Depth is a wonderful thing. It gives you choices and it’s always better to be handcuffed with too many options, then with too few. For the longest time the Edmonton Oilers organization has been struggling with the latter, but if you haven’t noticed times are changing around Oil Country and Todd McLellan has some options when it comes to selecting his line-up every night.
The depth they have in their bottom six, the fourth line to be specific, is quite the hot topic especially when you bring 2016 4th overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi into the conversation. Here are my thoughts on the Oilers 4th line heading into the postseason.
Could we see him during the playoffs? Should he be up with the team? It’s a hot debate around the team right now. Since being sent down to Bakersfield Puljujarvi has potted 9 goals and 14 assists in 28 games and has quickly become a confident offensive player. This success resulted in two different arguments.
The first being, he’s having success so let him stay down there for an AHL playoff run and keep developing that offensive confidence. The flip side of that is now that he has some confidence, bring him up since a confident Jesse Puljujarvi could a valuable weapon in the postseason.
I tend to side more with the latter. Even if Jesse isn’t the most effective player, this first year back in the playoffs is all about experience for the younger players not a run at the Cup, so even having Jesse around the team could hold value to him down the road.
The other thing with Puljujarvi is that he’s very responsible defensively for an 18-year-old, so putting him back into the
line-up isn’t that much of a risk. The problem is with how congested their bottom six already is. If you want to play JP, someone has to come out (obviously).
Who could slide out if you want to play the 4th overall pick? Well, Pouliot and Kassian are both playing very strong hockey as of late, so I can’t see them being scratched. Slepyshev, Caggiula, and Hendricks have been rotating around the 4th line and press box and all three can be effective in their own ways. So would Puljujarvi fit anywhere?
No, unless there’s an injury, I don’t think we’ll see a formal recall of Jesse Puljujarvi. With how effective Slepyshev and Caggiula have been at different points this season, I think they’ve both earned the right to get their share of games when the Oilers are back in the playoffs. Same goes for Hendricks. He’s been through some tough years here and he has always battled hard, he deserves a chance to be an energy guy in the postseason.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring Jesse up to the big club to take in the atmosphere, be in the room, take part in morning skates and practices. Go through the motions and still soak up some of the experiences of being in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I think that’s the best balance between icing a competitive team and giving Puljujarvi some valuable experience.
Even with Puljujarvi out of the equation, there are still three potential 4th line wingers that can slide in and out during the postseason, four options if JJ Khaira is healthy, but that’s doubtful.
My solution is fairly simple: play Slepyshev every night because I honestly feel that he’s deserved it. Then on the other wing rotate Caggiula and Hendricks based on whether or not you’re at home or on the road. On the road you can’t control your matchups as well so having the sure-handed Hendricks would ease the risk if you get mismatched during the game. Hendricks is also a proven leader and he can help get the energy going within the room more than the rookie Caggiula might be able to, so having him on the road when you don’t have the energy of the home crowd to fire you up, might be a benefit as well.
On the other hand, playing Caggiula on home ice is a good idea simply because he’s a better hockey player, he can impact the game on the ice far more positively than Hendricks can. Also on home ice, you can utilize last change to keep Caguilla off the ice if you feel like he’s in over his head. Also, Caguilla is a part of this team’s long-term future, so giving him games in the playoffs is a must in my eyes. You want as many guys to get a taste of playoff action as possible.
Rotating out #23 and #36 is the best course of action to once again balance a competitive team with giving younger players experience.
The bottom line is that McLellan has options and that’s always a good thing. If you were in charge, what would your 4th line look like? Let me know on Twitter @ty89yar