I think, with Lucic gone, Holland is hoping that Kassian can continue to have success with McDavid and Draisaitl. Certainly Kassian is one of the few pugilists who has enough speed to keep up with those other two, and he does have some offensive flair (he managed to score 15 last season, and with a far more realistic shooting percentage than Chiasson enjoyed). It makes sense to me that the GM will want some decent protection for the Crown Jewels, and if that tough guy has the potential for 15-20 goals then life is great.
Neal, in my opinion, is a calculated gamble on Holland’s part. It serves the team well if Neal plays the left side with Nugent-Hopkins, and I think Holland is hoping Chiasson and Gagner compete for the 2RW. If Puljujarvi signs, he will start on the 3rd line, unless he completely dominates through October and November.
I don’t know what to expect with the bottom six, but it should be better than last season’s group. If Holland can’t bring in an experienced guy to center the third line, maybe Marody and Haas compete for the 3C. At this point in his career, Gagner is a right wing, and either he or Chiasson will be needed on the 3rd line to support a rookie center. Khaira is far more effective along the boards, Granlund has struggled down the middle, and Brodziak is either the 4C or headed for waivers.
My guess, the early season line-up might look something like this:
If i were to redo the lines on the assumption that McDavid and Draisaitl play together, i would go with:
for the roster as it stands. Chiasson played his best hockey when paired with RNH, and Neal will assumingly bring more offense to the line. I think that Archibald and Granlund play 3rd line duties together as both are two-way players that are good on the pk. Definitely want to get them gelling together on 5-on-5 if they are gonna be on the first pk unit against the opponent's best lines. I think Nygard with his speed with compliment them more than Khaira, who will find himself on the fourth line. Haas, being the shiny new toy and unwilling to go to the minors, takes the 4C role. I would consider Cave for the role if Haas busts. Brodziak should be buried. That leaves Gagner and Jurco to compete for the final RW spot, of which i gave it to Gagner as the defense option, as well as the fact that id rather have a high scoring AHLer in the AHL with my prospects.
The only thing i don't like about this lineup is that there is ZERO room for puljujarvi, and the 3C role still has a hole. Is Granlund a Center? This lineup sure makes it seem like he was brought in for the role, while many believe him to be a winger instead. Also, in this lineup you aren't putting puljujarvi on the top 2 lines. I don't want to breakup the Granlund/Archibald pair either. Sure you can put him in for Gagner, but hes not playing on the fourth line, that doesnt help him. Which means you have to swap around the 3rd and 4th lines. Then you have:
which to me is the shakiest 3rd line you'll see in the league. Two unknown, unproven Europeans with Puljujarvi. Yikes.
What it comes down to is whether or not you think Puljujarvi is staying or going. Staying? I'd say my line combo above with the star players split up. Going? Well i hope he brings in a 3C.