Learning From Smid and Gilbert

Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid are both having the best seasons of their NHL careers. Both players have taken a long road to get to where they are today. Gilbert is 29 years old, and while he’s been a solid defender for ages he’s only taken the next step now, more than 300 games into his career. Smid is younger, just 25, but he’s also more than 300 games into his NHL career.

It’s something worth remembering, when looking at all of the Oilers’ young defensemen.

The Oilers actually have a fairly decent set of defense prospects. We’ve seen a few of them on the blue-line this year: guys like Colten Teubert, Alex Plante, even Jeff Petry entered the season with only 35 games under his belt, but really those guys are just the tip of the iceberg. Bubbling under are players like Oscar Klefbom, David Musil, Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat and a host of others.

The problem is the timeline.

Oscar Klefbom, the 19th overall selection in 2011, is by most accounts the Oilers’ best defensive prospect, and arguably the best prospect they have period with the graduation of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He’s 18 years old, and has never played a professional game in North America.

Klefbom is typical of Oilers’ defensive prospects with high-end potential. Most of the guys that look like they could play at the top end of an NHL defensive group are years away from being able to do it. Even a player like Gilbert – who was a useful and relatively polished NHL’er early in his professional career – took half a season in the AHL and spent years in college before he made the jump. For a player like Klefbom, Musil, or Marincin, the reality is that each is highly likely to need at least one full season in the AHL and possibly more. In Smid’s case, he spent one year in the minors and probably should have spent two full seasons before making the jump as a third-pairing guy.

Colten Teubert is a good example of what development looks like. He was an 11th overall pick back in 2008, he represented Canada a combined three times between the U-18 and U-20 World Junior Championships, and generally looked as good as a defensive defender can look. He spent two seasons in the WHL after being drafted, another full year in the AHL, and is now partway through his second professional season. He’s shown glimpses in the NHL, but on a competitive team it seems highly improbable that he would be a regular on the third-pairing. Even on the Oilers, he’s not a regular on the third pairing.

Teubert is the best of the guys near the NHL level. Taylor Chorney’s perilously close to getting stamped as a career ‘tweener, while Alex Plante is a year older and a little further back. Even Teubert requires rose-coloured glasses to project as a top-four guy; the other two need the same glasses to project as NHL’ers.

In other words, the Oilers’ defensive problems are unlikely to be solved by the prospects in the current system. The best prospects are years away from taking on a role with heavy responsibility – we’re certainly past the end of Ryan Nugnet-Hopkins’ entry-level contract here – and unless the Oilers plan to spend another five seasons in the cellar they probably won’t get there in time to fill the gaps. The guys at or close to NHL readiness – Petry, Peckham and Teubert – might fill roles on a competitive Oilers team, but won’t do enough to fix the whole problem.

In other words, if the Oilers want to fix their defense they’ll have to look beyond their prospect pool. Maybe they spend this year’s high pick on a defenseman – sometimes a rearguard taken in the top-five has a big impact immediately, like Drew Doughty did with the Kings. Other times, as with Alex Pietrangelo, the timeline is a little different. Ryan Murray, should he be available when the Oilers select, could follow either path.

Beyond that, there’s always the trade route and free agency. Acquiring a top AHL defenseman, like Detroit’s Brendan Smith, would move things ahead. Picking up a young NHL defenseman with high-end talent might do even more. It’s a quicker, surer route than waiting for Klefbom, Musil and Marincin.

  • Watching Smid in the early part of his career was at times watching a train wreck. Glad that he’s figured it out that shut down is his forte. Gilbert is playing like I knew he could. First overall pick on dman a MUST!!!!!!

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I think Klefbom will be ready next year to play 5or 6.
    To my eyes he looked better than Larrson did at world juniors.I know he was same draft year but he is 8 months younger so I think it’s equivalent.
    Larrson looked a little timid last year.Klefbom on the other hand looked like a man among boys.
    He weighs 215 pounds on a solid frame.
    Bring him over Tambo

  • @ kyuss:

    I remember going to an Oilers/Flames game a few years back, with Smid and Staios working as a pairing. Flames won 3-0, and IIRC Smid was directly at fault for two goals as he was slow picking up his check in the defensive zone.

    There were a lot of nights like that along the way.

    • Jonathan,

      Wouldn’t it make sense to some degree to be willing to move one of their D prospects in a deal, perhaps with Hemsky, to ensure getting a more established prospect/player that could step right in?

      I don’t see them moving Klefbom, obviously, and I probably wouldn’t be too keen on moving a monster like Marincin… so perhaps Musil?

      I mean, they seem to have enough prospects (well, maybe you can never have enough, but…). Isn’t it time, especially if they end up moving Hemsky for picks/prospects, that they consider moving out some picks/prospects for legit, 20-something NHL-ready players? I’ve said since training camp last fall that perhaps they should be willing to part with 1 of the above mentioned D prospects AND 1 of their F prospects (Pitlick/Hamilton/Martindale) in such a deal (for more established talent).

      • stevezie

        I know you weren’t asking me, but yes yes yes. I’d go so far as to be open to moving this year’s first for the right D-man coming back. At the speed our forward’s are developing, ad rafted d-man might not get there in time, and I don’t know that in a cap-NHL it makes sense to invest in four all-star forwards.

  • Great article! You really summed up the defensive problem of the Oilers going forward. Even if we get one of the top two defensive prospects in this year’s draft, they may not pan out for many years. Even if they do, it’s not realistic to expect them to have the same kind of impact on defence as the big three have had on offence. I usually hate the idea of trading a lottery pick, but in this case I think it would be wise to trade the pick in a package with a veteran and a prospect or two to get a younger defenceman that is a bonafide star.

    • I don’t necessarily disagree with your last statement, but that’s one hell of a package you’re talking about. Just that pick alone will have enormous value to any team willing to part with defense to add offense via the draft.

      • Yes, what I’m talking about is a top-flight d-man which won’t come cheap, the likes of Webber/Doughty. Other options with a lesser deal but still including the pick may be something like Tyler Myers, Marc Staal, or Jack Johnson…

  • Watching Smid this year, you get the impression that he had an epiphany over the summer – that something just clicked and it all came together.

    I sometimes wonder, though, how much of the apparent improvement may be causally related to playing with Gilbert all the time. In previous years, you could always count on Smid to “throw a few grenades” per game. I wonder if part of the improvement is illusory – i.e. that Gilbert is adept at receiving a grenade , salvaging the play, and getting the puck out.

  • If the average D-man prospect averages 5 yrs before they mature then by the time the 4 or 5 prospects recently drafted get to maturity then Hall ‘et al’ could be approaching free agency.

    Maybe either the current GM or his successor better get the lead out and advance the pace of the ‘Plan.’Lowe and Tambs apparently can’t think or plan fast enough to keep up. With the current CBA vis a’ vis free agency teams don’t have forever to devise and activate a development plan for the team. In other words, ditherers need not apply.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Unrelated note only RNH is goin to the allstar game…wtf!!? I thought Eberle and or Hall would have been goin too.

    Back to topic; The Oiler brass has to push to get a bonifide NHL dman before the start of next season, waiting for drafted dmen to properly develop(without being rushed) can take to long and can turn this team into the Islanders real quick.

  • I was worried about Smid at the very beginning of the season, even when the team was rolling he was struggling with the puck in his own end. Thankfully he started to “get it” 2 or 3 games in.

    Teubert really impressed me last night vs NJ. Hopefully he is starting to “get it” too.

  • Good read Willis.

    I was really sold on drafting a Murray or Dumba, but after rembering Gregors comments about the defense time line and the ability to acquire a established defenseman and this article has me sold that the Oilers should be drafting another forward and look at trading or acquiring a UFA D-man.

  • So i just had an epiphany. We have anahiems second from the cogliano trade. That could be three picks in the top 35. Maybe two d we can snag and a goaler. I like malcolm subban he seems to be a stud of a goalie, and we need one of those. This also gives us some good wiggle room in that we could flip a player and a pick for a higher pick at the draft. Go job tambo, tho it was kinda unforeseen.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Well we could sign/trade for 2-3 veterans that still have 2-3 years left in them to fill the gaps and let the young guys mature….. With the added benefit that they typically cost peanuts.

    • What about a UFA signing of Boychuk, he might be a decent option given that we don’t have anything to trade with to get a decent stop gap. I’m of the opinion that this has to be the last year of being brutal? Plus tambo has already tried signing and trading for stop gaps, not working very well right now.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Also more on topic i kinda like th idea of taking yakupov or any of the other forwards because we coul probably get more if we traded them plus we will prolly have to get some good dmen through different routes. But murray looks luck a quality d and idk if i want to pass on him

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Nashville

    Has to be everyones focus, Blum-Suter-Weber.

    How can they afford all of them when they are cash strapped to
    begin with ? I’d be worried if the Preds ever found some offense.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Agree that the priority in 13-14 is to find a 1-2 dman. Spend the money then once we have paid Hall and Eberle thier 2cd contracts. Signing someone this year makes no sense. Or next. The dmen will be in OKC learning. The Oilers should draft another center with size who can play #2 . Grigorenko at 6-3 200 lbs would be the guy I look at if the team falls back into the lottery this season.

    The Shea Webers of the world sign in Detroit and NY. Not Edmonton. They need someone like Whitney. But with better feet. Mike Green is the guy I would target. Washington is likely to deal him if they fail to make improvement in the palyoffs this season.They have 2 picks in the first round this year and may look to be adding to that this draft. If the Oilers could get a first round pick for Hemsky a trade with Washington this off season may be in the offing.
    Either way the Oilers will be looking elsewhere.for a #1or 2 dman in the foreseeable future.

  • 5 Cups

    I like Gilbert and Smid, but there isn’t much to learn from them. If I was coming up into the league (not a chance) I would not be looking at these guys for guidance.

  • stevezie

    What do the Oil do if Nail Yakupov is available when the Oil draft? Highly unlikely, but if the Oil win the lottery or if Yakupov falls for whatever reason, I think you have to take him, and then sort out the mess later. Take the best player available. 2003 entry draft still haunts me where the Oil decided they had too many small players and passed on Parise, taking Marc Pouliot instead. Ouch!