The 411 on the Bottom-6

Hendy's balls got rung vs. Dallas
Hendy’s balls got rung vs. Dallas

Much has been made this offseason of what the Edmonton Oilers’ defensive pairings will look like in 2016-17. Not as much has been said of where we are in terms of offensive depth. Who plays on the bottom-6 this season? Read on for a whole bunch of cool numbers and speculation, and also to ultimately find out that I don’t really know.

But Bob Stauffer might! Radio analyst, prolific Twitter tease, and most notably known as the voice of the Oilers on Edmonton’s talk radio network, 630 CHED. Scratch that: Bob Stauffer has recently been most notably known as the guy who totally called that we’d be trading for Adam Larsson on Oilers Now a full day before it happened.

Stauffer is today undoubtedly not only one of the most connected hockey insiders in Edmonton, but in the NHL proper. Historically, most of his predictions are spot-on. So what does ol’ Bob have to say about my favourite little prospect centerman Drake Caggiula?

Ooh! Well, that’s promising. Seems like these days, you don’t get a second look in E-town unless you’re 6’3 200+ or your name starts with Connor.

Sorry, excuse me. I’m trying to write about Caggiula right now and what I’m actually doing is watching this just silly goal over and over. Partake in its glory with me for a moment:

Thanks for indulging me. Now, back to mature things like numbers and line combos. Ok, so with this information from Stauffer, and if Dangling Drake (pretend that’s a good nickname) truly is ready for 3rd-line C at some point in 2016, what does the Oilers’ bottom-6 look like?

To me, we have to ask ourselves a couple basic questions right off the bat:

  1. Is Leon Draisaitl going to play on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ wing at the start of the season? My gut says yes. They had undeniable chemistry together at the end of last season, and Leon belongs in the top-6 playing with top talent, not trying to carry the bottom-6 into the offensive zone on his back. This leaves McDavid and RNH quarterbacking the top two lines for the foreseeable future.
  2. The second and more speculative question is this: is Drake Caggiula a better hockey player than current bottom-6 centermen Mark Letestu or Anton Lander? Again, I think the answer is yes, and I’m going to use a few advanced stats to try to illustrate why I’m cautiously optimistic that we could be a better hockey team with Drake and sans one of Mark/Anton.

I picked iCorsi/60 (the number of shots + shot attempts that missed or were blocked that each individual takes per 60 minutes), G/60 (individual goals per 60 minutes), and A/60 (individual assists per 60 minutes) because I am but a lowly arts graduate and those are the ones that I understand (all of these stats are from the 2015-16 season at even strength). I will use Nuge as a benchmark because he’s the centreman most immediately higher on the Oilers’ depth chart with statistical history than the men we’re discussing.

iCorsi/60

G/60

A/60

RNH

11.09

0.45

0.91

Letestu

8.27

0.27

0.34

Lander

8.5

0.11

0.22

As expected, the Nuge runs away in every category. That’s why he’s considered one of the premier two-way top-6 forwards in the league. Letestu and Lander both sit around 2.5-3 points off in the iCorsi/60 category. Which maybe doesn’t seem like much, but I am assured it’s statistically significant. They’re nowhere close in goals or assists per 60, with Lander especially coming off looking bad on paper. Another important thing to consider when looking at these guys’ numbers is that Letestu has never cracked 34 points in a complete NHL season, and Lander never more than 18. RNH averages mid-50s in points over a season’s length. Obviously, Drake Caggiula is not Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. No one expects him to be, and people aren’t really projecting him to play the kind of game RNH has become known for over his 5 seasons in the big show. But can he be half as good? Because if he’s even half as good as RNH in assists per hour, he’s miles ahead of Letestu and Lander. If he’s on the ice for two less Corsi events per hour than RNH, he’s miles ahead of Letstu and Lander.

Despite everything I just said, I like Mark Letestu. Good Alberta boy! I think he’s a character guy who shows up, wins faceoffs, and generally isn’t a liability on the ice. He looks good with Hendricks alongside him, and Pakarinen showed last season that he can play with basically anyone on the current Oilers roster and not be out of place. I don’t have anything against Anton Lander, but I don’t think he makes the opening day roster if Caggiula can show he isn’t incompetent in the circle, because that’s really the only thing Anton has going for him as it stands. To me, there isn’t anything in the playing style or statistics (junior or professional) of Letestu or Lander that indicates they’re significantly more effective offensively or defensively than Caggiula projects to be. Drake hasn’t played minute-one of a professional game, though, so I could also prove to be completely wrong. But I really can’t see Lander coming into the fall looking shinier than Caggiula. Can you?

That’s a whole lot of speculation, isn’t it? Here’s some more. To me, here are the Oilers’ likely line combinations in the fall:

Lucic – McDavid – Eberle/Puljujarvi

Maroon – RNH – Draisaitl/Puljujarvi

Pouliot – Caggiula – Kassian/Yakupov

Hendricks – Letestu – Pakarinen/Yakupov

Or to put it another way, I have no idea where the hell Yakupov fits into the lineup next year. We saw that he looks great next to McDavid, but that doesn’t really mean anything because an orange traffic cone looks good next to McDavid. I feel that a small, quick guy like Caggiula probably should have a big goon like Kassian on his right to keep the other teams’ bottom-6 from getting any ideas, and a consistent grinder like Pouliot on his left to make space in front of the net and generally be ready for setups via Drake’s nifty hands. We saw that Pouliot was capable of at least that much last season.

Clearly the only option to make my roster combination chart not look so foolish is for Peter Chiarelli to package up a right-winger who isn’t Finnish with a pick and a prospect for Tyson Barrie. Cool? Cool. Thanks, Chia. Thanks, Sakic. Goodnight sun, goodnight moon. May visions of sugar plums and Stanley Cups dance through your heads, fellow Beer League Heroes.

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Michael Sifeldeen Written by:
  • superdutyfan

    For starters good read.
    My opinion is that Jesse Puljujarvi starts in the AHL. I read that McDavid wants to play with Eberle so I’m sure Eberle will be there. I don’t think that it is a waste to have Draisaitl on the 3rd line center position. My line up would be :

    Lucic McDavid Eberle
    Pouliot RNH Yakupov
    Marron Draisaitl Kasian
    Hendricks Letestu Pakarinen

    Marron has show descent hands so I don’t think Draisaitl would be the lone scorer and give Draisaitl a little breathing room to get better in the face off (not to mention it would not be a bad thing to keep him lower ice time and points for getting a better cap friendly extention same goes with Marron he was looking to good with McDavid like you said so would a pylon). I think my line up gives us 3 descent lines .
    Drake would be better in AHL with Jesse getting lots of Ice time and adjusting to the bigger schedule. I don’t see at this point or at the beginning of the season to push these two into the NHL Puljujarvi coming off an injury hasn’t skated for awhile. Drake just out of college needs some AHL (don’t need another a schultz).

    The Oilers new motto should be “DRAFT AND DEVELOP” not the old one of “DRAFT AND THROW TO THE WOLVES”

    • Beer League Hero

      I agree that we’re finally at the point to where we can afford to leave our prospects in the minors. 20-30 games in Bakersfield should be enough to tell Oilers brass what they’ve got in Caggiula. That being said, he could turn out to be nothing more than other high-profile NCAA signings from the past… So tempered expectations I say but if Bobby Stauff is talking about it on his show, there might be some validity to it.

      Thanks for commenting again superdutyfan!

  • GCW_69

    The smart moves to make would be:
    – Sign Hudler to play with McDavid/Nuge
    – Sign Versteeg
    – Trade Yak, ideally for Franson
    – Admit there are better back ups out there and sign Ramo or Enroth

    That would leave:

    Lucic-CMD-Hudler/Eberle

    Maroon – Nuge – Eberle/Hudler

    Pouliot – Leon – Versteeg

    Hendricks-Letestu-Kassian

    Klefbom – Larsson

    Sekera – Fayne

    Davidson – Franson

    Talbot
    Enroth/Ramo

    That’s a playoff team folks. Not a cup contender. The defence is still too weak, but it’s a playoff team. And the right time to finalize the defence is next summer after the expansion draft anyway.

    • Beer League Hero

      Franson is a tough one eh? His contract seems a tad much for a no.6 dman and he’s completely lost his touch since he left Toronto. I don’t mind the signings of Hudler and Versteeg but how much would they cost?

      • GCW_69

        Yes, he is expensive, and if there was no expansion draft pending I would look for a better more permanent solution. But with expansion, it seems to me a bridge option like Franson is more attractive.