A year ago the Edmonton Oilers defense seemed to adopt the signature line from this young woman: "resistance is futile."
Steve Tambellini has turned over a large part of the blueline roster since the beginning of March: gone are Denis Grebeshkov (Mar 1 for the draft pick that turned into Curtis Hamilton), Lubomir Visnovsky (Mar 3) and Steve Staios (Mar 3). The club still has several experienced defensemen as we head into training camp. Here’s the complete list of possible defensemen and their NHL career games played:
- Sheldon Souray 650
- Jason Strudwick 631
- Jim Vandermeer 374
- Ryan Whitney 354
- Tom Gilbert 258
- Kurtis Foster 257
- Ladislav Smid 253
- Taylor Chorney 44
- Theo Peckham 31
- Richard Petiot 13
- Shawn Belle 11
- Alex Plante 4
- Johan Motin 1
- Jeff Petry 0
In terms of actual NHL experience, the top 7 defensemen are very good (2,777 games). Opening night 2005-06 Edmonton boasted 3,333 NHL games experience but the following season (fall 2006) the opening night lineup could manage only 1,871. And it showed.
Now the current group has a lot more 6’s and 7’s than the 2005-06 group and there are only a couple of Jacks and no Kings. Having said that, there’s a working group here and an addition of a veteran defenseman in exchange for Sheldon Souray would go a long way to making this group successful.
Over at Lowetide, I’ve just completed my look at the forwards (the rookies were featured at ON here) and today I’ll post the boxcars for the blue in this post. A couple of things: I’m not going to use Sheldon Souray in the group. I don’t think he stays here. If he does, I’ll update this post later into the fall and we’ll have a more impressive offensive projection. Second, the Oilers group of blue isn’t offensively gifted, so some of the PP minutes were devoted to forwards (one of the F’s on defense during the PP) which will account for the lower number.
- Tom Gilbert: A very impressive season one year ago, in which the coach asked him to spend some time out of his comfort zone and he delivered at a high level. Tough opposition with mid-to-poor help from his own mates, Gilbert’s secondary numbers (RelCorsi, etc) were top drawer. Gilbert played a more comfortable role after the trade deadline and went 21gp, 3-17-20 in March and April and his final 7 games saw him deliver 2-10-12 totals. Before that, it was a matter of Pat Quinn trying to turn him into Don Awrey. Reasonable expectations: A complete season on the 1PP and a quality partner in Whitney means Gilbert should have his best NHL season. Of all the players on the 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers, I’d bet on Tom Gilbert to have a season that exceeds expectations. He’s experienced, he has exceptional skills and he has been an effective NHL player two years running. 24 minutes a night, he plays in all situations and he flourishes. 80gp, 9-33-42. Total Minutes: 1920.
- Ryan Whitney: I knew we were going to like Whitney the first time I heard him speak about coming to the Oilers. He told the gathered media that he was looking forward to coming here, being a leader on a young group and building something worthwhile. Agents should record his first media conference and use it as a template. He followed it up with a solid performance on the ice and really shone in a tandem with Tom Gilbert. He’s an exceptional passer and can help the powerplay. There are many reports about his coverage gaps, but he is an experienced NHL player with a solid track record. Whitney has a nice range of skills, meaning he can play in any situation. Reasonable expectations: 24 minutes a night, plenty on the PK and quite a few on the PP. He and Gilbert will face the toughest forwards in the game, meaning lots of Sedins. This isn’t a top flight shutdown pairing, but certainly good enough to compete based on their late season showing. 70gp, 8-26-34.Total Minutes: 1680.
- Kurtis Foster: He is a very important piece to the Oilers D puzzle this year. Foster played easy minutes a year ago, delivering some very nice numbers. Edmonton will need him to perform in a top 4 role (meaning he’s not going to see many easy minutes) and Foster will be under the gun far more often than he was a year ago. It’s a very good bet, but not a sure thing. If Foster can increase his level of difficulty and deliver at a reasonable level, Edmonton’s blue will be much better than last season. Reasonable expectations: More minutes at even strength and fewer on the powerplay, so we should expect lesser boxcars this coming season. Foster was on for only 13 EV minutes a night one year ago (4 a night on the PP) so that’s a pretty drastic ratio. We know about his injury history but he’s coming off a solid NHL season. 64gp, 6-12-18. Total Minutes: 1280.
- Ladislav Smid: Ladislav Smid gets hurt a lot. These aren’t small injuries and no one questions his toughness. However, when your resume includes concussions, a broken hand, a neck injury, arm injury, knees, legs, shoulder it isn’t a stretch to suggest that the hits will keep on coming. When looking at Ladislav Smid, injuries are a major consideration. Laddy played in the best possible circumstances a year ago (Lubo was his partner and they played the soft parade) and delivered very well (RelCorsi and plus minus are excellent). He`s now an NHL defenseman with experience and may be ready for more difficult minutes. If he can handle second toughest opposition and be a solid PK contributor the Oilers will have a nice top 4: Gilbert-Whitney; Smid-Foster. None of them are old men and all of them have legit NHL experience. These are nice arrows. Reasonable expectations: There will be difficult moments, this is a step up in terms of competition and we can`t forget the injury worries. Still, the things that kept me from endorsing him as an NHL player (experience, making the same mistakes over and over) seem to be fading with that experience. 53gp, 0-6-6. Total Minutes: 1113.
- Jim Vandermeer: He brings toughness, grit and effort to every game. He can play defense, although footspeed exposes him at times when those fleet wingers do their outside flybys.Vandermeer is one of those guys who everyone thought would be long gone from the ‘new NHL’ but they always survive when the rubber hits the road because coaches like preventing goals. I slotted him 5th because he’s ideal for the role. He could be moved up when Smid or Foster have injury troubles and he can spend a few nights in the pressbox when the kids below are on a good run. I like this player for that role. Reasonable expectations: In baseball terms, he’s an innings eater. Maybe a knuckeballer who goes 11-11 and pitches in 3 blowouts so his ERA is 5.11 but the manager loves him. 60gp, 1-3-4. 1080 minutes
- Theo Peckham: I’ve chosen Peckham over Chorney, Belle and Plante because the organization is very concerned with the physical element. Also, Peckham has enough AHL experience and should arrive in training camp in shape, healthy and ready to go. His time is now. The organization has been very vocal about Peckham. Last fall, Rob Daum was on Bob Stauffer’s show and suggested conditioning was an issue. He even mentioned conditioning was an issue when Peckham was healthy. I think the problem may have come from not being able to workout due to the pre-training camp injury (ankle) but either way it was enough of an issue for management to say it out loud and that’s a pretty big deal. Later on in the year, Pat Quinn: "When I first saw him (in an Oilers uniform), the scouting report was that he was a tough kid who didn’t really know how to play. When he came back (on his most recent call-up), he showed us that he had a little bit more than just being a tough guy. As he played and gained our confidence, he was gaining his own as well. They were really good minutes for him." I thnk Peckham gets the push if everything checks out. A very confident player. Reasonable expectations: A 5-7 slot on the 10-11 Oilers D. He can bring some attitude and a mean streak to every game and he doesn’t hesitate to drop them. He’ll be a waiver problem if he doesn’t make it, but I think Peckham earns his way onto to the roster. Not yet an everyday player, he’ll be in the mix for playing time all year long. 50gp, 1-1-2. 800 minutes.
- Taylor Chorney: My pick for first recall, Chorney needs to fly more AHL sorties with a team that knows what it is doing. His pro numbers are awful, but he’s never played with a team that was any good since turning pro. Chorney paired with a veteran (not Strudwick and not facing tough minutes) should be able to turn things around and get them going in the right direction. I don’t think he makes the big club, but gets called up when Strudwick retires. Reasonable expectations: A regular shift after his recall and a nice improvement from the disaster that was last season. Oilers will give him sheltered minutes, which is what they should have done a year ago. NOTE: More than anyone else on this list, Chorney’s position depends heavily on what EDM does with Sheldon Souray. If the team trades him for a veteran defender, then Chorney spends the season in the minors or is traded. 34gp, 1-4-5. 544 minutes.
- Jason Strudwick: I have a hard time getting him onto the roster. I think Strudwick may see some time at forward, especially on the PK. It seems that his role is somewhat duplicated on the roster by Vandermeer and that the team signed him as counsel as much as what he brings to the ice. My guess is that he starts the season in the pressbox, plays a few games and then in mid-season joins the coaching/scouting staff. Everyone thinks highly of Jason Strudwick, but I think this is his final season. Reasonable expectations: 42gp, 0-1-1. 546 minutes.
- Shawn Belle: The more I think about Belle’s signing the more I think he might end up having a career in Edmonton. The Oilers have been spending high picks on skill forwards forever, and really haven’t devoted a top selection on a defender (save Alex Plante) in forever. So, the forwards (who mature quickly compared to defense and goal) are going to be pushing the puck in a good direction in a couple of seasons. By that time, Edmonton will still be bringing along their young D. Belle is 25 and has played over 300 AHL games. There’s a real opportunity here, and it begins in the fall. Reasonable expectations: There’s a chance he makes the big club out of camp (especially if Souray isn’t here) but I’m betting he’s a recall due to injury. I wonder how much he’s played on the PK in the minors. 40gp, 1-3-4. 520 minutes.
- Alex Plante: Of all of the Oilers men who turned pro a year ago, Alex Plante did the most to improve his standing in the organization. Plante had a solid year in difficult circumstances in Springfield, and there is some evidence he was playing tough minutes by the time he was called up to the NHL. Once in Edmonton, he played well and made many of us question some of the words in his original scouting report ("raw", "awkward", "lacks coordination") based on his solid play. It could be that he’s just developed a lot in that area after his draft day. We haven’t seen him much, but Plante deserves another look this season. Reasonable expectations: A mid-season callup or trade deadline recall that sees him spend an extended period in the NHL. 16gp, 0-0-0. 240 minutes.
- Jeff Petry: His much anticipated pro debut came in the spring, and Petry (like so many of the Oilers college kids) seemed overwhelmed in the AHL. In fairness, the same problem that plagued Taylor Chorney (unable to adjust quickly to the physical style and forced into the deep end of the pool in terms of toughness of minutes) may well have applied to Petry. The organization thinks very highly of him, and he would be a likely callup during the season if only to give him an idea about what awaits him at the NHL level. Reasonable expectations: If he can show some ability to keep up at the AHL level, I think the Oilers call him up for an extended look. 15gp, 1-1-2. 177minutes.
As you can see, there will likely be a lot of turnover at the NHL level again this season. Sheldon Souray is not on the list, but should he and the Oilers mend fences or if they trade him (more likely) we’ll have to amend these projections.
Since I’ve pubslished all of the offensive numbers now, lets have a look and see how the projections match up against last season’s totals:
- 09-10 Stats: 32 goals, 108 assists
- 10-11 RE: 28 goals, 90 assists
- 09-10 Stats: 174 goals, 246 assists
- 10-11 RE: 184 goals, 290 assists
Last season, the Oilers scored 206 goals. This season, I’m projected them to score 212. I suspect this total is easily the most conservative estimate available. My reasons include extreme youth, injuries (again. This team still has a large list of the injury prone) and the amount of time the puck will be in Edmonton’s end. The Sheldon Souray trade and any other transactions may change things in the next few weeks and I will adjust accordingly.
I know this was a long item, so if you’re still here thanks for reading. I look forward to your input.