The Edmonton Oilers evaluated the market for free agent defensemen this spring and landed on Nikita Nikitin (as per Aaron Portzline twitter). They made a low-risk move to get him onside, and this morning the Oilers signed their man. What do they see in him? What is he? What role will he fill?
- Rob Vollman, ESPN: Good defensemen are hard to come by, he offers the potential of a solid top-4 option like he was in ’11-12 without the risk of a deal like Ference.
- Corey Pronman, ESPN: He went from good, to average, to poor in the last 3 seasons. He was a good player to help youngsters few years ago, but now he needs help.
- Corey Sznajder, Shutdown Line: He’s a very underrated player. Nice trade for the Oilers. He’s a good 4-5 defenseman. Special teams time dried up this year for whatever reason.
It’s always interesting to get other opinions, and the words from these three gents are encouraging. Here’s what I said about the possibility of Nikitin’s acquisition in January:
- The Oilers need to get it right this summer on the blue. A top-pairing defender who is proven and can play in all three disciplines is vital. Craig MacTavish may in fact call on Scott Howson for an update on Nikita Nikitin and the scouting report may be positive from the former Columbus GM. Nikitin can certainly play NHL defense, and that has value. I think he falls well short of being a proven top-pairing solution at this time.
I think that all rings true, and suspect the reason MacT targeted Nikitin had a lot to do with Howson. I read this acquisition (and signing) as an attempt to address the number one item on the Oilers shopping list this summer.
UPDATE: Elliotte Friedman tweets out the term. You will see a lot of reaction to the dollars, but it’s important to remember the Oilers signed Nikitin for two years. The shorter term, and overpay, is a better plan in my opinion. Edmonton has to stop tying themselves to long term deals for 6′s and 7′s and 9′s.
MACT’S SUMMER 2014 LIST
A veteran top pairing defenseman. A real man, big time EV minutes and a history of successful sorties. Update: Nikita Nikitin is the solution.
- A 2line C with experience and the ability to play a two-way game. This is the other vital piece.
- A legit two-way winger who can score 12-15 goals. The Pisani role. Mentor, calms the waters.
- Find a way to get value, or make use of, Sam Gagner. This does not include time at center.
- Improve the bottom 6F’s.
- Retain as much of the young cluster as possible, understanding that the player who represents #1 on this list might cost a young D who will one day fill that role.
- Get Petry signed long term.
- Sign Schultz but DO NOT break the bank.
This is the first step in the offseason, and as was the case last season (Andrew Ference) the Oilers acquire an actual NHL player, but one who is shy of the task at hand.
OILERS PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
|LEFT DEFENSE||RIGHT DEFENSE|
|MARTIN MARINCIN||JEFF PETRY (RFA)|
|NIKITA NIKITIN||JUSTIN SCHULTZ (RFA)|
|ANDREW FERENCE||OSCAR KLEFBOM|
So far in the young career of Justin Schultz, the Oilers have tried Nick Schultz and Andrew Ference as partners and neither veteran could cover off enough mistakes. I expect Nikita Nikitin is next into the fire, but would also suggest that Oscar Klefbom will be flying sorties with Schultz the rambler soon. In the world of Oilers chemistry, finding a suitable partner for Justin Schultz is becoming an annual rite of summer.
IS THIS A TERRIBLE SOLUTION?
Nikitin is a bit of a riddle in that his usage is confusing the conversation. He’s 28, has had an effective season in a prominent role, but has also faded for two seasons since. I’m pleased the Oilers have acquired an actual NHL defensemen—more, please—but concerned that once again the club has failed to address that top pairing in any way. Perhaps MacTavish has another surprise on the way, perhaps there’s land on the horizon when we wake tomorrow. And maybe there’s only Engelland after all.
And perhaps, and this is something we already know, perhaps Martin Marincin-Jeff Petry is the top pairing and shoring up the defense will come from adding actual NHL players to contribute down the depth chart. It’s bass ackwards, but the fact remains that the best LH defenseman on this roster today is a tall kid from Kocise with 44 big league games to his name.
NIKITA NIKITIN PLAYER CARD VIA EXTRA SKATER
THE VOLLMAN SLEDGEHAMMER
Nikitin played the soft parade, with David Savard, and a nice zone push. They were not able to get enough done with those fun minutes, and the Blue Jackets have other options. If Nikitin can fill the Schultz partner role, which is quickly becoming the ‘dead man skating’ role for veteran NHL defenders, then this deal will shine like a diamond in Edmonton.