While the Oilers badly need to do some renovations on their forward group over the off-season, their blueline appears to be pretty much solidified heading into next season. As of right now, it seems the blueline is the position of strength the Oilers can deal from in order to address a position of weakness, which is skill and quality depth up front.
As of right now, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson figure to be the Oilers’ top pair. Darnell Nurse is slowly developing into a top-pairing defenceman and he’s pencilled in nicely to anchor the team’s second pair. Kris Russell and Matt Benning have proved to be very solid when playing third-pairing minutes and Andrej Sekera was excellent in limited minutes after getting activated from the Injured Reserve last year.
Beyond their NHL group, the Oilers also have a wealth of prospects knocking on the door for an NHL opportunity. Evan Bouchard was dominant in the OHL last year and he’s the right-handed, puck-moving defenceman the team badly needs. Caleb Jones looked comfortable in his cup of coffee last year, Ethan Bear appeared ready to take a spot on the team last year, and William Lagesson had a very strong rookie season in North America. There’s also an under-the-radar name in Joel Persson who could turn heads at camp.
All told, it certainly makes sense for the Oilers to sell from their blueline to add up front. That can come in the form of trading an asset like Benning for a middle-six winger or it can come by dumping a contract like Russell to free up more room to sign free agents.
But before we get into blowing up the Oilers’ blueline in order to make additions up front, we should remember how quickly a couple of injuries can flip things on its head.
The Oilers’ blueline got dealt a major blow in the off-season last year when it was announced Andrej Sekera would miss a significant chunk of time due to an Achilles injury. Sekera, of course, got hurt in Edmonton’s second-round series against the Ducks in 2017 and it was a major loss for them both in that series and into the following season. The last two seasons have made it clear how valuable Sekera’s presence is on this team.
The second major blow the Oilers’ blueline suffered was when Oscar Klefbom broke a finger after blocking a shot in a game in the middle of December. The Oilers were rocketing up the standings at that time and the loss of Klefbom sent them into a tailspin they would never recover from.
As we saw last year, you’re just an injury to Klefbom and Sekera away from playing Kevin Gravel nearly 20 minutes a night and throwing a rookie like Jones into the deep end.
The defenceman I’m most comfortable moving in order to free up cap room would be Russell. As I said earlier, he’s quite good when playing on the third pairing, but he starts to struggle when he moves up the lineup. Benning isn’t much different, but right-handed defencemen are a scarcity around the league and he’s much cheaper than Russell is right now.
The Oilers are much deeper on the left side than they are the right side and Sekera’s strong return, I figure, made Russell expendable. The ideal picture for me is Klefbom and Larsson on the top pair, Nurse on the second, and Sekera and Benning on the third. That leaves the Oilers with a spot on the second pair with Nurse for somebody who can move the puck and produce offence.
Given how conservative Holland is with prospects, I expect Bear and Bouchard, two guys who fit that profile, to start in the AHL. I would also imagine that the team doesn’t want to pencil Persson into the top-six right away. Even if it’s someone other than Russell moving, like Sekera or Benning, it seems prudent for the Oilers to find a cheap, veteran blueliner on the open market.
The list of defencemen available isn’t very good. Tyler Myers and Jake Gardiner are the top options on the market since Erik Karlsson signed and both are very likely to be overpaid. Names I would be looking for in this situation are Ron Hainsey, a veteran who can log tough minutes and play his off side, Anthon Stralman, a righty who can move the puck and play a steady game defensively, and Adam McQuaid, who’s basically a right-handed version of Russell.
Again, the list isn’t inspiring. These aren’t game-changing players, but, if they can be added at a cheap price on a short term, would provide veteran stability to ensure that the Oilers don’t need to rush prospects into roles they aren’t ready for.
THIRD ANNUAL OILERSNATION OPEN
After having such a blast over the past two years, we absolutely knew that we were going to organize another golf tourney for the summer and, after a few months of planning, we’re psyched to finally be able to launch our third annual golf tournament.
- When – August 29th, 2019 (Thursday)
- Where – Cougar Creek Golf Resort
- How much – $1000/team or get in on the $900 Early Bird price until July 10th
- Teams – Groups of Four (4)
- How – Book your team here
As always, a portion of all proceeds from your ticket purchase will be donated directly to a local charity. This time we’ve partnered up with the Gregor Foundation to make sure that our kids are at their most handsome.