"Your key guys are your defensemen. If you take care of defense and center ice, your team is strong. Everybody goes and covers down low, so what all the good teams do is have are good, mobile defensemen who know how to play the point."
-Scotty Bowman, Behind the Moves.
I count three current NHL Oilers as the "foundation" for the blue that will make the back half of the ’10s a time to remember for Oiler fans:
- Justin Schultz ($3.775M cap for this and next season, then he’s rfa). A monster addition, we’re still getting used to how well he can play at the NHL level but any discussion about the Oilers blue for the rest of this decade starts with Schultz. Monster addition. Huge. Mammoth. Everest.
- Ladislav Smid ($2.25M cap for this season, then he’s ufa). Oilers need to sign him and right bloody soon. He has to be very close to the best free agent defender on the market this summer and is most certainly the youngest of the top end free agents at his position. Edmonton would be wise to get his signature long before the free agent season begins.
- Jeff Petry ($1.75M cap for this and nexr season, then he’s rfa). Oilers got a quality player in the 2006 entry draft and now have him signed to a very nice contract. Two-way player with a lot of talent, he’s going to be part of an electric top 4D for years in Edmonton.
SHORT TERM ROLE PLAYERS
Some of these guys could hang around longer, but may not be here when the times get very good in Edmonton.
- Ryan Whitney ($4M this season, then he’s ufa). Whitney’s name has been front and center of late, and not in a good way. There are certainly some issues, and for that reason I have him in this category. Were he healthy, I would consider Whitney a ‘foundation’ defender–he’s that good when 100%.
- Nick Schultz ($3.5M this and next season, then he’s ufa). Schultz has been solid for the Oilers, but is very likely a 5-6D on this team when they arrive as a contender. Schultz has been entrusted with the very important mentor role for Schultz the younger and has been excellent in the role. Biggest factors in his future are age and wear: Nick Schultz is 30 and has played over 750 NHL games.
- Mark Fistric ($1.475M this season, then he’s ufa). A nice opportunity for the tough, stay at home defender to showcase his abilities before free agency. I like him because he can hit but doesn’t take a lot of penalties. That has value, especially on a team that needs to win the special teams battles.
- Theo Peckham ($1.075M this season, then he’s rfa). For a team looking for toughness and some intimidation, Peckham is an inexpensive option. Plus, they’ve suffered through the growing pains with him, it would be galling to see him blossom in another NHL city.
- Corey Potter ($775k this and next season, then he’s rfa). Potter’s roster spot is at the end of the depth chart, meaning he’s more susceptible to waivers, being sent down and losing his job to a hotshot rookie. Credit where due, he’s in his second season and on his second coach and still here. I don’t think he’s a long term solution.
- Brett Clark. Signed to an AHL contract by the Barons, I think there’s a chance he ends up in Edmonton at some point this season (depending on injuries and what happens at the deadline). Clark has a lot of miles on him but can also play the position.
- Alex Plante: Played in 10 NHL games during his entry level deal, and that could be his career total. Plante was a raw prospect when taken in the 1st rd in 2007, and injuries have had a major impact on his lack of development. Concussions are the main culprit.
This group includes AHL players, Euro pro’s and high end draft picks who wil graduate to pro in the next year or two.
- Oscar Klefbom: After 67 games in the SEL, Klefbom appears ready to join the Oilers organization beginning in the fall. He lost much of the season to injury, but was beginning to dominate defensively when hurt. Although not considered a lock to make the Oilers at the beginning of 13-14, Klefbom is close to NHL ready based on reports. The best defenseman in the system outside the NHL.
- Martin Marincin: Enjoyed a fast start alongside Justin Schultz at the beginning of the AHL season, but fell apart in December and was demoted to the third pairing. He has recovered his game in a depth role and should be able to take on more difficult assignments for OKC in 13-14. Although he is likely to get a cup of coffee in the next 18 months, the Oilers will probably keep him with the Barons during his entry level deal.
- Martin Gernat: Finally healthy. Gernat lost some precious development time but appears to be returning to form (3 assists last night). The Oil Kings missed Gernat, who plays in all disciplines and displays a wide range of skills. I noticed last season that he is developing a bit of a mean streak, which will sustain him as he moves into pro hockey beginning in the fall. A real diamond.
- Taylor Fedun: Has recovered from his injury and at this point is a trusted blueliner for coach Nelson in OKC. Fedun has a nice range of skills and could get a call to the NHL this season. Fedun has passed some high draft picks on the depth chart since October.
- David Musil: When kids like Musil turn pro and begin to get comfortable, the Oilers are going to have more depth on defense at the pro level than they’ve had in a decade. Like Klefbom, Musil’s calling card is defense and the young man is effective. Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal: “He’s a big Steady Eddy defenceman. He just battles down low, he’s an absolute warrior, you put him with Keegan Lowe and it makes a pretty decent shutdown pair.”
- Dillon Simpson: developing well in North Dakota. As with Musil, we’re going to be seeing a defensemen with footspeed issues and a ton of ability to read and react, but Simpson has been working on his skating and is improved in that area. Simpson has moved up the UND depth chart and at this point we should consider him a legit NHL prospect and a player who is lapping his draft number smartly.
- Colten Teubert: Big, tough defender whose window is now in terms of grabbing and holding on to an NHL job. His skill set is duplicated by men like Mark Fistric and Theo Peckham, so good performances in the AHL are vital as he waits for an opportunity. Teubert has struggled at times in OKC this season.
- Brandon Davidson:Difficult player to slot because of the cancer, but if there was an award for the sheer number of people cheering for a specific Oiler prospect (the ‘squee’?) Davidson would win in a walk. A good story if he makes the NHL, the depth chart is a high hill now and trending toward mountain status.
- Erik Gustafsson: Swedish puck mover had a terrific start and then settled in, but is on fire lately and I think they might bring this guy over soon. The Oilers are going to reach a point where they can’t keep all these defensemen, but I don’t think they’ll pass on an opportunity to at least see Gustafsson for a couple of seasons.
- Kyle Bigos: Bigos is a senior so will need to be signed during the spring. At 6.05, 230 I don’t think the Oilers think twice about signing him and bringing Bigos to pro hockey. He’s somewhat unique in that he’s big, strong and has a mean streak–something the organization doesn’t have a lot of in the pro ranks.
- Joey Laleggia: Undersized puck mover is a pretty incredible PP contributor. I don’t know that the Oilers turn him pro this fall–they have so many graduating blue–but this is an interesting player and somewhat unique among Oiler prospects.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
It’s raining young defensemen. I’m reminded of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1968-1973, who brought about 15 young blue to the NHL between Jim Dorey’s NHL debut in 1968 and Borje Salming’s first incredible games 1973 fall.
Between the time Jeff Petry debuted as an NHL player in 2010 fall and the day Oscar Klefbom establishes himself as an NHL player, the Edmonton Oilers have/are debuting some impressive talent.