At 3-6-1, times are tough in Edmonton right now. The club is 29th in the NHL, and a team once thought to be a shoe-in for the playoffs is now looking more like a group getting ready for early April tee times. Life, it comes at you fast.
On Monday, the Oilers had some visible changes when it came to line combinations and defensive pairings. As per club insider Bob Stauffer, here is how the forwards lined up.
Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Leon Draisaitl
Milan Lucic – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Kailer Yamamoto
Iiro Pakarinen – Mark Letestu – Zack Kassian
Drake Caggiula – Ryan Strome – Anton Slepyshev
First off, it’s no surprise that the top-line is remaining intact. If any trio should be kept together, it’s that one. It feels like McDavid’s line is the only one that gets consistent pressure, and he and Draisaitl feed off each other in a big way. On top of that, Maroon has played his best hockey of the season as of late.
Lucic and Nugent-Hopkins look great together at times, but other times they look completely lost. To be honest, it is usually Lucic’s fault too. There are nights where the big man is simply not engaged, and when he isn’t throwing the body he usually isn’t generating offense. When he’s on, however, he’s helped form a strong line and the Oilers have usually won. This is the last shot for Yamamoto this season, if he doesn’t produce on this line in the next two games, he’s WHL bound.
The bottom six is, well, interesting I guess. The third line scares me because it should be a fourth line. Letestu simply can’t handle top-nine minutes at five-on-five, while Kassian has been brutal so far this season. Pakarinen has, thus far, been a complete non-factor.
The fourth line is, to my eye, the island of misfit toys. Drake Caggiula has been silent all season, while Ryan Strome is allegedly already on the outs (If only we could have predicted that…). Anton Slepyshev may soon be joining Strome on the outs, but more on that in a moment.
Snarky comments aside, the fourth line is the most compelling to me because it could go a few ways. All three players have potential, but they have all been massive disappointments to the Oil this season. This line could be a complete train wreck, but it also might just wake these three guys up.
Defensively, the Oilers lined up as follows at practice yesterday as per Ryan Rishaug.
Darnell Nurse – Adam Larsson
Oscar Klefbom – Matt Benning
Yohann Auvitu – Kris Russell
Nurse has been Edmonton’s best left-shot defender so far this season and I don’t mind rewarding him with time on the top-pairing while Klefbom gets rolling. Larsson could use a different look too, as he has struggled as of late. Klefbom and Benning should be a fun offensive pair, but boy that could be a d-zone adventure on Wednesday night.
Quickly on Klefbom, he isn’t playing well right now. That said, Oscar is still a very good defender and I’ve noticed he has been a slow starter over the years. I suspect he breaks out of his slump soon and becomes the defender that we are used to seeing.
Russell returns to the right-side, where he played last year, while Auvitu gets a look in place of the struggling Eric Gryba. To be honest, I thought for sure Edmonton was going to claim Griffin Reinhart on waivers here and put him in that spot yesterday. No dice.
On Saturday night, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos mentioned that the Oilers were not happy with the Eberle/Strome deal and were not married to the idea of keeping Strome. I hate to say I told you so because I want the Oilers to do well, but yeah, I told you that wasn’t gonna be a pretty trade.
Granted, I’m not sure what the Oilers expected. I saw Strome in New York and in the AHL and this is what he is. He is producing EXACTLY how I expected him to. For the Oilers to be disappointed, well that is completely on them and quite alarming to be honest.
Anyway, Elliotte Friedman added that the Oilers are looking for scoring on the wings (no surprise) and for speed (also no surprise). The club has gotten pretty much nothing from wingers not named Maroon and Draisaitl and they look remarkably slow compared to last season. It would NOT solve all their problems but boy, this team really misses Jordan Eberle.
Mark Spector had an interesting piece yesterday detailing what Chiarelli is doing at the moment. You can read the whole thing here, but I’ll dive into the big points briefly.
Anton Slepyshev: Spector notes that sources tell him that the club is willing to move Slepyshev for some scoring on right wing. I’m not sure what Slepyshev could get you, but it is worth noting that the Oilers are willing to move roster players for help. Could Slepyshev and another asset get you someone like, say, Michael Grabner in New York?
Ryan Strome: As noted above, Kypreos mentioned the Oilers would, in his mind, move Strome if they could at this point. Problem is, he really doesn’t have any market value around the NHL. Unlike the Oilers, other teams know what this player is. IF he were to be moved, he likely would have to be packaged with something major, perhaps a top prospect or high pick.
Matt Benning: This caught me off guard, but Spector notes that “at least one team” has called on Benning. Now, as Spec notes, the Oilers aren’t shopping Benning per se, but they seem to be listening. Also worth noting? Spec drops the line that “Chiarelli has targeted other young defensemen and as such, Benning becomes the ask”.
It’s Halloween and the Oilers are reeling. We’ve seen this movie before, but as Spector notes in his piece, the Oilers went 2-7-1 after their 7-1-0 start a year ago and had many of the same problems. That team bounced back and we know how the story ended. Will this team reverse and have a nice run starting Wednesday night? It’s possible, and to be honest it is 100% necessary if they want to make the playoffs.
In terms of rumors, they are nice to think about but it is almost impossible to pull off a deal at this time of year. More likely? The club assigns Yamamoto to the WHL and recalls Jesse Puljujarvi from Bakersfield for another look in the top-six.
Either way, the guys on the current roster need to be inspired by the changes in practice and perform up to their standards or else it won’t matter if Chiarelli makes a trade or not.