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
- Oilers sign Kristians Pelss
- Report: KHL club trying to poach Jets’ Alexander Burmistrov
- Free agnets: Ryan Smyth, Edmonton Oilers
- Should the next coach of the Oilers be young?
- Free agents: Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals
- Playoff picks: Round 2
- Why an amnesty clause makes sense
- Kevin Lowe: "It’s a business first"
- Justin Schultz would solve a lot of problems for the Oilers
- The Oilers should sign Josh Harding this summer
- Roberto Luongo asks for a trade
- Red Wings’ G.M. Ken Holland on player development
- Team Canada takes shape – and is looking pretty good