It’s hard to put it any other ways, but the lines being rolled out for tonight’s Edmonton Oilers versus Minnesota Wild match-up are concerning. Not just because the roster seems to lack the depth it had last season, but because head coach Jay Woodcroft is making questionable decisions with the players he does have at his disposal. The big one, obviously, is the elevation of Mattias Janmark to the top line.
Fans are collectively racing to social media and trying to make sense of out the coach’s decision.
What is Woodcroft Doing?
It’s not clear exactly if Woodcroft thinks Janmark has the chops to play on the top line or if the coach is super confident in the abilities of Leon Draisaitl to elevate Janmark to a level he’s never played before, but it’s right about now the team is probably wishing it had Kailer Yamamoto, Klim Kostin, or even Jesse Puljujarvi at their disposal. All of those players have moved onto other teams, with the exception of Pulujuarvi, who is working on an NHL comeback and yet to have signed with a new franchise.
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Sure, there aren’t a lot of options because the salary cap has posed a real issue for the team (as it has for many teams) but Janmark playing alongside Draisaitl and an ice-cold Evander Kane doesn’t exactly provide great opportunities for optimism. Janmark is what he is — a depth forward who can effectively kill penalties. There’s not a lot more to his game than that. That Woodcroft thinks he can squeeze water from a stone could prove to be problematic.
The coach is asking a lot of his elite German star and a veteran forward whose underlying numbers have fallen off of a cliff this season.
Why Not Dylan Holloway?
On the third line will be Dylan Holloway, who hasn’t scored, but has often looked dangerous in the limited minutes he’s played. Sports 1440 host Jason Gregor recently noted on his radio show, “If there is one guy I would put in the top-six, it would’ve been Dylan Holloway. That’s the one guy!” He’s not alone. There are a number of Oilers analysts touting Holloway’s game so far this year, many thinking it’s a matter of time before he breaks out.
Yet, for some reason, Woodcroft continues to be bullish on the player, even demoting him in the last game down to the fourth line.
Holloway has a high ceiling, but he made a couple of mistakes last season that he appears to be paying for. He’s a regular on this roster now and it’s time the Oilers give him a legitimate shot to see if he can live up the hype that surrounded him before a series of injuries knocked his development back a few steps. He’s quick, he’s aggressive, and he’s willing to dig and create space for his linemates. It’s the kind of play that should be rewarded, and if there was ever time to give him a look, now is it.
Expect to See the Line Blender
The one thing that we should expect is that the blender might be out early. The Oilers need to get off to a good start to show they can still win and compete without their best player. Not to mention, they’ve yet to score a third period goal this season, so first period tallies are imperative. If the mix isn’t right, or Janmark looks like he’s in over his head, Woodcroft will probably make a change.
In fact, Woodcroft may try a few combinations before landing on something he sticks with. That could include Zach Hyman or Connor Brown on that top line. Whoever is going, is probably going to get the most minutes.
The hope here is that Janmark proves most people wrong. There’s not a lot of faith that he’ll be up to the task, but the Oilers could certainly use him ramping up his offense and finding another gear. The solution has to come from within, since the Oilers literally have no cap space and no roster options available beyond who and what’s already on the bench.