It took four games for head coach Dave Tippett to put Zach Hyman on the top line with Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljuarjvi, but that line will be Tippett’s go-to versus the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday and fans will get their first real look at a line that many were excited about the potential for.
Until now, the Oilers have loaded McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the top line with Puljujarvi and it’s been magical. The plan has worked as McDavid and Draisaitl are at the top of the NHL’s points leaderboard and Puljujarvi isn’t far off. Meanwhile, Hyman has done fine on a second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto, but lately, it’s been a quieter unit. This new deployment will give fans their first real taste of why the Oilers signed Hyman in the first place.
Better Matchups on the Road
The speculated reasoning for the lineup change is the road matchups Tippett can go to when he doesn’t have the last change. The Oilers have played only home games so far this year and he’s been granted the luxury of final change. Now that he doesn’t have it, two potent lines with elite centers is the better option.
Tippett said he was looking for a “different look” and wanted to balance things out a little after a loose game against the Anaheim Ducks. The Oilers have been bleeding shots against in their recent games and while they’ve won every contest, it’s something the coach wants to cut back on.
This gives the Oilers balance and will force the two lines to cheat less on offense.
Hyman Gets a Shot With McDavid
One of the exciting things about signing Hyman was the prospect of him digging up loose pucks and forechecking hard for McDavid who plays well all the time, but really well when he’s got someone grinding on his line and playing extremely sound two-way hockey. Hyman has come as advertised in a few games with Edmonton but the idea of him getting a shot with McDavid is enticing for fans.
The seven-year, big-ticket contract Hyman signed was one a lot of people expected him to spend while on a line with one of the Oilers’ elite centers. This will be his first crack at a regular-season Oilers game with the best of the best. This is ideal. Add the fact he’ll be getting time on the top line against a Coyotes’ team that has allowed 17 goals against in their first three games and has a backup netminder in goal, Hyman could have a big night.
The Oilers’ Second Line and Power Play
Draisaitl moving down to the second line won’t change the power play much. Logic suggests Tippett will run with the same group of four with McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and one of Tyson Barrie or Evan Bouchard running point. Who gets the other forward spot will come down to Hyman or Puljujarvi and probably the player that has his legs moving to start Thursday’s game.
Tippett could default to Puljujarvi just to make sure he stays hot. The hope is that moving Draisaitl off that top line won’t affect the young winger’s game. He seems to be moving his feet well, driving the net, and finishing plays and he’s producing more than most might have imagined early in the year. If Puljujarvi can build chemistry with Hyman and McDavid, it will be a big plus for the Oilers who would love to know they’ve two almost equally dangerous top lines.
This may also give Kailer Yamamoto a bit of the kick he seems to need. He was pulled off that second line in Tuesday’s game and while he’s not in the doghouse, the Oilers are a bit concerned that he’s taking too many penalties and not playing the game they need him to. Having Draisaitl on his line may offer him a much-needed boost.
This lineup against the Coyotes is the roster as envisioned by most insiders to start the year. The Oilers haven’t run with it yet, but Thursday night should offer a sense of what GM Ken Holland had in mind when he signed the players he did this offseason.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”