Building the Oilers Line Combos Using the Fancy Stats by Michael Gerber

*Friend of the blog and future addition to the roster, Michael Gerber (@gerberoo), has gifted us with a beauty of a post! It will appeal to both the stats geeks and those of you who are partial to the eye test. Mr.Gerber is a fantastic writer and I’m excited that he’s considering joining us! Let us know what you think of his post in the comments below! Enjoy!*

McDavid

Oiler Line Combinations 2016/17

Line combinations in the NHL are fluid, they will change from game to game, week to week and I suspect we will see several different combinations again this year. The coaching staff will experiment with a few new faces and others that didn’t get a full training camp and/or season with the team.

With that said thanks to the excellent resources at puckalytics.com and their superb multi-player WOWY tool as well as the new “WoodMoney” analytic by WoodGuy and G Money there is a mathematical approach we can look at to see how best to fit the pieces together.

The Top 9 Forward Candidates

Connor McDavid

Generational player in the making, the analytics truly support this as well. Connor makes every player he plays with a ton better.

Patrick Maroon’s most common linemates in Anaheim were Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf and he never managed more than 11 goals in an NHL season. In Edmonton with McDavid, he scored 8 in just 16 games!

(Nail Yakupov also posted his best numbers by a country mile with 97.)

What do the numbers say about Connor McDavid? 

P/60 2016

Rank NHL

Rank Among C

Dangerous Fenwick For%

Against Elite

Against Average

Against Poor

Goals For%

2.69

2nd

1st

55%

50.7%

53.3%

62.2%

50.7%

Role according to the Statistics: 1st line C

Milan Lucic

Milan is a newcomer to the Oilers but has been a successful NHL player for many years. He will be given his opportunity to play with Connor McDavid early and often. Benoit Pouliot and Patrick Maroon did exceptionally well with McDavid and they are clearly a class below this player.

Milan has put up 30 goals in his career before and by no means is he old at 28. If Patrick Maroon’s best season was 11 goals and put up 8 in just 16 games with McDavid I don’t see Milan repeating a 30 goal year in the next couple seasons as an unrealistic possibility.

A common misconception is that Milan has had the benefit of playing with elite players to pad his numbers. In fact, his dangerous Fenwick for% relative to his teammates is a positive number meaning that he consistently outperforms his fellow top 6 teammates.

What do the numbers say about Milan Lucic? 

P/60 2016

Rank NHL

Rank Among LW

Dangerous Fenwick for%

Against Elite

Against Average

Against Poor

Goals For%

2.04

41st

9th

57.9%

54.5%

57%

63.9%

61.4%

 Role according to the Statistics: 1st line LW

Jordan Eberle

Eberle has been a model of consistency offensively and more stellar offensive play should be expected from him in the coming season. There’s opportunity to play with any one of 3 excellent centers but especially with Connor McDavid where he found instant chemistry in a complimentary sniper role.

What do the numbers say about Jordan Eberle?

P/60 2016

Rank NHL

Rank among RW

Dangerous Fenwick for%

Against Elite

Against Average

Against Poor

Goals For%

1.85

83rd

19th

51.1%

49.1%

52.9%

50.9%

44.8%

Role according to the Statistics: 1st line RW

Leon Draisaitl

Leon found instant success last year from the minute he was recalled alongside Taylor Hall. Taylor is gone but Leon is a notable player who should find his game with a new supporting cast as well.

Leon showed excellent versatility and could be moved to the wing also. I would seriously caution against playing Anton Lander or Mark Letestu in a 3rd line role though so I fully expect Edmonton to play him up the middle.

What do the numbers say about Leon Draisaitl? 

P/60 2016

Rank NHL

Rank among Centers

Dangerous Fenwick for%

Against Elite

Against Average

Against Poor

Goals For%

2.20

20th

11th

54.2%

53.1%

50.9%

59.7%

51.1%

Role according to the Statistics: 1st line C

Benoit Pouliot

While often overlooked Benoit Pouliot’s contribution to every line he is put on at any level of the depth chart has been substantial. Pouliot has the ability to slot up and down the lineup and be effective.

What do the numbers say about Benoit Pouliot? 

P/60 2016

Rank NHL

Rank among LW

Dangerous Fenwick for%

Against Elite

Against Average

Against Poor

Goals For%

2.05

37th

7th

48.4%

42.4%

52%

51.3%

44.6%

Role according to the Statistics: 2nd line LW. Although the offensive output was surprisingly elite Pouliot did not appear to do well against top competition.

Nail Yakupov

Nail is the wildcard in this group. A perennial disappointment, Yakupov now has several years of analytics to break down and the numbers aren’t pretty. Offensively he is a 3rd line player, defensively he is a massive liability and his WOWY (With or Without You) numbers show that he makes nearly every player he plays with worse. I have had the most trouble placing this player since he is neither an offensive powerhouse or versatile enough to be put on a tough minutes line.

At first glance the assumption was if I have to place him somewhere, I’m nearly inclined for that somewhere to be the pressbox, however thanks to the WoodMoney analytic things look a little better for Yak in a depth role. Yakupov, by this metric, shows that he holds his own against most of the NHL in dangerous chances in either direction.

What do the numbers say about Nail Yakupov?

P/60 2016

Rank NHL

Rank among RW

Dangerous Fenwick for%

Against Elite

Against Average

Against Poor

Goals For%

1.35

209th

58th

49.3%

42.2%

49.7%

55.8%

42.1%

Role according to the Statistics: 3rd line RW.

Patrick Maroon

Patrick Maroon came in like a man on a mission last year, re-invigorated by the opportunity to play with Connor McDavid. Maroon took full advantage and potted 8 goals in just 16 games with McDavid. Yakupov, by comparison, scored only twice in nearly the same amount of ice-time as Maroon with 97.

Maroon has had success with star caliber players and had undeniable chemistry with McDavid that surpassed that of Pouliot, Eberle or Yakupov’s. He also brings undeniable qualities as far as his attitude, size, and power.

What do the numbers say about Patrick Maroon? 

P/60 2016

Rank NHL

Rank among LW

Dangerous Fenwick for%

Against Elite

Against Average

Against Poor

Goals For%

1.41

188th

43rd

51.5%

47.3%

49.1%

56.7%

46.7%

Role according to the Statistics: 2nd line LW.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

RNH had an awful season last year. I believe we have to give him the benefit of the doubt with the injury and not playing at 100% at any point in the season. The stats below indicate that he was the worst player of any of the Oilers top 9 hopefuls but we all know Nuge to be a far better player than what was on offer.

What do the numbers say about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? 

P/60 2016

Rank NHL

Rank among C

Dangerous Fenwick for%

Against Elite

Against Average

Against Poor

Goals For%

1.36

202nd

86th

45.3%

41.1%

46.9%

48.6%

45.7%

Role according to the Statistics: 3rd line C, but in reality, he is a very good 2nd line C.

Kris Versteeg

Versteeg could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Nail Yakupov. The veteran, versatile, cup-winning two-way winger brings more offense and a lot more defense to the table than Yakupov. If Puljujarvi impresses too and makes the team out of camp Yakupov could find himself traded, scratched or possibly even waived.

What do the numbers say about Kris Versteeg? 

P/60 2016

Rank NHL

Rank among RW

Dangerous Fenwick for%

Against Elite

Against Average

Against Poor

Goals For%

1.6

139th

35th

54.2%

51%

53.2%

58.2%

50.7%

Role according to the Statistics: 2nd line RW.

Jesse Puljuajrvi

Unfortunately we can’t take a statistical approach to Jesse at the NHL level, however, Jesse successfully played against men for the last 2 seasons and recorded the second best point total by an underage player at the World Juniors in its history. This leads us to project him as at least a 50% player meaning at the least he wouldn’t drag down his linemates.

The expectation by Chiarelli was that he is NHL ready. This suggestion should be taken seriously and I suspect he is given a top 9 role on this team if not right out of camp, not too longer afterwards. While Draisaitl was not ready for the NHL at 18 Puljujarvi is a different case as he has been playing professional hockey at a high level for multiple seasons.

 Piecing it All Together

Using the multi-player WOWY tool from Puckalytics we can see how combinations of Oilers performed together. For the purpose of this article, we have used the last two seasons of data.

I have run the data on every available combination from the players above. Only the top 3 most reasonable options are discussed.

1st Line Options

Option 1 – Lucic-McDavid-Eberle – This line is most likely going to get a shot together and deservedly so. We don’t have data on how Lucic might interact with McDavid or Eberle but we do know that Lucic has been a positive presence on similar lines and has increased the stats of his linemates consistently; generally increasing his line mates Goal for% and Corsi for% by 1% on average.

Option 2 – Maroon – McDavid  – Eberle – This unit performed exceptionally well together last year.

Option 3 – Pouliot – McDavid – Yakupov – This trio was excellent together too, but primarily faced second or third line opponents, rarely the toughest matchup’s and an extremely low defensive zone start % making the numbers slightly unreliable in direct comparison.

Also in consideration was a Lucic – McDavid – Puljujarvi combo but there would be zero available data other than a “hunch” worthwhile presenting.

Results:

Sample TOI

Goals for per 60 Minutes

Goals For %

Corsi For %

Defensive Zone Start %

Expected CF%

(27) 97-14

364 Min

3.79

53.5%

52.4%

33.8%

53.4%

19-97-14

119 Min

4.52

69.2%

48%

36.5%

48%

67-97-10

128 Min

4.21

56.3%

51.5%

16.4%

51.5%

Best Combination

Lucic – McDavid – Eberle

This line is capable of playing in all situations against any competition and would not need sheltered zone starts. This is a powerhouse line that can control the game by not only negating the other team’s top line but putting the gears to them.

2nd Line Options

With the 1st line decided, Jordan Eberle is off the table. I have however included a trio of Pouliot-RNH-Eberle as they were very good together as a top line previously and as a second line, they could do some real damage. If Yakupov, Versteeg or Puljuajrvi play well enough to take on Eberle’s role on the top line this is a very intriguing possibility.

For the Maroon – Nuge – Draisaitl combination there was only 32 seconds of data with all three together and only 5 minutes of Nuge and Maroon so we’ll look instead at Nuge-Drasaitl and Draisaitl-Maroon independently and pro-rate the data based on sample size.

Top 3 Results:

Sample TOI

Goals for per 60 Minutes

Goals For %

Corsi For %

Defensive Zone Start %

Expected CF%

67-93-14

558 Min

2.79

48.1%

53.7%

22.3%

53.7%

67-93 (JP)

634 Min

2.74

45.3%

51.9%

22.8%

51.9%

19 + 29

64 Min

3.74

57.1%

57.3%

27%

57.1%

93 + 29

100 Min

4.16

63.6%

50.8%

24.6%

50.8%

19-93-29

No Data

53.26%

Best Combination

Maroon – Nuge – Draisaitl however both of the individual pair results may have been influenced by the Hall factor which I will speak more to below.

If Draisaitl is placed on the wing, however, center ice is shallow and the best line combination for balance is Pouliot – Nuge – Puljujarvi.

3rd Line Options

What we have left for the third line options are Maroon, Draisaitl, Yakupov, and Versteeg. Draisaitl and Maroon played a fair amount of time together last season with fantastic results; all of these minutes however Taylor Hall was also on the ice.

Results:

Sample TOI

Goals for per 60 Minutes

Goals For %

Corsi For %

Defensive Zone Start %

Expected CF%

19 + 29 (All data with Hall on ice as well)

64 Min

3.74

57.1%

57.3%

27%

57.1%

19-29 (10)

51%

19-29(Versteeg)

 

 

 

 

 

53%

I don’t expect Draisaitl and Maroon to realistically post anywhere near 57% corsi over a long haul but with the right zone start and 3rd line opponents they, even with Yakupov in tow, could post a 50%+ rating as far as possession.

Best Combination

Maroon – Drasiaitl – Versteeg

Therefore our final top 9 combinations look like this:

Lucic – McDavid – Eberle
Pouliot – Nugent-Hopkins – Puljujarvi
Maroon – Draisaitl – Versteeg

The runner-up combos if Versteeg is not signed would be:

Lucic – McDavid – Yakupov
Pouliot – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle
Maroon – Draisaitl – Puljuajrvi

With these combinations deployed correctly, the Oilers could have 50%+ control of possession across all three lines. Important as well is that there is no one pushed up the lineup (barring injury) to a role they are unsuited to play. Lucic, McDavid, and Eberle are all 1st line quality players.

Pouliot and Nugent-Hopkins are both excellent 2nd line players and Puljuajrvi could well be ready for this role as well.

Maroon, Draisaitl, and Versteeg are all second line capable and should face a lot of easier minutes as a third line.

Balance is the name of the game for the Oilers roster and it looks as though they finally have some. Despite the loss of Taylor Hall the Oiler forward group for 2016-17 is more balanced by bringing in Lucic on the left side and Puljujarvi and Versteeg on the right side. Having a three right shots in the top 9 (Instead of Jordan Eberle on an island alone) should not be understated. The Oilers team last year tried to deploy an army of left-handed shots, not just on D but up front as well, which is not a recipe for success. What that was a recipe for instead was a double special teams dose of Mark Letestu on the PK and power play, primarily because of his handedness.

We’re getting very close to a roster with elite skill, talented two-way complimentary players with size and skill that are all suited for their role in the lineup and can also play up and down the lineup as necessary. Gone are the days of one-dimensional skill players.

As with every new season, there seems to be room for optimism, but for once it may not be an act of futility. The forwards, of course, are only one element of the team so we wait to see how improved the D is, but the forward group is looking better than ever on paper.

Click the pic and grab the new 16-bit Puljujarvi tee!
Click the pic and grab the new 16-bit Puljujarvi tee!
Beer League Hero Written by:

I’m the Beer League Hero! I am from Camrose, Alberta but I make my home in Taipei City, Taiwan. I’ve been through the ups and downs and the highs and the Lowes, the Bonsignores and the McDavids, the Sathers and the Eakins but I’ll never leave my Oilers, no matter what!

They’re with me until the end and then some. GO OILERS GO!