With the news today that Connor McDavid is out two-to-three weeks with a quad injury, one of the burning questions now is, what will the Edmonton Oilers do to stay afloat and in the NHL playoff race with their star center down?
Injuries are never well-timed. For the Oilers, McDavid’s injury couldn’t come at a worse one. A team tightly entrenched in a Pacific Division race, players like Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and others will need to step up and help weather the storm. And, for head coach Dave Tippett — a man who has a reputation for making the most out of some relatively unskilled teams — he’s got some decisions to make.
Those decisions will remain a secret as he wouldn’t reveal his plans with the lineup for tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks or, for that matter on this upcoming Eastern Conference toad trip against some of the league’s best teams. The media was curious, but Tippett kept that one close to the vest. Maybe he wasn’t sure. Maybe he didn’t want to give Chicago a chance to game plan.
Do You Split Up Nuge and Draisaitl?
A thin lineup outside of Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl, the Oilers will face a serious dilemma. Does Tippett hand Nugent-Hopkins more responsibility or does he keep one of the best lines together? Nuge and Draisaitl have been one of the NHL’s most potent lines over the last 10 games. Splitting them up and having Draisaitl play top-line center and Nugent-Hopkins the number two pivot makes sense. Still, it poses a risk.
When you consider one of these natural centers (Draisaitl) leads the NHL in scoring and another (Nugent-Hopkins) might make a decent second-line pivot on a number of NHL squads, the Oilers aren’t completely pooched when it comes to filling the middle of the ice. Who could blame the coach if he decides to better spread out his forwards? After all, most wingers are often only as good as the centers they have feeding them. But, are the wingers good enough? That’s a real question and the Oilers are about to find out.
If not, the alternative is keeping an extremely hot line together, hoping they cash in on every opportunity and counting on a goal, maybe two from everyone else. And if that’s not possible, this might be Holland’s opportunity to go out into the market, find a winger and give each center a finisher; perhaps easier said than done.
Related: Wild GM Threatens More Trades
Finding Unsung Heroes in Oilers Lineup
Everyone knows the rest of the lineup will need to step up. To expect the world out of players like Jujhar Khaira or Gaetan Haas might be unfair. But what about others. Do they have an extra gear? How best does Edmonton get those players going?
The depth in the bottom-six hasn’t been too bad, but how does the coach get the most out of players like Kailer Yamamoto, Sam Gagner, Alex Chiasson, and Zack Kassian? James Neal obviously won’t be available after suffering a bit of a setback in his ankle sprain recovery.
Gagner will likely get a good look on the power play. A specialist in that area, Tippett knows Gagner’s history well and in Columbus, Gagner was red hot on the man advantage.
Yamamoto might get a look there too. It’s hard to argue anyone has made as much of an impact outside of Edmonton’s top-two than the Bakersfield call-up.
These will be things we’ll need to keep an eye on as the Oilers face-off with the Blackhawks tonight and then go into an important stretch moving forward. Perhaps, it’s the most important stretch of the season, even though they won’t be facing division rivals.
In Other Oilers News
The team announced today they’ve signed Joakim Nygard to a contract extension. Details of the extension have not yet been released but it appears to be a one-year deal worth $875K.
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