Anton Belov has signed a four-year deal to play in the KHL. That is a loss. Big defencemen who can skate and shoot are rare, and while you can (and should) argue with Belov’s over-all game in 2013-14, facts are he has some very attractive tools that could have seen him turn into a 6 or 7D with the Oilers. But alas, we’ll never know if I was right on that. So, where does that leave us? I see at least one and possibly two new defenceman on this team next season. “Is that all”, you say, grabbing your arm at that statement, and panicking over the stabbing pain in your chest. Relax.
I’ve long believed that this team is only really missing one or two “real” NHL defencemen. “Real” means someone with 300+ games in this league, who competes hard in their own zone and who can make a good outlet pass. Call him Andrew Ference. We have one of those, and when we have 3 of them, Ference will look more like the player he was in Boston, and our over-all team Defense will be much better, as a result. Then, we don’t need to sign a defenceman who is a great puck-mover. Why not?
Because people way underestimate what we have in Justin Schultz. Stop complaining over something you’re not paying him for, he’s a creator, not a defender. While his stick has improved, he’s more often on the right side of the puck now, and his gaps have closed, can he be a better defender? Sure. But to be clear…Justin Schultz can score. That’s real value. You can teach the rest, but not that. Yes, he gives away the puck a bit. Good. So does Taylor Hall.
I won’t even try to convince you that Jeff Petry is on the verge of becoming a “real” NHL defenceman as well, because if your mind is already made up on him, I’m under no illusions that I can change your jaded opinion on Edmonton’s whipping boy. But when I’m right and you’re wrong, remember this.
Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin look like NHL defencemen-to-be. They have good tools, size, and have shown well early. But as for whether they’ll stick…talk to me in 2 years or more. Progress for an NHL defender does not go in a straight line. They’ll make the team this Fall. But have patience.
I like Darnell Nurse lots, too, but unless he comes into camp 15-20 pounds heavier and absolutely shoots the lights out at training camp, he should go back to The Soo. And even if he does perform over his head, he should probably go back anyway. The Oilers have handled his development well, so far. Don’t screw it up now.
I don’t know if the afore-mentioned NHL defencemen are someone named Joni Pitkanen and/or Matt Greene. But if you imagine those 2 types of players in this existing mix, the entire Oilers picture on the back-end starts to get a lot brighter. Like…playoff spot brighter.