In the classic version of Blues Clues, Steve (in photo) solved world issues using his brain, his handy dandy notebook and his sidekick Blue. The Oilers "Steve" has been working on Blues Clues since arriving, building from the ground up. How does the blue depth chart look today?
Eight deep and still in a state of flux, owing mostly to injury and waiver worry.
- Ladislav Smid: Defensive defenseman has emerged from a long development period at the NHL level to become a reliable player. The value of a defender who can do what sounds simple–separate the puck and the opponent in scoring areas–has terrific value. Signing Smid long term will be a big story when it happens.
- Jeff Petry: The best Oiler drafted D in forever, Petry has the skils to be a complete defensemen when he matures, and that looks like it could be very soon. Has excellent defensive instincts and a very good feel for when to jump into the play. An outstanding young defenseman.
- Ryan Whitney: The only thing keeping him from being #1 on this list is the injury concern. A healthy Whitney delivers textbook headman passes and can play the defensive game with aplomb.If he’s healthy, we can expect the Oilers to make a significant improvement on defense this season.
- Justin Schultz: The free agent prize of the off-season, he has the skills to be a complete player type. Schultz’ offense will get him noticed, and we should expect rookie defensive mistakes, but the resume suggests there’s a 2-way player here and as time marches on we should see it.
- Nick Schultz: Veteran defender can play anywhere in the lineup and is the perfect mentor for the youngsters. Schultz can also help on the PK and may end up being Schultz the younger’s first D partner in the NHL.
- Andy Sutton: Big defender was a pleasant addition to last year’s team and should be able to repeat in a 5-6 role. Sutton is a huge player, a big hitter and an intimidating defensemen. All of those things are good for the Oilers.
- Theo Peckham: Tough season in 11-12 means this one will be important for the young man. For fans, we would do well to remember that growing pains are a part of every defender’s development. Peckham’s size, strength and mean streak mean he’ll be a useful player if he can master the difficult task of playing NHL defense.
- Corey Potter: A feel good story from one year ago, Potter’s role will be usurped by Schultz the younger and there is a chance Edmonton will send him down at some point during the year. My guess is that they run 8 defensemen if everyone is healthy (and really, how long will it be before one of the top 6D suffer injury?) to start the season.
- Alex Plante: Had his finest pro season in 2011-12, playing in the mid-season AHL All-Star game. Injuries are piling up for such a young man (he’s 23 now, and has suffered 4 concussions since turning pro). Footspeed appears to be the only thing holding him back now, as he knows how to play defense at the AHL level. Plante will be a waiver worry when it comes time to cut rosters to 23.
- Colten Teubert: Similar talent, in fact there’s every chance the organization holds Teubert in higher esteem. Teubert is a tough defender with good footspeed, and the lessons Plante learned are the ones he’ll need to assimilate before making it as an NHL player. He’s close, could be a regular a year from now.
- Taylor Fedun: A difficult player to slot due to injury. Fedun looked very good last fall and was in the mix for a final roster spot when hurt. This season, the depth chart looks more difficult to climb and the club will no doubt want him to play in the minors for an extended period before recall. Still, a complete wildcard and someone to keep in mind.
- Martin Marincin: Marincin represents the start of the ‘river of blue’ who will arrive in the next few seasons. A big defender with a nice range of skills, Marincin’s head start might be invaluable as he tries to establish himself in the NHL. A full season in OKC is likely, with a cup of coffee in the show possible.
- Brandon Davidson: Like Marincin, Davidson will turn pro this fall with a nice resume. At 21, he might surprise and move up the depth chart more quickly because of age and maturity, but his skill set is below that of the higher draft picks like Marincin and the other kids on the way.
OKC BARONS (AHL contracts)
- Dan Ringwald:Solid defender at the AHL level. He’ll give the Barons a consistent, reliable defender and can be paired with one of the younger group in a mentor role. One of the strengths Todd Nelson has shown in his time in OKC is getting max from this player type.
- Teigan Zahn:Another AHL contract, this time for a throwback defender who probably reminds Don Cherry of himself at the same age. Barons won’t have to worry about toughness with Zahn in the lineup.
IN THE SYSTEM
- Oscar Klefbom must be very close based on how hard the Oilers tried to get him over to NA for 2012-13. I’d hesitate to call him a plug and play for 13-14 but it’s also true that he impressed in the SEL post-season and at the camp right after this year’s draft. Klefbom’s offense is unlikely to wow fans after a year of Justin Schultz, but he can clearly play defense and move the puck effectively. Signed to an Oiler entry level deal this summer.
- Martin Gernat: Major draft success based on current skills and where he was selected. He’s big, strong and skilled, with defensive reads another strength. Stick positioning and physical play are areas of work for this coming season. Gernat is a player Edmonton probably wants to sign in the near future.
- David Musil is a defense first blueliner with terrific instincts without the puck. Foot speed has been the only real concern, and Musil’s intelligent play usually puts him in a good position to defend–a big advantage. Musil has already signed his entry level deal, a reflection of how highly the Oilers think of him.
- Kyle Bigos: Huge defender with another year in NCAA straight ahead, Bigos is likely to get a contract based on skill set. He’ll be 24 when he turns pro, but the numbers Edmonton will be interested in are 6.05, 230. That’s Jerry Korab!
- Erik Gustafsson: Puck moving defender who is already playing pro in the SEL, Gustafsson is something of a wild card. We’ll get a better idea about him this coming season, but with the sheer number of top end prospects already drafted and outside NA pro hockey, Edmonton might leave him in Sweden for a couple of years before bringing him over.
- Dillon Simpson: The great thing about the Oilers stockpiling of talent since Stu MacGregor took over as scouting director is that there’s no real hurry on any of these kids. Dillon Simpson is now a veteran of 2 NCAA seasons and is still 6 months from his 20th birthday. He has shown great improvement and moved up the depth chart smartly at UND. Edmonton can leave him in North Dakota for two more seasons and turn him pro at the back end of the cluster. Based on skill set and quick improvement, it looks like the Oilers have a player here.
- Joey Laleggia: I honestly have no idea where to place him. Laleggia is a 20-year old high end skill defenseman in the NCAA. He could stay there for another three years (Denver, a top flight program) if required. Having said that, a left handed puck mover is exactly what the AHL team could use and the NHL team would find room for if available. It’s a logjam for sure. I suspect Lalaggia will stay in the NCAA at least a year, possibly two. He is not considered an outstanding defensive player, so we should assume he’ll be handled as a ‘Ruotsalainen-MA Bergeron’ specialty item when he does arrive.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
There are some very good things happening here. Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin and Martin Gernat represent the best bets, but of the 20 Oiler players listed here (plus 2 OKC Barons) only Andy Sutton is on the back 9.
There’s something happening here.