Building The Powerplay Units - Riley Sheahan To EDM
It looks as though Riley Sheahan will join the Edmonton Oilers. Holland has been looking for third line centre options for some time now. Sheahan should be a fine, if unspectacular option.
One of the few things that worked out well for the Edmonton Oilers last season was their powerplay. The team finished 9th in the league last season with a 21.17%, scoring the 13th most goals on the powerplay despite having the 7th fewest opportunities. Those numbers can all be found with a cursory look online. I did not need to look up any numbers however to know that almost all of that production came from the Oilers top unit.
Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, Alex Chiasson, and Darnell Nurse. This represented the main first unit the Oilers operated with over the course of the season. Of the 47 powerplay goals Edmonton scored last season, 42 of them was done by this unit. Your mileage may vary on Nurse or Klefbom as the point man on this unit but I expect we will see a very similar unit this coming season.
However, Tippett may see things differently and move things around. For example, it appears as though James Neal will likely start the season on the wing with Connor McDavid... will Neal find his way onto the top unit, replacing Alex Chiasson? If that were to happen, the Oilers would lack a right shot on their top PP unit.
First let's tackle the top unit.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are an automatic given on the first unit. The two are dynamic together and it's impossible to ever get sick of seeing McDavid cross ice pass to Draisaitl for the one timer. After that I would likely put James Neal in the spot previously occupied by Ryan Nugent Hopkins (put down the pitchforks, we will get there) and use Alex Chiasson as the right shot/in front of the net presence. On the point, though Nurse took some major strides last season and performed well once he was given powerplay time, Oscar Klefbom would still be my first choice. Klefbom had a better ppg rate on the powerplay last year despite missing games due to injury and over the past few years has been a more proven producer at 5 on 4.
The second unit is a bigger point of contention. Many times last season the top unit was on the ice for the entire two minutes. It's something that can happen from time to time but long term will fatigue players like McDavid who are already among the highest ice time forwards in the league.
This is why Ryan Nugent Hopkins should be moved to the second unit and serve as quarterback centre. Nugent Hopkins has always been a strong producer on the powerplay and as long as he is given some options to distribute the puck to should be able to continue producing.
Sam Gagner will certainly be a staple of that second unit as well. Gagner might lack the defensive capabilities to be as effective at 5 on 5 but his time in Columbus proved he can still excel on the powerplay.
In the "Draisaitl position" I believe that Joakim Nygard will be the guy. Nygard's biggest calling card in the Swedish League was his blinding speed, which will be most useful with one fewer opponents on the ice. Nygard was very useful on the powerplay in Sweden and was 7th overall in powerplay goals with 6 goals. The more I look into Nygard, the more likely it seems that the duo of RNH and Nygard will be a prominant pair for Edmonton, both on the PP and at 5 on 5.
Zack Kassian could be the front of net presence on this unit, but over the years he has been used more as a PK player and I would avoid trying to push him into both roles this season. Instead what about Cooper Marody? The Oilers still are without a guaranteed third line centre and the 22 year old Marody is starting to look very NHL ready. He would provide the Oilers with another right shot and could serve as a front of net/second pivot on the second unit.
Lastly on defence a number of names could be represented. If Klefbom is the guy on the top unit, Darnell Nurse could be the player on the second unit. Matt Benning is another good puck carrier who hasn't hesitated to shoot the puck when given powerplay time. If Evan Bouchard makes the team he will absolutely get powerplay time but at least to begin the season I think he plays in the AHL and Joel Persson is the player they look to. The 25 year old right shot is an offensive defenseman who has had the tag "powerplay specialist" attached to him in the Swedish League. Persson looks to have an inside track on the Oilers, either as a 7th defender or on the third pairing and if he makes the roster, he will certainly be given PP time.
Over the next few weeks we will see Tippett fiddle and mix his lines. It will be worth watching his powerplay units to see what kinds of combinations he believes will have success.