Predicting the Edmonton Oilers' Forward Lines for the 2014-15 Season
There are a lot of questions surrounding the forward lines in Edmonton for the 2014-15 season.
The top line appears to be set and will be anchored by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, while the emergence of David Perron last season will see the goal-scoring left winger on the second unit.
After those three players, however, the rest is up for debate.
Edmonton has some glaring weaknesses throughout their forward ranks, and with the draft and free agency still to come, much can change between now and the beginning of the 2014-15 season.
Factoring in potential offseason additions to the roster, here is a prediction of the Edmonton Oilers' forward lines for the 2014-14 season.
Line 1: Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle
Barring a major move by general manager Craig MacTavish, the Edmonton Oilers' top line should be the same as it was last year.
The trio of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle were a formidable matchup for any opposition and are three of the most talented players currently on the Oilers roster.
The question will surround whether or not MacTavish decides to trade one of these young stars in an attempt to answer a question elsewhere on the team—namely defense or for a second-line center.
Taylor Hall has emerged as a dominant force in Edmonton and is likely as untouchable as it gets for current Oilers players. The same could be said for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins solely based on the fact that the Oilers are extremely thin down the middle, leaving Eberle the odd man out should a deal be made.
Once again, this trio will be responsible for most of the offensive production for the Oilers, should they be kept together in 2014-15.
Line 2: Nail Yakupov, New Addition, David Perron
The second line is perhaps the most intriguing line headed into the 2014-15 season.
Though Sam Gagner recently signed an extension with Edmonton, he could be a tradable asset. And with rumors circulating, per the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson, that Florida would move the first overall pick at the draft, Gagner or perhaps Yakupov could be on the move.
It would make more sense for MacTavish to move Gagner rather than Yakupov. Though the talented Russian struggled last season, it is far too soon to give up on a player previously drafted first overall.
If the Oilers feel they need a player like Aaron Ekblad at the draft, Yakupov or Gagner could be moved, leaving a hole on either the wing or at center.
David Perron was one of the biggest surprises last season and established himself as a dynamite scoring threat, but MacTavish will need to surround him with players able to compete at the high offensive level.
Line 3: New Addition, Boyd Gordon/Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello
Though Mark Arcobello is a center, he was one of the most pleasant surprises last season, as he emerged out of Oklahoma City and contributed rather consistently for a player in his first NHL season.
Boyd Gordon was another excellent addition for the Oilers last season. Though he didn’t provide much offense, he was a legitimate checking center who was capable of playing shutdown matchup minutes and taking key faceoffs for Edmonton.
It could be argued that Gordon is better suited in a fourth-line capacity, in which case the newly re-signed Anton Lander would be an excellent fit on the third line.
The Oilers leaned heavily on Lander last season, and the Swede proved that he was more than capable of playing two-way hockey. Lander still has room to expand his offensive production, but his consistency in the faceoff circle, as well has his tenacity in his own zone, should see his ice time rise in 2014-15.
Edmonton needs to infuse the bottom-six forwards with a different look than last year, with players who can contribute but can also play a physical brand of hockey.
The Jesse Joensuu experiment did not really yield any results, and the big Finnish winger is unlikely to be back next season, freeing up space for MacTavish to add to the Oilers roster.
Line 4: Luke Gazdic, Anton Lander/Boyd Gordon, New Addition
Luke Gazdic was another pleasant surprise for the Edmonton Oilers last season, as the rugged winger proved that he was more than willing to defend teammates and drop the gloves when necessary.
Though his offensive game leaves much to be desired, the energy that Gazdic provided last year should see him back with the Oilers in 2014-15.
Boyd Gordon may be the more suited to the fourth line simply due to his lack of offensive production and, coupled with Gazdic, he would form two-thirds of a decent fourth line.
Matt Hendricks was a decent addition to the team last season and was a capable checking forward, but MacTavish may decide to try to add more size and toughness for his fourth unit.