The Oilers are a better team when Leon Draisaitl is a centre

Christian Pagnani
March 14 2017 01:06PM

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© James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Edmonton Oilers have stumbled since the All-Star break. They’re 7-9-1 since the break, and this is after enjoying a 7-0-1 run before the break. They’ve won just two games in their last seven, and it might be time for head coach Todd McLellan to play with the lines.

The Oilers started off the season playing all three of Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl down the middle. 

This went from Oct. 12 until Dec. 1 against the Winnipeg Jets. Milan Lucic primarily played with McDavid, with Patrick Maroon alternating with him at times, and Jordan Eberle as the usual right-wing. McDavid and Leon Draisaitl spent 35 five-on-five minutes together during this time. They played on the same line during the loss against Buffalo, but that was a game that got away from them and Draisaitl started as a centre. Draisaitl joined McDavid and Lucic against Arizona on Nov. 27th, but Puljujarvi started the game on their line initially. (12-9-2).

Draisaitl played with McDavid and Lucic on the top line in Winnipeg and played on their right-wing from Dec. 1 to Dec. 6. McDavid and Draisaitl played over 40 minutes of five-on-five time together during this stretch. They started the Buffalo game on the same line, but the pair only ended up with 5:42 even strength minutes.  (2-0-2)

The Oilers ran all three centres again from Dec. 8 to Dec. 19. Caggiula got a game on McDavid’s wing in Philadelphia (that one that Jonas Gustavsson gave away), McDavid and Draisaitl played less than six five-on-five minutes together, while RNH and Draisaitl played 13 minutes together. Tyler Pitlick suffered a season-ending injury against St. Louis, which might have motivated Todd McLellan to play Draisaitl on the wing with the lack of available right-wingers. (3-2-1)

With Pitlick hurt and Jesse Puljujarvi not accomplishing much as he was coming in and out of the lineup, Draisaitl moved up to right-wing with either RNH or McDavid from Dec 21 to Jan. 3. Maroon replaces Lucic to play with McDavid. (2-2-1)

Draisaitl is promoted to McDavid’s line on Jan. 5 to Feb. 11. The Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl line plays over 220 minutes at five-on-five together during this time-frame. Lucic splits time between the Caggiula and RNH lines. The Oilers have one of their best stretches, including a 7-0-1 run in January. (10-6-1)

Draisaitl moved back to center on Feb. 14th against the Arizona and Philadelphia, and only plays five five-on-five minutes with McDavid in a win against Chicago. (3-0)

Draisaitl is summoned to McDavid’s wing during the Tampa Bay and Florida games. McLellan brings out the blender against the Lightning when the Oilers fall behind, which ends up with Draisaitl playing the entire game against Florida alongside McDavid. Draisaitl has stayed at right-wing on the McDavid line since then. The Oilers  acquired David Desharnais to play on their third line, leaving most to assume McLellan wants the McDavid-Draisaitl combination together. (3-5-2)

The Oilers record with all three of McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, and Draisaitl together is 18-11-3, with a 0.56 winning percentage. With Draisaitl on RW with either Nugent-Hopkins or McDavid, the Oilers have a 17-13-6 record, and a 0.47 winning percentage. Although, McLellan will often resort to playing Draisaitl on the wing to jumpstart the Oilers' offence if they’re losing, so it’s not entirely surprising to see McDavid-Draisaitl appear together in some losses. The Oilers also had a strong start to the season as a very good possession team, which has fallen a bit in February and March. 

The Oilers play Dallas tonight and the expected lines feature Draisaitl with McDavid and Maroon. That line has only one goal scored at five-on-five the last four games, and Draisaitl may benefit from some lesser competition at center rather than facing some of the opposition’s best when with McDavid. The Lucic-RNH-Eberle line has recovered recently, but it’s imperative the Oilers get McDavid going during this last home stretch of the season.

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I like to read and write about sports. I'm @chrispagnani on Twitter.
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