Rebuilding The Defence

Jonathan Willis
November 28 2010 04:35PM

Defencemen develop by sundial.

A quick glance at the current roster confirms that. Ryan Whitney was a fifth overall pick in 2002, but didn’t play his first NHL game until he’d spent two more years in college and played 120 contests in the AHL. Tom Gilbert’s arrival in the NHL didn’t happen until five years after he was drafted. Ladislav Smid went ninth overall in 2004; he spent a year in Europe and a year in the AHL before he arrived in Edmonton (where he was rushed into the line-up to show the fruits of the Pronger trade) and only really emerged as a reliable player last season – and he (hopefully) still has a ways to go, in his fifth NHL season. Kurtis Foster, meanwhile, played more than 300 games in the AHL and spent two post-draft seasons in junior before finally making the jump to the NHL in 2005-06.

The point here is that it can take a long time for a defenceman to go from draft pick to reliable NHL’er. This is true even of top-10 draft picks. Over at Houses of the Hockey, I looked at top-10 picks from the last 10 drafts and found just three ready to contribute immediately on an NHL blue-line.

For the Edmonton Oilers, this presents a bit of a problem. The team’s blue-line has been its most obvious weakness, and while the team is blessed with an assortment of competent defensive prospects, none look to be ready for top-four duty any time soon. Theo Peckham’s just breaking into the league, and while the team’s key minor league prospects (in order: Jeff Petry, Alex Plante, Taylor Chorney) all have things going for them, none of them have been so compelling in the AHL that they’re shoe-ins for an NHL spot at this time. Elsewhere, Martin Marincin might be the team’s best defensive prospect, but he’s still playing junior hockey and is probably looking forward to at least one year in the AHL before he seriously threatens for an NHL roster spot.

Even if the Oilers were blessed with half a dozen prospects breaking down the doors, they couldn’t play them all at the NHL level. Only once in the last 10 seasons have the Oilers broken in more than one rookie defenceman at a time, back in 2002-03 – and one of those rookies was a 25-year old European pro named Ales Pisa. Neither he nor top prospect (at the time) Alexei Semenov cracked the 50 game barrier. I’d suggest that at the very most the Oilers might carry three rookie defencemen at one time, and that it is far more likely they would not carry more than two. Additionally, if they chose to carry two rookie defencemen next season, they would almost certainly be unable to carry two more in 2012-13. There are only so many spots on any blue-line that can go to players still developing into NHL’ers.

The difficulty of breaking NHL defencemen in is only half the problem. The other half is the weakness of the Oilers’ current group. I’d argue that as it stands they need at least two more top-four (ideally top-two) defencemen, without making any subtractions. That would allow them to ice a top four including Whitney and Gilbert, and leaving Smid and Foster on the third pairing with Peckham subbing in for whoever is playing poorest. Those kind of players are not easy to find.

The way I see it, this means that somewhere along the way, Steve Tambellini is going to have to start augmenting his defensive corps through some avenue other than the NHL Entry Draft. He’s done a tremendous job of dismantling it (he inherited a team with Visnovsky, Souray, Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Staios, and Smid on the back end) but this summer it will be time to add pieces, either via trade or free agency. Capable veterans will be needed to ride shotgun for whatever young players are added to the group, and they have to do more than add toughness or be a presence in the dressing room – they need to be able to provide on-ice support.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#201 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 29 2010, 04:57PM
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Bucknuck wrote:

It's good enough for me considering how destructive the room has been in the past and also how good Eberle has been. I think he will be a PPG player in this league, and when you add in that he loves the Oilers I can't help but say I agree that I wouldn't trade him. I would trade Hall before I would trade Eberle.

Couple things:

1. I didn't list those guys are trade ideas, I listed them to show the caliber of player typically drafted in the #2 spot, and the frequency in which they are pulled.

ie in the context of the conversation we aren't actually talking about trading for any of those 10 guys, rather for a pick that would likely score us a player of that caliber.

2. Do people really think non of those guys would EVER (as capitalized in the original post) play here?

What on earth happend to fans in this town? It's like talking about relationships with someone that's had multiple abusive ex's.

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#202 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 29 2010, 05:02PM
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Over that 10 year period the number two slot produced:

- A Hart win

- Another Hart nomination

- 7 100 point seasons

- A Conn Smyth trophy

- A Norris trophy nomination

I'd expect many more of the above from that group, I'd expect zero of the same for Eberle.

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#203 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 29 2010, 05:08PM
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Bucknuck wrote:

It's good enough for me considering how destructive the room has been in the past and also how good Eberle has been. I think he will be a PPG player in this league, and when you add in that he loves the Oilers I can't help but say I agree that I wouldn't trade him. I would trade Hall before I would trade Eberle.

As a side not their were only 4 RW at 80+ points last year.

Only 6 at 70+ points (not 6 more, 6 in total).

only 14 at 60+.

and only 26 at 50+ points

Even setting the bar at 80 points is extremly high.

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#204 Wanyes bastard child
November 29 2010, 05:09PM
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Wow... just wow.

Finally caught up on all the reading and I think shadi has just joined the ranks of madjam and death metal nightmare for me...

Ender and the rest, I agree with the bird in hand, we'd be crazy to take that kind of gamble.

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#205 Bucknuck
November 29 2010, 06:32PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

As a side not their were only 4 RW at 80+ points last year.

Only 6 at 70+ points (not 6 more, 6 in total).

only 14 at 60+.

and only 26 at 50+ points

Even setting the bar at 80 points is extremly high.

I agree. I think he is capable of that in his prime. We shall see. Anything more than 50 points is an over-acheive when you consider his draft position.

If you have the ability to be north of 65 points in this league then you are a first line player; your stats back that up nicely. thanks.

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#206 Jerk Store
November 29 2010, 08:54PM
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Couple of things:

- Not sure anyone would give up a KNOWN 2nd overall for Eberle

- Eberle is getting very good at protecting the puck even though he is no bigger than a minute. Smart player.

- If Oilers have a chance take a top center - Couturier (I am sure I screwed the spelling here) or N-H (couldn't mess that one up) DO IT! As alluded in this offering from Mr. Willis, defencemen who play well the first two to three years are few and far between. Unless Larsson is the 2nd coming of Doughty, grab the big center and trade assets / poach other teams developing D-men.

No thanks required Mr. Tambellini, just put my name on the cup.

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#207 jr_christ
November 30 2010, 11:26AM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

Over that 10 year period the number two slot produced:

- A Hart win

- Another Hart nomination

- 7 100 point seasons

- A Conn Smyth trophy

- A Norris trophy nomination

I'd expect many more of the above from that group, I'd expect zero of the same for Eberle.

Who cares...

Why don't we bring out the stats on players who weren't drafted first or second overall and you'll see that there are STILL many great players.

Eberle has played 23 games and has 14 points on the WORST NHL team. He is on pace for first seaons that are better than more than half of the guys you listed. A Heart nomination???? It took Sedin 11 years to get that!!!

Wake up... this is his rookie season!

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#208 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 30 2010, 11:52AM
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jr_christ wrote:

Who cares...

Why don't we bring out the stats on players who weren't drafted first or second overall and you'll see that there are STILL many great players.

Eberle has played 23 games and has 14 points on the WORST NHL team. He is on pace for first seaons that are better than more than half of the guys you listed. A Heart nomination???? It took Sedin 11 years to get that!!!

Wake up... this is his rookie season!

Sorry, but I think you are the one that needs to wake up.

A second overall pick is far more valuable then Eberle and the Oilers would be nuts to pass it up in exchange for Eberle if it became available.

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#209 jr_christ
November 30 2010, 01:32PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

Sorry, but I think you are the one that needs to wake up.

A second overall pick is far more valuable then Eberle and the Oilers would be nuts to pass it up in exchange for Eberle if it became available.

You think if we had a second overall pick on our team this year he would be performing better than Eberle?

Interesting take, as retarded as it sounds.

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#210 jr_christ
November 30 2010, 01:34PM
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ESPECIALLY considering the 2010 First overall isn't as good as Eberle.

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#211 jr_christ
November 30 2010, 01:37PM
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The second overall in 2010 isn't as good as Eberle either...

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#212 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 30 2010, 01:38PM
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jr_christ wrote:

You think if we had a second overall pick on our team this year he would be performing better than Eberle?

Interesting take, as retarded as it sounds.

Obviously not, seeing as he's 17 and still in jr.

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#213 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 30 2010, 01:39PM
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Yes, Eberle is better then Hall/Seguin right now. He's also 2 full years older.

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#214 jr_christ
November 30 2010, 01:47PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

Yes, Eberle is better then Hall/Seguin right now. He's also 2 full years older.

Ok, so guess what smartie-panties?

He'll be 3 years older than a second overall next year!!

Anything else you'd like to add??

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#215 jr_christ
November 30 2010, 01:51PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

Obviously not, seeing as he's 17 and still in jr.

Ok... apply that to Seguin then.

You think Seguin would be performing better than Eberle?

Wait... Eberle is 2 years older, so of course not.

Let me see if I can sum up what you are saying here:

You want a second overall, even if they aren't as good as Eberle has shown he is. However, it doesn't matter is Eberle has proven he was a late first Gem... because he is 2 years older. However, as an 18 and 19 year old he was scoring a point per game in the AHL.

I bet my LIFE Seguin couldn't do that right now!!! Hodgson is better than Seguin and HE can't even do it.

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#216 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 30 2010, 02:00PM
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Would you trade him for Crosby? How about Stamkos? Doughty? Toews?

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#217 jr_christ
November 30 2010, 02:05PM
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@OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

You aren't comparing the SAME things here.

There is a difference between the POTENTIAL in a draft pick, and a known value AFTER the pick has been selected and PROVED they are good at hockey.

I would NEVER trade Eberle for next year's second overall because I KNOW Eberle is a great hockey player, while I have NO IDEA if the second overall will pan out and get us 8 points like Seguin.

There is no analagous characteristics in your rhetorical question.

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#218 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 30 2010, 02:38PM
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I ask you that because I'm trying to gauge just how badly you over rate Eberle. And don't pretend like Eberle having 6 more points then Seguin supports your case in anyway.

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#219 jr_christ
November 30 2010, 03:22PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

I ask you that because I'm trying to gauge just how badly you over rate Eberle. And don't pretend like Eberle having 6 more points then Seguin supports your case in anyway.

But if Seguin had 6 more points you wouldn't be including that in your arguement? It's the only hard stat which EVERYONE looks at.

I totally understand what you are getting at, however, I am simply pointing out that potential is NOT the same as actual.

I guess I just think that Eberle, being a few years older and already establishing himself as a solid 2 way player, is EXACTLY what the Oilers need in a player.

Would I give up a great piece of the puzzle for a chance at having another piece? Hell no!

Anyway, who really cares. The Oilers will NEVER trade Eberle and it looks like the 2nd overall pick will be ours anyway.

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#220 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 30 2010, 03:49PM
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@jr_christ

"But if Seguin had 6 more points you wouldn't be including that in your arguement? It's the only hard stat which EVERYONE looks at."

Of course not, he's 18 years old and played 20 NHL games.

I don't care who's better now, I care who's better in year 4/5/6/7 etc.

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#221 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 30 2010, 03:51PM
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"I totally understand what you are getting at, however, I am simply pointing out that potential is NOT the same as actual."

I realize that potential is not the same as actual and never said otherwise. I brought up the list of 2nd overall picks, because the only conclusion I could come to, as to why people would take Eberle over a shot at a guy like that is because they don't realize the caliber and consistancy that number 2 produces elite.

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#222 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
November 30 2010, 03:52PM
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"Would I give up a great piece of the puzzle for a chance at having another piece? Hell no!"

It isn't about giving up a great piece for another great piece. It's about giving up a might be quasi star for a might be future hall of famer.

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