The Edmonton Oilers find themselves heading into the offseason once again without a top 2 defender. Oilers GM Craig MacTavish has publicly expressed the priority that is a top tier defenseman for the organization. So, should Oiler fans be alarmed that the team remains without one? Well, yes and no.
ANY team ought to be alarmed they don’t possess a top pairing defender in the strictest sense. Having a player like that anchors the defensive core and often becomes an essential part of the power play and/or penalty kill. Most of all, they chew up minutes. Guys like Shae Weber and Drew Doughty play large swaths of time every night, and with good reason.
The Oilers did indeed add a couple of nice pieces to the defense in Edmonton. Nikita Nikitin has had moments of brilliance throughout his career, and he is joining the Oilers in the prime of his career. Mark Fayne is a better player than Nick Schultz was, and should be given that he plays a similar role. Fayne is not an offensive specialist and will be counted on to lock down the defensive zone. With the money and term committed to these players, one can only hope they act as upgrades, ultimately, to a defense that sorely needed them.
The key to this year’s version of the Oilers can be found purely in experience. This squad, despite its shortcomings, is one with more hours on the ice battling real NHL players. Most of the d-men the Oilers have been using are journeymen defenders and young prospects. Now, the roster contains a few recognizable NHl talents and that is worth something.
Of course, it appears the Oilers have a pipeline of top end defensive prospects. Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom are all but locks to make the club eventually—maybe even this season—and players like Jordan Oesterle and Dillon Simpson could surprise.
The truth is the Oilers are a club bursting with potential. Martin Marincin already has his foot in the door, Justin Schultz should take a step forward and the team has a new terror on the third pairing in towering Keith Aulie. The Oilers don’t have a top end guy—yet. He’s on his way either by development or by trade down the road. The Oilers will improve, and when the club starts winning again, they may find those elusive pieces come out of the woodwork and fall into place.