The bottom six needs help without McLeod
I will leave Evander Kane and Foegele out of this discussion, as one of them will currently have to play in the top six at any time, and they have spent significant top six time this season.
That leaves six bottom six player options for this analysis: Mattias Janmark, Derek Ryan, Adam Erne, James Hamblin, Dylan Holloway, and Sam Gagner. They have a total of 13 goals on shots in 188 man games played. In total, that’s good for one goal every three games from the group of six.
If you’re a contender that’s what you expect from just your bottom line alone.
That’s not good enough for a contender, and it’s the players’ defensive astuteness that has kept them from sinking the ship in the last 27 games under coach Knoblauch. I wrote last week that acquiring a solid analytical player or a finisher in the vein of Klim Kostin’s abilities would be beneficial for relatively cheap at the deadline. But if McLeod is to play significant top six time, a 3C addition becomes necessary.
Can Holloway succeed in this role? I think you’ll see an improved performance from Holloway with some more NHL experience under his belt and the trust and guidance of an excellent coach in Knoblauch. I would also argue the answer to that suggestion strongly depends on who plays on his flanks.
Holloway will require at least one strong skater and cycler/forechecker on his line, someone like Foegele. The rumored acquisition of Corey Perry may also serve well here, either making Foegele available for the third line, or bringing a veteran and defensive presence to Holloway’s flank.
Otherwise, targets at the deadline will include veteran centermen such as Adam Henrique, Boone Jenner, and Nic Dowd. There are younger, less proven options who haven’t earned a fixed role in the same way as Holloway, that could be moved at the deadline.
Knoblauch deserves credit
Within his first 27 games as head coach, Knoblauch has found a steady five man unit including both the first forward and defence lines, and kept them together to form the top two analytical lines in the NHL. He even referenced expected goals in this recent interview below, proof that he is using the tools available to him to help win games (see timestamp 5:10 in the interview):
Knoblauch has also found a solution to the second line combination, while still finding opportune times during games to roll out McDavid and Draisaitl together, including throwing out the speedy McLeod with McDavid and Draisaitl to score a clutch game-clinching goal against Toronto.
Consistent, Constant improvement, and Collected are the 3 C’s that describe Knoblauch so far in his tenure. I hope he continues to find as the 2023-24 season rolls on.
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