As we get closer to training camp major, some interesting questions are coming into view. I’m of a mind that we are extremely unlikely to see three scoring lines (although three offensive pairs might be possible) and increasingly wonder if a veteran checking line may make an appearance (haven’t had one of those in years). Todd McLellan is clearly a thoughtful guy who is going to take time to evaluate the talent available to him and adjust his style to suit them.
Which brings us to what might be an interesting training camp battle between Leon Draisaitl and Nail Yakupov. If the German stays at C, then Nail’s future as 2R is clear (with some threats but no major one on the horizon). Leon added to the mix? Different story.
- Todd McLellan: “I look at Leon Draisiatl, and in my opinion Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid are going to be #1 and #2 centremen in our organization for a long, long time, they’re that talented and that good. Not that Leon isn’t… But career-wise, he might love to be on one of their wings and playing in the top six rather than maybe being that third-line centre. I think it’s really unfair to peg him there, but we have to look at it from that perspective. [The defensive] responsibilities as a winger are somewhat less, his boardwork is quite good, and one of the things that impressed me the most about Leon is his ability to play on his backhand. Joe Thornton has incredible eyes and makes incredible passes on his backhand. For a young man like Leon, he did the exact same thing at our summer development camp, which is something I wasn’t aware of.” Source
That struck me as curious when I first read Bruce McCurdy’s account of the Oilers Now interview and I think it might offer us some insight into McLellan’s thinking. If Leon could fill the 2R role, it might allow McLellan to roll a dedicated checking line and a ‘utility’ fourth line very similar to what we might have seen during the Craig MacTavish era:
If that happens, if Draisaitl>Yakupov in McLellan’s mind and the team runs a checking line, then I think moving Nail now makes more sense. If you’re not going to put him in a position to succeed, and that means one of Nuge or McDavid as the de facto center, then send him away.
Yakupov gives McLellan the option of having two real shooters in his top six (Hall and Yakupov) plus the opportunity to mix and match the roster (which falls in line with McLellan’s own past—placing his best offensive players in pairs in order to spread out the group and make defending them more difficult). What about this:
The offense is more spread out, the good checkers (I count Nuge, Letestu, Hendricks, Lander and Korpikoski) are also spread out and it’s going to be difficult to check all of these men. Offense too thin? Maybe. The other problem is Luke Gazdic, who is going to get a chance to play. I’d rather see this:
The 4line has some good checkers who can penalty kill and not upset the rotation, plus Lander and Korpikoski can easily move up (Lander may end up ahead of Letestu in terms of TOI). There are only two scoring lines but you could flip Purcell and Korpikoski and turn the 3line into a checking unit.
Leon is damn near my favorite prospect in the entire system but I can’t find a way to put him on the roster. The smart play here is sending Draisaitl to Bakersfield, play the hell out of Purcell and Nail, and trade the UFA as soon as the value hits something attractive enough to be useful. Call up Leon, put him on the wing and let Nail/Leon fight it out for last spot on the magic bus.
That’s how I see this going.