When I came into hockey as a fan, the Toronto Maple Leafs were on my television every hockey night. They had old guys on defense, and the adjectives people used to describe them were decidedly unattractive. Grizzled, hard-nosed, dependable, reliable. Not sexy at all. Why not play like Bobby Orr? Man, that was the good stuff. On Toronto, I liked Jim McKenny. My Dad didn’t think much of McKenny, but did like Jim Dorey, even though he was young. For those not old enough to remember, McKenny was a heartthrob hockey player (my sister-in-law still blushes when I bring his name up) but Dorey was a half bubble off plumb. He was an early version of Behn Wilson. For those who don’t remember Behn Wilson, well, they don’t make them like that anymore. Imagine a good defenseman with a wire loose and a coach who enjoys mayhem.
I have been looking at, talking about, yelling at, pleading with and giving up on defensemen for more than 50 years. And slowly, like sands through the hourglass, I have come to a conclusion about defensemen. When you have a choice, look for grizzled, hard-nosed, dependable, reliable. Not sexy at all. I think Bobby Orr ruined me for the position.
NOT THE ONLY ONE
In the completion of our post-deadline look at the Oilers depth chart at the pro level, we will look at left defense, right defense and the goalies.
LEFT DEFENSE (8)
- Oscar Klefbom. His emergence this year with the puck on his stick has been nothing short of fantastic. I think being paired with Justin Schultz may have retarded his offensive game, but with Larsson he can wheel and that appears to be his real strength. He is a bona fide two-way NHL player, and should be a bargain for the rest of the decade. DFF v. Elite: 44.9 percent; DFF Rel Comp -1.3 percent; 34 percent of his 5×5 time is against elites.
- Andrej Sekera. He could be listed first but I decided to do the NHL D like pairs. Calm veteran who can pass or carry and he is an absolute demon in extra time. The one thing I wonder is this: What if he played an entire season with a defenseman as good as he is? Signed through 2021 summer so we are going to see some erosion. DFF v. Elite: 45.7 percent; DFF Rel Comp -0.4 percent; 37 percent of his 5×5 time is against elites.
- Darnell Nurse. With Brandon Davidson gone, Nurse will settle in on the third pairing and look to continue what was a solid season of maturation. He is not playing the tough competition (both Sekera and Klefbom play significant tough minutes) but has improved a lot season over season. DFF v. Elite: 48 percent; DFF Rel Comp 3.2 percent; 25 percent of his 5×5 time is against elites.
- Andrew Ference. The final days of his last NHL season are winding down.
- Griffin Reinhart. In the final year of his entry-level deal, and it will be a crossroads summer. Reinhart starts slowly every year and that may be due to conditioning. I expect the Oilers will keep tabs on him this summer and one assumes GR doesn’t want the minor leagues any more. He could also be in Vegas by Canada Day. Estimated AHL 5×5 TOI: 16:06. Source
- David Musil. Musil is another good candidate for Las Vegas and I hope he gets the chance to compete there this fall. It’s easy to regard him as an NP but he can play. Musil needs a break for sure, but maybe expansion is it. If he could catch on as 7D somewhere and work his way up? Well hell, everyone has guys like that in their system. Estimated AHL 5×5 TOI: 16:59.
- Mark Fraser. He is a UFA this summer and it makes as much sense to bring him back next season as it did this time around—so it could happen. Estimated AHL 5×5 TOI: 12:11.
- Ben Betker. He is fairly mobile for a giant and the scouting reports I read early this season were positive. Miles to go and we may never see him here in Edmonton but he is working hard and making progress. Estimated AHL 5×5 TOI: 13:19.
- Likely to return: Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, Darnell Nurse, Griffin Reinhart, Ben Betker
- Too soon to know:
- Likely to go: David Musil, Andrew Ference, Mark Fraser
- Summary: Sekera the veteran is a rock, and two first-round picks in Klefbom and Nurse maturing and taking on more of the load. The Davidson trade may open up an opportunity for Reinhart this fall.
- Summer Headlines: Klefbom receives votes for Byng and Norris; Nurse’s year over year progress is impressive; Sekera gets no headlines; Reinhart trains like a demon and arrives in camp fearsome; Andrew Ference retires with a Stanley Cup ring and an idea about how he wants to change the world.
RIGHT DEFENSE (7)
- Adam Larsson. He has adapted quickly and his game is a nice fit for the Oilers. Larsson has helped calm down his pairing and I think his defensive acumen allows Klefbom to jump up with the puck and try his luck. The Swedish pairing is settling in, hopefully for a long run. DFF v. Elite: 46.2 percent; DFF Rel Comp -0.5 percent; 35 percent of his 5×5 time is against elites.
- LD Kris Russell. Each and every day produces a howling wind across twitter about Russell, who goes about his business and answers every bell required (although he missed practice today). I think the coach really likes him and I also think the general manager may not be able to afford him. We are going to talk about this a lot over the summer. He is UFA. DFF v. Elite: 46.6 percent; DFF Rel Comp -0.7 percent; 36 percent of his 5×5 time is against elites.
- Matt Benning. A tremendous addition by Peter Chiarelli, if you counted this as the 2014 second rounder it would still be a bargain. A perfect fit signed while falling down the elevator shaft. Lordy what a stroke of good fortune. No wonder the Bruins are pissed. DFF v. Elite: 48.3 percent; DFF Rel Comp 2.7 percent; 34 percent of his 5×5 time is against elites.
- Eric Gryba. Big man is a UFA and someone the coach values as a 7D. We often dismiss the role as a part-time type, but 7D is basically a third pairing guy and will probably play 50+ games a year via injury, slumps, et cetera. Hard-nosed blue. DFF v. Elite: 47.8 percent; DFF Rel Comp 1.5 percent; 28 percent of his 5×5 time is against elites.
- LD Jordan Oesterle. The Davidson trade offers a slight opening for Oesterle, who may be the first recall if there is an injury. That is a big deal (No. 8D) and with his speed, there is a chance this player grabs the opportunity and runs with it. He is UFA this summer, but as is the case with Tyler Pitlick, I think Edmonton probably has interest in retaining him. Estimated AHL 5×5 TOI: 17:24.
- LD Dillon Simpson. He got into his first NHL games this year, looked good and I suspect he is probably just behind Reinhart and Oesterle on the recall list. He is RFA and my guess is that the Oilers sign him and have Simpson in a role similar to the one he has now. Estimated AHL 5×5 TOI: 13:50.
- Mark Fayne. One of dozens of NHL players who are still drawing their big league salaries while playing in the minors. Edmonton would need to lose (I think) at least two defensemen for him to be considered, and both of them would have to be righties. He may be bought out if Edmonton cannot trade him. Estimated AHL 5×5 TOI: 16:37.
- Likely to return: Adam Larsson, Matt Benning, Dillon Simpson
- Too soon to know: Kris Russell, Eric Gryba, Jordan Oesterle
- Likely to go: Mark Fayne
- Summary: The Oilers three regular RHD this season were all procured after the end of the 2015-16 season. All three men play more than 33 percent of their 5×5 icetime against elites, and all three men boast a DFF percentage 5×5 that is -1.0 or better.
- Summer Headlines: Larsson’s solid year has Oilers fans impressed; Benning receives votes for the Calder Trophy; Kris Russell’s ask is too much for the Oilers, so Flames swoop in and sign him long term; Mark Fayne is bought out.
Photo by Mark Williams, all rights reserved
- Cam Talbot. If you sat down and wrote a script for his success, it wouldn’t look any better than this season. He has a .920 save percentage and is a workhorse to boot. The Oilers MVP is a two man race and Talbot is deserving of the honor (as is McDavid). Maybe they can cut the trophy in half.
- Laurent Brossoit. It has been a tough season in some ways, but his AHL time was consistent with his career—save three poor games around Christmas. The Oilers did talk goalie at the deadline (see Elliott’s 30 Thoughts), but held back their water and now the youngster gets a window of opportunity. Poised to be an inexpensive backup next season, RFA 2018.
- Jonas Gustavsson. It was a curious signing and it has been an alarming experience. Gustavsson had an .878SP in the NHL and is now .901 in the AHL. Both numbers are shy. He is UFA this summer.
- Nick Ellis. Another college signing who has done very well in year one with the Oilers, his .924 SP ranks him No. 3 among AHL goalies. One more year before RFA, if he continues to shoot lights out we must begin talking about him as competition for Brossoit.
- Eetu Laurikainen. He is RFA after the season and hasn’t played in a long time. I doubt we see him in North America next season.
- Likely to return: Cam Talbot, Laurent Brossoit, Nick Ellis
- Too soon to know:
- Likely to go: Jonas Gustavsson, Eetu Laurikainen
- Summary: Cam Talbot. Beginning, middle, end. What a year! Laurent Brossoit had some wobble in the same season Nick Ellis emerged as a bona fide prospect.
- Summer Headlines: Cam Talbot receives Vezina votes; the Oilers draft a quality goalie prospect; Nick Ellis gets some love as a possible future solution in net.
One thing that came out of PCs media avail was confirmation that the back end has been shored up handsomely. If you look at the current state of the forwards in Edmonton’s system, it is reasonable to expect a lot of college signings and draft picks to be forwards.
If we are honest, this is close to a crisis. Top amateur prospect Tyler Benson has some real issues two winters in a row, and that is a concern for this young man and the organization. I sincerely hope he can overcome the difficulties and his two winter injuries are not related, but counting on him to have a healthy career is probably a bad idea at this point in time.
Among the pro forwards who are under 24 as of last fall, Connor McDavid is all world, Leon Draisaitl is setting the woods on fire, and Jesse Puljujarvi should have a bright future. After that? Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev and Jujhar Khaira, three interesting names but not a one of them is certain to move the needle offensively in the NHL.
At the AHL level, most of the under 24 set doesn’t play much. Kyle Platzer and Greg Chase (both 21) would best be described as fringe players, the organization isn’t investing much playing time and that is a tell. Khaira and Slepyshev (both 22) did receive real playing time and should be considered solid NHL prospects, but after that we are looking at Patrick Russell, Henrik Samuelsson and Braden Christoffer in the under 24 set.
Aapeli Rasanen is worth mentioning but is years away from turning pro. I suspect we will see a strong push to procure amateur forwards into the Oilers system this spring and summer, via free agency and the draft. I also think young Ryan Mantha may be the last defensive addition for some time.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A busy morning, TSN1260 beginning at 10. Scheduled to appear:
- Steve Lansky, BigMouth Sports. Tweaks for trade deadline shows, did Canadian teams do enough, Argos publicity machine not effective.
- Eric Fawcett, Press Basketball. We will talk about the Raptors performance after the deadline and NCAA Final Four preview some of the big name teams (and little ones) who might make a splash.
- Matt Iwanyk, TSN1260. Did the Oilers do enough?
- Paul Almeida, SSE. Could Desharnais be the answer long term at 3C?
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter.