Now begins the portion of the preview to this “series” where any parents allowing their children to read this should probably be reported to DCFS. While both the Hawks and Oilers boast varying concentrations of firepower among their respective forward corps, to call both of these teams a bit of an adventure on the blue line would probably be a bit complimentary. There are gaping fissures in the space-time continuum to be found on either side of the ledger here, and it will be up to the coaching staffs to find them. Ten guesses as to which one is more likely to do so, with the answer to be given on Thursday for the coaching preview.
Oilers Probable Pairings
Oskar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Kris Russell – Matt Benning
On Roster: Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, Caleb Jones, William Lagesson
None of the pairings listed above should be much of a surprise, as Dave Tippett has kept those units together for much of the season, and none of the three of them being above water in terms of the even strength shot ledger. Nurse and Bear come the closest to breaking even at 48.76%, and that’s mostly due to Klefbom and Larsson getting much tougher assignments and zone starts when both have been healthy. The story on Kris Russell is a well worn one, and he’s still somehow earning a paycheck and the adulation of tomato can commentators everywhere by getting perforated with pucks.
Prior to the deadline the Oilers traded for Mike Green, who in theory would have given them a little more offensive juice from the back end if properly deployed, because he’s certainly not defending anything especially at this stage in his career. But Green opted out, and that left the door open for last year’s 8th overall pick Philip Broberg (who draftnicks hated but looked fine in the Uncle Dale scouting offices) to take a shot at the restart roster, and apparently he’s wowed to this point, enough to for forego heading back to Sweden for a chance to contribute here. As a refresher, Broberg has prototypical #1 size at 6’3″ 200 lbs despite having just turned 19 last month, and is a gifted skater while not being fully offensively polished. It’s unlikely he gets into a short series due to anything other than injury, but it bears watching.
Aside from making the most of the chances that Klefbom and Larsson are going to allow, it is going to be absolutely imperative to take advantage of every time Russell and Benning are on the ice with as much speed as the Hawks can threaten them with, provided Draisaitl or McJesus aren’t streaking the other way. Speaking of which…
Hawks Probable Pairings
Duncan Keith – Adam Boqvist
Calvin de Haan – Connor Murphy
Slater Koekkoek – Olli Maata
On Roster: Nicolas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson, Alec Regula, Nick Seeler
The elephant that isn’t in the room here is that Brent Seabrook has been left off the roster, and he was none to pleased about it during his media session a couple days ago. Seabrook still believes he can play, but the evidence to the contrary is quite clear and voluminous from all of the clips being shared from Hawks practice over the past week or so. This situation is going to reach a boiling point soon if it already hasn’t, but it’s growing more and more untenable with every second that Seabrook is here and with every defensive prospect the Hawks sign.
As for matters on the ice, these pairings are mere speculation from the early goings of practice with both de Haan and Murphy in and out for various non-plague reasons. The thought process behind the two of them making a pairing is sound, if this were still the 2014 Cup the Hawks were trying to win. Murphy is fast for his size but not FAST fast, and Calvin de Haan hadn’t played in months even prior to the shutdown, and they’re going to be tasked with stopping a perennial Ross/Hart candidate one way or the other, if not two of them at once. There’s just not enough get-up and go to ever threaten to make McDavid or Draisaitl have to play 200 feet away from the Hawk net consistently. Not to mention asking two similarly minded players in Keith and Boqvist to figure out those two is a pretty ureasonable ask as well. In an ideal world, Murphy would pair with Keith, and when they did so early in the year it was fantastically solid. That would then allow de Haan to play free safety for Boqvist, assuming he hasn’t spent the last 4 and a half months in a sensory deprivation chamber trying to kill all of his offensive instincts. Koekkoek and Maata had a week of not making stink lines come out of the TV and everyone declared the third pairing fixed and then proceeded to shit all over themselves nightly until the season halted.
Advantage: No One (Especially Anyone’s Hockey Sensibilities)
On paper, the Hawks probably have a personnel advantage here, as Keith had been productive this season even in his dotage, and he’s still Duncan Damn Keith some nights when he feels like it. There’s no one who tops out at that on the Oilers, no matter how much it could or should be Darnell Nurse. Likewise, Boqvist probably has the most natural offensive gifts among either group, but they are completely unfocused, and he was playing extremely tentatively for long stretches during the regular season. Not to mention that the pairings on the Hawks don’t make sense and no one trusts Jeremy Bevington to deploy them optimally against a top heavy forward group, so it all comes out in the wash.