The Defence

Jonathan Willis
March 18 2013 04:07PM

As far as I’m concerned, the pivotal question for the Edmonton Oilers down the stretch – and into the summer for that matter - has less to do with whether or not this specific group can squeak into one of the final playoff spots and more to do with what the long-term plan is on the blue line.

The Current Group

  • Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
  • Nick Schultz - Justin Schultz
  • Mark Fistric - Ryan Whitney
  • Theo Peckham - Corey Potter

The depth chart fluctuates from day to day, but that’s more or less where it stands right now. Whitney can play either side; one suspects that part of the current willingness to play Potter is that he’s the third right-shooting defenceman in the system and the coaches prefer to go left-right/left-right/left-right down all three pairings.

It’s a weak group in the present; there was hope Whitney could return to form but in his current state the bottom four guys are all probably best suited to a six/seven role. As for the top-four, Schultz was impressive early on but has struggled of late, and with those struggles this tweet from yesterday rang true for me.

Moving to the long-term, beyond the Justin Schultz/Jeff Petry 1-2 punch on the right side, there are lots more questions than answers:

  • Can the team afford to sign Ladislav Smid?
  • Long-term is Smid a good fit for that second spot on the left side?
  • Do Mark Fistric and Theo Peckham have futures with the team in a depth role?
  • Does the extra year on Corey Potter’s deal mean he’s in the NHL in 2013-14?

The Prospects

The strength of Edmonton’s prospect pool is on defence. Oscar Klefbom is considered a big part of the future by practically everyone, and the Oilers are bullish on his potential in the NHL. A quartet of prospects – Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, David Musil and Dillon Simpson – are valued to varying degrees, while Colten Teubert and Taylor Fedun likely have less long-term upside but might end up filling depth roles.

The trouble is that none of them can really be counted on absolutely. Klefbom might be ready to step into the NHL immediately in 2013-14, but he played all of 11 games in Sweden’s top league before injury shortened his season. The Oilers are in better shape if he’s the first call-up option than if he’s on the opening night roster. Gernat, Musil and Simpson haven’t played a professional game; Marincin has one year under his belt but his performance (though promising) was uneven.

Also of interest: as I understand it, Colten Teubert is in his final season of waiver ineligibility. Do the Oilers do what they’ve traditionally done, elevating him to the NHL roster, or do they risk waivers on that player?

My Answers

The Oilers need help on the blue line, and the free agent pool this year is mostly atrocious. Losing Smid without a certain backup plan is simply too great a risk, plus he really does seem like a solid bet as the number two defenceman on the left side paired with one of the Oilers’ two right-shooting puck-movers. I’m not much worried about the rumours of his departure – he’s a pending unrestricted free agent and this year’s class is weak, so it’s only natural for teams to keep an eye on him as a deadline acquisition or summer signing – and I expect the Oilers get a deal done.

Of the current bottom-four, I’d likely keep one – Peckham or Fistric – for the seventh slot, dealing off the rest and burying Potter in the minors next season if necessary. Potter’s on an NHL contract but the dollars are low enough that sticking him back in the AHL isn’t impossible at some point next season if nobody else is interested. That leaves two roster spots open – one for a higher-level stopgap on a one or two year deal (an older left-side defenceman like Lubomir Visnovsky, Mark Streit, etc. would be a good fit here – the idea is to land someone to do what Ryan Whitney was supposed to do this year) and one for a third-pairing right-side veteran (a player like Ian White in Detroit is a good example) who can bring more to the position than the current collection of depth guys can.

That gives the team the following depth chart entering 2013-14:

  • Ladislav Smid – Justin Schultz
  • [Visnovsky-type] – Jeff Petry
  • Nick Schultz – [White-type]
  • [Peckham or Fistric]

It is less than ideal but allows the Oilers a secure third pairing (which they haven’t had in years) with players who can pinch in as injury requires, and a top-four that might be able to handle things by committee in the short-term. Ideally, the Oilers could simply trade for a stud left-side defenceman and bump Smid down, but that type of player is a) costly and b) in short supply.

In the minors go Oscar Klefbom (at least to start), Colten Teubert (if he clears waivers), Corey Potter (if he can’t be traded), Martin Marincin, Taylor Fedun, David Musil and possibly Martin Gernat (though Europe is apparently a possibility there) as well as Brandon Davidson. That leaves a lot of potential call-up options for the Oilers if everybody makes it down, but even assuming the loss of both Potter and Teubert leaves three reasonable call-up options for the team – and a player in Klefbom who might force his way on to the roster.

There are lots of possibilities, though – my general outline above is just one. Maybe there’s a line on a quality player via trade. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable with Smid on a long-term deal. Maybe they see Klefbom as an immediate NHL’er, or think enough of Teubert to use him as a #7/#8 defender in the majors next year – there’s a long list of possible combinations, and the Oilers’ historic willingness to advance rookies quickly and unwillingness to risk even marginal assets on the waiver wire (something mercifully reversed with Eager and Hordichuk) mean htat it’s impossible for an outsider to predict exactly what they’re going to do.

That’s why they bear watching. The Oilers intentions on the blue line in the long-term will be revealed in the lead-up to the trade deadline and over the summer. It’s a portion of the roster that needs to be handled carefully to maximize both the short- and long-term fortunes of the team.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 YoungOil
March 18 2013, 04:10PM
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My Fist FIST! I hope the Oilers re-sign Smid. As soon as he's gone, they'll be looking for another D-man just like him.

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#2 Spoilers
March 18 2013, 04:23PM
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Gagner + Smid + 1st for Weber. And then re-do the depth chart.

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#3 Con-Air McDavid
March 18 2013, 04:28PM
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Always a great article when Jonathan writes it. I've got a question for the rest of the nation though, where can I guy get the absolute dirt cheapest nosebleed oilers tickets? Any advice?

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#4 vetinari
March 18 2013, 04:40PM
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This is the area where we need a bold and creative GM with the ability to turn surplus goods into an actual team asset.

Keep Smid-- you can't replace him easily. Also, extend Fistric because he is a good bottom pairing guy.

Trade Whitney at the deadline but if you can't get back a decent pick or prospect in return, let him walk in July.

Go shopping for a cap casualty or two at the April trade deadline or talk to some non-playoff teams looking to shed payroll: teams will have to get cap compliant by July so maybe a package of Whitney, Potter and a surplus prospect might get you back an actual top four veteran you can use (and give them depth for either a playoff run or to retool for 2013-14). Whitney comes off the books in July so a team might take him on as a rental player for the playoffs.

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#5 RexLibris
March 18 2013, 04:49PM
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Wholeheartedly agree on starting Klefbom in the minors next season. Re-signing Whitney, while inadvisable, would have at least one positive in that it would ensure the team takes it's time with Klefbom in the AHL.

As for Gernat going to Europe, I actually think they may be on to something here. This young man is very close with his family and the Oilers are already running a lot of young men through their farm system. While it would be nice to have him play alongside Marincin as a fellow countryman and defensive prospect, if he feels more comfortable in Slovakia, and that it will help his development, than I'd support it.

It means giving up some control, but as an act of good faith and using Frank Musil as an overseas contact, it may provide a net benefit for the team.

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#6 Taylor Gang
March 18 2013, 04:53PM
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Anyone think we should get Yandle?

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#7 Muji
March 18 2013, 04:55PM
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Klefbom - J.Schultz
Smid - Petry
Whitney - N.Schultz
Fistric - Potter

That looks perfect because:
- Klefbom is a stud
- J.Schultz is a stud
- Whitney will be fine after a summer of rest and seasoning

*Note that the above does not reflect MY opinion, but the probable opinion of our savvy** management.

**Our management is not savvy. at all.

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#9 Thinker
March 18 2013, 05:00PM
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I would say our defense is like this. Blank J.Schultz Blank Petry Smid Schultz Fistric

Our problem is that we are missing two top 4 dmen. You can trade any of those guys at the bottom so long as you get an equal or greater player in return. I don't know who the oilers can get outside of the draft without paying extravagent prices either. Only marincin and klefbom have potential to fill the second pairing hole. Maybe we target jake gardiner? The top man job is a lot harder. We need a second J. Schultz at the very least to fill in there. Teams don't trade those guys. So maybe d by committee.

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#10 Will
March 18 2013, 05:04PM
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I keep hearing the market in D is shallow this year. Are there any notable names that stick out? Much like Sutter and RFA Webber, are there any big Whales out there that could be worth trying to land?

Do we have tradable assets the likely won't net us a solid number 2, but maybe a Smid type in case he goes, without overpaying wiht the likes of Gagner or Hemsky?

If we draft a big centre, does that make Gagner expendable as an RFA, and if so is his value high enough to get back a number 2? Does a trade like that make our team better or did we just make a hole at centre?

In that scenario, I don't think we do as we trade for a more unproven centre, but with Horcoff and Nuge, there is time for that centre to develop without sacrificing too much of what Gagner brought.

It really feels like we're so close on defence. Like one good trade and a prospect development away.

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#11 Will
March 18 2013, 05:06PM
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@Jonathan Willis

What about offseason acquisition?

If we are in the playoffs at the deadline, but haven't signed Smid. Would you still trade him so you don't lose him for nothing?

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#13 Dangilitis
March 18 2013, 05:21PM
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Jonathan, I also think Smid (1) actually wants to be here (big check mark), (2) hates losing (someone already alluded to Oil Change episode), and (3) plays shutdown D like nobody else on the team.

If I am evaluating contracts, I would look first at getting rid of Nick's contract before Smid's. Not that I would necessarily give up on Nick, but he's (currently) a more expensive, less skilled version of Smid. It's funny that lots of posters and bloggers are saying that anything above 3.5 and he's not worth it, and that's exactly what Schultz gets paid... Seems like you can forget about Smid accepting anything less than the precedent set on the Oilers' team, let alone the fact that he's a UFA. The length is what scares me a little, though, in that the rumors say 5 years. He should be coming into his prime but he's not a slam dunk.

I always like reading your posts, because you're always quite balanced. Not as doom and gloom as Copper and Blue (nor as focused on new statistics), but at the same time, no rose-colored glasses, either. I also like that you give suggestions, actually put yourself out there for criticism, etc. rather than being depressingly pessimistic without a suggestion on how things should improve (again, refer to C+B). My question is this: White-types should be attainable. But who else out there fits the Lubo/Streit role, as Streit will likely be re-signed? Do you think J-Bo is a solution or a problem (in a new contract)? Do they need to trade for this type, and what would you offer?

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#14 DrDave
March 18 2013, 05:23PM
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Just had a thought that could help the Oilers in a few ways (mostly on the back end). Trade Yak and Gagner to Montreal for Subban, Lars Eller and Louis Leblanc.

Subban would immediately step into that #1 D role and #1 PP spot, Eller would be a great 3/4C once either or both Horc and Belanger are gone and Leblanc (although he's young and unproven) has some serious size at Center and could potentially be our future #2 C.

It's definitely a lopsided trade for Mtl but in order to get a player like Subban that what needs to happen. I highly doubt any of this happens seeing where MTL is in the standings and their wack job GM is gone now but its fun to throw out ideas.

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#15 messy Eh!
March 18 2013, 05:27PM
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Smid wants to be here. I think the Oilers may over pay to keep him 3.75 for 5 years is probably fair. But I think the the winners of the northern Alberta Miss management pageant will likely go for the congeniatally portion by offering 16 over 4 years.

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#16 The Oilers Shot Clock
March 18 2013, 05:28PM
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No FA signings please. A veteran puck mover has the most inflated value when it comes to signing season. Its like people get all nostalgic for an antique, and put themselves in a bad spot to buy it because they really think they could use it and before you know it, you just signed Wideman until 2017 for 5.2 million. I would be upset if we let Smid go, and then we just sign Streit to more than we would have had to pay Smid to begin with. Lets make a hockey trade to address this need. Vlasic,and Carlson are signed to long term value contracts. We have the assets to get one of these guys.

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#17 Archaeologuy
March 18 2013, 05:28PM
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Here was my take on the Oiler defense.

I dont believe there is enough experience or high end talent. High end talent stops after Schultz and the most experienced players are either broken or unable to bring any offense.

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#18 Con-Air McDavid
March 18 2013, 05:32PM
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@DrDave

This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

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#19 Felt
March 18 2013, 05:50PM
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What about Andrej the Giant? Do you think Oilers are interested?

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#20 Ducey
March 18 2013, 05:57PM
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#1 defensemen (like Weber and Subban) are extremely rare, yet apparently teams are lining up to trade them?

Give your heads a shake fellas. Why would any team trade their #1 defenseman?

The Oiler's best bet is to trade for an up and coming defenseman who won't play in the NHL this year. Maybe they can convert Hemsky and Peckham(Theo would be good depth for a playoff run) into a guy like maybe Nathan Beulieau or Jon Merrill (there are a dozen others).

There has to be a GM out there desperate enough to give up a future #1 for some immediate help.

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#21 Jay Gray
March 18 2013, 06:08PM
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It'd be a shame if somehow Laddy moved on. Need guys like this to win a cup.

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#22 oilcan
March 18 2013, 06:27PM
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Jonathan good analysis...l have commented before..Robyn Regehr is a free agent after this year and wants to return to Alberta...yes he has lost a step but is a solid two or at worst three d man...essentially an older but better Smid in his day...he still plays with an edge but brings leadership and is a great team player...the flames loved him..your thoughts?

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#23 Taylor Gang
March 18 2013, 06:33PM
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Ducey wrote:

#1 defensemen (like Weber and Subban) are extremely rare, yet apparently teams are lining up to trade them?

Give your heads a shake fellas. Why would any team trade their #1 defenseman?

The Oiler's best bet is to trade for an up and coming defenseman who won't play in the NHL this year. Maybe they can convert Hemsky and Peckham(Theo would be good depth for a playoff run) into a guy like maybe Nathan Beulieau or Jon Merrill (there are a dozen others).

There has to be a GM out there desperate enough to give up a future #1 for some immediate help.

Thank you! Jeez, my personal favorite is the Weber talks. Dude is signed until he's 42.

We had the chance to acquire Subban this summer, not saying we should have but it was out there, and we didn't do it. Clearly Tambellini has some serious faith in Justin Schultz turning into the next Erik Karlsson. Also, your idea for a future #1 makes sense, yet it hinders the team at the same time. The Oil show flashes of what's to come more and more often. It's easy to suggest we're still rebuilding, but sooner or later the training wheels have to come off and let the wonder kids do what they were drafted to do. This off-season will be a huge indicator of if we're the next Blackhawks, or the next Panthers.

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#24 Taylor Gang
March 18 2013, 06:39PM
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oilcan wrote:

Jonathan good analysis...l have commented before..Robyn Regehr is a free agent after this year and wants to return to Alberta...yes he has lost a step but is a solid two or at worst three d man...essentially an older but better Smid in his day...he still plays with an edge but brings leadership and is a great team player...the flames loved him..your thoughts?

YES YES A MILLION TIMES YES. I know I'm not JW but still... :D

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#25 Taylor Gang
March 18 2013, 06:41PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I think the big problem is that Phoenix is one of the most obvious competitors for that final playoff spot - hard to imagine them helping out the Oilers that way without asking for an arm and a leg.

I thought about that too, but if they had forward issues I'm sure they could be swayed towards some forward package involving Hemmer.

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#26 Rama Lama
March 18 2013, 06:48PM
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No sure what happened to our Defense Saviour...........JS that is. He is playing more like a rookie than at any time previous.

JW......you seem to think that the Oilers have a plan for defense? I suspect that no one at the Oilers has any clue as to what to do next. I'm reading a little into this as the most obvious deal to be made is SMID. Given our history at acquiring players for key roles.........this would have been my first priority if I were GM.

We will never acquire a player like him in the UFA market so why not sign him now? As far as Lubomir goes, he is a fraction of the player he was a few years ago although he has the perfect size to fit right into our team. Streit is not much better, but Yandle does intrigue me.

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#27 David S
March 18 2013, 07:00PM
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Ha! The boys here could post up an article about the relative merits of tea cups versus coffee cups and some how, some way, the comment thread would work itself around to some version of Subban/Webber/*insert dream D here* for one of our top guys and a first-round pick.

One question. If these guys are so hard to acquire in the first place, what idiot GM would give up such a rare commodity for anything less than an established superstar (i.e. something we don't have)?

Just because NHL 13 says it can be done doesn't mean it'll actually happen in real life.

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#28 Light, Sweet, Crude
March 18 2013, 07:02PM
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If Ladi goes, I go.

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#29 RyanCoke
March 18 2013, 07:02PM
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@Con-Air McDavid

Get nosebleeds on kijiji, I got 4 tickets at $30 each but they were like the very last row in the 300 section. If your willing to pay more then they have varied prices all over the arena

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#30 David S
March 18 2013, 07:03PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

No sure what happened to our Defense Saviour...........JS that is. He is playing more like a rookie than at any time previous.

JW......you seem to think that the Oilers have a plan for defense? I suspect that no one at the Oilers has any clue as to what to do next. I'm reading a little into this as the most obvious deal to be made is SMID. Given our history at acquiring players for key roles.........this would have been my first priority if I were GM.

We will never acquire a player like him in the UFA market so why not sign him now? As far as Lubomir goes, he is a fraction of the player he was a few years ago although he has the perfect size to fit right into our team. Streit is not much better, but Yandle does intrigue me.

Justin Schultz is a an amazing find, but at the end of the day he IS a rookie. The cool thing is we've totally forgotten about that.

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#31 David S
March 18 2013, 07:07PM
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RyanCoke wrote:

Get nosebleeds on kijiji, I got 4 tickets at $30 each but they were like the very last row in the 300 section. If your willing to pay more then they have varied prices all over the arena

Oh man. You are one brave dude. Kijiji is scam central.

You might want to Google "Sunny P Tickets" next time. Buddy is legit.

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#32 DSF
March 18 2013, 07:48PM
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The Oilers need TWO top pairing defensemen.

Until, they acquire them, they won't win a thing.

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#33 DSF
March 18 2013, 07:49PM
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David S wrote:

Justin Schultz is a an amazing find, but at the end of the day he IS a rookie. The cool thing is we've totally forgotten about that.

Justin Schultz has already been exposed as a PP specialist.

Can't play defense to save his life.

Jack Johnson is a good comparable.

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#34 The Oilers Shot Clock
March 18 2013, 07:56PM
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DSF wrote:

Justin Schultz has already been exposed as a PP specialist.

Can't play defense to save his life.

Jack Johnson is a good comparable.

Its his rookie season..............................................................................................................good grief.

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#35 DSF
March 18 2013, 08:05PM
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The Oilers Shot Clock wrote:

Its his rookie season..............................................................................................................good grief.

He's almost 23 years old.

He may learn how to play defense but he may not.

I'd wager not.

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#36 The Oilers Shot Clock
March 18 2013, 08:13PM
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@DSF

In defensive years he's still a baby. Throw away the fact he was dominant in the OKC offensively, and he still wasnt a liability there. I dont know many people who didnt expect a learning curve in the best league in the world. At the end of the day he's a rookie, and living up to his hype this season. This is probably his first year in a long time he's even had to worry about defense. Theres more than a 30 game grace period for him even for you surely.

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#37 Time Travelling Sean
March 18 2013, 08:20PM
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@DSF

Age has nothing to do with it. He has moved from having to play defense against college players to learning how to play defense against NHL players. He is still learning, and adjusting and will get better at it.

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#38 Citizen David
March 18 2013, 08:27PM
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Justin Schultz will be just fine. He's totally cool under pressure, and that stick lift against Columbus was the best defensive play I've ever seen. I don't think he'll ever be one of the elite defensemen in the league defense-wise. But the signs are good.

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#39 DSF
March 18 2013, 08:28PM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

Age has nothing to do with it. He has moved from having to play defense against college players to learning how to play defense against NHL players. He is still learning, and adjusting and will get better at it.

He's getting killed.

And, he's not living up to his hype.

Jonas Brodin, who is 3 years younger, is playing top pairing against the toughest competition, and is +1.

Schultz is in the running for the Green Jacket at -12.

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#40 Dog Train
March 18 2013, 08:32PM
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If I had to guess, I bet the Oilers have Klefbom more or less penciled into the lineup next season. I think it's stupid personally but the Oilers love their shiny new toys. I like Klefbom but he has had 2 injury riddled seasons in Sweden and will need time to adjust to hockey in North America. We saw it with Paajarvi and we saw it with Lander. It's a different game over here. There is no rush with Klefbom, he will get his opportunity sooner than later but let's make sure that he goes through the necessary process and is a better player in the end for it.

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#41 Dog Train
March 18 2013, 08:33PM
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@DSF

Ryan Suter or Nick Schultz/Ryan Whitney? Who would you rather play with?

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#43 Archaeologuy
March 18 2013, 08:39PM
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DSF wrote:

He's getting killed.

And, he's not living up to his hype.

Jonas Brodin, who is 3 years younger, is playing top pairing against the toughest competition, and is +1.

Schultz is in the running for the Green Jacket at -12.

Schultz plays with Suter as his #1 linemate instead of Nick Schultz or Ryan Whitney and you arent making fake arguments about his bad defensive ability.

That was a pretty pathetic attempt even by your standards.

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#45 Neal
March 18 2013, 08:41PM
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I don't understand why everyone is saying Ladi is only 2nd pairing at best. The only reason I can think of is you're comparing him to a Pronger or Weber type. Guys that come along once every 10 years or so. Several posts say "we need to trade for a stud defenseman" - or two "top pairing guys" . Isn't that dreaming in technicolour? How exactly do you think a GM would give up a guy like that? Or better question, why? Now, we did have one once, but back up here a bit and deal in the real world. That means a plan. Ok, dream a bit... list the guys existing now you'd take a shot at. Shouldn't be hard, there's only a handful. What's the price? What are you willing to give up? Now expand your list, and go from the pie in the sky stud D-man to good first pairing guys. Same thing, what would you give up? In my opinion, you'd come to Ladi Smid sooner than later, and I think the Oilers would be complete idiots to not sign him, and fast as possible. Oh, and another thing, remember how long it takes for D to develop and when they hit their prime compared to forwards? How anyone could dump on Justin Schultz in his rookie year is beyond me. Maybe it's bad rum, but it seems to me alot of people aren't being too realistic on this one.

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#47 dougtheslug
March 18 2013, 08:46PM
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DSF wrote:

Justin Schultz has already been exposed as a PP specialist.

Can't play defense to save his life.

Jack Johnson is a good comparable.

You really are precious, DSF, writing off a rookie Dman less than 30 games into his NHL career. Eric Karlsson, in his second NHL season with Ottawa, was a heady -30, despite 13 goals and 45 points. What crystal ball are you using to tell us JS will never learn to play defence. Come on, don't just troll for the sake of trolling.

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#48 Geno
March 18 2013, 08:53PM
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DSF wrote:

He's getting killed.

And, he's not living up to his hype.

Jonas Brodin, who is 3 years younger, is playing top pairing against the toughest competition, and is +1.

Schultz is in the running for the Green Jacket at -12.

I hear +- won stat of the year. This DSF guy is an extremely uneducated troll. Why do people waste time on him?

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#49 Taylor Gang
March 18 2013, 09:06PM
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DSF wrote:

He's almost 23 years old.

He may learn how to play defense but he may not.

I'd wager not.

Ugh... Come on man. You've already had it from most of us already but I'll just reiterate. You're writing off a rookie player that has hopped straight out of the frying pan into the fire. You lose all of your credibility by making comments like this. You are the definition of a stats wh*re.

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#50 Citizen David
March 18 2013, 09:09PM
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JW,

Is next season Dillion Simpson's last college elligable season?

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