Knoblauch shuffles bottom 6 as Oilers prepare for Stanley Cup Finals

Article content

Three days before their first Stanley Cup Finals game since 2006, Edmonton Oilers took to the ice at the Downtown Community Arena with something of a new look in the bottom 6.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Some including this observer might quibble about which is the third line and which is the fourth, with the rotating pivots being a vital clue. What is beyond debate is that neither trio has been battle tested as a unit.

On the listed third line, Ryan McLeod and Corey Perry have been frequent linemates, most often with McLeod playing centre rather than left wing where he is currently skating. Both players spent some time in the press box before re-emerging on Leon Draisaitl‘s flanks in Game 4 vs. Dallas, where they combined on a vital goal that kickstarted Edmonton’s comeback in both that game and ultimately the series. McLeod and Perry played 215 minutes together during the season and a further 114 in the playoffs.

What they haven’t done as a duo is spend any time at all with either Ryan or Carrick. Under a minute with each during the season, and just a single second in the playoffs. Assuming that Kris Knoblauch chooses one of those options, it will be a spanking new combination.

Same goes for the “fourth” line, where Mattias Janmark and Connor Brown have been frequent linemates and penalty-killing partners, but spent very little time with Adam Henrique. Regular season and playoffs combined have seen the trio play under 5 minutes together.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

None of which should be alarming to Oil fans. All of those bottom sixers are “plug and play” types, all but one of them in their 30s. The one exception, McLeod, is just 24, but has 219 games of regular season experience and another 49 in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He, Henrique and Ryan are equally comfortable at centre or wing, while Janmark has flipped between both wings. 5 of the 7 are regulars on the penalty kill, while a sixth, Carrick, is an option for the unit. Only Perry is not, his PK days now far in the rear view.

In particular, the combination of Janmark-Henrique-Brown should be a fine checking line. All are experienced and reliable defensive players. Henrique, 34, has played 950 NHL games, playoffs included. Janmark, 31, has 641. Both will be making their second trip to the SCF. Brown, 30, has 551 NHL games, even as 2024 represents his first serious taste of postseason success.

Seven times a 20-goal scorer including the season just past, Henrique is a solid offensive threat; his new wingers have a history as depth scorers.

Meanwhile another depth scorer, Warren Foegele, has found himself in a new role as “placeholder”. He gets his reps in practice, most often filling in for Evander Kane, but found himself in the press box in the last half of the Dallas series.

Advertisement 4

Article content

One of just two Oilers to play the full 82 games, Foegele averaged a point every other game, evenly split between goals and assists (20-21-41). Almost all of that offence came at 5v5. In the playoffs, however, he has scored just once, and that an empty netter way back in Game 1 vs. the Kings. Since then he’s worked his way down the depth chart, from the second line to the third, then the fourth. Now this. He remains a very good option should the Oilers encounter injury or other personnel issues in the SCF, but apparently will have to wait his turn.

So too will towering defenceman Vincent Desharnais, who exited the line-up at the same time as Foegele, after the Game 3 loss to the Stars. Into his spot stepped young Philip Broberg, who seized the day(s) with 3 fine performances on the third pairing, mostly alongside Cody Ceci. He played a shade over 40 minutes against the Stars, scoring the only goal produced by either team over that span while putting out a few fires in his own end of the sheet. Now he’s set to become one of three 22-year-olds, along with Holloway and Florida’s Anton Lundell, to share the honour of youngest players in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: NHL oracle assesses Panthers’ unique threat to Oilers

McCURDY: Oilers’ road to SCF paved by golden special teams

STAPLES: Good news — Kane expected to play in Game 1

STAPLES: Outrage from hockey world after ‘cringey’ fan encounter with Connor McDavid

LEAVINS: 9 Things

Article content