Charlie Huddy, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish and the Oiler braintrust have worked some magic over the years. They’ve airlifted in some defensemen with NHL experience and managed to improve their overall game. The list is pretty long and impressive, with notables including Steve Staios and Igor Ulanov.
Sometimes a change of scenery can help a lot. The Oilers have turned over the blueline this summer and it doesn’t look like a balanced unit as it sits now.
There’s a chance the Oilers make a deal at the end of camp that addresses defense (and forward). They have too many defenders either established at the NHL level or close enough that they may not clear waivers, so a decision is likely at some point (we said this last summer, mind you).
Here’s the depth chart as we enter camp.
- Joni Pitkanen- 06-07 numbers were ES points-per-60mins: 1.00, and PP points-per-60-mins: 2.98. He has a wide range of skills and can play defense, but his problem appears to have been decision making this past season. Pitkanen may have landed in an ideal spot for his NHL future, as Huddy and company should be able to turn these natural gifts into something special. It may be a little hopeful to expect these things overnight.
- Steve Staios- 06-07 numbers were ES points-per-60mins: 0.963 and PP points-per-60-mins: 0.983. Most impressive number this past season was -5 plus minus, although he missed the final 15 disasters due to injury. After playing 73, 76, 82 and 82 games in his previous NHL seasons, he faded to only 58 games due to a knee injury in 06-07. Warning bells should ring always for 34-year old Dmen who missed 24 games due to a knee injury.
- Sheldon Souray- 06-07 numbers were ES points-per-60 mins: 0.629, PP points-per-60-mins: 7.31. He uses his size well defensively in a controlled situation but can be beaten wide and can be beaten inside due to poor lateral movement (and he’s only 31). Impact player in a narrow view (look at that PP number) his stats indicate as one dimensional a player as we have seen playing defense in memory. His EV point total and difficulty with speed make him a high event player and a questionable choice 5×5, 4×4, 3×3.
- Dick Tarnstrom- 05-06 numbers were ES points-per-60mins: 0.60, PP points-per-60mins: 2.28. He’s my pick for the second pairing for a few reasons. First, he has NHL experience. Also, he has had long stretches of effectiveness in the NHL and in fact had a nice series of games with Edmonton in 05-06 (although overshadowed by Spacek). Tarnstrom’s offensive skills have been duplicated on the roster by Pitkanen (puck moving, powerplay passing) and Souray (shot, Tarnstrom has a nice quick release) and I’d much rather have a guy with a more consistent history, but he’s the best option for #4 on this roster.
- Ladislav Smid- 06-07 numbers were ES points-per-60 mins: 0.44, PP points-per-60-mins: 0.65. I think Ladislav Smid is going to have an excellent NHL career. He’d have been better off on a third pairing last season, but did show some nice things while playing with Steve Staios in 06-07. On a better team he might start in the minors and come back to the show when he was ripping things up.
- Matt Greene- 06-07 numbers were ES points-per-60 mins: 0.42, PP points-per-60-mins: 5.55 (in 11 mins). That PP number should be disregarded. Matt Greene is a huge defender who looks like a guy who will do good things when the game slows down to match his decision making. To my eye he hasn’t improved much, although his recognition might look worse because of his very slow footwork. If the game slows down a bit for him, he’ll be a player for a long time in this league.
- Denis Grebeshkov- 05-06 numbers were ES points-per-60 mins: 0.33, PP points-per-60-mins: 1.60. I remember liking Grebeshkov in his draft year. The scouting report on him: Is well rounded and intelligent. Isn’t shy about laying on the body and displays untapped offensive potential. Can log plenty of ice time. There are apparently concerns about his size although he’s not really small (6-1, 195). He’s a wildcard and could solve a lot of problems for this team if he can make a pass and keep the opposition logo between him and Roloson.
- Mathieu Roy- 06-07 numbers were ES points-per-60 mins: 0.58, PP points-per-60-mins: 0.00. Roy might surprise everyone and grab an everyday job on this hockey team. The things he lacks (footspeed, puck moving ability) are covered off elsewhere and the things he brings (stay-at-home coverage defender) are not found in abundance. I don’t think he’s the 8th best option at EV on this list, put it that way.
- Tom Gilbert- 06-07 numbers were ES points-per-60 mins: 1.61, PP points-per-60-mins: 1.67. He’s a pretty good hockey player right now, and if he could get 400 at-bats in the show this season he’d be a good bet to be able to move up the depth chart a year from now. Gilbert has size, can move the puck and pass it effectively, plus his decision making looked very good in his dozen games last year.
- Danny Syvret- Syvret also got some NHL time in 06-07, but from what I saw he has strength issues to go along with the size problems. Far enough down the depth chart now that we can question if he’ll see the NHL this season.
- Allan Rourke- He’s played over 400 AHL games and 42 in the NHL (11 last year), so Rourke is certainly a candidate for callup to the Oilers this season. Has size but apparently doesn’t use it enough and his numbers indicate he’s an average offensive player (50gp, 5-15-20) for the AHL level (76 AHL defenders had more than 20 points in 06-07).
- Bryan Young- Spent time in three minor league outposts before getting called up to Edmonton this past season. Stay-at-home type was in the NHL because of a rash of injuries and if the Oilers are doing their job he won’t see the show this season.
- TJ Kemp- He’s an offensive defender (5-33-38 in 65gp), 5-11 and 200 pounds. Kemp finished tied for fifth among league D-men in assists and was named to the AHL all-star game.
- Theo Peckham – I have no idea how they identify the really good stay-at-home types early, but Peckham either has the best P.R. in the history of junior hockey or he’s really a good player.
- Sebastian Bisaillon- A prospect many of us may have overlooked even with his emergency callup, Bisaillon had a very interesting season in the QMJHL. His offense (12-40-52) put him 14th among Q defensemen in total points, and his 10 powerplay goals ranked him second among league defensemen in that category.
Finally, a few stats for you that may help flesh out your opinions of this defnse.
- Sheldon Souray 149
- Matt Greene 143
- Steve Staios 140
- Joni Pitkanen 124
- Ladislav Smid 107
- Dick Tarnstrom 48
- Sheldon Souray 4:52
- Joni Pitkanen 4:42
- Dick Tarnstrom 3:20
- Steve Staios 2:06
- Ladislav Smid 1:11
- Matt Greene 0:08
Penalty Killing Minutes
- Steve Staios 3:09
- Sheldon Souray 3:01
- Matt Greene 2:45
- Joni Pitkanen 2:12
- Ladislav Smid 2:00
- Dick Tarnstrom 0:54
Souray spent 8 minutes a night last season on special teams. Could MacTavish cut back on the 15 EV minutes he got a night last season and ride Pitkanen-Staios a little heavier at EV?