We’re more than a month into the season and the Oilers still haven’t been able to ice their ideal blueline yet. Joel Persson was injured in pre-season and didn’t make his debut until the team’s second game of the year, which came immediately after Adam Larsson was placed on the Long-Term Injured Reserve due to a fractured fibula suffered on opening night.
Despite Larsson’s absence, the Oilers’ blueline has done an incredible job thus far. Ethan Bear has stepped in alongside Darnell Nurse and appears to be the top-four, right-handed, puck-moving defenceman the Oilers have coveted for years. Persson, despite being a late-bloomer rookie, looks like an NHL veteran alongside Oscar Klefbom. The play of the top-four has also allowed Kris Russell and Matt Benning to form a solid third pair.
In the next week or so, we’ll finally get to see Edmonton’s blueline at full strength. Larsson was on the ice at practice on Friday and said that he’ll be ready to return to action in a week-and-a-half.
Adam Larsson says he's hoping to be back in game action in a week-and-a-half. #Oilers
— Reid Wilkins (@ReidWilkins) November 8, 2019
Getting Larsson’s veteran presence back into the lineup will certainly be a boost for the Oilers, but it also creates a bit of a conundrum.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday SATURDAY EDITION question. How should the Oilers structure their blueline when Larsson returns from injury? Who moves out of the top-four? Does Dave Tippett roll with his originally-planned blueline from back in training camp? Or has the play of Edmonton’s two aforementioned rookies change things?
Heading into the season, the plan was to use Nurse and Larsson was the team’s primary shutdown pair while Klefbom would play with one of Bear or Persson in a more offensively-oriented role. That would leave Russell and Benning on the third pair, likely with the rookie who wasn’t playing with Klefbom in the AHL.
But since both Bear and Persson have proved early on that they’re capable NHL defenders, it’s hard to rationalize sending either player down to the minors. Things have been working nicely thus far, so why change it?
Persson and Klefbom have been a very nice offensive pair and Bear has given Nurse a puck-moving option on the other pair. I think the play when Larsson returns would be to slide him alongside Russell on the third pair that can be used in more of a shutdown role. Things will change as time goes along, but I wouldn’t mess with the top-four right now, even though Larsson is a veteran with big-minute experience.
What say you, Nation? How should the Oilers structure their blueline when fully healthy? Where does Larsson fit with Bear and Persson playing as well as they are?