An Alternate Oilers Line combination
If you ask most Oilers fans right now what their expected forward line combos are you'll likely hear this:
The logic here makes a fair amount of sense; the McDavid line would be the strongest line with the world's best player alongside two ferocious forecheckers, with one as a net-front presence and the other as a shot from the circle. This line can be an aggressive option against any other top line in the NHL. The Draisaitl line can perform the same role, if Yamamoto and RNH can bounce back from down seasons. Regardless this line can handle both offensive and defensive zone starts and still produce a healthy number at even strength. The Oilers have two legitimate top lines here.
Next the Oilers have a couple new additions for their third line. Both Derek Ryan and Warren Foegele can push play at 5 on 5 and have been shown to be consistent producers without relying on top players to force the play for them. These players can handle themselves in the defensive end without completely drying up offensively. Zack Kassian can produce as well but at the very worst he can be a physical presence and be the player to go into the tough areas to dish the puck out for the other two forwards.
The fourth line is fine if unspectacular and I expect Ken Holland to add at least one more option, likely on the LW here. If this line can come close to breaking even, playing 8 minutes a night than it should be seen as a success.
Edmonton has a stronger mix in their top nine than they have had for quite some time and that could result in Tippett firing out the blender to try and get more out of all of the players. Allow me to highlight one example today of a different forward composition for the Edmonton Oilers:
What madness am I concocting here? Overall I am relying more on duos than trios. The fourth line remains the same but I've shuffled up the remaining nine players. Here is how they would be utilized.
Hyman and McDavid stay together on the top line but the biggest risk out of all of this is placing Kassian back on the top line with Connor McDavid. Kassian received his current contract because of his success with McDavid when he put up 15 goals and 34 points in 59 NHL games. Kassian certainly wasn't driving play but he also wasn't hurting McDavid in terms of possession numbers or other shooting metrics. Last year injuries and inconsistencies immediately derailed his season and he never recovered. There is obvious risk here and even if Kassian does bounce back, there is the question if having Kassian and Hyman on the same line is somewhat redundant and this line lacks a true shooter. The McDavid factor is in effect here and as long as Hyman and McDavid click I keep this line together.
This new second line bumps Puljujarvi down with Drasiatil and bumps up Warren Foegele. Draisaitl is the driver of this line who can wheel in the offensive end and dish to Puljujarvi for the shot to the net or Leon can take it himself as JP switches to be the netfront presence. On this line Foegele would be the defensive conscious as he has shown with his time in Carolina and keep the other two honest at 5 on 5. I would try and give this line a healthy dose of offensive starts and if Foegele can score at the same rate as he has in his career with some extra minutes than this could be a really fun line to watch.
Next comes our new defensive line/easy minutes line. RNH and Derek Ryan are great defensive players who can play solid hockey away from the puck and Kailer Yamamoto is a tenacious forechecker. One of the knocks against RNH is that he has never been a dominant 5 on 5 player and he spends most of his time against the top competition. Especially with last change at home, this line could feast on lesser competition and help to shelter Yamamoto from some of the tough matchups he has struggled to produce against. This line should be able to handle it's own against top competition in the defensive end by limiting scoring chances even if Yamamoto and RNH may struggle to produce.
The other advantage of a group like this is it can pull some pressure off the Oilers defensive group. Nurse and Barrie are going to get a healthy dose of the McDavid minutes and they will be better for it but any defensive pairings the Oilers have iced over the past five years away from McDavid have struggled mightily. If Edmonton can spread out their talent than the likes of Keith, Ceci, Bouchard, and Russell aren't completely left to the wolves.
If Edmonton is down by a goal or tied or holding onto a lead we could see a variety of lineups deployed by Dave Tippett. This year should be fun in that the variety of combinations could all actually employ skilled NHL players.