Edmonton Oilers Defensive Corps Poised For A Playoff Push

Sep 21, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) skates with the puck against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Edmonton Oilers won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 21, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) skates with the puck against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Edmonton Oilers won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Edmonton Oilers, for the first time in a half-dozen years, have a blue-line that I can believe in. Please note, I did not say “that can win a Stanley Cup”. It is not nearly as high-end, as balanced or as deep as required to accomplish that, just yet. But I can see the Edmonton Oilers having a competitive 2016-17 season, if this group can stay healthy.

Oscar Klefbom is the guy most of the above hinges on. He is the one defenseman on the roster that has the tools to be the complete package. He is also the one with enough games under his belt to not be a question mark in terms of maturity. I see Klefbom on the top pairing, to play the toughest minutes, and to get substantial time on the Edmonton Oilers power play. It bothers me when people say that Oscar Klefbom is injury-prone, because that simply is not accurate. The shoulder issue from a few seasons back was a legit injury, but he is 100% recovered from that. And this past season’s absence was truly more of an “illness”, and the injury that started his stay in the I.R. was a minor one that healed quickly.

It is right to be concerned that the issue may re-surface, I suppose. But really no more than we were over the shoulder injury that Jordan Eberle suffered. All “injuries” of this sort are serious, and require proper rehab. But nothing about this has suggested “career ending” or “altering”. Those who do claim that should cool their jets and stand down.

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I truly had high hopes that Mark Fayne could play top-pairing minutes when we first acquired him. My eyes were wide open, I didn’t think he’d win the Norris…after all, that was Justin Schultz territory. But I felt, based on past performance, that he could look after his own end of the ice and be “solid”. That is something the team had sorely lacked. Today, I no longer hope that. Instead, I have hitched my wagon to Adam Larsson. Acquired in a trade for the player-I-will-no-longer-mention in Edmonton Oilers articles, Larsson has already demonstrated that he can fill the role. And, in fact, he would appear to have a long and healthy career in front of him in this role, right alongside Klefbom.

However, I don’t expect PP time from Larsson. But I DO expect 22+ minutes a game, with heavy emphasis on 5×5 and the penalty kill. Yes, I do expect a bit of a spike in his offence, but that is mostly because he’s on a more capable team on the attack. He has good first-pass skills, and some of those Connor McDavid will convert into points for him. But I am under no false illusions that
Adam Larsson is Paul Coffey. Nor should you be.

So, if Klefbom and Larson play the top pairing and the toughest matchups, who will be the 3-4 on this edition of the Edmonton Oilers?

Well, as luck would have it, the guy the Oilers tried in vain to make their 1D last year is still on the club. Andrej Sekera was then and is now far better suited to be a 2nd pairing D-man, and in fact…should be a very good one, indeed. He skates very well, moves the puck effectively (although he’s a little “diddly” at times”), and play a smart game as a defender. Sekera at 18 minutes a night is a very good thing.

But who pairs with him?

While  may be tempting to put Fayne with him, on the right side, and have a veteran paring that can face “the toughs,” I wouldn’t do that. I am a big believer in putting players in positions where they can succeed. And I think we would all be very satisfied with what Mark Fayne can deliver on the bottom pairing. Instead, I would shift Brandon Davidson over to the right side, where he was very capable last season. Suddenly, you have two players on that 2nd pairing that move the puck well (Davidson more of a first-pass model, to be sure), and a pairing that I would be more than comfortable taking “difficult”, if not “tough” minutes.

That takes us to the 3rd pairing, where I’ve already suggested Mark Fayne belongs, and that is where I would start Darnell Nurse. 3rd pairing minutes, a level of competition Darnell should be able to consistently handle, and a chance to take more of a puck-moving role in less-dicey situations that he was thrust into a year ago. I suspect that I am a much bigger Darnell Nurse fan than most of you. I fully expect this young man to become a very good 2nd pairing NHL defender. But again, if we are to put him in a situation where he has the best chance of succeeding, it would be here.

What about injuries? Well yes, they happen, and this is where depth comes into play, and it is not a strength the Edmonton Oilers possess. I am a little surprised that they have not signed Eric Gryba, as I think that’s a role he’s perfectly suited to. To me, your 7D need to be “solid”, primarily in his own end. In his absence, I suspect the job will likely fall to Jordan Oesterle. He skates extremely well, has puck moving abilities, and seems to think a decent defensive game despite his diminutive stature. And Oesterle doesn’t have much left to prove in the AHL. He can either play here or he can’t.

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Griffin Reinhart could push him for that role, but really…if the Edmonton Oilers are doing the right thing for Griffin, they are getting him a lot of minutes. And if that can’t be in the NHL, then sitting Reinhart in the press box is a waste. He does not need to clear waivers, and should go to Bakersfield. I suppose both David Musil and Mark Fraser are 7D candidates, but now you’re seeing the weak under-belly of the Edmonton Oilers organization. Honestly? I don’t like to think about that likelihood.

Finally, anyone who has read my columns knows my respect for Andrew Ference. But I’ve seen no signs of him occupying any roster spot except on LTIR., and that is a real shame.

Next: Edmonton Oilers: Can Laurent Brossoit Win a Roster Spot?

To re-cap, a health version of this D-core should enable the Edmonton Oilers to challenge for a post-season berth. But that health, & the emergence of several younger assets, will be key to that.