Peter Chiarelli promised big changes for the Edmonton Oilers and he’s delivered. Taylor Hall is gone and Milan Lucic will have a chance to finally give the team a physical force in the top six.
One of the reasons Lucic chose to sign in Edmonton was due to the allure of playing with a phenom. Connor McDavid is a special individual talent that in this case helped draw the biggest free agent on the market into town. Oilers media and fans alike are already pencilling Lucic next to Connor McDavid in their mock lineups.
Despite this, I wonder: Is that really the smartest way to distribute the lines?
A Balanced Oilers Top Six
Using Corsica’s line combos system, you can see which two lines were the most effective for the Edmonton Oilers in possession last season.
The line of Benoit Pouliot – Connor McDavid – Jordan Eberle had a Corsi number of 56.3 percent. That is an elite number that shows you how much the ice tilted with these players together. The next best line was Taylor Hall – Leon Draisaitl – Teddy Purcell at a Corsi number of 55.7 percent.
One of the bright spots for the Oilers last season was the emergence of Leon Draisaitl. Fans that were worried after Draisaitl’s ugly cameo in 2014-15 found relief when Draisaitl formed a chemistry making passes off the wall and cycling with Taylor Hall. Even Teddy Purcell, a guy that made a great case for a buyout in 2014-15, looked useful enough again to garnish a 3rd round pick at the trade deadline.
If you already know what works for McDavid – two guys that remain on the roster and found great production with him in Eberle and Pouliot – then why separate a good thing? The Oilers need McDavid and Draisaitl both going strong.
I’m sure Draisaitl can continue being a productive player away from Hall but with both linemates gone, it’s going to be a bit of a fresh slate for him. In his last 40 games, it was noteworthy that he only produced at a 39-point pace. There is a lot of development for him to go and he’s going to need some quality help.
Milan Lucic in LA put up an amazing 59.5% Corsi and was part of two lines (Lucic-Kopitar-Toffoli and Lucic-Carter-Toffoli) that produced at a 60% Corsi rate or higher. In other words, absolute domination. Lots of fans continue to compare Leon Draisaitl to a young emerging Anze Kopitar – why not try to re-create what the Kings did? Lucic-Draisaitl seems like the heavy duo that would be destructive towards other heavy lines in the Western Conference and they likely wouldn’t get the tough competition either – McDavid is taking that on for everyone else.
Who Plays On The Right Side?
Who should complete the line and play the Teddy Purcell role? There are two good options. Kris Versteeg is still a UFA and the LA Kings just signed Purcell for one season at 1.6M. Versteeg has won the Stanley Cup two times on solid possession teams and is from Alberta. Would he accept a one-year deal at 1.6M? The Oilers could use the veteran help.
The other option is fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujärvi. A big, strong and fast player, Puljujarvi led his Finnish team (Kärpät) in Corsi with a 57.5% rate. I don’t want to put a ton of expectation on him to start – he’s coming off knee surgery and he’ll have to adjust to the North American game – but he’s already proven he can be a possession player at a professional level of hockey. Imagine if the Oilers iced a line with three big men who can all skate…
Lucic-Draisaitl-Versteeg/Puljujarvi and Pouliot-McDavid-Eberle? It seems like the Oilers can easily throw on two almost unstoppable forces onto the ice. That’s a good start. Now, what do we do with RNH and Yakupov…