What are Oilers’ optimal lines for 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs?

EditorLast Update :
What are Oilers’ optimal lines for 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs?

During last spring’s playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid spent 54 minutes (almost half) of his five-on-five time facing Drew Doughty. Edmonton outscored L.A. 4-2 in those minutes.

When facing Matt Roy and his defence partner Vladislav Gavrikov, McDavid went 2-4 goals in just less than 51 minutes.

Matchups matter, and for two teams that have seen each other so often (regular season and playoffs) over the last few seasons, every moment will be contested on the ice and behind the bench.

Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch handles the task of line matching a little differently than his predecessor.

Knoblauch pays attention to matchups, but the eye test (with math’s support) suggests he is more interested in getting his best players on the ice often than he is in adhering to the idea that a specific matchup benefits his team.

This runs counter to Jay Woodcroft, who successfully coached the team past Los Angeles one year ago.

What might Knoblauch’s plan look like in the postseason?

McDavid’s lines one year ago

Against the Kings in the spring of 2023, Woodcroft loaded up the McDavid line with Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane, while also checking down to some other proven options.

Linemates Time Goals X-Goal Pct


39 mins


53 pct


25 mins


72 pct


22 kins


47 pct


5 mins


27 pct

All numbers five-on-five

These are numbers exclusively against Los Angeles a year ago. It was a series the Oilers won in six and McDavid scored 3-7-10 in all game states. He was on fire and the five-on-five results include some wobbly goaltending and defensive coverage by Edmonton.

The two takeaways at the time: McDavid’s scoring rates were through the roof no matter his linemates. When he was playing with Draisaitl during that series, the combination supplied 4.09 goals per 60. Assuming 15 minutes per game, that’s a one-goal advantage gained sometime during the anthem.

Woodcroft was shuffling McDavid-Hyman with three wingers at dizzying speed.

A critic might suggest the coach was doing too much busy work.

McDavid since the deadline

Knoblauch’s verbal about strategy talks about matchups but tends to speak from 10,000 feet and is light on specifics.

His deployment of McDavid speaks volumes.

All season long, and especially since the deadline, the coaching staff enjoys running the captain’s line with the Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard pairing.

The delightful “scoring at a power-play pace while at five-on-five” fans saw from Woodcroft’s strategy in the playoffs last spring has arrived to every regular-season game. Here’s the tale of the tape, McDavid with various linemates and the top pairing working in unison.

Linemates Time Goals X-Goal Pct


699 mins


64 pct

w/ Drausaitl-Hyman

167 mins


61 pct

All numbers five-on-five

McDavid with the defencemen, no matter the wingers, scores at a 4.46 goals per 60 rate.

The five-man unit hasn’t played together much (167 minutes noted above), but scores at a 6.82 goals per 60 rate.

It isn’t hyperbole to suggest this roster tweak will be a game-changer during this year’s playoffs.

Knoblauch’s strategy can and does turn the idea of line matching on its head.

Based on a 6.82 goals per 60 rate when McDavid is on the ice with Draisaitl, Hyman, Ekholm and Bouchard, opponents, in essence, start the game one goal down to the Oilers.

The downside

One of the remnants from last spring’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights surrounds Woodcroft’s inability to line match successfully against Jack Eichel.

A team that loads up one line and looks for clean air for that unit can sometimes have it backfire.

Edmonton lost that series for multiple reasons (bad luck, defence and goaltending, penalty kill) but it’s worth noting (using centres as proxy) the lines tasked with facing Eichel as he filled the net over those six games.

Player Minutes v Eichel Vegas GF-GA

28 mins


26 mins


20 mins


19 mins


18 mins


All numbers five-on-five

As is typical during the McDavid era, there’s overlap among centres but these are the names who took significant faceoffs and would have represented the pivot on a head-to-head line versus Eichel.

Woodcroft eschewed using the McDavid unit and also overlooked young Ryan McLeod — an oversight many intelligent observers believe was a fatal decision for Edmonton.

It should be mentioned that with such small samples in play, it’s best to frame the discussion conservatively. An observer can suggest the strategy may have made a difference in the series while further lamenting the road not travelled.

We can say with authority that McLeod has blossomed as a bona fide two-way centre and should be a pivotal player in this year’s playoffs.

That’s a major bullet point as the playoffs come into view.


This year’s Oilers are plus-38 in five-on-five goals (182-144) as things stand less than a week from the end of the regular-season schedule.

What’s more, the success in the discipline is marbled through the roster.

Using centres as proxies for the four lines, we get a tremendous view of what’s been happening this season in terms of a balanced attack.

Player GF-GA Goal Share


66 pct


58 pct


57 pct


56 pct


48 pct


86 pct


48 pct

All numbers five-on-five

These are pristine outscoring numbers. It’s a rare thing during this century for Edmonton to be this far above level in goal share at five-on-five, and it’s unheard of for the balance in outscoring to run the entire roster.

The question then becomes how best to deploy the group?

Knoblauch’s plan

So far this season, Knoblauch runs the top line (with or without Draisaitl) as often as possible, but is also adept at keeping all lines involved.

The big guns don’t play as much on the penalty kill, and fourth-line players (mostly) have an extra chore so rarely go too long without some playing time in a game.

It’s an efficient coaching style designed around getting big results from the top two lines.

If the No. 1 line holds McDavid and possibly Draisaitl, what lines have enjoyed the most success this season? Here are the 10 best lines for Edmonton this season.

Line Goal Share


75 pct


75 pct


73 pct


67 pct


63 pct


56 pct


56 pct


50 pct


50 pct


2-0 goals

All numbers five-on-five

It’s plausible the Game 1 lines involve McDavid with Nuge plus Hyman and Draisaitl with McLeod and Foegele.

That would leave a third line led by newcomer Henrique who has chemistry in outscoring across several trios. Perhaps the most intriguing has seen the veteran play with old hands Kane and Perry (1-0 goals). The most dynamic might be Foegele-Henrique-Perry, a line that has enjoyed success in small samples.

The Oilers have found a strong two-way game across four lines that is reliable and repeatable.

The Stanley Cup Final team in 2006 had plenty of torque on all lines, but not at this level and possessed nothing close to the current firepower at the top end.

Many fans were disappointed when the deadline came and went without the addition of a scoring winger.

Henrique at five-on-five is in possession of a 65 percent goal share but is lagging in expected goal percentage (46 percent).

Don’t overlook the possible impact of McLeod. A third line featuring the young speed demon with Foegele and Perry, coming off a 67 percent goal share run in the regular year, could be dynamite versus the Kings.

Oilers general manager Ken Holland has delivered a watershed of options to Knoblauch. For his part, the coach is running the lines in an innovative fashion.

Knoblauch’s approach is the most aggressive Oilers fans have seen since Glen Sather.

He goes for the kill from the opening faceoff.

You can buy tickets to every NHL game here.

(Photo of Connor McDavid, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Joe Camporeale / USA Today)