March 19 2014 11:33AM
The Edmonton Oilers have a weak blue line. In the short-term, they need to shore it up with actual NHL players, but in the long-term they need some of their prospects to step forward in a big way. How will they balance those two needs?
The Depth Chart Today
- Andrew Ference – Justin Schultz (RFA)
- Martin Marincin – Jeff Petry (RFA)
- Oscar Klefbom – Anton Belov (UFA)
- Mark Fraser (UFA) – Philip Larsen (RFA)
That’s how I’d sketch out a healthy Oilers depth chart today. It’s early days for Klefbom and Belov has had mixed results, but both are big enough to win battles and good enough with the puck to make passes, and the two guys below them have only one of those qualities each.
Four of those players are probably locks for next year. Justin Schultz is the team’s ice-time leader, Andrew Ference is the captain and Jeff Petry is probably the best player on the blue today. Martin Marincin has been a revelation since being recalled; he’s forced himself into a top-four role on this team, and seems a certainty for next year’s club.
It’s early days for Oscar Klefbom, and we’ll talk more about him below. There’s no doubt he’s in the plans; the only question is whether he plays NHL or AHL to start next season.
The other three are all expendable.
Anton Belov’s probably the best player of the bunch; he’s big and can make a pass and seems to be the only left-shooting defenceman on the team who plays as well on the right side. He’s also had some terrible struggles in his first season in North America, and judging by usage prior to injury the team has made up its mind on him.
Mark Fraser isn’t an NHL'er in most organizations, but there have been suggestions made that he could be re-signed. Working in his favour is that his strengths (big, strong, mean) are weaknesses on the current Oilers blue. Philip Larsen is in the same boat as Fraser, except that his strengths and weaknesses are a terrible match for the current team.
The Depth Chart Tomorrow
- [Veteran D] – Justin Schultz
- Martin Marincin – Jeff Petry
- [Young D] – Andrew Ference
- [Warm Body]
That’s what I think the Oilers will do.
Adding multiple quality NHL defencemen over the summer is difficult. I’d expect they take a run at Andrei Markov (and even if he’s interested, it will cost the sun, moon and stars) and that they look hard at what’s available at the NHL Draft. Doubtless, they’d like to add multiple players, but they’ll probably have to settle for just one.
There isn’t room for more than one young defenceman on that depth chart, and given Marincin’s age and experience level it’s dicey even setting aside one slot. There has (rightly) been a lot of talk dedicated to the goalies, but long-term Marincin’s play might be the most important thing to happen to this Oilers team in the latter half of the year, because it allows them to lean on him in a way they normally could not. In any case, there’s one slot there for one of Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse or (possibly) Aaron Ekblad. It wouldn’t be a surprise if a junior-aged defenceman got a brief cameo there before being sent down in favour of Klefbom.
One item of note here: Klefbom was a trainwreck in a brief right-side role cameo in Oklahoma City, but has been significantly better in Edmonton. It might just be that the Oilers really want to work Mark Fraser into the lineup, but it might also be that they’re envisioning the possibility of a Ference/Klefbom pairing next year. Ference has spent time on the right side, but hasn’t been especially good there, so if Klefbom can play the position it’ll make things easier.
As for the warm body, that could be anybody. The three expendables currently on the roster are all options, with Belov the best of them and Fraser the most likely. Down in Oklahoma City, Taylor Fedun is a possibility, but it’s probable that he’s returned to the minors next year. Somebody else currently outside the organization – a good AHL’er in another organization , a college free agent, a promising European or an NHL journeyman – could also be brought in.