Almost Saturday Night

Ladsilav Smid has been maturing as an NHL defenseman in full view of NHL audiences for over 5 years now. We know young people don’t develop in a straight line–ask any parent–and we also know that playing defense in the NHL is a very tough discipline. When you make a mistake, it’s in the net and you’re exposed on the highlight reel. So, congratulations to Laddy Smid for climbing Everest. Here’s hoping you have some company soon.



There’s a right way and a wrong way to break into the NHL. Bart Crashley (#4) is playing for Detroit back in the 74-75 season in this photo. Despite having one of the truly awesome names in NHL history, Crashley had the bad fortune of playing for some very poor NHL teams. I mean awful. He played about 150 NHL games and the teams he played for were batbleep terrible, including the Wings clubs of the 60s and 70s.



Now, here’s the way to enter the NHL, soft landing. Dallas Smith was a minor league veteran when expansion hit, and the Bruins took so many losses in the expansion draft that Smith got a legit NHL shot. He ripped off a +33 in year one after expansion and spent most of the next decade playing alongside Orr (#4 also played with Rick Smith, Al Sims and others).

By the way, that’s young Marcel Dionne trying to split the Smith-Orr tandem.


Ladislav Smid entered the NHL the year after Edmonton had all those wonderful defenders and made the Stanley run. In 2005-06, the Oilers boasted Pronger, Smith, Staios and at the deadline added Spacek and Tarnstrom. MA Bergeron was a young chaos D, and the rookie minutes belonged during the regular season to Matt Greene (303, Danny Syvret (123) and Mathieu Roy (13). Total rookie minutes: 439.

The following season, Edmonton lost free agents and traded Pronger and man did they go young. A total of 3200 minutes (about 34%) was devoted to rookies Ladislav Smid, Jan Hejda, Dan Syvret, Tommy Gilbert, Mathieu Roy, Bryan Young and Sebastian Bisaillon.

That beginning–rookies everywhere and not enough actual NHL players–is the "Bart Crashley" entry level option. Not a good option. Not a good option at all. The problem is, Bobby Orr hasn’t played in several decades. So, how best to break in young defenders?


In preparing for a future series on Nashville and their development styles, I came across an amazing item. Here are the NAS rookie defensemen by year over the last several years:

  • 03-04: Dan Hamhuis 80, 7-19-26
  • 05-06: Ryan Suter 71, 1-15-16
  • 05-06: Shea Weber 28, 2-8-10
  • 07-08: Ville Koistinen 48, 4-13-17
  • 08-09: Kevin Klein 63, 4-8-12
  • 09-10: Cody Franson 61, 6-15-21
  • 09-10: Alexander Sulzer 20, 0-2-2
  • 10-11: Jonathan Blum 23, 3-5-8

That’s an amazing run. About one defender a year over the better part of a decade and the talent level is exceptional. Obviously pedigree has a lot to do with it, but there’s something to be said for stability and developing defensemen one or two at a time.

During the same time period, Edmonton developed several defensemen who ended up having careers but were either one dimensional (MA Bergeron), traded away (Matt Greene) or best described as tweeners (Syvret, Chorney). From the mid 00s, only Laddy Smid and Tom Gilbert (two players Edmonton traded for) have stayed long enough to establish themselves as NHL players who can play top 4D.


Tonight’s game saw the Oilers outplayed and there’s plenty of blame to go around. However, when reviewing the goals scored by Dallas it’s easy to point at young defensemen making mistakes that led to the goals. Young defensemen make you suffer. Best to bring them along one at a time, and to make sure they possess a nice range of skills.

What does it mean for this year? Send Teubert and Chorney back, sit Peckham until he learns a little more about making the safe play and endure the growing pains of Dan Petry’s boy.

The Edmonton Oilers need to acquire a veteran defenseman. Tonight. Even with Ryan Whitney coming back soon, there’s too many deer in the headlights. We saw that just now.

  • A-Mc

    I definately thought the scoring pace could have been kept up with if the oilers had any drive and took some shots.

    Defense will have issues but tonight I thought the O failed the team.

  • D

    This was clearly on the shoulders of the offense. Simply could not penetrate the wall on the Dallas blue line. Also, I have never been a fan of Gagner, and tonight again shows why. To be fair, I was never a fan of Smid. But this year, he has proven me wrong. I wish Gagner would do the same, but I don’t see that happening.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Three things:

    1) Great article LT. Defensemen need to slow roast… Smid came up too early but is paying off now as a true Star. Guy’s a killer!

    2) “Despite having one of the truly awesome names in NHL history…” It’s nice to see other people enjoying names

    3) any idea who we might go for, for how long are we talking and for how much $$??… assuming ST decides to stop sitting on his hands

    oh and… great run of foreign ladies of late!

  • Eulers

    “The Edmonton Oilers need to acquire a veteran defenseman. Tonight. Even with Ryan Whitney coming back soon, there’s too many deer in the headlights. We saw that just now.”

    Yup, should have done that at latest when Barker went down until March!!!

    I’ve stated before that they should target a free agent. I want to bolster my case a bit more.

    The owner ought to loosen the purse strings if the goal of this season is to boost confidence and learn winning ways: pretty deflating if inexperience on the blue costs inordinate amount of goals. Stop gap measures are fine here given the injury situation; I think developing a long term defenceman instead is unrealistic at this juncture. I’m also not so convinced that we have so much offensive depth to make a trade. Depth is a good thing and we could use this to send Paajarvi and/or Lander down, or to weather the storm once the vengeful hockey gods turn their eyes towards our offense…

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I’ve got to say, I’m not sure what people see in Petry, I guess he’s “ok” but I can’t see him being anything more then 5, or maybe 4 at best.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I agree with half of Eulers comment.
    Why move some of the young forwards, just as we’re building some depth.
    What does it hurt to move young Magnus or Lander down to the farm for a while? I don’t want to see them move some young, unripe players for a stop gap Dman that will hopefully be redundant soon with the development of our homegrown D.
    Make a move for a stud Dman in free agency this summer.

    • Eulers

      Perhaps I should have been more clear: unsigned free agents like McCabe and Mara and more can still be purchased. Some may be past their prime, but they are NHL defenders. Are you saying we should stand pat for the rest of the season or am I missing something? If so, I only half agree with you too 😉

      • Eulers

        If that’s your tack, then yes, I wholly agree with you.

        You can take McCabe off of the list though. He’s not going to move too far from Florida to play for another year or two and he’s already apparently turned down a number of offers, which is why he’s still sitting.

        Too bad Struds just landed in Sweden. At least he could have given Peckham some remedial lessons in the ‘keep it simple’ school of defensive zone breakouts.

  • Slapshot

    We have needed experianced defencemen since July, this was so obvious to everyone in Oilers nation except Mr Dithers who sits back and does absoultly nothing.How does he manage to keep his job?

  • Renney should’ve anticipated the physical play against Dallas and he should’ve played both Eager and Hordichuk tonight. The Stars physically intimidated the Oilers tonight or at least took them off their game with all the hits. Belanger doesn’t belong on the powerplay point. I would like to see Paajarvi on the powerplay point sometime.

    • Yeah. Hordichuk “The Three Minute Hammer” and Ben “Shy Away” Eager would have made all the difference in this game. Times like these I remember why I chose the avatar I did.

      We were outplayed by a big team executing the textbook strategy on how to deal with small, fast, skilled teams.

      You know what? I think we could beat teams like Dallas. What we saw tonight was a first-round playoff game. Smaller teams win those rounds by being completely committed to doing whatever it takes and absorb whatever punishment they have to in order to put the puck in the net.*

      We may have some sick talent, but we don’t have a clue what it takes to win when the going gets tough. Not a fricken clue.

      *That and a full contingent of actual NHL’ers on the back end.

      • Eulers

        You know what…Eager and Hordichuk may not have lead the Oilers to a victory tonight but on the other hand a legitimate physical response would’ve been nice to see and could’ve made some of the lousy Stars accountable. Remember Newton’s equal and opposite reaction. Eager hasn’t been himself this season with his concussion in the pre. Everyone from here to China knows about the Oilers backend deficiencies but so nice of you to mention the obvious again….And another thing you can give me a break with your smug, holier-than-thou avatar. P-l-e-a-s-e.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          and @David S.

          I’m going to skip the sniping and go straight to the substance…

          We definitely got exposed by a bigger, tougher team last night, looked a fair bit like the Boston game.

          The coach only has so many tools to combat that kind of size imbalance. A few tweeks in the lineup aren’t going to solve the structural deficiencies. I think the idea of having Eager in is wishful thinking. It’s no magic bullet. Plus for who? probably Petrell or Lander… Renney clearly feels comfortable with them defensively (compared to Eager anyway), they play on the PK.

          Also, one more guy (with limited time at that) isn’t going to match up against a full team of big, tough, players… our young, smallish, not particular edgy, finesse team is still out there for 16-20mins each. They have to learn their way through this minefield.

          The clearest example is last year’s cup final. Van (ignore their disgusting post-whistle antics, dives, behavior in general) showed both exactly what a smaller team has to do to win, and how such a team can fail miserably.

          Van all year last year relied on special teams. They draw penalties like kids draw dinosaurs. They kept doing it in the Cup final… they just stopped converting. It was a failure of offence that lost them that Cup.

          Morrow refused to stay out of the box last night in his bid to win Outstanding Moreau Player of the Game. We had 6 PP opportunities and failed to convert. You punish a bigger team by absorbing hits to make plays, keeping your head up and punishing them on the score sheet. You make them and their size look foolish, by skating around them. You expose their oafishness instead of letting them expose our skimpiness. Classic David and Goliath narrative.

          that or start the rebuild over and try coke machines again. Although the Oil have a terrible track record with them… JFJ anyone?

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Too true.
            Well here is what I saw last night.
            First I thought that Petry and Teubert actually did pretty good last night considering thier experience. Chorney and Peckham were yet again aweful. Constantly out of position or making bad reads and decisions.
            The team was beat physically period. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have a team that plays that style of hockey will find a way to beat you and that is exactly what happened to Van in the finals. This is just another example of why it is important to have size a grit on your team not only in the bottom 6 but also in the top 6 if you want to have a fully competitive team.

            I thought Hordi, especially for his first game back, looked alright and I thought he did a good job in the 3rd period on a line with RNH.

            I thought RNH was the best forward last night even while getting hit he doesn’t give up and he even dished out some good hits of his own as he got angry. The rest of the forwards could take a lesson from him.

            Now Gagner, I have been a big fan of his but what I saw last night was soo disappointing. He truely looked like a boy playing with men. the guy is bigger than RNH and is weaker on the puck by a mile and doesn’t even attempt to throw hits. Considering what Centers the Oilers have in the system and currently in the lineup I think he needs to go and a player with size needs to be in his place.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            The closest guy in the system I can think of (a C with some size and edge) is Pitlick. And I think he’s still a couple of years away at best – if he makes it out of the A at all. He’s playing well – according to last week’s Nation Radio – but the move from the A to the big show is a huge leap.

            Centers with size and edge are tough to find… look at our own organization. we are finally flush at C (for the most part) and excepting Pitlick I can’t think of a player who has both qualities. Horcoff has size but doesn’t hit or play with any jam; Brule plays with an edge but isn’t huge… Lander, RNH and Gags are all small, and lander is the edgiest of the bunch.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            I think right now with the centers we have we wouldn’t need to get a center with size right now but I think even adding Hartikanen instead of Gagner might make a difference. And someone needs to teach MPS how to play a physical game. Just getting those two moving in the right direction would be a decent improvement. The Oilers could also be looking at, depending on their draft position, Alex Galchenyuk or Brendan Gaunce both are 6’2″ and are likely to go in the first 15 in the draft. The Brendan kid is already weighing in at over 200lbs. Couple of ideas. I also would like to see Tulupov get a contract with the Oilers next year.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Ok… I thought we were just talking Cs. and I wasn’t saying we needed to go and get a big C but noting we don’t really have any at all.

            It would be great to have a Lucic type player on the Oil. but we have a poor track record with power forward types (Penner anyone?).

            either way the small skilled guys still have to learn how to play against the Lucics of the world, that’s not going to change.

            LT mentioned we might be after Reinhart… doesn’t solve the forward issue, but the guy is beast at 17!

          • Lander, RNH and Gags are all small, and lander is the edgiest of the bunch.

            It’s like our standard for what constitutes a “small” player changes based on the ability to claim the Oilers are too small.

            Lander is 6’0 195Lbs. While that is not large it is not small either. 6’0 is the median height among NHL centers. 195 pounds is interestingly also the median weight.

            RNH is usually listed at 6’1 correct? True he is skinny, but it is also true he is 18. He will end up just below average weight and just above average height.

            Gagner is below median height by 1 inch and is right around median weight.

            In other words the only one of the three we need to be concerned about with size is Gagner and he is barely small.

            If people want to say we need to have big players then make the argument that we need big players, but I’m getting tired of hearing how average sized player are so small.

          • Well I’m not really disagreeing with you there. Although I suppose I should have formulated my thought a bit better.

            Like I said, we can win these games. The way to do it to my mind is to play like unrelenting badgers against bears, draw penalties and extract the blood in that two-minute advantage (or, see the grey box above in this comment). For one brief moment we did just that the other night against Chicago.

            Problem is, that style of play requires 110% commitment to winning all the freaking time. It’s a valid style of play – Vancouver almost pulled it off last spring. 1 game from winning it all is hardly a miserable failure IMO. We’d be crapping our pants if this team made it to round 1, let alone the SCF.

          • T.C.

            you generate a few more shots on the man advantage and get 1 or 2 PP goals and Smytty makes his wrap around (99% of the time to an open net but he probably rushed it because he would have got run by the dman who was closing) and this was a different game. . . .

  • J-Dogg

    Really enjoyed that article! Terse, well written, insightful and on an interesting topic.

    It seems like a wise idea, as you say, to focus on one or two young D men at a time in your development pipeline.

    What would your personal criteria for choosing that certain one or two out of say 5 or 6 of their peers be lowetide? Do you place more weight on pedigree or some other quality early on or do you give them all smaller opportunities and gradually cull the herd based on performance?

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I’m going to take a viewpoint from last year’s mode of thought: at least the Nuge played well! I actually thought he was the best player on the ice…he took some big hits early but then started hitting back…sending Morrow crashing at the blue line was awesome…the goal that Nuge scored wasn’t pretty, but it was a really tough one to get: fake a shot, manage to grab that bouncing puck out of mid air, avoid a hit, toe drag, and wrist it in…all that in about a second and a half. The kids’ allright. Hall needs to simplify a bit…it’s like he’s trying to play a different style of game than the one that’s made him successful. Peckham…love his heart, can’t stand his play. If Smytty had scored on the wraparound the game would have been totally different. Hemsky passed it up too many times…we’ve been saying this to him for a decade: SHOOT THE PUCK! That’s it, I’m done!

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Couple things… Laddy fell back down the Mountain last night and it’s apparent Eager and Hordichuk are here because 29 other teams didn’t want them.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    @Romulus Apotheosis

    Let’s stop thinking about drafting in the top 15…as much as I love the idea of Reinhart, I love much more the idea of playoffs…we have to will it to happen!

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Interesting, that wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Him and Gernat are a pairing right now aren’t they?

      Just because we are talking about drafting in the top 15 doesn’t mean thats because of where the team finished. Could always trade to get up a few spots. Also maybe later in the season we trade some players for another 1st rounder. Also finishing the season as the 15th pick isn’t that bad, big improvement from last season and likely would mean they were close to making the playoffs.

  • oilredemption

    Personnally I think the move after last night is to move paajarvi down and bring up harski from okc. He’s the future 2nd/3rd line lw (imo)(kind of a Alex burrows type player without the chicken poop) and put lander with belanger and eager. I like petrells work ethic but he just doesn’t have that nhl talent and the scoring chances against were just plain old ugly. Ps my question is last night why did renney even change the lines I mean keep things simple so we can build momentum from games like against Chicago. Also Yes we need a legit d man :s

  • A-Mc

    I’d be discussing bringing in a big player if i thought that our forwards weren’t capable of moving around the ones that stand in their way.

    It’s my opinion that we are far more agile than these bigger teams and have little issues getting around them. yes we take hits and do get pushed off the puck but like a previous posted commented about RNH, it’s more about heart and drive than Actual Body Size (RNH vs Gagner).

    Last night we had AMPLE opportunity to take great quality shots but we instead turned them over on failed passes in the Offensive Zone. I know the fan that yells “SHOOT” is often looked down upon but last night i was Truly Yelling “SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK” in my living room.

    Our guys found ways to get past the Dallas defenders, only they COMPLETELY FAILED to take the shots necessarily to actually score some goals.

    I’ve yet to be truly angry at the Oilers, but i was last night. It’s a simple idea: get the puck to the net and let the universe take over from there.

    I’d bet Dollars to donuts that we have more Ugly goals than pretty ones. Ugly doesn’t happen on a Tic-Tac-Toe.

    Shoot. The. Puck!

    • A-Mc

      Gotta admit man I was yelling shoot as well. Its was getting really stupid, hold on to the puck for almost a solid minute and not take a single shot at the net. Come on every hockey player knows thats not going to win you games.

      Only problem I have is Brule plays with grit and not size but still doesn’t accomplish anything so in some cases size is the issue. He still hasn’t done much in OKC this season either. Yet if he was bigger he would likely get more shots in the NHL because of his size.

  • A-Mc

    I agree with those benchings and send downs.

    We really missed two things last night:

    – the physical prescence of Sutton to stop those Dallas fwds hit-parade (some were questionable – see the slew foot on RNH, x-check on RNH 5 mins later I thought Morrow and Ott’s play should have been snuffed out quick and would gladly accept the instigator for any cheap shot on RNH – period)
    – Potter’s shot from point (any shot really)

    On the latter Hemsky and Gilbert time and time again looked for pass vs a quick low shot for Smytty or Horcs to bang in. SHOOOOOOOOOT!!

  • MaestroFreshMess

    And just a few months ago there were posters here calling for Smid to be traded away for a bag of pucks. I felt the Oilers made a good move in giving Smid a new contract. He is a valuable piece of the puzzle.

    If the Oilers trade for a veteran D-man they will have a numbers problem when some of the injured guys start getting healthy. I really can’t see anyone taking Barker off of waivers either with the ridiculous contract the oilers gave him. EDM needs another D-man for sure, but that will make for a glut of contracts once everyone is healthy, unless you consider sending Potter and Petry to the AHL.