September 01 2011 06:31PM
The Oilers blue is blue. Real Blue. Boasting just two established defenseman who are capable of playing all three disciplines (EV, PP, PK), some young emerging talent and several questions marks. Blue. Real blue.
In the second of my "reasonable" series we look at defense. I would like to start by saying that everyone associated with the NHL--fan, media, onlooker, NHL employee, vendor at the game, players, coaches, anthem singers, NHLPA, photographers, trainer, zamboni driver, guys who paint the lines, cheerleaders, ice scrapers, security, time keeper, on and off ice officials, homeless guy by the LRT exit, ticket takers, program salesperson, cleaning staff, seamstress--everyone knows the Oilers have some worries on the blueline. So what I'm about to predict isn't exactly rocket surgery.
If Ladislav Smid can be effective at evens (again) and help on the PK; if Cam Barker can establish himself as a useful even strength player while also helping the PP; if Peckham can take a step forward, if Sutton can PK like a madman and if Jeff Petry looks as good as he did last year in the NHL, then the Oilers will answer a lot of questions about their blue in the next 8 months.That's a lot of uncertainty.
- Top Pairing: Ryan Whitney (50gp, 4-24-28); Cam Barker (66gp, 7-16-23). I think the Oilers have to give Barker a clear shot at success and pairing him with Whitney would seem to be a natural fit. Barker has not proven to be an effective option against the NHL's best forwards but Edmonton doesn't have a lot of options. I'd suggest both will see significant time on the PP and PK. Whitney's lower number (compared to last season) reflects his injury concerns and the fact that last season saw a lot going his way. These numbers correct for that and drives everything back to the median.
- Second Pairing: Theo Peckham (70gp, 3-12-15); Tom Gilbert (82gp, 5-23-28). This pairing played together quite a bit and although I think Smid is still a better player than Peckham it's probably time to see if Teddy Peckman can be Pat Quinn (the player). Gilbert is--and I know many at ON will disagree--a solid NHL defenseman who can play in all situations. Whatever his limitations, Tom Gilbert is ahead of the men not named Whitney on the Oilers depth chart and it isn't close. This tandem may end up being the de facto top pairing should Whitney's injuries become a long term issue. Should that occur, Smid might move up the depth chart.
- Third Pairing: Ladislav Smid (70gp, 1-7-8); Jeff Petry (50gp, 2-10-12). Smid has played well for two seasons in a row and could form an effective tandem with the organization's most talented young D prospect in Petry. Although Petry is likely to start the season in the minors (Whitney's injury may change all of that) there's little doubt he'll have an impact on the Oilers season.
- Extras: Andy Sutton (44gp, 0-3-3); Taylor Chorney (38gp, 1-5-6); Corey Potter (25gp, 0-5-5). Sutton played depth minutes at even strength and big PK minutes last season and that's the role I think he'll play this year in Edmonton. Sutton's presence is an advantage in that he's a veteran and can move up the depth chart and has the experience to hold his own. Chorney probably gets the job as 7D out of camp due to the waiver worry and hangs around all year, but it looks like he's a tweener. Corey Potter is a very interesting player and could be the surprise of the group. Good size, a nice range of skills and coach Renney is familiar with his ability. There's a chance he makes the grade.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
It means the Oilers are not on solid ground defensively. During portions of the game where Whitney and Gilbert are not on the ice, those uneasy feelings Oiler fans have endured since 2006 spring will return. I suggest a beer fridge nearby and keeping tabs on prospects like Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom, David Musil and others.
Peckham and Petry have joined Gilbert and Smid, and if Whitney can stay healthy then this team might make a run at a playoff spot if Dubnyk can play 70 games while staying effective. Cam Barker is a risk for what he'll be asked to do, and we'll see about that.