As I have watched the Oilers this season the areas of weakness for this club have been obvious. They are not built to compete with big teams that like to play heavy in the corners and in front of the net.
The defense is full of players suited for second and third pairing roles. Players like Petry and Ference are being asked to play as first pairing guys. This is a tall order for players like this at the best of times and even harder when your group’s commitment to playing defense is average at best.
Quick fixes to address the need for forwards that play a heavy game like Wayne Simmons or a top pairing D man like Shea Weber are not easy to come by. When you look at the Oilers NHL roster and the rest of the guys in the system, there are some blue chip prospects in the pipeline on the back end.
I really wanted the Oilers to draft Nurse last year. I felt then and still feel he can anchor the Oilers blue line moving forward. He is big, mean and a leader. I don’t expect him to put up a lot of points, he doesn’t need to. I believe he is the type of player that will make coming to play in Edmonton uncomfortable for opposing forwards. In time he will be the guy to address players like Backes and Kesler just like Regher used to do for the Flames down in Calgary.
My concern with Nurse is the Oilers ability to be patient with this young man. I see no need to rush him into the NHL. Playing junior next year and then a year in the minors will be healthy for him. He can learn the hardest position at his pace and fill out that big frame.
Oscar Kleifbom is another d-man I have high expectations for, but clearly missing a whole season of hockey last year slowed down his development. He will come around.
There are more projects in the system. The Oilers are hoping that a couple work through their issues. Some need to get quicker, others need to get a lot stronger and some need to learn patience. There is hope on the back end, it just will not be seen for a couple of years.
In my opinion there are very few players in the entire Oilers organization that I have seen play that are a handful to handle in the corners and the front of the net. David Perron is the most obvious top nine forward that is such a player. The Oilers are hoping that Lander, Moroz and Chase develop into full time NHLers that do similar things in this show.
The Oilers need to head to the draft this summer with the goal of addressing this area of weakness. When I look at the Pacific division there is little doubt in my mind that the Kings, Sharks and Ducks are not going to change their style of play. The Oilers need to adjust theirs to compete.
To that end, I have been watching the World Juniors this year very closely. Two players that I think will help the Oilers come closer to challenging the Titans of the pacific division are playing for the Germans and the Swedes.
Let me introduce to you first Mr. Leon Draisaitl. He is playing for Germany in the World juniors and has skated for the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL the last two seasons. Depending on where you look, he is roughly 6’2 and 200lbs. He is the big center the Oilers are in desperate need of to compete with the Thornton’s and Getzlaf’s of the Pacific division.
Draisaitl is a big strong player. He skates well and can beat you with his shot or a nice pass to set up a winger. He has 51 points in 33 games in Prince Albert this year (1.54 PPG), tying him for 5th overall in WHL scoring. Unfortunately, he has not been outstanding in the WJC so far, but I believe this is because he has no support on his team. Opposing clubs are smothering him when he gets the puck. He is also playing a ton and looks tired and at times frustrated with the way the tourney has gone for him.
MacT has been over at the World juniors and he has been keeping a close eye of Draisaitl. The Oilers have also made the trip east to Prince Albert to see him play. A big center that can play easily in your top nine and maybe top 6 is a big need for the Oilers. Draisaitl could be the answer.
The second player I have liked to fill a need for the Oilers is Swedish forward Anton Karlsson. He is eligible for the draft this year. Another big forward at 6’1, 190lbs. He is playing a fourth line checking roll for a very stacked Swedish team at the world juniors. In limited minutes he has stood out for me – Karlsson brings a spark to the team when he is on the ice by finishing checks, going to the hard areas and killing penalties. He is a player that understands how to be an asset to the team by contributing to areas of weakness. What a crazy idea!!!
I have not seen enough of him playing in a different role to say what kind of offensive ability he has but so far this season playing junior hockey in Sweden he has nearly a point a game.
Both Draisaitl and Karlsson are two players the Oilers need to fill their system with. Big forwards (and especially in Karlsson’s case), players that will do anything to help his team win. I only hope that MacT and company are seeing the same issues I am.