Brandon Davidson, Hidden Gem?

There was a lot more bad than good for the Oilers at this year’s Penticton Young Stars tournament, particularly for the highly-touted defensive group. Still, it wasn’t all bad, and Brandon Davidson found a way to distinguish himself.

The Reviews

Kevin McCartney, on Davidson’s first of two games:

The Oilers best player for much of the game. His shots were through traffic and on target all night. Great gap in transition – much tighter than most Oilers – and obvious awareness. Patient at both ends of the rink. Extensive powerplay time and one of the few lights on the unit until the Oilers moved to the funnel in the 3rd. Skating is very high level, though shy of Klefbom and Nurse still. Got beat on a Petan move at the blue line 2-on-2 in which Petan drew him in with a change of pace. Davidson made a swift attack but it was telegraphed. One of a few hesitations in the game, possibly because of loose systems and new team mates.

Bruce McCurdy, on the second game:

Brandon Davidson looked very solid for the most part, a player with “calm feet” and a good head on his shoulders. However, some soft net-front coverage cost him on at least one play.

Lost in the crowd?

Brandon Davidson is not typically seen as one of the Oilers’ star defence prospects. Defence is the greatest area of strength in the prospect pipeline and there is an impressive array of young players with both draft pedigree and impressive results in front of Davidson. Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom are both blue-chip prospects and former first-round picks. Martin Marincin was a second-round pick who impressed as a rookie professional last year; David Musil has had mixed reports over the last year but was also an early selection. Martin Gernat lacks draft pedigree but brings size and scoring punch, and Dillon Simpson is in the mix too.

What Davidson does have is the backing of his minor-league coach. Oklahoma bench boss Todd Nelson not only praised Davidson’s quality as a minor-leaguer, but also suggested he could go so far as to contend for NHL ice-time this year:

He played so extremely well for us down the stretch. We’re definitely hoping he picks up for us where he left off. Because he is a very dominant guy for us… If he ends up in Oklahoma City, he’ll be a big part of our team. Hopefully he makes the big club. He had a great attitude and came back a better player. His attitude helped him through those situations and he’s always been a good character kid.

While Davidson playing in the NHL this season would be a major shock, there is a lot to like in what he did last year. After his cancer scare Davidson was sent to the ECHL to find his legs; he responded with a dominant performance and a seven goals, five assists, 12 points stats line through 11 games, quickly earning a return to the Barons. Nelson’s words above make it clear what the coach thought of his play to finish off the season. It’s abundantly clear that the player isn’t complacent about his performance either; according to the story that quote came from, he enters training camp this season after putting on 10 pounds in the off-season.

The Way Ahead

To be sure, Davidson has his work cut out for him. If he is to earn NHL ice-time, not only does he have to wait for a spot to emerge in the crowded major-league depth chart, but he also has to compete with guys like Klefbom and Marincin and Taylor Fedun – there’s a lot of quality there and even getting ice-time in the AHL could be a challenge.

But there’s no sense worrying about the competition. A few years back, Kyle Brodziak was in a similar situation. Like Davidson, Brodziak was a late draft pick out of the WHL who had been passed over in his first year of eligibility, and like Davidson Brodziak faced an uphill battle for ice-time that pitted him against higher-profile prospects. Brodziak passed enough of them in the minors to get an NHL look, and did enough with his NHL opportunities to carve out a niche in the world’s best league. Today, he has played [insert stat] NHL games and has more in his future.

The odds are long but Davidson just might be able to do something similar.

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