Edmonton Oilers face super-charged Dallas Stars, as coach inserts hot new attacker

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Playoff Game Day #18: Oilers vs Stars

This in from reporter Lia Assimakopoulos of the Dallas Morning News, a report that Dallas Stars coach Peter DeBoer is attempting to super-charge his line-up by bringing in top attacking prospect Mavrik Bourque on the line-up.

“Big news out of Pete DeBoer’s press conference this morning, as AHL MVP and scoring champion Mavrik Bourque will finally get his opportunity in a Stars playoff game.”

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Bourque will replace Ty Dellandrea in the line-up.

Dallas hockey writer Sean Shapiro said of Bourque: “Mavrik Bourque is in tonight. He’s in that spot because he invested in himself and realized he needed to better. That’s how be became the AHL MVP.”

Noted Assimakopoulos: “DeBoer has consistently rotated his fourth-line forwards with Radek Faksa, Craig Smith and Dellandrea all coming in and out of the lineup in the playoffs. However, none of those three are known for their scoring abilities in the same way Bourque is, giving him the edge in Game 6.”

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said there is one possible change in the Edmonton Oilers line-up and that will be decided after the pre-game warm-up.

Tom Gazzola, an NHL network correspondent, reported the following: “In regard to the potential lineup change Kris Knoblach touched on this morning – Sam Carrick was on the ice really late during the optional morning skate, so was Vinny Desharnais. Indicates they would be out. Derek Ryan was in street clothes and leaving the rink during skate…If a guy is leaving the rink early during an optional morning skate usually means he’s playing.”

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My take

1. Mavrik Bourque was the leading scorer in the American Hockey League this season, an impressive accomplishment for the 22-year-old. Bourque was taken 30th overall in the 2020 draft, with the Oilers selecting Dylan Holloway 14th overall that same season. Holloway was the consensus 17th overall pick by NHL draft experts, while Bourque ranked 20th.

2. Perhaps DeBoer is taking a page out of Kris Knoblauch’s playbook here. Knoblauch decided to go with young defenceman Philip Broberg in Games 4 and 5, the fast and agile young d-man replacing Vincent Desharnais, who was struggling to move the puck against a fierce Dallas forecheck. Broberg has so far done a solid job of moving back fast to retrieve dump-ins, then skating or passing the puck out of the Edmonton end.

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3. In TSN talent evaluator Craig Button’s list of the Top 50 prospects outside of the NHL, Bourque was ranked 28th overall. Fellow Dallas prospect Logan Stankhoven, who has now made the team and is playing a big role with the Stars, was ranked 22nd. The Oilers had not one prospect on Button’s list.

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4. Prospect expert Scott Wheeler of The Athletic also had Bourque highly-ranked in his most recent prospect series. Wheeler described Bourque’s game in fairly glowing detail: “Bourque gets high grades for his ability to maneuver in possession, manage the puck in control, adjust to pressure to evade checks and make quick skill plays out of carries. He’s got great hands in traffic and around the net, he has started to show a real knack for improvisation, and his one-on-one skill is flashing more consistently again. All of those things have also developed, on top of a strong foundation of tools that he has always had.”

Wheeler ranked Bourque 59th out of all drafted NHL prospects. He had Holloway ranked 56th and Broberg 57th, with Stankhoven ranked 12th.

The Athletic’s Corey Pronman wrote about Bourque at the NHL trade deadline: “Bourque has been one of the best players in the AHL this season … He’s not an amazing skating forward and he isn’t very big either, but he’s super intelligent, makes a ton of plays and competes well.”

Dallas hockey prospect writer David Castillo at the Stars Stack substack said of Bourque: “Even though Bourque is not fast, he nonetheless finds ways to use speed in space — which is quite next level… Like Stankoven, Bourque is not big but plays big — just in a very different way. Where Stankoven uses muscle, Bourque flexes his mind. But he’ll sacrifice himself to go into the thunderdome too”

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5. One possible pay-off to consider about introducing a player just now is that while they have not been playing games, they’re also not beat up like so many of the regular players are just now. They’re likely not playing with the big and small injuries that NHLers tend to accumulate during a playoff run. This gives them a major advantage. For example, it appeared that Desharnais was having some mobility issues in his play, perhaps due to a nasty hit-from-behind he took in the Los Angeles series. A healthy Broberg has amounted to a much better line-up choice.

GrA 17g

6. In Game 5, Edmonton had nine Grade A shots to eight for Dallas but if you dig deeper to the most dangerous of shots, 5-alarmers, Dallas led seven, Edmonton just one. Some saw the game as Edmonton’s best playoff game in years — and perhaps that’s a fair comment — but Dallas charged back hard in the game and also played well enough to win. The difference was some puck luck on Edmonton’s first and third goals, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ brilliant shot on Edmonton’s second.

Some fans and commentators are giddy with Edmonton’s Stanley Cup prospects just now, but the good news is that the Oilers themselves do not appear to be looking past the game today. “We are playing a really good team and if we relax at all we’re going to be in trouble,” Knoblauch told the media today.

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“We just squeaked out a couple of wins so any step back, we’re in a lot of trouble.”

Knoblauch said he’s expecting the best out of Dallas. Of the praise that came Edmonton’s way after Game 5, Knoblauch said, “I watched that again and I feel it could have gone either way. So as good as we were last game, it’s probably not good enough to beat Dallas in an elimination game. Our team has got to be even better than we were in the last two games.”

I see each game between these two teams as essentially a coin flip, maybe with Edmonton having a slight edge, but this kind of comment from Knoblauch gives me hope. The Oilers have always found a way to lose in the McDavid era — mainly through inept defensive plays due to mental errors — but they’re systematically eliminating such mistakes, in large part due to better mental and tactical habits.

At the Cult of Hockey

LEAVINS: 9 Things. Is this Cup or is it bust? 

STAPLES: Oilers with plenty to worry about in Game 6

STAPLES: Cult of Hockey Game Grades from Game 5 win

McCURDY: Cult of Hockey Game Grades from Game 4 win

LEAVINS: Cult of Hockey Game Grades from Game 3 loss

McCURDY: Cult of Hockey Game Grades from Game 2 loss

STAPLES: Cult of Hockey Game Grades from Game 1 win

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