Are the Oilers defense (already) better than last season?

Mike Smith and Darnell Nurse Defending Oilers' Goal (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Mike Smith and Darnell Nurse Defending Oilers' Goal (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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Brett Kulak #27 of the Edmonton Oilers defends against the Calgary Flames
Brett Kulak #27 of the Edmonton Oilers defends against the Calgary Flames during playoffs (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images) /

I know, we all liked to see a total change on the goaltending, and having a first option without doubts on Jack Campbell. Also, the value of Evander Kane’s contract together with the ones of Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto were a great job from GM Ken Holland and the whole organization

But one of the best off-season moves was Brett Kulak staying in Edmonton. With Duncan Keith retiring, the Oilers would have a big hole on defense if he had chosen to leave. Not only he is the perfect candidate to play on the second-pairing of defense, his contract is great as well.

The hometown boy signed for 4 years and 11 million dollars (2,75M AAV) to play for the team he grew up watching and supporting, even after being open to other options on the free agent market.

He already proved to be worth. Such as Cody Ceci, he arrived last season in Edmonton, is 28 years old and just had the best numbers of his career. Putting together his numbers in Montreal and Edmonton on 2021-22, he had 21 points (5 goals and 16 assists) in 74 games played.

But at the big spot he really showed what he is capable. With Nurse being injured and even suspended one game, he received more minutes than usual, more pressure than usual and played great, posting 5 assists and a plus minus of +7 in 16 playoff games.

Just like Ceci, in a full season with Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson, Kulak can also still evolve even more on defense and be one of the most important players of the team, making his contract be worth as well. Here’s what he had to say about testing the free agent market and staying in Edmonton:

"“You might only have one opportunity to test the free agent market [en carrière], philosophized Kulak, according to the official Oilers website. In this situation, I said to myself: « let’s see how it goes ». There were some things on the table, but the balance of things I was hoping to achieve [était] in Edmonton. It was an obvious decision to settle here with my wife.”"

Completing the Oilers’ defensive top 4 we have Evan Bouchard. Evan just had his first full season in NHL, playing 81 of the 82 games in regular season, scoring 12 goals and 31 assists (43 points) in a second-pairing with most of time having the highly-contested Duncan Keith alongside him. In the playoffs, he scored 3 goals and 6 assists in 16 GP. I know, sometimes we tend to forget, but that was only his rookie season.

Nurse has the potential to excel this season. Ceci and Kulak can have their best career numbers this year, but the one who seems to blaze up this season is Bouchard.

He will have all this expectation only with 23 years-old. This past year the Oilers noticed that the 10th pick of the 2018 draft isn’t just an important prospect for the future, but he’s already an important player for the present of the franchise.

Here is his numbers compared to other defensemen in the NHL:

"Among all defenceman who played as many minutes as Bouchard last year, he ranked seventh in terms of his 5×5 points per hour production. His 1.42 ranked behind the likes of Morgan Rielly, Victor Hedman, Justin Faulk, Brady Skjei, Cale Makar, and Roman Josi. Bouchard is good. Among the same parameters, Bouchard ranked fifth in 5×5 goals per hour behind Hedman, Shayne Gostisbehere, Makar, and Faulk."

And he’s not only valuable on the 5×5. His presence on the Power Play on only his rookie season was already great, with him having numbers to be even on the first line, contributing effectively on PP lines with names such as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane.

If he keeps improving as he is, we should see Bouchard earning even more and more ice time, such in 5×5 and Power Play, taking the place from Tyson Barrie, one of the most “offensive defenseman” in league

His offensive numbers are above average between the defensemen, but he still has a lot of room to be better in his defensive skills, and being with Brett Kulak most of the time, and even with Darnell Nurse sometimes, in addition to a full season with Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson, two coaches he knows since he played in Bakersfield, Evan can become a top defenseman in both sides of the ice.

And the Oilers has be profit all they can in the last rookie year of his contract:

"Bouchard broke out in his first full NHL season in 2021-22 and gave the Oilers a legitimate offensive threat from the blue line at just $863,333. With a full season of mentorship under coaches Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson, Bouchard should only get better. The ceiling is very high, and his defensive game should round into form soon enough. The Oilers will need to take advantage of the final year of the young defenceman’s entry-level deal before he is paid significantly more."