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BLOG: Puljujarvi joins McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins on first line

Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock mixed up his lines Thursday at practice

by Paul Gazzola /

EDMONTON, AB - Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock administered some new line complexions Thursday at Oilers practice.

The bench boss split up Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, having the Oilers Captain centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi. 

"Sometimes you just need to mix it up," said McDavid, who is fourth in League scoring with 49 points in 34 games. "That's not to say that Leon and I won't be back together or anything like that but me and Nuge is something I like a lot, too, and Jesse's been playing some good hockey."

Hitchcock disclosed that he included Puljujarvi on the top line in an effort to increase the Finn's pace.

"I'm not sure either one is going to work long-term but I know if I get him up tempo-wise, with the way his conscience is on the ice defensively, he's going to make a good teammate," said Hitchcock. "So, why not play him with the fastest player on the team and maybe the League and see if he can keep up?"

Hitchcock also elaborated on his second line, which sees Draisaitl as the middleman between Tobias Rieder and Alex Chiasson.

"One of the reasons I want to try Leon at centre ice is I see the way that Leon negates the other team's top players competitively-wise and I love that," Hitchcock added. "I want to put him on a good line that can score off the way that he negates people. He's competitive and he's got great hands for a big man and he can push other people out of the game.

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"I want to take advantage of that. I'm looking more at a 1-2 punch, which seems to be where the League is going now. So, I want to try this, take a look at it and see how it looks."

Hitchcock also dissembled his 'Identity Line' placing Milan Lucic up with Jujhar Khaira and Ty Rattie. Drake Caggiula skated with Kyle Brodziak and Zack Kassian. 

Ryan Spooner could employ the centre position for the next two games due to Khaira's suspension but Hitchcock said he plans on having Khaira up the middle when he's back.

"I need Looch to influence a couple guys and then I need Brodzy and Kass to get into a checking mindset with another couple players," Hitchcock said. 

"The excitement of being on new lines today, we'll see how it looks tomorrow but I liked what I saw."

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