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Do the Edmonton Oilers have enough depth at center this season?

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It's been a busy summer for the Oilers as they've worked towards improving the team, specifically their defence as well as the goaltending. Both areas were glaring weaknesses last season so it should come as no surprise that GM Peter Chiarelli pointed it out in his introductory press conference, and then proceeded to wheel-and-deal this off-season. The additions of Cam Talbot and Andrej Sekera are good bets at this point, with more, hopefully, on the way to improve the club's overall performance.

My concern now is the depth at the center position.

For the first time in a longtime, the Oilers are absolutely loaded down the middle with young, high end prospects like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, to go along with 22-year old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and 24-year old Anton Lander, both of whom took big steps in their development last season. As of today, the line combinations for opening night could look something like this:

Hall McDavid Yakupov
Pouliot RNH Eberle
Korpikoski Lander Purcell
Hendricks Letestu Pitlick

I'm going to assume that Draisaitl will start the season in the AHL and then eventually transition into the NHL by starting on wing. The rest of the wingers can be switched around however you see fit. Key thing to note here is the lack of experience at center as well as the depth. An injury to any of these four pivots would force the Oilers to move a winger to center ice or call up a player from the AHL mid-season.

Quick look at the projected centermen for the 2015/2016 season.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

R. Nugent-Hopkins (Even-strength)
Season Team Gm TOI/Gm G A P P60
CorsiFor%
(Rel)
Zone Starts%
(Rel)
2011/12 EDM 62 13.84 14 14 28 1.96 48.60 (2.35) 61.54 (14.18)
2012/13 EDM 40 14.78 2 9 11 1.12 49.87 (7.82) 50.93 (5.58)
2013/14 EDM 80 14.85 11 20 31 1.57 44.92 (1.07) 58.05 (19.11)
2014/15 EDM 76 15.25 19 18 37 1.92 49.88 (2.65) 61.82 (16.82)

RNH, in my mind at least, is on the right track to becoming that smart, two-way centerman that the Oilers have coveted for so many years. He took a big step in his career finishing 17th in even-strength scoring among all NHL centers (who played a minimum of 250 minutes). However, he received a large share of offensive zone starts, and didn't quite capitalize on the amount of minutes he received, finishing 38th in points/60 among centers (Source: War on Ice). Boyd Gordon is gone now, so he can expect to get his share of tougher zone starts this coming season. He's still developing into a top line centerman, but the fact is if he were to get hurt, it would leave a major hole in the top six.

Anton Lander

A. Lander (Even-strength)
Season Team Gm TOI/Gm G A P P60 CorsiFor%
(Rel)
Zone Starts %
(Rel)
2011/12 EDM 56 8.51 1 4 5 0.63 42.84 (-5.3) 52.44 (3.33)
2012/13 EDM 11 8.97 0 0 0 0.00 47.34 (1.69) 54.55 (5.59)
2013/14 EDM 27 10.32 0 1 1 0.22 43.91 (-0.17) 39.77 (-5.44)
2014/15 EDM 38 11.87 1 10 11 1.46 48.39 (2.10) 48.56 (-0.74)

I've been a big fan of Lander's since the day he was drafted. He has a lot of quality traits having been captain of national teams and working his way through the AHL development system. My concern with Lander is that 9 of his total 20 points last season came on the powerplay. Todd Nelson, as we know, had the club producing at a very high rate with the man advantage, which somewhat padded the stats of players like Lander. He still did relatively well at even-strength, so this isn't to say that Lander is a bad player. It'll just be important to temper our expectations of him.

Mark Letestu

M. Letestu (Even-strength)
Season Team Gm TOI/Gm G A P P60
CorsiFor%
(Rel)
Zone Starts%
(Rel)
2010/11 PIT 64 11.06 9 11 20 1.70 56.39 (4.62) 56.42 (5.17)
2011/12 PIT/CBJ 62 11.63 7 10 17 1.42 51.17 (4.11) 48.23 (3.08)
2012/13 CBJ 46 12.53 7 12 19 1.98 46.28 (-1.46) 46.57 (-2.30)
2013/14 CBJ 82 10.61 6 12 18 1.24 49.08 (-1.19) 49.26 (1.10)
2014/15 CBJ 54 9.73 6 5 11 1.26 42.62 (-7.28) 43.2 (-5.34)

I haven't seen enough of Letestu to provide an accurate assessment of the type of player he is. But from what's been written during his time in Columbus, he appears to be similar to Boyd Gordon, usually playing bottom six minutes and starting often in the defensive zone. He appears to be in a bit of decline in terms of point production, but it'll be his experience that should benefit the young centers.

One thing to note here is that Letestu has played wing in the past, having spent a good chunk of his ice time with other centers in Columbus (Source: Hockey Analysis). He still took a lot of of faceoffs, but at least he got to share some of the burden when he was on the ice.

So what next?

Two things that I think will be critical for the Oilers to have success next season.

First, they have to hope that one of the centers in the team's development system can make the jump to the NHL and start off on wing. The first name that comes to mind is Bogdan Yakimov, who has played a season in the AHL as well as the KHL. He's still a raw prospect, no question, but I think it'd be best to use a spot on wing to begin transitioning some of the center prospects. Leon Draisaitl is the other option, but my guess is he'll need to spend half a season or so in Bakersfield. I prefer doing something like this rather than calling up a center from the AHL mid-season. Playing center is one of the toughest jobs in the NHL, making it tough to slide into a roster mid-season with little familiarity with the players and team tactics.

Secondly, the club has to add a depth centerman. As of right now, players like Derek RoyStephen Weiss and Jarret Stoll remain available as unrestricted free agents. These players may not be game breakers, but they can provide the club with some insurance in case an injury occurs. I can't imagine the cost being too high either, and it'd be a great way to increase competition in training camp.

Other players to consider are centers Mike Santorelli or Eric Fehr, who have both posted some decent numbers and shouldn't require a lot of dollars or term. Both are in their late 20's and are coming off of short-term deals worth $1.5 million per season.

M. Santorelli (Even-strength)
Season Team Gm TOI/Gm G A P P60
CorsiFor%
(Rel)
Zone Starts%
(Rel)
2010/11 FLA 82 11.91 13 13 26 1.60 49.56 (-1.03) 52.3 (6.16)
2011/12 FLA 60 11.12 7 1 8 0.72 50.3 (1.09) 53.9 (4.27)
2012/13 FLA/WPG 34 11.56 2 2 4 0.61 50.37 (0.98) 51.23 (-0.78)
2013/14 VAN 49 14.71 8 15 23 1.91 50.56 (0.93) 42.95 (-3.87)
2014/15 TOR/NSH 79 13.00 9 16 25 1.46 47.51 (-0.72) 43.47 (-3.65)

E. Fehr (Even-strength)
Season Team Gm TOI/Gm G A P P60 CorsiFor%
(Rel)
Zone Starts%
(Rel)
2010/11 WSH 51 10.12 7 5 12 1.39 52.92 (1.21) 55.33 (3.23)
2011/12 WPG 35 9.21 2 1 3 0.56 50.36 (1.27) 55.83 (9.41)
2012/13 WSH 41 11.51 5 7 12 1.53 51.78 (5.17) 47.59 (0.92)
2013/14 WSH 73 12.41 12 15 27 1.79 49.01 (1.83) 46.76 (-4.83)
2014/15 WSH 75 12.37 13 11 24 1.55 50.48 (-1.28) 44.76 (-11.29)

So if the Oilers want to add some depth at center, the roster could look something like this:

Hall McDavid Yakupov
Pouliot RNH Eberle
Korpikoski Santorelli/Fehr Letestu
Hendricks Lander Yakimov

Again, switch the wingers how you see fit. Important thing is you have an experienced center like Letestu on standby  in case of  injuries and your AHL prospect learning the trade while playing wing. And yes, Teddy Purcell is gone in this situation, either dealt away or bought out. Wingers are a dime a dozen, in my opinion, so it'd be wiser to solidify and develop your center depth.