The Edmonton Oilers are set to start their year with less depth on defence. Top-four defenceman Andrej Sekera is out to start the year with a leg injury, which leaves Edmonton’s blue line with questions.
First off, Kris Russell is expected to take over for Sekera on the left side of the second pairing. Because he usually plays on his off-hand as the second-pairing right-hand defender, this leaves an open spot on the second-pairing right-hand side. While Matthew Benning played exceptional hockey in his rookie campaign, showcasing puck-moving prowess and solid defence, can he move to the top-four to start his sophomore year? After him, Eric Gryba would come next when it comes to filling that spot on the right side.
With that being said, and the Oilers’ dilemma to start the year, would it be wise to sign another blueliner?
First off, the Oilers could find a solid right-handed defender on the market. Cody Franson – the 6-foot-5, 224-pound giant with puck-moving skill and size – is perhaps the top candidate.
Looking at Franson
Not only is he big, and not only can he move the puck up the ice and skate well, but he has great possession metrics. His relative Corsi was at a 4.4 through 68 games last season, and he also had three goals and 19 points. The only area he needs to improve in is the physicality department; he used to throw well over 100 hits per season, but his numbers have been on the decline as time has gone by. He still throws his weight around, but not nearly as much as he used to.
With Franson still available, and likely at a cheap rental price, the Oilers could sign him to a low-risk contract. He would add more depth to the blue line and also take on top-four minutes. Not only that, the 29-year-old has years of NHL experience and could help the younger players further develop.
How This Impacts the Blue Line
Edmonton’s defence is young. They are still good, and overall solid, but the younger players cannot turn into top-four defenders overnight. In fact, keeping players like Benning on the bottom pairing will help him transition to the NHL and make it easier for him to develop. He shouldn’t have to deal with the pressure of fulfilling the duties of a top-four defender, especially immediately after his rookie year.
Secondly, the Oilers defence is somewhat lacking when it comes to potential top-four players. Darnell Nurse is still developing like Benning and needs more time to step up and prove himself worthy of a top-four role. Gryba plays a solid, physical game and is a solid skater and very strong; however, he doesn’t take good care of the puck and is not a proven top-four blueliner. The Oilers did sign Yohann Auvitu to a one-year deal, but he is a left-hand shot who is not yet proven as a top-four NHL defenceman.
Therefore, the team should consider signing someone like Franson. He’s a top-four player who is capable of taking on bigger minutes, and he takes great care of the puck. In addition, Franson can work well with Russell, who is not the best at maintaining control of the puck but is able to play solid defence and bail his team out.