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A Fix for the Top 6: You’ll Be Surprised

The Oilers 4 starting centers are set, right? They are going to run McDavid, Draisaitl, Strome and Brodziak down the middle, right?

3 of the Oilers top 6 forwards are set, right? Nuge will be McDavid’s left winger, Drai will center the second line and the other 3 wingers will be made up from a combination of Rattie, Rieder, Puljijarvi, Lucic, Yamamoto, maybe Aberg and maybe Khaira, right?

I’m remiss to start off my public blogging career with a topic revolving around one of the more controversial players on the current roster (and an idea that will seem poor to many on the surface) but, what the heck, why not?

I think Ryan Strome’s usage as a right winger in the top 6 should be explored. This opinion will no doubt be unpopular as most think Strome is best suited to play center and that he doesn’t have the offence to be a top 6 player. Based on last year’s overall results, this seems to be a reasonable opinion but we should dig a little farther.

I don’t think I’m off-base to say that it is generally accepted that the Nugent-Hopkins will start the season as McDavid’s left winger and Draisaitl will have one of Lucic or Rieder (or possibly Aberg or Khaira) on his left side (caveat: I think it’s generally accepted that Nuge will play with McDavid but it is not necessarily accepted that he should – some, reasonably, believe that Drai should be given the higher end winger to help the second line win the goal share battle).

Most of the discussion regarding the top 6 revolves around who will play right wing on the top two lines. It seems Ty Rattie has the inside track on one of the best jobs in the sporting world, Connor McDavid’s right winger and, depending on who you talk to, Leon’s right winger will be newly acquired Tobias Rieder or developing youngster Jesse Puljijarvi.

Of course, Kailer Yamamoto will have a say about this and I don’t think any Oiler fan is really sure if Ty Rattie is actually an NHL player or if he requires Connor McDavid to turn him in to one. There is little doubt, based on the fact that McDavid can zoom almost any forward (except, apparently Caggulia and Lucic) and last year’s result, that the trio of Nuge/McDavid/Rattie will provide significant offence and win the all important goal share battle. Last year, in 128 minutes together at even strength, the trio had a 65% goal share (with possession metrics right around 50%). As an aside, without Nugent Hopkins, the McDavid/Rattie combo got absolutely caved: in only 30 minutes it scored no goals and got scored on 5 times with a 30% Corsi and a 25% HD Corsi.

Apparently Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is good at hockey.

The point here is that Ty Rattie is not a strong 2-way player and, in fact, his defensive game is quite poor (the stats meet the eye test on this one, at least my eye test). While I have little doubt Rattie will put up some decent numbers when paired with McDavid and Nuge, I am not convinced it’s a viable option for longer than a very short term (a stop-gap) and we do not want to rush Kailer Yamamoto before he’s ready. I’m not saying Yamamoto is definitely not ready for the NHL but he will be a rookie pro and, If he looks like he could benefit from some material AHL development time, the organization needs to allow that to happen. He is an important prospect that deserves the opportunity and privilege to be developed properly.

Who are the other options for the top 6 RW? Of course, Puljijarvi could move up to the top line (and he has had success with McDavid in the past) and, for a player that was a teenager the last time he played an NHL game (and eligible for last year’s World Junior Championships), he has a fairly advanced defensive conscious. Aberg and Rieder also come to mind as options, in fact, most Oiler fans seem to think Rieder should play 2RW with Leon but he may be needed on the left side.

What about Ryan Strome? Noone mentions Strome as a top 6 option, well, no one except for OriginalPouzar!!!!

Ryan Strome is a bit of a controversial player given he was traded straight up for a more dynamic offensive player in Jordan Eberle and he had an “uneven” start to his Oiler career. Strome eventually settled in when the coaching staff allowed him to center the third line with steady linemates for a material period of time (and increased his responsibility on the PK, from, essentially zero to a mainstay on the top 2 PK units).

Shortly after the trade, there was a lot of talk about Strome being given a chance as McDavid’s right winger. He was not expected to “be Jordan Eberle” or replace Eberle’s offence but he had a history of producing shots and the organization was looking for someone to develop chemistry as McDavid’s finisher. There was much talk from the coaching staff about Strome’s shot production declining year after year and they were looking for Strome to focus on shot generation as McDavid’s winger. As anticipated, Strome started camp and the pre-season on McDavid’s right wing. By my recollection, he played 2 exhibition games as McDavid’s right winger and was then moved off that line and, in my opinion, inexplicably, never seen there again. Strome played a total of 56 minutes with McDavid at even strength last year.

Strome played with pretty much every Oiler forward and, to that end, never played more than 263 minutes with any other Oiler forward (263 with Khaira, 238 with Puljijarvi, 216 with Lucic, 206 with Caggulia, 193 with Draisaitl, 174 with Cammalleri and 150 with Slepyshev).

As it turns out, the team was having the most success, in terms of even strength goal share when was playing along side Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, as a winger, not as a center. Additionally, Strome was one of the best wingers for each of McDavid and Draisaitl with respect to goal share which, to me, is very important. The game is about getting more than you give up, is it not?

Draisaitl and Strome had a 60% goal share together in just under 200 minutes which was the best goal share that Drai had with any forward other than Maroon (and, of course, almost all of Maroon’s time with Drai was also with McDavid).

Strome’s sample size with McDavid is only 56 minutes and thus too small to form valid conclusions, however, the duo had a 56% Corsi and a 75% goal share, for McDavid both metrics his highest with any current Oiler forward.

I’m no advanced stat guro, that’s for sure, however, these numbers seem telling to me.

Digging back, Stome’s best year in the NHL, in 2014/15 when he had 50 points, he did so as predominantly as a right winger on the Isles second line - his most common linemates that year were Anders Lee, a left winger, and two centers, Brock Nelson and Frans Nielsen.

Strome has a history of producing playing right wing with strong offensive players and, in his short time as an Oiler, both McDavid and Draisaitl had very strong metrics with Strome, among their best with any current Oiler forward.

Of course, if Strome is in the top 6 on the wing, the Oilers will need one of Nugent-Hopkins or Jujhar Khaira to center the third line – moving Nugent Hopkins off McDavid’s wing will be an unpopular idea and Khaira is still developing as an NHL player and asking him to play 3C is a bit aggressive.

At the same time, while its far from a sure thing that Strome as a top 6 right winger will ultimately work (PDO alert on his time with Drai last year), this writer thinks Strome in the top 6 as a right wing is something that should be explored further by the coaching staff if the opportunity presents itself (which in undoubtedly will during the season).

Note: All Crosi, Goal Share, TOI and other metrics are at 5 on 5.

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