EDMONTON – Let’s face it: The only forward lanes contested at the Edmonton Oilers training camp are on the fourth unit. That’s the bottom line.
“We need to find out what it is,” Tippett said. “Our Top 9, we have a pretty good idea who they will be. But the bottom three (positions) we’re going to look at a number of scenarios.”
The Oilers’ top three lines look like this:
Hyman | McDavid | Puljujarvic
Nugent Hopkins | Draiaitl | Yamamoto
Foegele | Ryan | Cassian
Then there are six players – Devin Shore, Kyle Turris, Ryan McLeod, Tyler Benson, Brendan Perlini, Colton Sceviour – fighting for the last three places, and probably five jobs overall.
So, what kind of fourth line do you want?
Do you want penalty killers? A power play specialist? Grinders like Sceviour, who sits on a PTO in the Oilers camp?
In a team with Edmonton’s Top 6, capable, fast, but not very physical, we would rather see some size. Bigger players that will hit you during their scarce, 12 minutes per game.
Well, the biggest candidate is Perlini, and although he’s been scoring like crazy this season (five goals), he’s not a physical player. Josh Archibald (myocarditis) was probably most on the body, but he won’t be playing anytime soon. Turris, Shore and McLeod are certainly not physical players, the latter is a big body that would do well to use that size more often.
But right now McLeod is trying to figure out how to get to the other column of the score sheet.
“He doesn’t have many points in the NHL yet,” Tippett said. “Shore is a more experienced player who understands what the role entails. McLeod understands, but he’s still learning.”
We asked Tippett if he has enough physicality with the fourth-line candidates. This is what he said:
“We think we added that in (Zach) Hyman. We think we added that in (Warren) Foegele. A healthy (Zack) Kassian returns. I have no problem with that.”
Here’s a look at the fourth-line candidates and our thoughts on who will be getting the gigs:
Benson is a six-foot, 190-pound craftsman. Asking him to work it out like a fourth liner – check, play it safe, step into the forecheck, kill penalties – is simply asking him to forget all the things that got him here.
I’ve never been into the “put him on McDavid’s wing and he’ll be great” school, when it comes to young players coming to town. But Benson is just not a fourth-line player. And if so, then your fourth line is too small and not physical enough.
I like Benson and he deserves a chance to be what he is. If that can’t be in Edmonton then we hope the Oilers have put Benson on waivers, and he gets picked up by a team that is light on the left and wants to use him in their Top 9. Trying to get him your 4-LW isn’t just bad for the player, it’s not what this fourth-line Oilers team needs.
Shore makes the team. Point.
He’s (almost) exactly what you want on line 4: he can play center or wing and take draws; he kills punishments; he is fast and can predict. Additionally, Shore has played 326 NHL games and has a two-year deal that earns him $850,000 a year.
Shore is six feet, 206 pounds. Big enough, but ideally he is the smallest player on the line.
Brendan Perlini of Edmonton Oilers, right, controls Calgary Flames’ Martin Pospisil during NHL preseason hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 (Jeff McIntosh/CP).
Five goals for the season is nothing to sneeze at. Perlini could just score in the team.
“It’s been decent so far,” said Perlini, who scored again on Monday night in Edmonton’s 4-3 win over Calgary. “Working as hard as I can, doing those little things. Create something, be hard on pucks and play a really solid game. Luckily we were able to put one in.”
When you consider that a successful fourth liner gives you between eight to ten goals a season, you have to ask yourself: what will Perlini bring to the team if he doesn’t score? Or maybe he won’t stop and move up the lineup.
Do you remember Ty Rattie? When the goals stopped coming, he couldn’t tread water.
Can Perlini check this? Is he physical? He has never used his considerable size (six feet three, 211 pounds) in that way. Does he make you harder to play against, like a fourth rule should? Can he survive on the road when the opposing coach sets his topline against Edmonton’s fourth unit?
If you keep Perlini on the team to be a goalscorer, play him in the lineup. If you think that a player who has never been strong in his own goal is a fourth-line response, we think you’ll regret that decision around December 1.
Committed to extending his career, it somehow looks like this top former player could adapt to a role where keeping pucks out of his own net is the focus. Smart and capable, he’s another man who won’t punish anyone, or make the Oilers a team you wish you hadn’t had to play.
If you have Turris and Shore on your fourth line – a right and a left for face-offs – that’s good news. But you would want the other winger to have some size and aggression if possible.
He is a young player that will take some patience, but we see the potential reward at the end. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, however, this is another fourth-line candidate that doesn’t touch a soul.
We see McLeod shifting to the wing, or perhaps centering two centers in Shore and Turris, with the goal of training a player destined to grow into the 3C role behind McDavid and Draisaitl.