In the first year Todd McLellan coached the San Jose Sharks, he ran four defenders over 20 minutes a night. All four played 15+ minutes at even strength and all four played a lot on both special teams. All four (Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Dan Boyle, Christian Ehrhoff, Rob Blake) were recognized as being bona fide NHL defensemen.
SHARKS DEFENSE 2008-09
McLellan had a nice top 4D in 2008-09, team won 53 games and there are some strong numbers here. They were all past 50 percent in possession, Boyle led with a 3.2 rel. I’m not sure we can call this an ideal group, but this top four did some very good things in a winning regular season. How close is the Oilers top 4? Who is the “Dan Boyle” in the group, leading in possession and some of the other elements?
OILERS DEFENSE 2016-17
- The current Oilers have Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera playing substantial minutes in all three disciplines
- Adam Larsson and Kris Russell spent lots of time at evens and on the penalty kill.
- Matt Benning didn’t play much on special teams. More in a minute.
- Darnell Nurse and Kris Russell were the only defenders below 50 percent in possession 5×5, and even then it was just shy.
- All numbers via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com and that site is a killer.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
- Matt Benning is going to get some power play time this coming season, especially until Andrej Sekera returns. I’d suggest new hire Yohann Auvitu will also get an opportunity on the 5×4. The only alternative is to put a forward back on the blue line to replace Sekera’s minutes. Unlikely. Benning is the obvious candidate for the 5×4.
- Matt Benning is also a strong candidate for PK work until Sekera gets back. He’s an intelligent player, is excellent with the puck and can handle the physical aspects of the game. PK time likely going to Darnell Nurse, too. Eric Gryba’s lack of mobility hurts him here.
That San Jose defense in 2008-09 had more utility, the players had more range. I think we can count Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera as being complete coverage players, similar in usage to the four horsemen from McLellan’s first NHL team.
Is there a third defender who can step up? Maybe Matt Benning will emerge this season. His continuing emergence is a very important part of this coming season. Edmonton needs a Dan Boyle. Maybe Benning can fill significant portions of that role, beginning this season.