How long does it take for a young defenseman to play at sea level in the NHL? How long before a team can count on him to throw away the training wheels, to stop making the sins of youth, to deliver consistently? Answer: a pretty long damn time.
Corsi On and rank by year
- 2007-08 -10.75 (7th and last on team, also ruined Staios’ number)
- 2008-09 -13.41 (6th and second last on team)
- 2009-10 -8.95 (4th on the team)
- 2010-11 -6.03 (4th on the team)
- 2011-12 -5.60 (4th on the team)
- 2012-13 -13.27 (6th on the team)
Where would you say the light went on? I’d say year three, he was in the top 4 and delivering consistent results on the team. Smid’s time in Edmonton happened during a real downturn in quality, but I think we can all agree he was among the top four defensemen on the team from 2009-14 without much argument. I’d suggest that if we use 200 NHL games (2.5 seasons) as a "line in the sand" we can get an idea about how long it takes for defensemen to contribute, and how long it will be until any of the kids can be counted on for quality play in the NHL.
HOW FAR FROM 200 GAMES?
Here are the current and future Oilers defensemen regarded as being possible options, and their total games played in the NHL:
- Jeff Petry (200!!!!)
- Justin Schultz (86)
- Anton Belov (38)
- Martin Marincin (8)
- Taylor Fedun (4)
- Brad Hunt (3)
- Darnell Nurse (0)
- Oscar Klefbom (0)
- Martin Gernat (0)
- Brandon Davidson (0)
I think we can agree that Schultz the younger has some way to go, and certainly everyone below Justin Schultz lacks experience, and is unlikely to be a useful plug and play next season.
MEANWHILE BACK AT THE RANCH
NHL defensemen—the good ones—usually spent much of their 20’s and 30’s delivering consistently. The 1,000 game mark is a great sign of usefulness and durability, and represents a quality NHL career. It also indicates the end of the line is near, as Jason Smith (1008 career games) showed in his career. Edmonton traded Smith after a season in which he struggled, and he had been in the NHL for about 850 games by the time they sent him away.
- Nick Schultz (855)
- Andrew Ference (806)
I think it’s reasonable to suggest both veterans are less than 3 seasons away from the end of the line, and may now be outside their productive era as NHL defenders. It happens, no sin in that, but it does suck to be holding the bag.
THE SWEET SPOT
If all this theory is true, the ideal NHL defenseman has played more than 200 NHL games and less than 850. Here is the list of Oilers current defensemen who are in the range:
- Jeff Petry, later tonight
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
There’s no substitute for experience.
I think Jeff Petry is going to have a long and productive NHL career, but he’d be playing better if Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert were in Edmonton to play defense tonight. The Oilers are too young at one end and too tired at the other.
The results are predictable, and no rookie can help that situation. The Edmonton Oilers need actual NHL defensemen with experience, and that’s where they should spend this year’s first round pick. Trade for an experienced defenseman.