Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers fourth line decision: right or wrong

Depth, depth, and more depth. Secondary scoring has been an issue for Edmonton Oilers teams over the past decade, highlighted by the number of points put up by the top six of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl Draisaitl, and company. Unlike previous years, the battle within training camp is not for who is the answer on McDavid’s wing, i.e., Tyler Pitlick and Brendan Perlini, but rather who will anchor the team’s fourth-line center or wing spot depending on the line combination between Raphael Lavoie, Adam Erne, and Lane Pederson.

The 12th forward options

Raphael Lavoie

The individual most likely known by Edmonton fans, Raphael Lavoie, was a second rounder (38th overall) in 2019. Though Lavoie has gradually progressed throughout his career, he has been cited as a big-bodied winger with a deadly scoring touch but has struggled with consistency. This is not more apparent than in this training camp, as the 12th forward spot has been Lavoie’s to lose. Still, he has yet to wow management or fans due to his initial lack of physicality and showcasing the incredible release outside of a few instances. Lavoie has begun to heat up, though, registering a goal against Calgary and being more engaged via stuffing the hit category.

Due to signing a qualifying offer this past season and requiring waivers to be sent down, it would be poor asset management to lose such a high ceiling potential for nothing, similar to Ottawa waiving Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassy Thomson. Yet, it should be noted Edmonton fans tend to have a bias toward overvaluing prospects like Tyler Benson.

Adam Erne

Adam Erne has been a role player during his seven-year career split between Tampa Bay and Detroit. A two-time 20-point player, Erne has played primarily in the NHL during his tenure, though he did bounce back and forth last year between Detroit and their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Brought to Edmonton on a PTO, Erne’s hopes lie within providing a spark in the bottom six but has been noticeably absent in the past few games with a sharp decline in ice-time in the last game versus the Seattle Kraken.

Lane Pederson

Like Erne, Lane Pederson is a veteran player who has also been a journeyman during his NHL tenure. Initially beginning his career with the Arizona Coyotes, Pederson has bounced around with various teams, including Vancouver, San Jose, and Columbus. Although he broke into the league in 2020–21 with Arizona, he has only played 71 total games in his career, with season highs of 29 games played and three points. He was signed to a two-year deal with $775,000 AAV and would require waivers to be sent down to the AHL affiliate Bakersfield Condors.

Individual preseason comparison at 5v5

Let’s examine how each has performed individually to date:

Raphael Lavoie62029137.69596248.72.012.1947.96746.1
Adam Erne6101102100496543.01.292.6432.971236.8
Lane Pederson610111816.7615851.32.982.3256.311761.1
GP=Games Played, G=Goals, A=Assists, P=Points, H=Hits,S=Shots, S%=Shooting Percentage, CF=Corsi For, CA=Corsi Against, C%=Corsi Percentage, XGF=Expected Goals For, XGA=Expected Goals Against, XG%=Expected Goals Against, HDF=High Danger Chances For, HDA=High Danger Chances Against, HDC%=High Danger Chance Percentage

To begin breaking it down, all individuals have yet to show high goal-scoring potential. Each has netted one goal apiece, Pederson’s coming via a nice breakaway against Calgary, and Erne scoring against Calgary. Lavoie holds the edge in offensive generation with two goals, pacing the Oilers team with 13 shots, followed by Pederson and Erne, who have rarely contributed in the shot department. Physically, as is required by the fourth line to energize the team, they have each registered relatively similar hit rates.

Reviewing the underlying metrics, there is an argument for either Pederson or Lavoie to be placed ahead of Erne. Reviewing C%, which measures shot attempt differential at 5v5 play, Pederson is the only individual playing at an above-average rate, with Lavoie slightly over 1% less than average. When Erne is on the ice, the Oilers have been caved in on the shot department at 7% less than the league benchmark.

When comparing the XG% metric, which measures the likelihood of a shot resulting in a goal, the order remains the same for Pederson, Lavoie, and Erne. Lavoie holds the edge in limiting the quality of the chances against, as he retains the lowest XGA. In contrast, Pederson has the highest XGF, implying he has generated the best chances based on the quality of his shots, though his recent breakaway may influence this. In comparison, Erne has the lowest XGF, likely due to his low volume of shots, and the highest XGA, indicating he gives up the best quality shots against when he is on the ice.

The XG% metric is further highlighted by the HDC% indicator, with Pederson having the most high danger chances for, and both him and Lavoie having the least high danger chances against. In contrast, Erne’s play has allowed the most high-danger opportunities against between the three players and subsequently holds the lowest volume of high-danger chances created.

Line combinations

GameLine CombinationC%XG%HDC%
Oct. 6 vs SeattleErne-Janmark-Ryan45.528.10
Oct. 4 vs CalgaryErne-Janmark-Lavoie58.856.7100
C%=Corsi Percentage, XG%=Expected Goal Percentage, HDC%=High Danger Chance%

For a quick recap of the past two games, Coach Jay Woodcroft has juggled the lines with each player other than Erne and Pederson seeing ice time together. Only Lavoie has posted at least positive shot control in both games, indicating he is controlling the possession metric alongside posting better-than-average numbers in shot quality and high-danger control other than when paired with Pederson. Pederson struggled in all underlying metrics in the past two games, posting subpar possession and shot quality control. Erne did post his best numbers when paired with Lavoie; when separate from Pederson and Lavoie, Erne struggled mightily, having no high-danger chances and being limited in possession and shot quality categories.

What’s happening now

As this is being written, Edmonton has just waived both Pederson and Lavoie, though this is hopefully for cap management purposes. As the analytics showcase, both Pederson and Lavoie present a stronger case than Erne’s to be the 12th forward. There is also the argument for asset management as Lavoie is a former second-round pick, Erne is in camp on a PTO, and Pederson is on a two-year deal, though he is unlikely to be claimed. Sam Gagner may also factor into the future as he is rehabbing from offseason surgery.

Due to Lavoie’s continued emergence and development as a prospect, he deserves the chance to prove himself to the Oiler’s organization and slot in as the 12th forward. If he can showcase the offensive talent that made him a second-round pick, Edmonton will only benefit from someone of his caliber playing alongside Dylan Holloway and Derek Ryan.

References for statistics found at https://www.naturalstattrick.com and https://www.hockey-reference.com

Darnell Holt

Hello, my name is Darnell Holt. I am currently an employee in the finance sector, focusing on agriculture. My background includes holding two degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, a Master of Science in Agriculture Economics and a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Business. However, I am a small-town Alberta boy with a love for analytics and a massive fandom for anything sports, especially for my home province Edmonton Oilers.

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