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McLellan believes in line of Draisaitl, Lander and Yakupov

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

LEDUC, AB - Todd McLellan has given fans a glimpse of his vision for the 2015-16 Oilers. Although they’re fluid, according to McLellan, the team is running a few forward lines that the blue and orange could roll with to start the season.

Of course, everyone in the hockey world knows by now that 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid is set up nicely for offensive success with Taylor Hall on his left. Teddy Purcell plays a complementary role to the two as a forward who has had past success with elite talent and can shoot the puck.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins settles in nicely with Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle flanking him. Those three enjoyed plenty of success as unit in the latter half of 2014-15.

Lauri Korpikoski, Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks would make a nice defensive-zone faceoff trio and can match against fourth lines or offensive lines. There are also some battles taking place for spots on that line. Luke Gazdic and Rob Klinkhammer will make their push.

So, that brings us to a potential third-line option for the Oilers. And it’s one that could end up being a difference maker.

“I think on paper, it’s a very good fit,” said Leon Draisaitl, who is currently playing in between Anton Lander and Nail Yakupov.

On Friday, McLellan brought up that trio as one that interests him. There’s potential for success there, but it’s going to take time, chemistry and coaching.

Lander was taken in the second round in 2009, but it took him until last season to really cultivate sustained success at the NHL level. The forward put up 20 points in 38 games for the Oilers. That .52 points-per-game pace is his career-best in the NHL. Time in the American Hockey League allowed him an opportunity to develop.

Yakupov finished the 2014-15 season strong, with 21 points in the last 31 games. The first-overall pick in the 2012 draft will try to become a top goal scorer for the Oil this year. He had a career-high 33 points last season.

That brings us to Draisaitl. The third-overall pick in 2014 can be a prolific passer and an offensive force if he reaches his potential. He gained a lot of confidence at the end of last season, helping the Kelowna Rockets secure a Western Hockey League championship.

“Draisaitl is a highly skilled player and a really good passer. Yak is flying and shooting the puck like no one else. I think we’ve got a good mix in there. We’ve just got to get together and find chemistry,” said Lander.

"We’re all different players and obviously, it’s going to take a little time to find chemistry but they’re both very skilled. They’re very smart players,” said Draisaitl. “Obviously, ‘Yak’ likes to shoot the puck and Anton, just in general, is a very solid player. On paper, it’s a pretty good fit but I think we all know we have to put it out on the ice.”

It’s still early, so there are still questions surrounding all of the Oilers lines and defensive pairings. However, the three believe they are gaining more chemistry every day they play together.

“I’m happy with my linemates right now,” said Lander. “I felt we had a little chemistry out there (in Saturday’s scrimmage) and I hope it’s getting better the longer camp goes.”

The best thing this line has going for them may not be where they were drafted or what their offensive numbers look like. The best thing might be the belief their head coach has in them.

Lander’s responsible play and ability to pressure the puck, partnered with Draisaitl’s vision and passing and Yakupov’s high-energy game and wicked shot, is a combination McLellan has faith in. He thinks they can be successful together.

“I expect them to,” said McLellan. “They’re together because we believe that can happen. We can look at their line two different ways. We can sit back and wonder if they’re going to fail, but I’m a little bit the other way. I’m sitting back and I’m waiting for them to succeed. I really believe that they can if they do things the right way. They complement each other well. As long as they’re taking care of both sides of the puck, we should be okay with them.”

McLellan’s belief sparks elevated play, says Lander.

“I think it’s huge to have a coach that believes in you,” he said. “You get that extra boost when you try making plays.”

McLellan isn’t the only one who is keeping the faith.

“I believe and my line is believing too,” said Yakupov.

“To get that confidence from the coach is very big,” added Draisaitl. “Obviously, that helps me a lot. It helps all three of us a lot.”

McLellan is giving these three a chance to show they can make an impact for the Oilers. The coach has also said things can always change. But for now, Edmonton hopes that things click and these three can stick together.

“If we can get them gelling and playing the right way, they can be very dangerous,” said McLellan. “That’s a goal of ours anyway.”

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