Prior to the game against Nashville on Thursday, head coach Todd McLellan had this to say when asked about potentially playing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the wing when he does return from injury. What stuck out for me wasn’t his thoughts on RNH, but his comments regarding Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira.
Quite frankly, I haven’t thought that far ahead. But once we get him back we’ll see where everybody else is. I like the fact the Ryan Strome is playing well down the middle. He’s played some of his best hockey over the last little bit. JJ Khaira has played quite well down the middle, so maybe we have our three and our four center. Now we can determine , we’re pretty sure we have our number one center in Connor. What are we gonna do in that two hole? Does Leon go up on the wing. Does Nuge go on the wing. These are things we have to contemplate and take into consideration. I do believe that when Nuge does come back he’ll start where he’s familiar just so he can get his game back. (Source: Edmonton Oilers)
Now my first inclination is that Nugent-Hopkins should slot right back into center with McDavid and Draisaitl centering their own lines. I recently wrote about how well the Oilers did when they ran three good lines in December, and can only imagine the headaches it would cause opposing teams if they have to build a plan to play against a balanced offence.
Now say McLellan decides to have McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH in his top six, with one of Draisaitl or RNH playing wing. He’ll have his nuclear option of a McDavid-Draisaitl tandem, which has been an absolute killer (410 mins, 64.4% on-ice goal-share, 55.1% Corsi For percentage). And he can re-unite RNH with Lucic, who have a 56% on-ice goal-share together in 300 minutes this season, and a 50.6% Corsi For percentage.
This leaves Strome and Khaira as the other options for center. Neither player has been a full-time pivot this season, and they’ve also played together on the same line, making it a little tricky to figure out how each has done as a true centerman.
What I did was use Natural Stat Trick’s line combination tool to see how Khaira and Strome did when they weren’t on the ice together and when they didn’t have one of the other centers (McDavid, Draisaitl or RNH) with them. I could only use five players at a time, so I left Letestu out of the query for now – more on that after the table.
|Player||TOI||CF%||GF%||On-Ice SH%||On-Ice SV%||PDO|
Ryan Strome barely played with Letestu. I found about 10 minutes where they were on the ice together, but that was across more than 10 different line combinations.
Of the 237 minutes Khaira played without Strome, McDavid, Draisaitl or RNH, 79 minutes were with Letestu. And when Khaira was with Letestu, the team’s Corsi For percentage was 51.2%, and they had a goal-share of 44.4%.
So based on my quick math, Strome has played about 285 minutes without another centerman on a line wit him, and has had poor on-ice results (48.0% CF, 47.0% GF). And Khaira has played about 158 minutes as a centerman, with his Corsi For percentage below 49.0% and an on-ice goal-share around 40%. If someone has a better way to strip out each player’s time as a true centerman this season, please let me know.
One last thing: Ryan Strome has looked good over the last little bit like Todd McLellan mentioned. But he’s also had an on-ice shooting percentage above 11%, with a PDO around 103 over the last 10 games. His on-ice Corsi For% has been around 47%, and his goal-share has been 50%. Something to keep in mind, especially when there are discussions around his RFA status and potentially a new contract this summer.
Something I hope the Oilers realize is that while Khaira and Strome haven’t been that great as centers on their own, they have actually played really well together this season.
|TOI||CF%||GF%||On-Ice SH%||On-Ice SV%||PDO|
While the goal-share isn’t strong, thanks in large part to a poor on-ice save percentage, in 255 minutes together, they have a 53.7% Corsi For percentage. You could make the argument that Strome and Khaira did spend plenty of time with Draisaitl, and that would drive up their on-ice possession numbers and goal-share. But if you look at the other players that the tandem were on the ice with, you’d see that wasn’t necessarily the case.
|Strome and Khaira||TOI||CF%||GF%||PDO|
We’re obviously dealing with small sample sizes here, but the on-ice shot share’s have been encouraging. Running with a Strome-Khaira tandem over the long run should net the team some results. But it’ll be on the coaching staff to demonstrate some patience and stick to the tactics and processes that are working well.
What I hope to see when Nugent-Hopkins return is one of two things:
- Have Draisaitl on McDavid’s wing with RNH centering the second line with Lucic and possibly Puljujaarvi. And have Strome and Khaira together on a third line with say Cammalleri. The fourth line can have Caggiula as center for all I care.
- Have McDavid and RNH center their own lines. And deploy Draisaitl with Strome and Khaira.
The key for me is to keep Strome and Khaira together, and not have them center their own lines in the bottom six. The underlying shot-numbers when they’ve played together are encouraging, especially when you consider how desperate the Oilers are for secondary scoring.
Data: Natural Stat Trick