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Sports What the Edmonton Oilers opening day line-up should look like (including one big surprise)

09:50  30 september  2019
09:50  30 september  2019 Source:   edmontonjournal.com

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a hockey game in the snow: The Edmonton Oilers' Kris Russell (4) battles the Chicago Blackhawks' Brandon Saad (20) during second period NHL action at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018.© David Bloom The Edmonton Oilers' Kris Russell (4) battles the Chicago Blackhawks' Brandon Saad (20) during second period NHL action at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018.

This is that moment of the season that everyone has their own thoughts on what the best lines and defensive pairings for the Edmonton Oilers should be.

Oilers fans and pundits have seen the team through its preseason run and are bristling with ideas.

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Of course, the only people with a real vote are head coach Dave Tippett and his coaches and, of course, that is a good thing. They’ve got the expertise and by far the most and the best information. They know things we don’t know.

Yet that doesn’t stop, nor should it stop, fans from having their fun and weighing in on their own best possible line-up. I’m a fan with a plan — using scoring chance research to help me evaluate the players and to form line-up combinations — and it’s that process that guides me in putting forward what many will see as a surprise, the idea that Kris Russell should team up with Adam Larsson on the shut-down pairing, not Darnell Nurse, who is best left to run more free.

Here’s the best Oilers roster as I see it:

a screenshot of a cell phone© Provided by PostMedia Digital

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First line: Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, James Neal.

I’m tempted to go with the Three Headed-Monster line-up with McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all at centre, but the fact is the Oilers need to improve their PK work and Riley Sheahan is key to that. Gaetan Haas has far more speed than Sheahan, and can also do PK work, so I prefer him in the line-up over Sheahan, but I think you need both. Plus, Draisaitl and McDavid are as deadly a pair of attackers as you’ll find in the NHL. It’s going to be their challenge and Tippet’s mission to figure out how to shore up the defensive shortcomings of this trio. As for Neal, Draisaitl and McDavid could use a shooter and a willing passer at their side, so it’s either Neal or Sam Gagner. I’d give Neal the first crack.

Second line: Joakim Nygard, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tomas Jurco

RNH is craving to find someone, anyone, that he can play with and develop some chemistry. I see Nygard as that player. He’s super fast and has some skill. He can help open up the ice for RNH to wheel and deal. As for the Nuge, I see him as finally ready and determined to be the driver of a line. Jurco will be the shooter. He’s got some high level skill but we’ll see if he can apply it with any kind of consistency. It’s not a great bet, but it’s the most solid one available to Tippett.

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Third line: Alex Chiasson, Gaetan Haas, Josh Archibald

In every decision I tried to pick the faster and more skilled player over the slower and less skilled player, because if there are two things Edmonton lacked last year it was speed and skill. If they got behind a goal or two in a game, it’s was pretty much game over, unless McDavid and Draisaitl could fashion a miracle. That ugly dynamic has got to end.

Haas stepped up big time in his final two games, flashing NHL-plus speed and some kill. It’s a big step for him to play in the NHL, but he’s not a kid. He’s a seasoned veteran and looks like a smart player. Archibald also had some speed and is pesky on the forecheck, while Chiasson is strong on the boards, a wily shooter and an experienced NHL veteran.

Fourth line: Markus Granlund, Riley Sheahan, Zack Kassian.

Granlund beats out Jujhar Khaira because he’s got better wheels and because a line with both Khaira and Sheahan on it looks too slow. Kassian is a strong skater with some skill, a useful bottom line player who can move up to the first or second lines if the in-game lineup needs a jolt of energy or ferocity.

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a group of people playing hockey:  The Edmonton Oilers’ Zack Kassian (44)© David_Bloom David Bloom The Edmonton Oilers’ Zack Kassian (44)

Shut-down pairing: Kris Russell and Adam Larsson.

This is the big surprise, replacing Darnell Nurse with Kris Russell on this defensive pairing. Simply put, Russell is a much better slot defender than Nurse and a steadier d-man overall. We’ve seen that in the scoring chance data for a few years now, where Nurse is significantly more likely than Russell to make a major mistake on a Grade A scoring chance against. Russell is not nearly as dynamic as Nurse, but if this unit is used for d-zone faceoffs and against tough comp, I see Russell more likely to have success in the role than Nurse, who should be used in more of an offensive pairing. Russell and Larsson wouldn’t be the top-pairing, but the defensive pairing, with two offensive pairings employed, Oscar Klefbom and Ethan Bear, and Nurse with Joel Persson, when Persson returns to the line-up.

Attack pairing: Oscar Klefbom and Ethan Bear

Put these two out with McDavid’s line and good things are likely to happen, with Klefbom and Bear consistently helping the line play most of the time in the offensive end of the ice.

Attack pairing: Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning (Joel Persson)

I don’t see this team with first, second and third pairings on defence, but with one defensive specialist unit and two attack units. The Oilers struggled all of last year to  move the puck, but with the one-two punch of Klefbom-Bear, then Nurse-Persson, that should change. Benning is a useful fill-in with Persson out for now.

Goalies

I’d go with Mike Smith over Mikko Koskinen in the first game against Vancouver, mainly because the Canucks seem to have Koskinen’s number right now shooting glove side on him.

So that’s who I see it, at least for now. How do you see it?

At the Cult of Hockey

LEAVINS: Oilers ready for final cuts

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STAPLES: Knock, knock…it’s Ethan Bear.

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Player grades: Edmonton Oilers can't match desperate Blackhawks' urgency, fall 3-1 .
Oilers 1, Blackhawks 3 Edmonton Oilers came out a little flat on Tuesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks were sharp, and the result was the first sour note of the season for the blue and orange. The visitors made things interesting in the late going before an empty netter sealed the deal. It was not only Edmonton’s first loss of the season, it was Chicago’s first win. For all their respective records made the Oilers the favourites on paper, the difference in this game was the level of desperation of the hosts which the visitors couldn’t match.

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