One thing worth watching in training camp is where forward Patrick Maroon will slot in among the group of forwards. The 28 year old was brought in to bring in size and versatility, and has also shown the ability to put up points, typically when on a line with offensive players. Maroon will cost the Oilers $3.0 million over the next two seasons, a fairly reasonable price point, before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018.
Following his arrival to Edmonton from Anaheim on trade deadline day, Maroon played in 16 games and produced very well playing mostly with Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle, notching 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists). His points per 60 shot up to 2.84 at even-strength, highest among all Oiler forwards, up from the paltry 1.00 points per 60 he posted last season with Anaheim.
Without a doubt, Maroon benefited from playing alongside McDavid, as the rookie typically had a positive impact on any of his linemates when it came to possession and production. The two along with Eberle played a total of 119 minutes at even-strength near the end of the season, finishing with a Corsi For percentage of 47.49%, an Expected Goals For percentage, which measures shot quality, of 53.27%, and a Goals For percentage of 69.23%, good for second among all line combinations that played at least 50 minutes together. The trio scored 17 goals together, which translates into a Goals For/60 of 4.51, good for 24th in the league. Their success however seems to be driven largely by a higher than team average shooting percentage and save percentage, as their PDO was at 107.33. (Source: Corsica Hockey)
From a coaches perspective, as long as a group of forwards is producing goals, underlying numbers like PDO and the rest are likely to take a backseat. So you can probably understand why McLellan sounded very enthusiastic about Maroon and his future with the Oilers near the end of last season.
When he puts the equipment on...he's brought size, strength and the ability to be involved for teammates. He's been able to score and he's found a home playing with one of the best players in the world...and I'm hoping that will be a real motivating factor for him over the summer. There are some things he will need to do but I would like to play him on the left side with 97 to start next year but Patty will dictate how well that goes and how well it doesn't...and I'm counting on him doing those things he needs to do. (Source: Hockey Writers)
Now with Mian Lucic signing with the Oilers to play a significant role in the top six, it appears Maroon's chance to continue playing with McDavid, and potentially Eberle, will be on hold. Things can certainly change in training camp, or during the course of the season due to injuries. But as it stands, it appears that Lucic will likely be the first benefactor of prime linemates.
If that is in fact the case, Maroon will have to be centered by either Nugent-Hopkins or Draisaitl, both of which are solid centers but may have different roles next season. What we know from Maroon's history in Anaheim is that he doesn't fare too well playing with less offensive minded centermen who typically take on tougher zone starts. While RNH has some offensive ability, he will likely have fewer offensive zone starts to ensure that both McDavid, and especially Draisaitl, get plenty of time to produce. As is stands, Draisaitl could be the best option to play center for Maroon.
The good news is that Maroon did play limited minutes with Draisaitl last season, only 35 minutes at even-strength, and posted a Corsi For percentage of 51.66% and an Expected Goals For percentage of 63.55%. If Maroon does get paired with Draisaitl, it'll be imperative that an experienced right wing, who can be relied upon in both ends of the ice and has a history of good possession numbers, be on their line. Kris Versteeg, currently on a profressional tryout agreement, would be the ideal candidate if, of course, injuries are not a problem for him.
What the Oilers have with Maroon is a capable winger, on a very reasonable contract, who can produce at the NHL level. The issue they have is that if they want to maximize Maroon's potential, they have to ensure that he plays in offensive situations with players that can drive play and produce points. If he does in fact fall into a depth role, one where he plays with weaker linemates and in more defensive situations, the Oilers would miss out on capitalizing on a value contract, something that is golden in the salary cap era. With contracts expected to be handed out to McDavid, Draisaitl and Nurse over the next few years, the Oilers need to find value contracts and build a roster appropriately.