Trilogies (part two)

To many outsiders the Oilers were foolish to pass on Adam Larsson in 2011, and foolish again to pass on Ryan Murray in 2012. Fans and observers in other NHL cities were taking it as a given that the Oilers would try to balance out their developing core by adding blueliners at the top of the draft. When they didn’t the criticism came early, but died down fairly quickly as well. By the midpoint of last season I don’t recall anyone but the fiercest of trolls still criticizing the Oilers for taking Nugent-Hopkins over Adam Larsson. And certainly by the time the Oilers’ rookie camp had begun there didn’t seem to be much floating around about Ryan Murray being a better pick than Nail Yakupov.


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I’ll take a look here as to what I believe may be an underappreciated strength of this organization in the next five or six years: defence.

I’ll start by looking at what we can expect from the start before going into the depth and range of prospects.

Again, we are going to fast-forward to the 2013 roster. I’m working off of available resources here, so no trades or incoming free-agents to fill spots. I’m basing all of my assumptions on the information available to me by the same sources we all use: TSN, the Nations, local media, and various other hockey blogs that do not feature accuracy ratings.

On the Blueline

We know that Andy Sutton has probably played his last game in the NHL. That and the likelihood that Corey Potter will be unseated in the bottom pairing rotation means that we can assume that there will be at least two new inclusions to the defence corps in the immediate future. By the same token, Justin Schultz would appear to have all but guaranteed himself a roster spot whenever the league unshackles the doors. His skill set is closer to Potter than Sutton, so we should probably assume that the extra open spot is reserved for a more physical defender.

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So we can bump at least two incumbents off of our seven defensive roster spots. That leaves room for Justin Schultz and guest. My best guess is that Schultz’ plus-one to the NHL will be Theo Peckham, Colten Teubert or Taylor Fedun. Fedun is a more natural replacement for Potter, but Schultz is bringing many of the same things to the party and they are wrapped in much shinier, expensive-looking paper. The Oilers may also want Fedun to spend a bit more time down on the farm, there’s no rush for a young man who nearly lost his career last fall. Peckham and Teubert on the other hand, play a game closer to Sutton and are a safer bet than Fedun. My guess is that Peckham gets penciled in at training camp, but if Teubert looks good, then perhaps Theo gets moved to another organization with time and space for the promising young defender. This is only a hunch, and the way blueliners get injured we could be calling up Alex Plante as a replacement by early November.

My point here is that the Oilers already have quite a few bodies for the four through seven spots. The top three are pretty much spoken for.

There is some debate as to whether Ryan Whitney would be re-signed as a free-agent. I believe that the Oilers would prefer to retain him, if only for a season or two, in order to help bridge the gap between the defence today and the many emerging young players expected to crack the roster in the immediate future. For the sake of argument let us also assume that Ladislav Smid also re-signs with the Oilers.

I’ve left off Klefbom because I honestly want to believe that the franchise will see the error of their ways and not let Ryan Whitney go to free-agency so they can promote a rookie blueliner coming off a season-ending injury to full-time NHL duty straight out of training camp. I’d like to believe that they will assign him to OKC. If you’re pessimistic about that, just subtract Whitney and add Klefbom.

This, however, leads me into the crux of the situation with regards to the Oilers defence corps. Depth and range. The Oilers have several physical options in Teubert, Bigos, and Musil. The slick defenders like Klefbom and Marincin. And the puck-rushers like Schultz, Gernat and Laleggia. Players like Davidson, Simpson and Gustavsson could go any number of ways. The point here is that the Oilers likely won’t be desperate to go hunting for any particular type because they have some redundancy in skill sets.

A Few Bodies More

There are quite a few bodies that could soon be pushing their way onto the roster over the next three years including the aforementioned Colten Teubert and Oscar Klefbom. But also Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, Taylor Fedun, Brandon Davidson, Dillon Simpson, Kyle Bigos, David Musil, Erik Gustavsson, and Joey Laleggia. I’m certainly not suggesting that every one of them makes the jump, but I think even with injury and development we can conservatively assume that there will need to be room for a few rookies on the blueline these next few seasons.

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The blueline roster could easily morph from Whitney, Schultz in stereo,  Smid, Petry, Teubert, Peckham, Potter, or Fedun in 2013 to Justin Schultz, Petry, Marincin, Gernat, Teubert, Klefbom and Musil by 2015. That is a fairly dramatic overhaul of the blueline in only two short seasons. And before you say "that’s way too many young defenders for a single defense corps" remember, this is the Oilers. This is what they do.

In net I think we can safely ensconce Devan Dubnyk as the starter for the next two years, and likely Yann Danis, or another potential free-agent, as backup. Nikolai Khabibulin is unlikely to find further NHL employment unless it is in the form of a veteran backup goaltender providing insurance to a playoff bound team. Or the Islanders. Olivier Roy is still at least two years away from any NHL duty, while Tyler Bunz is close behind and could, conceivably, leapfrog Roy in the depth chart depending on next season in the AHL.

(Note – In some of the films, Eastwood’s character is referred to as "Manco" in spite of the fact that the character is famously called "The Man With No Name". The reason for this comes from production where the character as portrayed by Eastwood tends to use only his left hand, his draw-hand is his right, and so earned the moniker as a reference in most Latin languages to a one-armed man. The title is a nickname and not the name of the character.)

Because We Can’t Go Too Long Without Bringing Up Gagner…

I don’t know about Sam Gagner. Maybe he stays, maybe he goes. But if the Oilers can manage to draft a good center this June, then I think we can safely assume that the clock is ticking. For what it is worth, I think the team with Gagner on it is stronger than without, in part because of his level of competitiveness and commitment to the team. That aside, if there are viable replacements, and trading Gagner nets you that Tikkanen-esque forward the Oilers would love to add, then by all means.

What I can say with certainty is that Gagner has to stay on the roster for the time being as there are no 2nd line center alternatives. Until such time as a player emerges ready for that role, we should get comfortable with him locked down in that position.

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If the biggest problem this team has is upgrading their 2nd line center then we really are talking about 1st world problems here. Gagner is a perfectly serviceable player for that role and there are probably many teams around the league that wish their top six forwards offered as much potential. Would I like to have Sean Couturier in that position? Sure. Is there much chance of that happening right away? Nope.

The defense actually looks pretty settled and if a person were to take 200 paces back and stare down the Oilers’ rebuild they might almost be able to discern some sort of plan – draft elite scoring early, build up defensive prospects in the middle rounds of the draft, and add the depth winger required with the longshot picks here and there. And maybe find a goalie down at the local Dry Goods store.

Next up is a review of the prospects as a whole with an eye to parsing out a reasonable success rate for players as a group. I warn you now, stats ners and math junkies, this is a very unscientific perspective and is based on a generous helping of anecdotal evidence and gut feeling.


Gian Maria Volonte always had the best death scenes.

Read Part One here.

  • OilersBrass

    The Oilers have made SOLID picks on D, but besides their first round picks they haven’t made the best choices in drafting forwards. I’ve never understood why they drafted some of the players they did.

  • DSF

    Okay, now you’ve done it Rex!

    Which playoff calibre teams would be excited about Gagner’s “potential”.

    Centre depth in order of regular season finish last year:

    Vancouver: Sedin – Kesler NO

    NYR: Richards – Stepan NO

    STL: Backes – Berglund NO

    Pittsburgh: Crosby – Malkin NO

    Nashville: Legwand – Fisher NO

    Philly: Talbot – Couturier NO

    Boston: Bergeron – Krecji – (Seguin) NO

    PHX: Vermette – Hanzal NO

    DET: Datsyuk – Zetterburg NO

    NJ: Elias – Henrique NO

    CHI: Toews- Bolland (Kane) NO

    SJS: Thornton, Couture NO

    LAK: Kopitar – Richards – Carter NO

    WSH: Johansson – Backstrom NO

    OTT: Spezza – Turris (worth noting Turris was .53PPG – Gagner .63PPG MAYBE

    Of the remaining 13 teams, I would think Anaheim, Colorado, Minnesota, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Carolina, the Islanders, and Montreal would have ZERO interest in Gagner since they already have better options in place.

    That leaves 5 teams where Gagner might be considered a #2C.

    Please define “many teams around the league”.

        • John Chambers

          Anaheim would trade Saku Koivu. In a heartbeat. You may love Holland, but his NHLe is about 35 pts … Neither of those guys are as good an option as 89.

          Buffalo should be willing to upgrade Hodgson for him.

          Chicago needs him. Bolland is a 3rd line C.

          Dallas traded Ribeiro and need a scoring line C. Faksa is not anywhere near NHL-ready.

          Detroit just lost Hudler.

          You cite Fisher as NSH’s 2nd line C, but he’s a checking line C. Gags is a big upgrade over Colin Wilson.

          Toronto’s centre depth is Grabbo and ….? I’ll take Gags over Bozak thank you.

          Phoenix has Hanzal, while ideally Vermette plays on a checking line. Gags would be a fine fit as a #2 centre there.

          Once again you have a clouded read on the market.

          • DSF

            Anaheim wouldn’t do the deal.

            They have Peter Holland 6’2″ 190, 12th in AHL scoring, ready for the NHL.

            When Chicago needs a centre, they play either Kane or Patrick Sharp at that position.

            They are also grooming Marcus Kruger and Brandon Pirri (56 points in the AHL last season) and Mark MacNeill.

            I agree on Dallas.

            Detroit has Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Helm on the roster and Damien Brunner is killing the Swiss league. Hudler won’t be missed.

            Mike Fischer outscored Gagner last season while being the checker you described. Gagner would not be an upgrade.

            Hanzal is the second line centre in Phoenix. Do you think the Coyotes would trade him straight up for Gagner? I don’t. Phoenix needs a #1C. Gagner isn’t it.

            In mentioned that Toronto would likely be interested but it appears the Leafs are going to try JVR at centre.

            Also worth noting, Bozak had exactly the same number of goals and points as Gagner last season. Pretty much the same player IMO.

            Once again, you are vastly over-rating Oiler players.

        • djc

          I am just amazed that someone has so much time, energy, and passion to comment 10+ times on every frikken Oilersnation article to spew his contempt for every Oilers’ player, prospect, staff, and decision.

          I hope you get a Kyle Wellwood Minnesota Wild jersey hand delivered to you by Dean Lombardi for Christmas so you can have a little joy in your life.

        • longbottom/P.Biglow

          He (Gagner) will turn into a fine 2nd line center since he is only 5 years into his young carreer. Might I remind you again of two slick forwards that came into the NHL at a older age of 20.
          After the first five years:
          H Sedin 221points
          D Sedin 222points

          S Gagner220points

          Now I am not saying this only to refute you and show your talking out your butt. I really want to hear what your comeback to this arguement is.

          • DSF

            Happy to oblige.

            Some points to consider. (we’ll use only Henrik Sedin here since both he and Gagner are centres and since the Sedins stats have been very close over the years).

            1) The Sedins broke into the league in a the “clutch and grab” , “dead puck” era. When play resumed following the last lockout with the new anti obstruction rules in place, Henrik’s point totals jumped from 42 to 75.

            2) Sam Gagner never played in the “dead puck” era.

            3) In their early years, the Sedins played behind the West Coast Express line of Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morisson and in fact were playing 3rd line minutes early on.

            Here is the TOI/G comparison for Henrik and Gagner in their first 5 seasons:


            1) 13:31

            2) 12:48

            3) 13:57

            4) 14:02

            5) 16:54


            1) 15:40

            2) 16:45

            3) 16:17

            4) 17:44

            5) 17:10

            As you can clearly see, because of the relative weakness of the Oilers lineup, Gagner was handed significantly more ice time than Henrik during the first 5 years of their careers. For example, in their rookie seasons, Gagner played 2:09 more per game than did Henrik.

            Doesn’t sound like much until you extrapolate those extra two minutes over an 82 game season. That 2:09 equals 171 minutes of playing time…or the equivalent of an extra 11 games in their rookie season based on Gagner’s minutes.

            Now , lets look at some numbers for these players in their 5th season in the NHL since that’s the latest we have for Gagner and since they both played that season under identical obstruction rules.

            P/60 5V5

            Gagner: 1.96

            Sedin: 2.16

            P/60 5V4

            Gagner: 3.66

            Sedin 4.68

            At this point, the 5 year mark of their careers, Sedin is more productive at evens and far more productive on the PP.

            4) With the arrival of Hopkins, Gagner’s TOI/G has started to drop and, barring injury to Hopkins, will likely continue to do so.

            While, in his 5th year, Sedin was still playing behind Brendan Morisson, in his 6th season, Sedin finally took over the top spot in TOI/G with 18:25 and responded with an 81 point season.

            If Gagner is to follow the trajectory of Sedin, not only will he have to beat out Hopkins for the #1C position but he will also have to score 81 points.

            Think he can do that?

            Now, working in Gagner’s favour is that he is younger than Sedin was in comparable seasons but that is the ONLY thing working in his favour and there are several other factors working against him.

  • DSF

    Just as an addendum to my earlier post:

    Centre depth among the remaining 5 teams with prospects included:


    Antoine Vermette

    Derrick Brassard

    Artem Ansimov

    Ryan Johansen

    Boone Jenner

    Jonathan Marchessault


    Jamie Benn

    Vernon Fiddler

    Radek Faksa

    Tomas Vincour

    Cody Eakin


    Steven Weiss

    Marcel Goc

    Jonathan Huberdeau

    Nick Bjugstad

    Quinton Howden

    Drew Shore

    Rocco Grimaldi

    Vincent Trochek

    Connor Brickley


    Brian Little

    Nik Antropov

    Kyle Wellwood

    Alex Burmistrov

    Mark Scheifele

    Lukas Sutter









    From the above, I would think Dallas and Toronto would have some interest in Gagner. Columbus perhaps.

    Calgary is a given.

      • DSF

        You have to look at it from the point of view of the team that might acquire Gagner.

        Would Florida trade for him when they have Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Quinton Howden, Drew Shore and Rocco Grimaldi coming up in their system?

        No they wouldn’t.

  • OilersBrass

    I think the Oil should keep Gagner. He now has a lot of skilled wingers to play with, and like Hemsky, he’s a player that usually only plays well with other skilled forwards.

    He’s been criticized a lot lately, but there is only so much a centre can do when playing with grinders. I see him AND Hemsky (whenever this lockout ends) putting up a lot more points playing with these younger kids.

      • OilersBrass

        Well thats just my opinion, but we’ll have to wait for the season to start to find out! He’s doing well in Europe right now.

        If they’re going to trade him though, the best thing to do would be to trade him for a first round draft pick this year. There’s a lot of big talented centres the Oilers could scoop up. Then hopefully sign a vet centre during the free agency.

      • As soon as Hemsky was replaced with Eberle, both the line and Gagner took off. I remain skeptical that Hemsky is an effective player with those young guys. Can’t pin it down, but it’s like oil and water.

      • PutzStew

        Sub tact Hemsky, add eberle and you have a winning combination. This Hall, Gagner, Hemsky thing has to end. The has never been and never will be any chemistry. If Hemsky is gonna be in the top 6 then put him with RNH. He’s the only guy that has been able to get Hemsky going in 3+ seasons.

        Hey DSF. How many 8 point games have you had in the NHL. (EASports not included).

  • RexLibris

    By the power vested in my by the castle Grayskull and the Oilersnation, I hereby proclaim the above phenomenon, in an article discussing defensive prospects, the Gagner-Bomb. Henceforth, it shall be used as a noun, or a verb, to describe a hijacking of any conversation, be it politics, weather, the literary merits of E.L. James, or one’s recent bunion surgery, towards the topic of Sam Gagner.

    Example: “I was just telling him about this terrific sushi joint I found in Millcreek the other day, and he totally Gagner-Bombed me out of nowhere!

    I love the passion that we still have in discussing a player who is currently in Europe on a team that has finished dead last, or next to dead last, the previous three season in a league that has been mothballed indefinitely over petulant discussions of entitlement and greed.

    Really, I do.

    But does anyone have anything to say about the defensive options on the table?

    Oh, and about the thread that started this whole brouhaha: DSF, my direct comment was “there are probably many teams around the league that wish their top six forwards offered as much potential”. Top six. Not Gagner as an entity unto himself. Top six. And yes, I do believe, in my dearest little heart of hearts, that the Oilers top six is eyed somewhat enviously by several teams around the league.

    But thank you, sir, for all those comments you’ve spawned. Man alive, you certainly do know how to ignite a discussion.

      • RexLibris

        Oh, I’ve been hanging around a long time.

        Why do you think I added Gagner in the article. I can play the ratings game as well as anyone. 😉

        It isn’t that I’m necessarily bullish on them, so much as they all have potential and I can’t really count any of them out. Could the team use a Bieksa or a Weber, heck yes. Just about any team could. All I’m saying is that there are enough prospects now that prioritizing defence over a high-end center or depth on the wings might not be the best use of resources.

        Defensemen are valuable, but paradoxically, they can also be acquired at a fairly reasonable rate if one knows where to look.

    • More to the point, I believe the defensive side of Gagner’s game still needs some work. But he was probably defending on a line with defensive scrubs, so there’s that. We all know Gagner is best defensively when paired with defensively acute linemates.

      Gagner! GAGNER! GAGNER!!!

  • The blueline roster could easily morph from Whitney, Schultz in stereo, Smid, Petry, Teubert, Peckham, Potter, or Fedun in 2013 to Justin Schultz, Petry, Marincin, Gernat, Teubert, Klefbom and Musil by 2015. That is a fairly dramatic overhaul of the blueline in only two short seasons.

    Man… that’s way too many young defenders for a single defense corps!

    …And before you say “that’s way too many young defenders for a single defense corps” remember, this is the Oilers. This is what they do.

    Awww crap. Damn you, Truthie! I hope they sign stopgaps while they wait for some D to precipitate, instead of rushing them.

  • John Chambers


    I’m not as bullish about the Oilers D prospects as you are. I don’t think you can count on all of Marincin, Gernat, Teubert, Klefbom and Musil rounding into form by 2015, if ever.

    The Oilers still need to address their D through a trade to bring in a top-pair option. Prospects and / or picks are going to need to be traded to acquire someone who can competently play 23 minutes a night. I don’t see anyone on the above list who in their career will truly be able to handle that role.

  • DSF


    So playing against all of these teams with good depth at centre, the Oilers would be hooped if they didn’t have a decent #2 centre to trot out there. Depth scoring is important, more so than ever with more line rotation and shorter shifts. And in the event of injuries (these are the Oilers!) having guys that can temporarily fill the void, is critical.

    Lots of teams would want Sam Gagner, and unless the Oilers find another centre, the Oilers should want him too.

    • DSF

      Well, of course the Oilers need a second line centre…suggesting he just vanish and not be replaced is just goofy.

      Please tell me exactly which teams among the “lots of teams” you cited would want Gagner as their second line centre.

  • As for defensive prospects, it’s a nice problem to have, finally. I hope the organization takes their time, and through that process a legit prospect emerges as a great NHL defenseman.

    However, it seems like defense, more than any other position takes a long time to develop at the NHL level, even the highly touted ones. Smid is a great example of this. It’s a rare situation that a doughty or Karlsson just emerges in their first few years of playing. I have my fingers crossed we have one of these phonemes in Schultz, and maybe another top end prospect in Klefbomb. His name alone, will be worth him coming to the club.

    Moreover, having all rookies in Edmonton by 2015, though possible, would be a terrible way to build a team. Just look at the lack of success in the AHL with all our rookies. How well do you think that make-up will be at the NHL level? The Oilers will get destroyed with an entirely rookie defense core.

    My hope of hopes is that after Schultz, one other prospect from the list mentioned above develops above expectations to become a diamond in the rough prospect, much like Petry really emerged this year. From there I do hope the Oilers brass is able to build in some reliable veteran defense through free agency and trade. Having said that I really like the Nick Schultz signing, especially in the face of getting Schultz this summer, and how well he has been.

    I am sad about Sutton as little more could have been asked of him, especially for what he was paid. No one in our system will be able to fill his role as well as he did it, and be as good of an influence in the room as he reportedly was. I respected his candor on matters of his suspensions, and like that he came and said if he had to do it again he would because his intent was to hit the guy, not to hit the guy’s head.
    My hope is that Tubert ends up filling this role. If he can button it up a little more defensively and read the game better he looks to be another Smid in the making. Just like Smid, I don’t think the transition will be a short or smooth one, but I think it will happen.

    So this means our defense core is Smid, Petry, Schultz, Klefbomb, Tubert, plus two vets through a ‘wow’ trade. That to me is a solid core.

    Finally as for Gagner, I also think he’s great, but doesn’t seem to fit the team need going forward. Ideally, we trade him for an upgrade somewhere else, and develop a bigger center through the draft this year. I imagine a team with two big guys that can contribute in the top six, surrounded by the likes of Hall, Nuge, Ebs, Yak, and Hemmer at any given time. But it’s hard to argue with his consistent 40+ points a season. It’s really hard to ask for more than that and not feel greedy. Also, the fact he has the second most points from his draft class, behind Kane, makes him a steal from that year.

    As I’ve said in other posts, the rebuild has netted the young talent Edmonton has lacked for a long time, now the team can construct a winner through some savy trade and free agent pick-ups. We have tradable assets, as well as picks to plug a few holes with some solid depth players. My prediction is that one day soon after a few moves, everyone in the league looks at our roster and craps. Kind of like the Kings last year. At some point they just built this monster team.

  • Cervantes

    Adding Schultz, along with a better than expected percentage of D prospects looking good and a few lower tier FA pickups (Fedun, Deck), and our D isn’t looking too bad. And our F is good, as always. Our lack of goalie depth is what really worries me. Most teams would have their starter, a solid backup, a decent AHL goalie, and an AHL rookie. We’re a decent backup short. If Dubs gets injured, we’re looking at a Khabi/Danis combo, with Roy/Bunz on the AHL team. That’s pretty scary. Worse if (when) Khabi goes down. Danis/Roy as our NHL starters? That’s damn worrisome. We need a decent NHL backup that will push things down so we have Khabi/Danis in the A.