The Edmonton Oilers look to have finally tried enough combinations to find one that works great on the third line. Jay Woodcroft has assembled a line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Warren Foegele, and Derek Ryan that has been a huge success early, helping the team win three straight games.
For years, once the Oilers got Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, they have tried to put a lineup together that deepens the forward group to creates mismatches, add scoring to the bottom six, and overall efficiency. That has typically come and gone very quickly, even under Dave Tippett. There were glimpses of it — even Zach Hyman found himself on the third line with Nugent-Hopkins for a bit, as they are very effective together. But now, after being together for three games and providing the team with nothing but positives, this newly formed third line is here to stay.
With the Oilers also running 11 forwards now, it gives the most impactful player on the line, Nugent-Hopkins, more playing time throughout the game if he’s double-shifted here and there. An underrated aspect of having an effective third line that the coaching staff can count on at both ends of the ice is the pressure it takes off of the top two lines. McDavid and Draisaitl in particular, carrying the team in scoring every night and do something special every time they are out there to change the complexion of the game.
What Works Between Nugent-Hopkins, Foegele, & Ryan
From the mouth of Nugent-Hopkins himself, “We keep it simple, we go get pucks, and we make plays from there… We put pucks deep and were coming up with it. Obviously, if you’re going to dump it in you have to go get it.” Foegele has always been that type of player, driving hard to the corners and being physical, but we’ve seen some life get put back into Ryan as of late, even before he was put on the third line. He’s not a big body, but has been working hard and getting to the right areas.
Nugent-Hopkins mentioned that the line is coming away with pucks from the dump in. It’s one thing to dump and chase and not be effective at it, allowing the opponent to break out and go the other way while the forwards are now caught. But with the speed and tenacity that these three players have been forechecking with, it’s causing the defenders to scramble and the Oilers to get sticks on pucks and disrupt passes.
Nugent-Hopkins also went on to say this after the win in Los Angeles, “Those two (Foegele & Ryan) do a great job of getting in on the forecheck and creating loose pucks and making little plays to each other and supporting the puck everywhere.” The Oilers have been known to do fairly well with the tight little passes down low, as they are a possession team and dangerous when they get extended looks with the puck in the offensive zone at one time. With constant support and more than one man fighting for every puck, more often than not, the Oilers do come out with the puck and are able to create a scoring chance.
Third Line Efficiency at 5-on-5
The third line was generally quiet in the first game together, but it takes time to form chemistry and learn how each other plays. Nugent-Hopkins actually logged his most shifts in a game this year vs. the New York Islanders, and has seen his ice time increase. It was the two games in California where they really became a force and contributed to both wins.
In the Oilers’ 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks, the third line created two goals in the first 7:10 of the game, which pretty much sealed the game from there. It’s not often the Oilers get the first lead, but seems to be very important since they are now 14-0-0 when scoring the first goal. An early push and lots of effort right out of the gate is what’s needed on a nightly basis, and the third line provided that, having it pay off. All three players got touches and contributed on the scoresheet on those two goals, while Ryan was almost credited with a goal off a Darnell Nurse point shot. Despite not getting the goal, Ryan was still in the right position screening the goaltender and trying to get a tip in. Since Evander Kane has arrived, fans have seen an uptick in other Oilers’ forwards following his lead in that aspect of the game.
In the game vs. the Los Angeles Kings, all three members of the line got in on the goal that put the Oilers up 2-1. All three goals by this Oilers’ third line have come at even strength, and since Foegele and Ryan are the two worst plus/minus players on the team by a decent margin, it’s huge for the team to have them on the ice for only goals for and not against.
“He’s someone we’ve tasked with helming his own line, and that line has been really good for us. It allows us to create mismatches that help our team win. Use him in every situation and we feel really good when he’s on the ice.” Woodcroft recognizes the mismatch the line led by Nugent-Hopkins creates, and most teams don’t have a player in their bottom six who can put up 50 or more points each season.
The Oilers also have the advantage in the faceoff circle even though Nugent-Hopkins isn’t known to be the best in the draw. The line has him and Ryan who are opposite hands both able to take the draws. Since Ryan leads the team with a 57.6 percent in the faceoff circle, he is able to take draws everywhere but the strong side for Nugent-Hopkins. This is more important than you may think for coaches to be able to have this versatility in their lines, and teams to be able to get control of the puck more at the start of plays.
Foegele & Ryan Coming Out of Slumps
Foegele has been all over the lineup this season, but he looks the best when he can play on the third line. He has the physicality to play that style of hockey. After looking pretty effective on the second line with Draisaitl, he was then sent to the fourth line since he hasn’t had much finish this year in relation to the opportunities he’s getting and created for himself (from ‘Warren Foegele a bust? No, I’m not in that camp’, Edmonton Journal, Feb. 4, 2022).
In the game against the Sharks, Foegele snapped a 16-game goalless drought and has two points in the past two games after recording just two in the previous 10 games.
As for Ryan, he has picked up his game a little before being united with Nugent-Hopkins and Foegele, but has definitely elevated his game to warrant staying on the third line. Starting when the Oilers snapped their losing streak in a win over the Calgary Flames, Ryan has put up six points in those past 11 games, including two in the previous two games as well. I mentioned above that he also almost got another goal in the game vs. the Sharks from being in the right position to score.
Nugent-Hopkins has also added four goals and nine points in his past 10 games since coming off the injured reserve, playing mostly on the third line and producing offensively in all situations.
Woodcroft has found something special here with these three players and should continue to play them together as it creates a dangerous and effective third line that can outplay and outscore the opponents.
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Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
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