Edmonton Oilers defensemen: the flood is coming

One of the Oilers’ most glaring weaknesses in recent years has been their defensive corps. However, at the AHL level the Oilers are facing a flood of prospects – and some will either get lost in the mix, or end up leaving for nothing if the Oilers’ choose not to sign them.

In the latter category are Jeremie Blain and Brandon Davidson, a pair of 2010 picks whose junior numbers suggest that both deserve a chance with the Oilers organization. If they aren’t signed to entry-level contracts, the Oilers will lose their rights. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, but Blain’s 6’2” defender scoring near a near point-per-game in the QMJHL, while Davidson also stands 6’2” and led the Regina Pats’ blue-line in goals (13 – with just four coming on the man advantage), assists (36), points (49) and plus/minus (plus-26; the next nearest rearguard recorded a plus-13).

Both guys should be in the Oilers’ professional system next year.

Guaranteed to be in the system next year is Martin Marincin, a second-round pick in the same draft who has already been signed to a deal. Marincin’s impressed in junior and is one of the Oilers’ more intriguing blue-line prospects.

Of course, none of that trio is likely to challenge for NHL duty next season. In fact, it would probably be a mistake for Oklahoma City to lean too heavily on that group either; defensemen often struggle to adjust when making the jump from junior to the professional ranks. Fortunately, Oklahoma has a bunch of young defenders already under contract.

Taylor Fedun will make his long-awaited debut in the regular season next year, likely with Oklahoma City. The college signing impressed in training camp last fall before a horrific injury wiped out his season. He’s under contract and will play somewhere.

Colten Teubert, a standout in Oklahoma this year and a player who earned an NHL cameo, is also under contract for next season and also expected to start in Oklahoma.

Of course, those five aren’t the only guys in the mix for ice-time in Oklahoma City. Alex Plante, one of the Oilers first-round picks in 2007, will be 23 in training camp next year and will likely be re-signed. At worst, he provides a strong Oklahoma City option and depth; at best, he may have an NHL future ahead of him after a strong season. Taylor Chorney should also be back; OKC isn’t bursting at the seams with veteran puck-movers and Chorney’s play late in the year makes him a candidate to replace Bryan Helmer as a steady AHL veteran that the team can rely on.

That’s seven guys, and omits four of the six defenders currently playing in the post-season for the Barons – Helmer, pending UFA Bryan Rodney, and 25-year old AHL’ers Dylan Yeo and Dan Ringwald. Also omitted are players such as Kirill Tulupov (the fan favourite who concussed Ben Eager with a big hit in camp), Ryan Lowery (another college signing), Johan Motin (departed for Sweden), and Kevin Montgomery (who played 48 games this season for the Barons).

Then there are more guys on the horizon, too. Oscar Klefbom will be in Sweden for 2012-13, but is highly-touted and will probably make the jump to North America the year after. Fellow 2011 picks David Musil and Martin Gernat have both impressed; both will likely need time in the AHL. Physical specimen Kyle Bigos will presumably make the jump from college to the pros next summer. All four guys should have time in a Barons’ jersey in their future.

The point is that for all the weakness of the Oilers’ NHL defense corps, they have a lot of interesting prospects in the system, and the vast majority of them will be professionals in either 2012-13 or 2013-14. The Oilers could axe all their veterans in Oklahoma and load the team to the gills with rookies, but the problem with that is simple: they did it in Springfield and a) the team was terrible and b) the prospects didn’t seem to benefit from the ‘baptism of fire’ approach to development. That means the Oilers not only have to find a place for those prospects, but should also include a few veterans to help carry the load.

The easy way out is not to sign Davidson and Blain. Despite the positives, both are NHL longshots; the odds are that the Oilers wouldn’t end up getting burned. That’s not what I’d like to see, given that it seems like a waste of two guys with potential, but it is the easy way out.

The other thing the Oilers could do would be to attempt to move a guy like Alex Plante. Plante’s still a legitimate prospect, but he doesn’t have the same ceiling as a guy like Blain or Davidson – if he does make the show, it will almost certainly be as a third-pairing option. That would clear out one spot in Oklahoma City, and then the Oilers always have the option of sending someone down to Stockton for a time to get some minutes. Besides, given Plante’s age and progress to date, the Oilers will likely be sending him down the line next summer anyway to make space for the players who are coming down the line.

The Oilers have already cleared some room, with the elevation of Jeff Petry to the NHL and the departure of Johan Motin to Sweden. More room will be needed.

This week by Jonathan Willis at the Nation Network

  • J.W. good writting.. O.N> my favorite site of all.Thanks. Keep em, comming.

    Not sure when enough is enough, but it would seem you can never have enough D Men in the system, however, at some point the fruit has to come off the tree. Is Stockton a real place for development, or is really a grave yard for didnt quite make it players? Also is possible or better to lend the odd guy to another AHL team or even Europe for development purposes.??I agree time to move Plante… seems like he is a
    AHL lifer, but is still youngish, so who knows.

    Outside of Sutton and Smid to a lesser degree, Oilers lack some”nastiness” on the back end.Guys like Wilson from Colorado ie.Oilers dont handle forecheckers that well at this point.

    • It’s bad news if a skater ends up in the ECHL. A few make it out – notably Alex Burrows, and as an Oilers’ example we have Liam Reddox – but for skaters it’s normally a dead zone.

      Goalies are common ECHL’ers, though – lots of future starters were number ones in the East Coast League before they played AHL/NHL.

      • TCW_96

        Do you think it would be beneficial to let guys like Rodney, Chorney, Plante go and bring in some dmen that are strictly AHL conrtacts only as the veteran help. I say this because then the Oilers could sign Davidson and Blaine and not worry about he 50 contract limit. Since Chorney and Plante are very long shots to crack the Oilers d corps and Rodney has no shot then maybe trying to bring in AHL only guys to rich AHL deals would be more of a benefit.

        I understand that they need some d on 2 ways that they can call up but they have Teubert and hopefully they address the NHL d so Potter is in OKC as a call up option as well.

        • If you can find high-end AHL defensemen willing to sign AHL-only deals, sure. I think with very few exceptions – a guy like Bryan Helmer closing out his career being one – they’re tough to find, though.

          One of the issues here is the 50-man limit, but another is simply the number of slots for young defensemen. How many guys can the Oilers add in any given year? How much room is there in OKC any given year? With so many guys coming, there needs to be a way to thin the herd – and I think trade’s the way to do it, if possible.

          • RexLibris

            Seriously JW, this is incredible production. Good articles and thank you for all the work.

            I agree that trade is probably the best option, along with the obvious letting go of certain players. If Plante were to be traded I suspect the return might be either a 4th or perhaps even 3rd round pick. Perhaps even if it were delayed for a year (2013 draft).

            I would like to see the Oilers retain one or two of their current veteran AHL defense corps, presumably that would mean Chorney and Lowery, while making room for the incoming group.

            Plante and Teubert have overlapping skills and it seems pretty apparent that Teubert is the preferred candidate.

            Klefbom’s staying in Sweden buys the Oilers another year, Gernat, Musil, and Simpson are all likely at least another year away as well.

            By this time next season Blain, Davidson and Marincin may be the AHL vets that will help shepherd in players like Klefbom, Gernat, Musil, and others.

            Does it seem a foregone conclusion now that the Oilers will pass on Czerwonka? I was under the impression that they could sign him still because some of their other prospects, though signed, are still playing junior.

  • TCW_96

    The flood is coming and that is why the first pick should be nail,going to be fun watching the puck go in the net,even if it’s in both ends, if you score they ( the defense) will come.

  • Cervantes

    I’d like to see a proper list of our entire D corps list and where they should slot in, I get mixed up just keeping track of them!

    JW, do you think it’s time for the Oilers to try packaging a few D prospects over to a team that has a few stellar prospects but poor depth? It really seems like, in the next year or two, we’re going to seriously hurt a few NHL-possible players by either having no ice time to give them, or sticking them down in Stockton. Is it time for the Oil to thin the herd and perhaps improve our stock?

    I like the idea of trading down to get, say, Murray, but it just seems like we’d be stunting growth on another guy further down. And with Smid/Petry as a good young combo, Schults/Whitney as the vets, and Sutty/Somebody as the third pairing already, there isn’t much room in the next few years for guys like Klefbomb, Musil, Teubert, etc to move up.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Hard to believe all this quantity, and the Oilers are still deperate for one who fits into that quality category. We literally have a lifetimes supply of the 3-7 guys.

    Yeah, Ryan Murray will be so much better than the rest of these kids, right out of junior.

    Lets leave the best kid in the draft on the table, trade down and take another defenceman…

  • @ Willis

    Defenseman in the ECHL to start their career isn’t the worst thing, especially guys like Davidson and Blain. David Schelemko is a guy for Phoenix who had a similar junior career and he began in the ECHL and it worked out fine for him. If they are playing multiple years it’s a problem but their first pro season in the ECHL is far from a death kneel IMO. When a team has strong depth and internal competition players are still going to be able to improve, and if they are good players they will find a role at the next level. If either dman starts in the ECHL and can’t clearly establish themselves as AHL options after a season no harm done, if they are good prospects they will establish themselves and become AHLers. If youre a good player it will be noticed.

  • To be honest I dont find Davidson all that good. Ya he put up good numbers as a 20 and 21 year old and was drafted at the age of 19. Those aren’t plus arrows when looking at a defender in my opinion. Also according to hockeydb Davidson played for OKC at the end of last year, doesn’t a player have to be signed to be able to play for the pro farm team at years end? I feel for Blaine cause he actually seems like a decent prospect.

    Keeping Chorney and Plante are a waste of time also. Sign some journeyman career AHL’er for one year to take there spots. Cause the year after that it will be Klefbom, Gernat, Musil and Bigos making the jump to go along with Marincin who most likely will be there next year.

    I NOW understand the reason for the Oil to not jump all over getting immediate D help. They have almost a carbon mold of each prospect to the a Pro. Bigos/Tuebert=Sutton, Klefbom=Whitney Petry already forced Gilbert to leave, Schultz/Smid=Musil, Marincin and Gernat could be Whitney or a rich mans Potter. Its pretty easy each year from now on Im sure we will be seeing a prospect slowed into the transition from being a bubble player to a pro. We are seeing it with Teubert right now. Start the year as the number 1 call up and once Sutton leaves next year insert Tuebert and so on.

  • The easy way out is not to sign Davidson and Blain. Despite the positives, both are NHL longshots; the odds are that the Oilers wouldn’t end up getting burned. That’s not what I’d like to see, given that it seems like a waste of two guys with potential, but it is the easy way out.

    The notion that the Oilers might not sign these two guys takes me a bit by surprise. Perhaps I’m guilty of drinking the Kool-Aid; pretty much everything I’ve read before suggested that these two guys might actually amount to something. (Most young D-Men prospects are difficult to get a handle on.) Why would the Oil give up on them without even giving them the slightest chance?

    I surely do agree it’s probably time to cull the herd either by trade or by simply not offering contracts. Surely there’s enough deadwood to make room for these guys. If they let them go for nothing, it’ll just be yet one more example of managerial incompetence. (And yes, Stevey, I’m referring to you.)

  • CaptainLander

    I think the Oil need to start be a little quicker to cut bait on guys that can’t cut it with the big team. Peckam has been close but has shown little growth. Move him for a pick or a waive him. Potter was a silly signing, plays well for half a year and gets a 2 year deal. Sure guys like Petry and Smid have all come around but with all these young d sompeting for limited positions we can save a few contract and let go of guys on the big squad not getting it done.

    Willis – 2 of the top 4 d on the Ranger are 22 and 21 in McDonagh and Del Zotto, how do you think they have become so dominant as that age, pedigree? They are both 1st rounders. Coaching? Lundquist?

  • CaptainLander

    Based on what happened this year, and AHL team needs 8 or 9 d-men to cover NHL call ups and AHL injuries, so until they hit double digit defencemen, I don’t see it as a big concern from a numbers point of view.

    Playing time when everyone is healthy would be a concern, but that’s on Nelson to manage. But reality is at most times there will be at least 1 player on call up/injured, and most often 2. This is the Oilers after all.

    If I were the Oilers, I would offer Chorney a big dollar AHL contract rather than a two way deal if I want him to play the Helmer role. I have serious doubts he attacts much interest elsewhere after bombing out in STL.

    Bigos won’t be signing with the Oilers. Why in heck would he do that rather than explore free agency? He really doesn’t have anything to lose by seeing what his options are. Someone from the US will offer him an entry level deal and he will be gone.

  • RexLibris

    @JW

    Thanks for the feedback and I look forward to the article.

    Regarding keeping Chorney, Plante, Peckham and Potter, as some of the above comments have mentioned.

    I would rather the Oilers kept Chorney and Plante for this season, traded Peckham at or around the draft and then traded Potter or Sutton at the deadline. Sutton at the deadline is almost a given (expiring UFA defenceman and trade deadline is an NHL cliche).

    I agree with Tayranchula that Teubert essentially carbon copies Sutton and when the Oilers re-signed Sutton I took the view that it gave Teubert more time to develop during this upcoming season. Peckham would have to become Sutton to deserve to stay and it doesn’t look like he will be an improvement over Teubert. The same is likely true for Plante but Plante and Teubert both in OKC for a season makes more sense given injuries and call-ups.

    On Bigos, the “flood” as Jonathan so aptly described it, may well encourage him to look elsewhere. That being said, if he feels that he has a more unique skill set or that he the Oilers offer a better development program at this stage of his career he may yet decide to spend some time in the AHL before making a jump to free agency.

    I can’t describe how refreshing it is as a fan to finally be at a position where I can talk about a prospect like Bigos or Czerwonka or Blain or Davidson walking away from the Oilers without being overcome with anxiety and insecurity.

    Whatever else can be said, this team has so vastly improved their depth, regardless of draft position, that it is almost unthinkable.