During the summer we talked about depth and the number of qualified defenders on the roster. These discussions can be seen here and here. The loss of Steve Staios, who I think we can agree is a qualified NHL defenseman, has exposed the blue and shown clearly the value having a bunch of guys with NHL experience to send out every night.
The Oilers can find them too, quality players who are available and can turn away an oncoming rush with aplomb. Steve Staios, Jan Hejda (who lacked NHL experienced but was bona fide), Igor Ulanov and others were brought in representing one thing and took on major roles relative to previous expectations. Denis Grebeshkov would appear to be the latest example.
That’s a tremendous skill, like trapeze artists or George Bush in front of a microphone. The Oilers under the Kevin Lowe regime do not appear to be terribly skilled at bringing along rookie defensemen who learn on the job and eventually establish themselves as NHL players. Examples would be Alexei Semenov, Matt Greene and Ladislav Smid (who is playing better by the way).
Sure it isn’t a black and white issue, the Oilers did have success with Tom Gilbert and Matt Greene will have a career (the Kings crazy contract means he’ll be in the league somewhere 5 years from now). However, Jason Strudwick has played more than Ladislav Smid this season and that’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about here: established NHL players are more reliable and the Oilers God love ‘em don’t appear to have the secret formula that allows young defensemen to grow into more responsible roles over time.
Smid may eventually be a reliable guy who can be sent out there to weather storms, but no one can argue that his current role is as 3rd pairing D/pressbox sitter.
How is that different from what he was doing as a rookie?
Shawn Horcoff was injured late in the game last night and despite one or two “he’s fine” comments after the game it’s a concern moving forward for this team. As much as the club could use a veteran D, they could also use more experience down the middle. Should Horcoff miss any action, it brings up the possibility of a Schremp recall and a top 4C depth chart of Gagner, Pisani, Brodziak and Pouliot. It should also be mentioned that Pisani had back spasms yesterday and his health is a concern.
This is a good hockey club, and I still think they finish 2nd in the division and 6th in the conference. However, the Mandelbaum Steamroller will have something to say about it and it looks like they’re getting ready for the first chapter in 08-09. How unique is the Mandelbaum training? Are they doing things other organizations shy away from?
I’d like to know.