Charlie Huddy has been saying nice things about the defense. I know it’s ridiculous to put too much faith in that (what is he going to say? “The front office sure bought a lemon this time!”) but fact is Huddy, MacT, Lowe and the rest really have established their ability to prop up defensemen with middling resume’s since 2000.
I think there are things to like about every NHL defenseman on this roster but the team lacks “all-around” talents who can be used in multiple situations. To use baseball as an example, the Oilers have plenty of LF-1b’s but not very many 2b’s-3b’s-1b’s.
However, when Charlie Huddy and the Oilers start that smooth talking it’s hard to resist it. Anyone who saw Igor Ulanov’s turnaround, or the development of Steve Staios, or the quality Jan Hejda displayed when here tells us these people know a thing or two about playing NHL defense. The math nuts like myself sometimes have to put the slide rule aside, back away from the bunsen burner and let things play themselves out in due time. Here’s the blue based on Huddy’s projected pairings.
- Sheldon Souray, 32: To the naked eye Souray looked a little better than we thought, and MacT mentioned something along the way to the same effect. The Desjardins’ math says he played with the worst possible combination of linemates and against the toughest possible opposition. If he can stay healthy long enough, we may warm up to the man. 26gp, 3-7-10, 36pims -7. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- Steve Staios, 35: In each season since his arrival, Steve Staios has finished top 4 in overall D minutes. In fact he’s finished second each season but the year he missed the final 15 games of the year due to knee injury (06-07). He has a wide range of skills and that one thing makes him extremely valuable to this club. 82gp, 7-19-26, 121pims -14. Chances of making the Oilers: 100%.
- Lubomir Visnovsky, 32: Pure delight in many aspects of the game, his weaknesses are all in his end and a team readying themselves for a Stanley run would partner him with a tough, durable defensive defenseman. He’s a very valuable commodity no matter the pairing and the Oilers did well to acquire him. 82gp, 8-33-41, 34pims -18. Chances of making the Oilers: 100%.
- Tom Gilbert, 25: Gilbert belongs to the family of puck movers but can also be effective without the puck. He’s an intelligent player who seems perfectly suited to the current NHL style, with his trademark play being a stealth skate in from the blueline to the crease for a tap-in. If he is paired with Lubo, Gilbert is going to need to borrow some sandpaper and he’s going to expend a lot of energy battling down low on that pairing. I don’t know if that’s the best use of his skills and Staios might be better served on the Lubo pairing. 82gp, 13-20-33, 20pims -6. Chances of making the Oilers: 100%.
- Denis Grebeshkov, 25 in October: My pick for the guy who will step into the top 4 when injury/ineffectiveness arise. In fact I can see him joining Gilbert on the second pairing by the end of training camp. Very smart player and I think a guy who might be ready for an increased role on this team from the get-go. 71gp, 3-15-18, 22pims +2. Chances of making the Oilers: 100%.
- Ladislav Smid, 22: Man he’s still so young. A fine article in the EJ by Jim Matheson today lays everything out there and the quotes are golden. Huddy: “It’s a lot of positioning, not running around in your end and getting caught. To play in the top 4 you need to be consistent, night in, night out.” I’m combining two quotes there but the general idea is that Smid has a great set of tools and you want to wait as long as you can for the light to turn on. Amen. 65gp, 0-4-4, 58pims -15. Chances of making the Oilers: 90% (he could be traded).
- Jason Strudwick, 33: I think Strudwick will probably play a bigger role than 7D/5L and in fact is a nice option should two of the youngsters struggle (Smid, Jacques) at those positions. He is the latest in a long line of guys who come in looking like an also-ran and end up looking like an all-star. Let’s hope the Ulanov, Staios, Hedja magic works with him too. 52gp, 1-1-2, 40pims E. Chances of making the Oilers: 90% (you never know what’s going to happen in camp and he’s at the tail-end of the roster).
- Mathieu Roy, 25: Roy would appear to be #8 on an NHL depth chart and that means he’s likely to be a bubble player with the added anchor the Oilers have risked waivers on him before and he’s passed right through. Concussion worries and ability suggest he can pass through again. Chances of Making the Oilers: 10%.
- Theo Peckham, 20: With the trade of Matt Greene and his exceptional rise through the depth chart one year ago, his chances of making the team keep getting better. Throw in Roy’s concussion worries and a few other injury concerns and he’s on the radar before they start taping the sticks. Chances of Making the Oilers: 8%.
- Josef Hrabel, 23: He’s been playing in the high Euro leagues for several years now (well over 100 games in Russia and Czech Republic combined). 6-1, 180 and can pass the puck. Oilers have suggested he could be a top pairing D in the AHL as soon as this season. Chances of Making the Oilers: 1%.
- Bryan Young, 22: His strongest asset is that he’s played over 100 AHL games and has twice been called up to the NHL by the parent club. On the other hand, pretty much all of the other D prospects who are in pro (or about to turn pro) are players with a wider range of skills. Chances of Making the Oilers: 1%.
- Taylor Chorney, 21: Oilers are in a position to bring him along slowly, plus he did have that knee injury in his final college game. Based on the number of good D prospects knocking on the door, he’s likely to spend the entire season in the AHL. The one prospect I’m most looking forward to seeing this fall. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Sebastien Bisaillon, 21: I think he’ll get sent out no matter what because of last season’s injuries. They’ll want to see him healthy for a time before he gets the call but he’s had a nice pro career so far and is ahead of a few pretty high draft picks already. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Cody Wild, 21: One of the things we should probably start talking about is that “games played in the AHL” is probably going to be a good way to measure management’s feelings about these young pro defenders. There’s so damn many dressing for the game is going to be a competition. Has a few weeks pro experience, nice skill set and probably a rather large learning curve in the minors. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Jake Taylor, 25: Taylor signed a two-year AHL contract with Springfield, and their GM Bruce Landon said “Jake is a big, strong, physical defenseman who has the reputation of being tough to play against.” I assume he’s an AHL only option but Taylor does have over 200 games of AHL experience at a fairly young age. 6-4, 225. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Jordan Bendfeld, 20: A unique player on this list in that he can go back to junior if there’s no room, and that may be the case when all is said and done. Enforcer, can fight and the Oilers obviously like him. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Robbie Bina, 25: Rather famous college career gets him a pro contract. Very small puck moving defender who should be a lot of fun to watch play. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Mike Gabinet, 27: 4 year college player who also has pro experience in Finland, ECHL and 37 games in the AHL. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Cleve Kinley, 24: Played in the NCAA and has some pro experience. Looks like an offensive defender based on numbers and is coming off a very nice ECHL post-season for the Texas Wildcatters. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Jesse Dudas, 20: I don’t know much about him, he’s apparently a puck mover who can skate. He’s a big kid (6-1, 226) and with two WHL teams (age 19) last season Dudas went 52gp, 5-30-35. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Milan Maslonka, 21: HUGE kid. 6-7, 245. Blocks out the sun. 289pims in the Central League. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Alex Plante, 19: Outlaw defender is healthy and without a home. 6-4, 225 and turns 20 in May. More than anyone else, this fellow needs a productive season. He’s playing for a first round contract. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Anthony Pisano, 19: 6-6, 230. I’m not certain the Oilers can sign him, since he would appear to be draft eligible for 2009. Anyway, he’s another monster. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Daulton Prout, 18: 6-2, 201. Has some skills as a fighter, maybe they’re bringing him to camp to get a look at a guy they may draft next summer. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.
- Kalvin Sagert, 21: 6-2, 226. Played last season with Prince George (WHL) and I believe he has played some forward in junior. Sagert played in an incredible 339 WHL games during a 6-year stay in the dub. Chances of Making the Oilers: Zero.