Projecting the Edmonton Oilers’ 2015-16 Lineup: Forwards

The official start of the 2015-16 NHL season is still a few months away, however, there is no better time than the present to look forward in anticipation of the return of NHL hockey in Edmonton.

In previewing the Oilers’ upcoming, highly anticipated NHL season, a number of issues, opportunities and events have already be discussed, rated and debated.

In particular:

However, despite all of the hype surrounding the Oilers in 2015-16, it remains unclear exactly how Edmonton’s lineup will be organized following the number of major roster changes made this off-season. As a result, let’s attempt to project the Oilers’ opening night forward lines for the upcoming NHL season.

[Related: Projecting the Edmonton Oilers’ 2015-16 Lineup: Defense]

The First Line

Hall – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle

Despite the numerous changes made by new General Manager Peter Chiarelli this summer, the Oilers’ first line appears set to enter the 2015-16 season completely intact. Centered by 2011 first overall draft choice Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers’ top line will remain as dangerously talented as ever, while fellow young stars Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall will in all likelihood man the right and left wings, respectively.

One change would could certainly be made as the season progresses, depending on the success and consistency of the teams top line is the addition of Benoit Pouliot.

Pouliot saw considerable time on the first line in 2014-15 while Hall was injured and set a new career high in goals scored with 19 despite playing in a mere 58 games. This combination was especially deadly towards the end of the Oilers’ season, as Pouliot scored 15 goals in his final 35 games played.

The Second Line

Pouliot – McDavid – Yakupov

Unlike the teams first line, the Oilers’ second line does project to see one major, beneficial change which will bring about incredible improvement.

Connor McDavid
(Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

The arrival of 2015 first overall selection Connor McDavid will shatter previous concerns regarding the Oilers’ perceived lack of depth at the center ice position, while instantly providing the Oilers with a legitimate and incredibly threatening second line.

Of the many hoping to earn the opportunity to play alongside McDavid, it appears as though Nail Yakupov and Pouliot will be given the pleasure of playing with the generational talent. Both scorers, McDavid should generate a multitude of scoring opportunities for Pouliot and Yakupov, while Yakupov in particular will be given an incredible opportunity to shed an impending “bust” label.

If Pouliot were to be promoted to the teams top line, the positioning of Hall on McDavids left wing would provide the second line with not only greater potential, but also the greater ability to be extremely productive in 2015-16.

The Third Line

Draisaitl – Lander – Purcell

The Oilers’ third line could quite possibly be the teams most intriguing heading into 2015-16.

Due to the addition of a number of bottom-six players to the Oilers roster, a definitive third line remains ambiguous to say the least. What is known is that Teddy Purcell will play the right wing, where he will see minutes more accustomed to his abilities as well as style of game, considering he was skated largely in a top-six role this past season.

One other virtual guarantee is the presence of Anton Lander at the center ice position on the third line. Lander enjoyed a breakout season in 2014-15, one which saw him awarded with a new two-year contract in April. As a result, the Oilers will undoubtedly have higher expectations of Lander this season, and will hope he can once again provide solid depth production.

The left wing on the third line however does remain a mystery. Lauri Korpikoski appears a good fit, however, where would this leave Leon Draisaitl? Draisaitl, who communicated his willingness to play on the wing if it meant an NHL roster spot, could be a great fit. Playing Draisaitl here will relieve him of the pressure he endured last season in a second line center ice role, as well as allow him to develop at his own pace.

The Fourth Line

Korpikoski – Letestu – Klinkhammer

(Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
(Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

The look of the Oilers’ fourth line will be much different than in 2014-15 and will be largely dependent on a number of various training camp decisions.

Mark Letestu will undoubtedly open 2015-16 as the Oilers’ fourth line center following his arrival via free agency with a new three year contract, while Rob Klinkhammer will re-assume his physical role as the fourth line’s right winger.

Korpikoski appears to be the left winger on this line, however this is entirely dependent on the positioning of Draisaitl in the lineup, a decision which will likely not be made until training camp is complete.

These lines, much improved from last year, will leave the likes of Matt Hendricks, Tyler Pitlick and Luke Gazdick on the outside looking in.

The Forward Lines

Based on these combinations, the following illustrates the Oilers’ complete opening night forward lines:

Hall – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle

Pouliot – McDavid – Yakupov

Draisaitl – Lander – Purcell

Korpikoski – Letestu – Klinkhammer