Chemistry with McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins at worlds could benefit Oilers

When you have one of the two best players in the world, it shouldn’t be the hardest task for a GM to find a linemate skilled enough to play alongside them.

Despite the Edmonton Oilers suffering through a miserable season few saw coming, Connor McDavid won his second consecutive Art Ross Trophy with 108 points, which was good enough for some to consider him for the Hart Trophy even though his team missed the playoffs by 17 points.

But through most of the season, Edmonton was either experimenting combinations to find a permanent wingman for McDavid, or went the easy route and put centre Leon Draisaitl there. There’s no question Draisaitl and McDavid have chemistry, but when it comes to the long-term success of the Oilers it seems imperative that those two occupy the top two centre roles at even strength.

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Pontus Aberg was acquired and immediately placed with McDavid. Milan Lucic got a look, but is far too slow to keep up with the game’s fastest skater and Jesse Puljujarvi was given a brief opportunity. You name the winger and he’s probably seen some ice time with McDavid.

None of them stuck, but when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was given a shot to move from the third-line pivot spot to McDavid’s left wing, there was instant chemistry. The two were together for the last 13 games of the NHL’s regular season and Nugent-Hopkins recorded 15 points. He was held off the score sheet just four times.

The duo have continued with their chemistry at the World Championship in Denmark, where Canada is off to the semifinal after a 5-4 overtime win against the Russians on Thursday. Canada’s head coach is Bill Peters, who was recently hired by the Calgary Flames to replace Glen Gulutzan, and although these two players could be giving him headaches through next winter, Peters immediately recognized how well they work together, and it was just a matter of finding a third player to keep with them.

“The chemistry there is something we like,” Peters said. “If we need to make a change it will be on the right side of that line. I anticipate those two staying together.”

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Like McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins is a first-overall pick of Edmonton’s intended to play a top-line centre role. But through weak drafting in rounds 2 to 7, Edmonton’s depth of young and emerging talent at other positions just isn’t there. And by trading out Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle the past two years, two offence-minded wingers any team would welcome in their top six, the Oilers don’t have a natural winger to put on McDavid’s flank.

Ryan Strome was supposed to be Eberle’s replacement in the forward unit, with the bonus of …read more



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