A few days ago, I was a guest on Jason Strudwick’s show. I’m always interested in talking to Jason (he’ll be my guest at 3 this afternoon on TSN 1260) because he’s actually played the game at its highest level. He asked me how many (among Marincin, Klefbom, Nurse and possibly Ekblad) rookies I’d like to see manning the Oiler blue next season, and my answer was one: Martin Marincin. Why?
In the early 1970′s, the Leafs had a bunch of young defensemen growing up together. Jim Dorey, Jim McKenny, Rick Ley, Mike Pelyk, Brad Selwood, Brian Glennie and others were all kids together. This came on the heels of the team icing a group of old men like Allan Stanley, Tim Horton, Bob Baun, Carl Brewer and Larry Hillman, so the nation of Canada noticed (there was even a movie, Face-Off, which included on-ice footage and featured Jim McKenny).
Those kids, and Howie Meeker’s telestrator, taught me about young defensemen. Meeker would be featured between periods and say things like “KIDS, DON’T PLAY LIKE THE LEAFS!” in his excited voice. He would then painstakingly teach me about the game, why kids on defense could not be trusted, and what it meant to the results of the game. Meeker, who is one of the truly underrated people in the game’s history, would then show something positive about the Leafs (usually Keon, or maybe some new kid like Billy MacMillan making a good play) and that was Saturday when I was a kid.
THE CURRENT OILERS BLUE
- Justin Schultz, 70, 10-20-30. A 23-year old college defenseman who is mobile squared. Schultz at even strength this season (70, 9-11-20) has posted impressive numbers, but there’s too much chaos. Dallas Eakins is going to have to cut back his playing time at evens next season.
- Jeff Petry, 76, 6-10-16. The 26-year old is Edmonton’s best defenseman full stop. The fanbase isn’t excited about him in a Tom Gilbert kind of way, but that doesn’t obscure the fact that he’s effective at hockey. I think he’s a legit top 4D, and that’s news on this team.
- Martin Marincin, 40, 0-5-5. Just turned 22, and looks brilliant in 3D. Oilers could not have hand picked a better solution to their defensive woes, and the timing of his arrival was also brilliant. Marincin makes simple, intelligent plays, is a mobile player who can pass tape to tape and move the puck up expertly. His 40 games in the NHL expose the recent seasons of Oilers blue as fraudulent.
- Andrew Ference, 75, 3-15-18. Ference is 35 years old and brings much needed experience to the team. He’s the opposite of Petry in that the ‘informed’ fans are on his back but the fanbase considers him to be quality. My own feeling is that Ference was a solid add, but the struggles of the team highlight a need for more, not fewer, of this player-type.
- Anton Belov, 53, 1-6-7. Big Russian rookie is 27 and seems equipped with equal parts useful play and fatal shortcomings. He’s a frustrating mark, because 500 at-bats should be enough to figure out any player. Maybe MacT’s “if you have to ask the question” applies here.
- Oscar Klefbom, 13, 1-2-3. The 20-year old defender seems to grow in stature with each game. Klefbom is very mobile and can close a gap in a heartbeat. He’s more effective with the puck than his boxscores in other leagues imply. If Struds asked me the same ‘how many?’ question after last night’s game I would change my answer to add Klef bomb. Then again, Rick Ley says hello.
- Phil Larsen, 26, 3-6-9. 24-year old rover who I compared to Corey Potter in the summer, pointing to the fact that players with similar stats can be wildly different as actual players. Larsen is not going to be an effective NHL defenseman, but may have a role in an M-A Bergeron kind of way. He may also end up playing right wing—Larsen has been very effective late season in that role.
- Mark Fraser, 38,1-1-2. 27-year old enforcer/defender hasn’t worked out at all. I’m reminded of the Ulanov rental period when he came over from Montreal that year, buddy couldn’t do a thing to help. Igor worked hard to get it back, maybe this guy will do the same. There was a time in this fair land when the Oilers could find a defenseman at midnight in a snowstorm. I don’t believe they have Midas in their scouting department these days, and suspect Fraser will not be welcomed back next year.
Une question d’une réponse
- Strud’s question to you: How many of the kids (Marincin, Klefbom, Nurse, maybe Ekblad, Simpson et al) would you like to see on the opening night roster?
PS, Saturday Sports Extra is 3-5p today, after the Oil Kings broadcast. We’ll have Jason Strudwick, Paul Almeida from a soccer pitch in Spain, Corey Graham from the Oil Kings broadcasts and Steve Dangle from Leafs Nation to preview HNIC.