The Edmonton OIlers have acquired a lot of depth on defence over these last two seasons, and now, they find themselves in a bit of a predicament. They have a surplus of blueliners and not enough roster spots for all of them.
This isn’t a bad problem for the team to have, by any means. All of this depth on defence only indicates promise for the future. However, they have to consider the situation when it comes to balancing ice time for their free agent signees and up-and-coming prospects.
Here’s a list of all the defenders set to enter the Oilers organization this season:
Free Agent Signings: Yohann Auvitu, Ryan Stanton, Keegan Lowe and Eric Gryba (re-signed)
Prospects: Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Ryan Mantha and Ziyat Paigan
In Bakersfield: Mark Fayne, Ben Betker and Dillon Simpson (re-signed)
A Look at the Depth Chart
Last season, Bakersfield didn’t have as much depth on the blue line. They had Griffin Reinhart leading the charge, but he has now been taken by Vegas. Fayne was around to help out but was also battling injuries and not playing at his highest ability. The Condors also had Mark Fraser, who is now a free agent, as well as Dillon Simpson and Joey LaLeggia pulling the weight on the blue line. However, LaLeggia would later switch to the wing, and will probably remain a forward as he continues his career.
Now, Bakersfield finds themselves with a lot more depth, but possibly too much. Auvitu and Stanton will have to compete with Gryba for the role of the Oilers seventh defender. Whoever wins that battle will remain with the team, but the other two blueliners will head down to the minors. However, for the start of the year, Edmonton will likely only surrender one defenceman to the Condors, in wake of the injury to Andrej Sekera.
In addition, highly-notable prospects Bear, Jones, Mantha and Paigan are ready to take their expertise to the next level and are all but guaranteed ice time with the Condors this season. However, they all have the potential to take on top-four minutes and will have to fight for that ice time. Not only will they compete with each other, but they will have to battle with Simpson and Fayne for top-four minutes.
So, here is what the Condors blue line could look like:
Yohann Auvitu/Ryan Stanton-Dillon Simpson
ZIyat Paigan-Ryan Mantha
Caleb Jones- Ethan Bear
Too Many Cooks?
Bakersfield will start the year with eight blueliners, which isn’t the worst situation, but it is not fair to each defenceman. The prospects will be wanting more ice time as they continue their development, and players like Fayne and Simpson will want to keep their spots in the lineup. And with Auvitu and Stanton on the NHL/AHL border, they could be candidates for top-pairing minutes with the Condors.
With too many cooks in the kitchen and many more prospects on the way in the future, Edmonton could see themselves trading some of their pieces away. For instance we wrote an article discussing a potential trade for Mike Green, and the Oilers could send back some of these chips in a deal, such as Fayne or even Auvitu or Stanton.
Though roster spots are earned, the priority should be given to the prospects. Players like Bear, Jones and Mantha have earned their time in the AHL and deserve to get their fair share of time. Additionally, if Edmonton makes a trade for a top-four right-handed power-play quarterback or even a winger, they should hang on to their prospects first and foremost.
Overall, the Oilers have a little too much depth in the system heading into this season. However, it is not the worst crisis for a team to have.