I imagine the depth chart on the whiteboard in Peter Chiarelli’s office has all of the DEFENSE in erasable marker. Not quite true, but after “Sekera, Fayne and Klefbom” this thing is clear as mud. Let’s have a look at the depth chart (my interpretation) and what role they could be playing this season.
OILERS BLUE, 2014-15
- Andrej Sekera. Top pairing, he played 19EV minutes, two shorthanded and 1:45 on the power play in Carolina, averaging 22:46 a game. He’s a veteran defender who can carry the puck or pass it equally well. I don’t think he’s a lock for the No. 1 power play unit (that’s one area the Oilers are probably looking for help right now) but this is a fantastic add. EST. TOI: 22:30.
- Niki Nikitin. If he’s healthy, Nikitin has a chance to increase his playing time (19:38) from a year ago. As we discussed yesterday, counting on a defender with back issues is a bad idea. Nikitin’s EV time from last season (16 minutes) and his special teams minutes (1:45 for both) mean he’s among the more complete options on the team. I’m not confident he’ll be as mobile as needed, but the Oilers have the intel on conditioning/back and if he’s good to go we must assume he’s a big part of the team in 2015-16. EST. TOI: 19:00.
- Mark Fayne: He was used less than you’d expect for a veteran (17:56) last season but a lot of that had to do with a combination of tough zone starts and chasing the game with mondo Schultz minutes. He was 15 minutes at evens and 2:29 on the PK, I think we can estimate a return to 16 EV minutes a night (he did that in 2013-14 with the Devils) and he should get those tough starts again in 2015-16. The question is, with whom? EST. TOI: 18:30.
- Justin Schultz. I imagine we’ll see Schultz play significant minutes, although not close to the 22:36 we saw one year ago. Schultz played 19:28EV minutes and I keep coming back to that PC quote at his original PC about moving players back to where they belong. I’d estimate Schultz plays second pairing at evens, so we’ll use 15 minutes. He was 2:47 on the power play last season, that seems about right but we’ll bump it a little because EDM doesn’t have a lot of options. EST. TOI: 18:30.
- Oscar Klefbom. Like Schultz, Klefbom played too much last season (21:59) although one suspects the Swedish blue will eventually exceed that number. Klefbom LED THE TEAM at EV minutes a year ago (19:47) and also spent 1:44 shorthanded. I think he’s a good bet to remain in the PK rotation but that EV total will take a haircut, to about 16:30. EST. TOI: 18:30.
- Eric Gryba. He played 15:39 last season in Ottawa, 13 minutes at evens and the rest on the PK. That’s classic third pairing/extra blue territory and in fact Gryba was No. 7 on the Sens’ blueline in TOI per game. I don’t see any good reason to estimate his contributions in Edmonton differently. EST. TOI: 15:30.
- Andrew Ference. The only veteran I can see losing significant ice time, no way last year (18:52) gets duplicated imo. Ference could surprise if placed in a less difficult role but Edmonton probably wants those minutes for Schultz and other, more offensive options. He played 17EV and 2PK minutes a night last season, I think he gets a major haircut at EVs. EST. TOI: 15:00.
- Darnell Nurse: I wrote yesterday about Nurse, suggesting he’ll make the team and be inside the top 4D by mid-season. This isn’t news, have suggested this for some time. The Oilers have to turn north this season and that means their six best defensemen on the ice every game, all year. Last season this team’s opening night lineup was not their best six, that should stop under Todd McLellan. My bet is that Nurse stays and plays but for now he’s first callup.
- Griffin Reinhart: This should be a great season for Reinhart, who must be itching to get into NHL action and establish himself. I believe that happens this season, there could be a (short) delay with time in Bakersfield possible. His full AHL season should help him at TC and he could beat out Nurse for single rookie/last man standing on opening night blue. I think we should look at Nurse—Reinhart as a competition and more as the arrival of terrific talent and a massive part of the future.
- Brandon Davidson: Waiver eligible and some talk he’ll make it as No. 7 D but that’s complicated by miles and miles of defenders. I’m comfortable with putting him at No. 10 on the current depth chart but also believe he’ll play in the NHL this season (he is part of my NHLE projection).
- David Musil: He’s a smart defenseman who survived and then flourished in the AHL last season, eventually earning a recall and his first NHL games. He’s behind a bunch of ‘defense first’ options now but that doesn’t mean he won’t make it, here or elsewhere. I feel more bullish about Musil than at any time since he was drafted.
- Jordan Oesterle: He’s fast and stepped up in his first pro season (seven months older than Dillon Simpson), passing some drafted players on the way to his NHL debut. He’s an interesting player in this group because of his offense and puck-moving ability. Don’t underestimate this guy when discussing Edmonton’s 2015-16 season, he passed several prospects in his first year.
- Brad Hunt: I get more comments about Brad Hunt’s inclusion on this list than anything else. Seriously. Look at it from the pov of ‘need’ and imo Hunt’s inclusion makes sense. His offensive ability is impact level in the AHL and Edmonton doesn’t have their power-play unit locked and loaded in their top 7 above or really in this group of bubbling under blue.
The window opens today and we should prepare for early and late news (NHL teams only make moves after the fuse has been lit) and we should be prepared for no news at all. A buyout is one option, trade is another. We also should prepare (as I’ve laid out here) for no movement at all, effectively giving the team nine men who (rightly) expect to be on the opening night roster. Nice problem to have.
IF THEY DO MAKE A TRADE….
There’s not much outside pro hockey and that needs to be addressed. We’ll find out about McCarron mid-August, we have reports that Loik Leveille is coming to camp and maybe Tyler Soy joins him. The Oilers have added the following defensemen since Peter Chiarelli arrived: Andrej Sekera, Eric Gryba, Griffin Reinhart, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, John Marino and Ziyat Paigin. Seven defensive adds, plus three in goal. He’s clearly locked and loaded on addressing weakness. Does that include a buyout followed by a signing from the free agent tree? We wait.