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Who Is In Edmonton's Forward Core?

May 6, 2016, 12:59 AM ET [185 Comments]
Matt Henderson
Edmonton Oilers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Here in Edmonton the feeling is that this is the year the Oilers make a change to their core group. Chief among the changes, Edmonton needs to add a D to this group who is in the prime of his career and capable of handling duties on the top pair. Personally, I think he’s logging big minutes in the playoffs for the Islanders and Islander fans will not be happy with the return he brings back (By virtue of Edmonton only having to outbid perhaps 2 other teams in Western Canada). For the Oil, the speculation is that one of those scoring forwards is going to be the price paid for failing to find a RHD before now.

The big question is which forwards, if you are in command of the Edmonton Oilers, are part of your core? To me, there should be 4 forwards, 3 defenders and 1 G that you build your team around. Everyone else is complementary. Edmonton found a solid goaltender in Cam Talbot. He started the year in a funk but then turned his game around. Klefbom and Nurse are the 2 defenders I believe the Oilers see as part of the core. Sekera is a solid 2nd pairing guy, but I think the team wants someone more dynamic.

But the Oilers have enough high-end forwards that they now have to make a tough choice. Unless Chiarelli has some tricks up his sleeve we aren’t expecting, he will have to give something to get something. He needs a RHD and everyone knows it. I think the decision on who to keep comes down to two things:

1) How much do you value Centermen?

2) How good do you think McDavid is?

I believe Edmonton’s forward Core should be made of McDavid, Hall, RNH, and Draisaitl. In my view, everyone else is complementary and therefore expendable for the right price.

A common topic among observers (nationally and locally) is how the Oilers have too many centers. I didn’t think it was really a thing, but Edmonton showed competency at the center position for about 3 months and everyone seems to have gotten excited at the idea that a healthy Oiler lineup has 3 centers capable of playing in the top 2 lines. That’s too many pivots! The emergence of Leon Draisaitl (who many pundits had left for dead after a dismal first 30 something pro games), the arrival of Connor McDavid, and the (overstated) struggles of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all combine to have the Nuge involved in every trade rumour attached to the club.

For every other team in the NHL, having a multitude of centers has been billed as a positive. It allows for a great deal of flexibility in the lineup. For Edmonton, it’s been billed as a flaw in the roster. Every time it comes up I get a little more confused because the value of those men in the middle has been stressed for my whole life. After watching the Oilers struggle to find and keep 2 quality centers since I was a kid, I think it’s crazy that the team would balk at the idea of keeping 3.

It’s a no brainer for me to build with the trio of centermen that the Oilers have taken with 1st and 3rd Overall picks. McDavid is going to win serious hardware in his NHL career. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a solid 2-way player who can play behind McDavid for a decade and be one of the NHL’s best 2Cs. Leon Draisaitl is the broad-shouldered player that Edmonton has dreamed of having for years to help match up against the best of the West.

Ok, the more the merrier, but why ask about how good I believe McDavid is?

Because the biggest question facing the impending change to the core is really about how much of Jordan Eberle’s offense we think can be replaced. There’s no way around it, Eberle is one of the league’s most consistent scorers. His offense and long summers are the only things Oiler fans have been able to guarantee during this rebuild.

Players who are capable of scoring 30 goals in a season are rare. That’s the pace he was on but only played 69 games this season. He also only started to play with McDavid in February. From the time he was paired to with McDavid to the end of the season, Eberle scored 14 goals in 32 games -- a 36 goal pace over 82 games.

Jordan Eberle does the hardest thing in hockey: He scores goals. That’s worth a lot.

That said, Connor McDavid has turned everyone he’s played with into an elite scorer in the NHL. He did it to Pouliot, Yakupov, and Maroon in addition to boosting Eberle’s numbers. He’s been surrounded by good, but complementary, talent and he brought them up to his level (well, maybe not ALL the way up to his level).

If you believe that you can bank on the McDavid effect, it makes moving a winger like Eberle a lot more palatable.

However, if you believe that center depth is overstated or that the Oilers might be able to add a capable 3C via other means, then maybe RNH is the odd man out. The team found chemistry between Hall and Draisaitl as well as McDavid and Eberle. If the Core is made up of those 4 then the team is just hoping to build on successful relationships that have already been forged.

There’s also a growing argument for keeping the right-shooting Eberle because all of the team’s top 6 shoot left. Hall, RNH, Draisiatl, McDavid, Maroon, Pouliot and Yakupov are all lefties. Having a righty opens more options on the Power Play in particular. The right-handed forward makes for a dangerous player on his off wing and Eberle has been the team’s best Power Play point producer over the last several years.

This Nugeless top 6 looks something like this:

Hall Draisaitl Pouliot
Maroon McDavid Eberle

I’m comfortable gambling that strength at C outweighs the need for right-handed shots and that McDavid could turn a pylon into a 20 goal scorer. For that reason my top 6 moving forward is built around a core of McDavid, Hall, RNH, and Draisaitl and looks something like this:

Hall RNH Draisaitl
Maroon McDavid Pouliot/Yakupov/Okposo/Pylon

I move Eberle before I move RNH because I want my core to be versatile. I want 3 centers on 2 lines. I want Draisaitl playing on the boards and using his backhand. I want Hall driving one line and McDavid the other. I want Edmonton to build down the middle.

Which four Oiler forwards do you see as the core?

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