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The Oilers' Forward Group is Improving, But They Just Sent the Wrong 4th Liner Down

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Kassian and Yakupov bring scoring help, but there were better demotion options than Klinkhammer.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers finally look like they're going to have 3 scoring lines. Recently acquired Zack Kassian makes his Oilers debut tonight, after a short stint in Bakersfield. Meanwhile, Nail Yakupov is finally healthy enough to play tonight, after suffering a freak injury, because he got horse-collared by a linesman 22 games ago.

The Oilers' top 2 lines, centred by Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, have made for a very effective top six this season. However, the Oilers have been lacking in contributions from their bottom six forwards. If everything goes as planned, the insertion of Kassian and Yakupov into the lineup should change that. Yakupov had been playing some of the best hockey of his career prior to his injury. Other than Taylor Hall, no other Oiler shoots more frequently than Yakupov, who is averaging 9.23 shots on goal per hour this season. Kassian is a reclamation project, but he definitely has the skill to be a major contributor on the Oilers. Over the course of his 198 career games, Kassian has produced 1.56 even strength points per hour. For the sake of determining a point of reference, Kassian's  even strength point production rate from 2011-2015 was slightly higher than Derek Roy's.

Obviously the impending return of Connor McDavid will be the real beginning of the Oilers' 3 scoring lines era, but it appears that today's call-ups give the Oilers the wingers necessary to roll three lines in offensive situations. But as the Oilers' forward depth is improving, a spot on the roster is naturally becoming more exclusive. Rob Klinkhammer was sent down to Bakersfield today. But, in my estimation, there are two other veteran 4th line wing options who were more deserving of the demotion.

2015-16 CF60 RelTM 2015-16 CA60 RelTM 2015-16 CF%RelTM 2012-16 CF60 RelTM 2012-16 CA60 RelTM 2012-16 CF%RelTM 2012-16 GF60 RelTM 2012-16 GA60 RelTM 2012-16 GF%RelTM
Lauri Korpikoski -11.8 10.18 -10.2 -3.66 6.64 -4.6 -0.76 -0.11 -9.7
Luke Gazdic 5.51 4.05 0.8 -6.87 4.48 -5.4 -0.69 -0.24 -8.9
Rob Klinkhammer -10.77 -2.34 -4.5 0.82 -4.78 2.6 -0.18 -0.54 4

I've compiled on-ice stats for Klinkhammer, Gazdic, and Korpikoski. For CF/GF stats a positive number means that the player generally has a positive impact on the players he most commonly shares the ice with. For CA/GA a negative number means that the player suppresses shot attempts against and goals against more effectively than his usual teammates.

Interestingly, whether we're looking a recent results, or a larger sample size, Klinkhammer ranks above Korpikoski in every category. Gazdic's possession results are surprisingly not terrible this season. That being said, he's played fewer than 200 minutes this year, and when he has played, it's mostly been against inferior possession teams. Gazdic's OppCF% is the lowest among all Oilers forwards. The gap between the quality of opposition of Gazdic and Korpikoski isn't nearly big enough to account for their huge gap in possession this year, but I'm going to defer to the larger, and therefore more reliable sample size, and conclude that Gazdic is every bit as shabby. Plus he hasn't shown the ability to kill penalties. But then again, the numbers don't suggest that Korpikoski can do that effectively either.

Overall, today's moves should be considered good news for Oilers fans. We're two steps closer to having three legitimate scoring lines, and Korpikoski is being pushed down the depth chart. But as long as he and Gazdic remain on the roster, the Oilers won't be all they could be.