April 21 2013 02:30PM
The Edmonton Oilers procurement department is delivering an interesting and diverse group of young blue to the pro ranks these days. Oscar Klefbom (in photo) leads the way for the "mobile" defensemen of the future and the club added another with footspeed yesterday in Martin Gernat. Edmonton has also invested in big, gritty defense-first defenders. How important--for defensmen--is speed and ability to move the puck in today's NHL? Is it more important than grit, physical play and playing the enforcer role?
THE PLUS SKATERS
Martin Gernat signed yesterday and is among a fairly large group of defensemen bubbling under with good footspeed. A quick glance:
- Oscar Klefbom: In his draft year, Redline Report said he had the best speed of any defender not named Ryan Murphy. He is not considered an offensive defender, but rather a "complete" player type.
- Martin Marincin: A good skater, very good for a player of his size. Frank Musil pushed for Marincin back at the 2010 draft, and he's paid off so far--this was his first pro season and he's shown well in OKC. He is unlikely to be in the NHL next season but could see action by the end of his entry level deal (which expires summer 2015).
- Martin Gernat: Described as a smooth skater with a fluid stride by Redline before the draft, Gernat has developed nicely--but has some chaos to his game--and it'll be interesting to see where he slots in as a rookie pro. I think his progression may mirror Marincin's, and a long term view to his development is wise.
- Joey Laleggia: Corey Pronman tells us he's a "good" skater with a terrific offensive mind. We would assume he'd have to be based on his lack of size, so he belongs in this group.
- Erik Gustafsson: A puck mover with good speed who can help the powerplay. He also plays with an edge and is a little older and more developed than some of the young men on this list. He's playing off off Broadway, but could surprise and has enjoyed a solid year.
THE SHY SKATERS
- David Musil: Effective defender who is very effective in his own zone and reads plays very well. Foot speed has been an item since draft day and remains an issue. Beyond that, he appears to be a very capable defenseman and was very effective at WJ's and in the WHL as a teenager.
- Dillon Simpson: He's in this category but there is a caveat, as described before his draft day by Redline: Sluggish skater with a short stride, but shows good gap control and lateral mobility. Simpson also appears to have improved his foot speed since draft day and has moved up the depth chart smartly at UND. I'm not certain it's completely fair to place him here at this time but we're going on draft day reports so it applies.
- Taylor Fedun: An effective rookie season in OKC has him moving up the depth chart for good reason. Fedun's foot speed isn't a major issue but I believe he belongs to this group despite having a wider range of skill than someone like Musil. Fedun's season is one of the underrated items in the Barons season, suspect we'll be hearing a lot about him at training camp in the fall.
- Brandon Davidson: Skating was an issue, Mike Remmerde mention skating and pivots as an issue, but said he was very good at moving the puck. It was likely a reason for his being taken late in the draft.
- Kyle Bigos: Got a "skates well for a big guy" thumb's up from Stu MacGregor on his draft day, but that's different than saying he has good foot speed. Oilers have not yet signed him, but Bigos has some potential based on the scouting report.
There are a couple of things to note about the division above:
- It is not strictly a comparison of "puck movers" versus "stay at home" types, all that rule somewhat applies.
- The first list boasts a first and a second round pick, while the second group has a high second. Based on where they were taken, we should expect more from the first group.
- "Size" is abundant in both lists, but the puck movers have strength as an issue--specifically Marincin and Gernat.
CAN THEY DANCE?
We don't really know if these guys can (or can't) move the puck up quickly and effectively when and if they reach the NHL, but we can look at their resume's and the roles they play and make an educated guess. We can do the same to figure out who might be able to fill that tough, gritty, enforcer role.
- Possible Top 4D at EVs (NHL): We're projecting, but Klefbom seems a no-brainer. I'd add Marincin (who played significant top 4 this season) and Gernat (who is a long way from bring there but toolsy and has size/speed) as being legit candidates. From the second list, I'll pick Simpson based on his step forward since draft day. So the bet is that 4 of the 10 (Klefbom, Marincin, Gernat, Simpson) end up playing top 4 NHL minutes. History tells us that not all will make it, with injury being the major item to decide. Still, that's some nice organizational depth.
- Possible PP D (NHL): This is a really difficult job to get, the current Oilers have one of the jobs taken for the next long time (Justin Schultz) and a decent candidate in Jeff Petry already with the team. I do think Martin Gernat has some potential in that role (should he continue to develop) and that Martin Marincin and Taylor Fedun had some AHL success. The best candidate for the role may be Joey Laleggia, who is a perfect fit based on skill set. There's a giant asterisk (can he play NHL defense?) but that role is his best chance at an NHL career. Dillon Simpson has shown some nice progress in this area, too. Finally, although a wild card Erik Gustafsson is described as having enough skill to be effective in Sweden at this discipline.
- Possible PK D (NHL): Klefbom and Musil are the strongest candidates, with Marincin, Gernat and perhaps Bigos also being candidates. All of these defensmen are likely to play heavy PK minutes at some point or another during their pro careers and that might get them an NHL job (Potter being an example).
- Grit/Enforcer/Physical role: Bigos has the size and mind set to be a very good one, Musil can do it but doesn't seem to have the disposition. He certainly ranks as the best option for clearing the front of the net/wall battles based on what we've seen of him.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
If you believe the physical role is the most important job for an NHL defender, then a player like David Musil projects as a future big minutes player for the Oilers.
However, the current NHL asks their defensemen to scoot back into the zone, grab the puck and outlet it effectively in a heartbeat. Those skills appear to be best represented on the Oilers by Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat and increasingly Dillon Simpson.
The Oilers will enter this year's draft with several impressive pro prospects on defense, so many that we may see one or more dealt at the draft. It is certainly possible that we'll see fewer defensemen taken this season than in 2010 (3), 2011 (4) or 2012 (2).