddy Purcell in Anaheim. Just sit back, think about that for a minute and let it sink in. The guy who has led this team in scoring three of the last five years is about to find himself on a line with nothing more than spare parts. Absolutely frightening.
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However, with only Jujhar Khaira and Bogdan Yakimov as potential options in Bakersfield, there really was no decision to make. Adding even more youth and inexperience into this lineup is simply not an option. So you go at it with what you have and do your best to survive. Again, hindsight is a wonderful thing but it sure would have been nice if the new management team had a taken a longer look at addressing a need that has plagued this franchise for what feels like an eternity.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.