Watching the Western Conference Final (and if you aren't then shame on you) makes it abundantly clear how far the Oilers are from being a Cup contender. We all know the work that needs to go in to improving the defence and the goal-tending. That is a given. Unfortunately it is the current makeup of forwards that is cause for concern as well. Anaheim is getting production from Perry and Getzlaf but they also have guys like Cogliano and Belesky chipping in. For every Toews you need an Andrew Shaw. The top two lines appear to be set for the Oilers for the 2015-2016 season so the question becomes... who will be our Fernando Pisani?
Here is most likely the general make-up of the Oilers top 6.
Plenty to like, loads of high end skill and speed. Not as much physicality as I would like on a consistent basis. The amount of skill between both of these lines will cause headaches for opposing teams trying to line match them.
Now let's look at what should be the fourth line.
None of these guys are going to wow you with production. Klinkhammer once hit 11 goals with the Coyotes and past that, none of these players have ever scored 10 goals. But I would argue they were a more important line that our top line most nights. They were constantly up against the best lines of opponents, received the fewest offensive zone starts, and took the most defensive. The Wagon Line did it all.
Now the third line...
Team identity is a phrase that's tossed around. Certain teams are known to play a specific style, but that can also be focused onto individual lines. The Oilers top 6 are skilled, fast, and (hopefully) can beat any line to the puck and control possession. The fourth line is a defensive line responsible for shutting down the top lines of other teams. What should the third line be?
In my perfect world, my girlfriend Felicia Day and I feel that the Oilers third line should be a hybrid of these concepts. A line that can be defensively responsible and take pressure off the fourth line, and still be able to chip in offensively. For starters, who do the Oilers have that fit that description?
The only name that really stands out for me is Anton Lander. Lander and his potential went from almost being lost to the waiver wire, to one of the Oilers better two way players in the second half of the season. He was able to push guys off the puck, was a great presence in front of the net on the PP, and could generally be placed anywhere in the lineup and be effective.
Teddy Purcell is a polarizing player. He plays well with elite players but doesn't really make any of his linemates better. He's a big guy but not overly physical. With a top 6 that includes Eberle and Yakupov, Purcell looks to be the odd one out. At 4.5 mil next season he is an expensive option for a third line and I hope he is either bought out or preferably sent away via trade.
Leon Drasaitl is an interesting option. He has been dominating the WHL playoffs and looks like a much better NHL option than he did last summer. He is still a very young player and should not be gifted a spot like he was last year.
Where can Edmonton find other options? Free agency appears to be the best bet. The Oilers don't have a huge amount of cap space to work with (and hopefully they will use a good portion of it to address the D and goaltending). But here are three players they could potentially target.
Carl Soderberg - Had to start with the Boston connection. The NHL is a business of who you know, and it's common to see GM's, coachs, etc acquire players from their previous organizations. Boston is in a bit of trouble right now with the cap and this is a guy who will probably get between 3-4 million a year. If Edmonton can acquire him closer to 3 mil than this would be a great deal.
Shawn Matthias - Another centre! The good NHL teams have more than 4 centres in their lineups with guys who can play either centre or wing. This way we never have to hear about the Taylor Hall at centre experiment ever again.
Daniel Winnik - If the Oilers are going to have guys like McDavid, Hall, and RNH signing for the big bucks, the team is going to need to start finding better value contracts. Winnik is a guy who has bounced around the NHLand has been with 5 different teams in the past 6 years. A one year flyer on him wouldn't hurt.
The third line this season could look like this
Not a bad combination of size, skill, and two way play. Guys like Lander and Soderberg have the ability to fit in a top 6 role if injuries occur. The priority for this team if it's goaltending and defence but if there is a bit of cash left over, I would put the third line as priority #3.