Young Defencemen


The Edmonton Oilers have a weak blue line. In the short-term, they need to shore it up with actual NHL players, but in the long-term they need some of their prospects to step forward in a big way. How will they balance those two needs?

The Depth Chart Today


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  • Andrew Ference – Justin Schultz (RFA)
  • Martin Marincin – Jeff Petry (RFA)
  • Oscar Klefbom – Anton Belov (UFA)
  • Mark Fraser (UFA) – Philip Larsen (RFA)

That’s how I’d sketch out a healthy Oilers depth chart today. It’s early days for Klefbom and Belov has had mixed results, but both are big enough to win battles and good enough with the puck to make passes, and the two guys below them have only one of those qualities each.

Four of those players are probably locks for next year. Justin Schultz is the team’s ice-time leader, Andrew Ference is the captain and Jeff Petry is probably the best player on the blue today. Martin Marincin has been a revelation since being recalled; he’s forced himself into a top-four role on this team, and seems a certainty for next year’s club.

It’s early days for Oscar Klefbom, and we’ll talk more about him below. There’s no doubt he’s in the plans; the only question is whether he plays NHL or AHL to start next season.

The other three are all expendable.

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Anton Belov’s probably the best player of the bunch; he’s big and can make a pass and seems to be the only left-shooting defenceman on the team who plays as well on the right side. He’s also had some terrible struggles in his first season in North America, and judging by usage prior to injury the team has made up its mind on him.

Mark Fraser isn’t an NHL’er in most organizations, but there have been suggestions made that he could be re-signed. Working in his favour is that his strengths (big, strong, mean) are weaknesses on the current Oilers blue. Philip Larsen is in the same boat as Fraser, except that his strengths and weaknesses are a terrible match for the current team.

The Depth Chart Tomorrow


  • [Veteran D] – Justin Schultz
  • Martin Marincin – Jeff Petry
  • [Young D] – Andrew Ference
  • [Warm Body]

That’s what I think the Oilers will do.

Adding multiple quality NHL defencemen over the summer is difficult. I’d expect they take a run at Andrei Markov (and even if he’s interested, it will cost the sun, moon and stars) and that they look hard at what’s available at the NHL Draft. Doubtless, they’d like to add multiple players, but they’ll probably have to settle for just one.

There isn’t room for more than one young defenceman on that depth chart, and given Marincin’s age and experience level it’s dicey even setting aside one slot. There has (rightly) been a lot of talk dedicated to the goalies, but long-term Marincin’s play might be the most important thing to happen to this Oilers team in the latter half of the year, because it allows them to lean on him in a way they normally could not. In any case, there’s one slot there for one of Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse or (possibly) Aaron Ekblad. It wouldn’t be a surprise if a junior-aged defenceman got a brief cameo there before being sent down in favour of Klefbom.

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One item of note here: Klefbom was a trainwreck in a brief right-side role cameo in Oklahoma City, but has been significantly better in Edmonton. It might just be that the Oilers really want to work Mark Fraser into the lineup, but it might also be that they’re envisioning the possibility of a Ference/Klefbom pairing next year. Ference has spent time on the right side, but hasn’t been especially good there, so if Klefbom can play the position it’ll make things easier.

As for the warm body, that could be anybody. The three expendables currently on the roster are all options, with Belov the best of them and Fraser the most likely. Down in Oklahoma City, Taylor Fedun is a possibility, but it’s probable that he’s returned to the minors next year. Somebody else currently outside the organization – a good AHL’er in another organization , a college free agent, a promising European or an NHL journeyman – could
also be brought in.


  • nuge2drai

    I would be shocked ( but seeing the decision -making by our braintrust? maybe I shouldn’t be) if Mark Fraser was playing here next year…He is a disaster when pressured, handles the puck like a bar of soap at a men’s bathhouse….terrible terrible terrible….Dont care how big or bruising he is he does not belong in this league

  • “That’s what I think the Oilers will do.”

    Good article JW. I like the above statement. I value your opinion on here. You clearly state it as an opinion, other (wont name names) would have phrase it as, “That’s what the Oilers should do.”
    I think some of the bloggers on here have taken some heat the past few weeks because they’re giving their opinion like the Oilers management should listen and follow like the bible.

    Keep up the good writing!

  • nuge2drai

    It’s amazing how the D could potentially fall into place with 1 very good addition. I wouldn’t be surprised if that Top pairing D is even a little more of a solid stay at home type so that Shultz can freewheel a bit more which they look to be encouraging? But if it lays out like that I would be relatively confident they would see a substantial improvement to overall team play.

  • Marincin and Petry have had the tougher matchups and zone starts, so even though Shultz is getting more TOI, he’s not really in the first pairing.

    I agree the Oilers will take a run at Markov (or Niskinin or Nikitin) to play 1LD, but given how they dole out the ice time it will look more like:

    Vet D – Petry
    Young D – Ference

    If you a separating the pairs via quality of opponent.

  • nuge2drai

    I miss Andy Sutton. He was a great number seven.

    However, I think Markov for big money and low term, say three years, would do nicely on the top pairing.

    Then instead of a young developing D along side Ference, why not another free agent. Matt Niskanin is a right hander. THough I imagine the Burgh tries to resign him.

    Number seven then goes to a young D in order to come up, take a few shifts alongside some vets and get various cups of coffee and fill in for injury.

    I also wouldn’t mind seeing another Ferrance signed, like Orpik.

    Markov, J schultz

    Ference, Petry

    Orpik Marincin


    That is a blue line I could live with. It has a nice range of size, skill, and meanness.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      I didn’t trash your comment because it’s well thought out, but I disagree. If we do sign a 2nd free agent defence man (and signing orpik AND Markov ain’t gonna happen, there’s a chance if getting Markov but i don’t see Pittsburgh letting orpik go without a fight), I don’t want one of our prospects stuck in a number 7 role. I’d rather them be actually playing, even if that means doing so in OKC.

      • The Last Big Bear

        I don’t disagree with you. The number seven slot being for prospects I think gives the team some flex. All the prospects will be on two way contracts o they can be brought up and sent down during times of need, fill in for injuries and what have you, as well as let Eakins hold his defence accountable. Not playing well, making mistakes, well we have this hungry as hell player sitting right here eager to take your spot. It’s also a nice reward for those prospects playing well down in OKC.

        As for signing two free agents, that I think is not only possible, but probable given Mac T’s clear frustration with the D.

        There are only a few guys like Markov who will get a dump truck of cash, but there’s a lot of guys like Orpik who are going to shake loose this year, and who will fetch a good amount of money. The Oilers have the cap space, why not? The pens need to resign Niskanin over Orpik. And though I love the idea of getting value contracts out of our D prospects, I would rather have a D core full of NHL players, punching at their weight as oppose to everyone trying to develop at the NHL level all at the same time.

        2 or 3 years each for the two UFA’s Mac T brings in, by then Nurse, J Schultz, and hopefully anyone of Marinicin, Gernat, Fedune, Ekblad, Larson, Hunt, Musil, or anyone of the other myriad of defensive prospects turns out to be some bonafide talent.

      • oilerjed

        You beat me to the punch on this one. Id have to agree, if you are not playing the young guy regularly then it would take away from his development to sit the majority of nights when he could be in OKC honing the craft.

        It wouldn’t hurt to have a winner down south where our prospects can develop a habit of winning and playing in big games. Taking quality guys that are on the cusp but not quite there yet will hurt OKC and will not change the mindset of the big club when they do come up.

    • There is absolutely ZERO chance the Oilers bring Klefbom up to sit him in the pressbox as the 7th defenseman. Either he plays in the NHL or he goes back to OKC to be the top pairing guy there. Sitting in the pressbox won’t help his development.

  • nuge2drai

    It would be nice for Oilers to get Exblad, but players don’t play to lose. Wanting Oilers to tank can only happen with management, bringing up players sitting others for suspect injuries.

    I think that is what Vancouver has done by trading Lou they said we will get a better draft pick.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    MacT has a ton – I mean a ton of cap space.

    Needless to say its time to overspend.

    I would like to see then back up a money truck and sign any of the two: Markhov, Hainsey, Zidlicky, Niskanen, MacDonald, Meszaros.

    Adding two of the above players would do wonders for this team.

  • Cold Hard Truth

    In mid-July 2013, Vic Michaels asked MacTavish if he was going to make any more moves to improve the team.

    MacTavish stated: “Not really at this point.”

    “when I sit down and look at our roster, I’m reasonably comfortable that we’ve made some progress and reasonably comfortable with the depth of our line-up.”

    “I’m reasonably optimistic that we’re going to be a real good hockey team.”

    Depth wasn’t seen as a problem by MacTavish.

      • The Last Big Bear

        If MacTavish can’t recognize an absolutely embarrassingly bad team after FIFTY YEARS in ice hockey, then what difference do you think 8 months is going to make?

        This team being terrible was not a big unexpected outcome, unless you’ve been bathing in blue Kool-Aid for the last decade.

        Having eight mediocre-to-poor defencemen is not “defence by committee”.

        It’s just a crap defence.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    A beat reporter for the Leafs was on Gregor’s show (I think, one of the 1260 shows anyways) a week or so ago. He said something along the lines of: ‘Guys, thank you so, so, so much for taking Fraser off our hands.’

    Three things that require a long-term foresight and make us better off in the future:

    1. We do not re-sign Fraser.

    2. Nurse plays 1 or 2 more years not on the Oilers.

    3. IF we draft Ekblad he does not touch an Oilers uniform for 2 or 3 years, minimum.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    Apparently Rishaug mentioned Eberle for Josi + 1st

    While I don’t think that is a deal Nashville makes, I’m going to entertain the notion.

    That gives us two first round picks in the top ten (likely) and Sam Gagner to now move.

    How I would do it:

    Nashville first + Sam Gagner for Tyutin + Jenner + first

    Draft Draisaitl with our first

    Columbus first for Chris Stewart

    Sign Kulemin, Goc, Winnik

    Hall Nuge Stewart

    Kulemin Jenner yakupov

    Perron Goc Winnik

    Smyth Gordon Hendricks

    Tyutin Schultz

    Josi Petry

    Marincin Ference

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Take the Center at the draft. Ekblad would NOT be a bad pick. I just feel with two youngish RD’s Schultz and Petry (who have miles left in the career tank) and a log jam of good young LD’s we create a heck of hill to climb with only so many minutes to pass around (not a bad problem to have). But, having Klefbom as a 7D would be a wasted development opp. A good 2C is a bigger hole for us going forward a year or two and the C draft pick will have more of an immediate impact. Reinheart would be amazing here. Bennette would be a nice fit as well.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0


    A well thought out article.

    Your analysis for 2014/15 may turn out to be reasonably accurate. However, I would suggest that in the not too distance future Petry may need to go. I don’t think a competitive team can have 2 players as similar as Petry and Schultz. Their weaknesses (easy to knock of the puck, rarely win a puck battle, panic when under pressure) are too similar. Schultz has already shown more offensive up side the Petry and may have room to improve. Petry is reaching 200+ NHL games and what we see is likely what we get.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    I think next year’s projections are accurate. It will take a ‘bold move’ to get that number 1 dman. Schultz would benefit the most from that move, as he is in need of some mentorship. When the Oilers are ready to be a contender, I don’t think Petry will be in the mix. I think you can live with one soft dman and still win but not two. I think Schultz would be the guy kept because of his offensive potential.

  • Agree with Fish. Oilers desparately need to acquire a #1C or #2C via the draft. History shows that many of the top D men come from lower in the draft. That, plus the number of D prospects in the system, lends itself to the drafting of a Centre this year. Stanley Cup winning teams are strong down the middle. Right now, the Oilers are anything but.

  • Ference and Orpik aren’t similar. Orpik is a tough, HITTING defenseman. He blows guys up. And yes, he’ be a great addition.

    Fedun needs a big look up here but the organization seems to have moved on in regards to him. I hope he gets a serious look and succeeds somewhere else.

      • Randaman

        I’ve seen most of the penguins games since the Olympic break. Orpik is still crushing guys. No offense but you are wrong. However you are also entitled to your opinion and we can disagree… It really doesn’t matter until he’s in Oilers blue.

  • oilerjed

    Its time to make a bold move. Move Eberle for a proven d-man!

    Draft a center in this years draft. Sign a veteran d-man like Markov. Defense issue should be solved going into next year.


  • oilerjed

    Primary role of Dman?

    Protect the scoring chance area in our own zone.

    Stop Opposition scoring @ even and on their PP.

    Here is a List of the 30 best EVGA Toughest Comp Dmen Quality of teamates listed.
    League average EVGA is 2.33

    1. Lovejoy 1.36 EVGA/60 4th line teamates
    2. Michalek 1.40 1st
    3. Dekeyser 1.55 3rd
    4. Suter 1.67 2nd
    5. Chara 1.69 1st
    6. Gorges 1.77 1st
    7. Brodin 1.82 1st
    8. Marincin 1.86 4th
    9. Hjarlmasson 1.93 2nd
    10. OEL 1.94 2nd
    11. Carle 1.95 1st
    12. Doughty 2.02 1st
    13. Fowler 2.05 2nd
    14. Braun 2.06 1st
    15. Gunnerson 2.08 1st
    16. Mcdonnagh 2.08 1st
    17. Timoenen 2.08 1st
    18. Boychuck 2.08 1st
    19. Oduya 2.09 3rd
    20. Bouwmeester 2.11 1st
    21. Pietrangelo 2.13 1st
    22. Giordano 2.14 1st
    23. E. johnson 2.15 1st
    24. Salo 2.20 1st
    25 Gudas 2.23 1st
    26. Yemelin 2.26 1st
    27. Girardi 2.27 1st
    28. Tanev 2.28 1st
    ———————-league average
    29. Phanuef 2.34 1st
    30 Hamhuis 2.34 1st

    What is clear is most of the best toughcomp Dmen face the other teams best with there first lines.

    But notice that stud of a Dmanwho is top 10 in EVGA and facing the tothe rteams best with 4th line caliber forwards.

  • Randaman

    IMO, the Oilers should be making a big trade for a top 1-2 type Defenceman and to do so..put in play for a deal with Gagner,Yakupov (maybe), even say Petry…and maybe add a top prospect or two such as Gernat, Musil, etc.

    The kids such as Marancin and Klefbom are coming along very nicely right now, Marancin is playing excellently as a rookie right now.

    Keep!!!!!… the 1st round pick for this year because … I would love to see Ekblad get drafted here and be playing for sure for the Oil in 2015 or, a top winger like Draisaitl, or top type looking centre like Bennett.

    Also, I am seeing that Matt Greene is available as a UFA this summer and is on the cheaper side as well. A return to Edmonton with him would be great cause there’s a big mean stay at home sixth defenceman for the Oilers for next season…replacing Mark Frazer, Belov, Grebeshkov.

    Those three players do cost more each and altogether than Greene ever would too. I also would look at Setoguchi and or Moulson for a signing as they look to be UFA’s as well. Either would be very great to fit in on the 2nd line or third line with Hendricks and Gordon.

  • Randaman

    Willis, I have a question for you and other oiler blog faithfuls like WG and lowetide, etc.

    Since the summer I have seen a strong push to pick a #1 LD, my question is why not a #1 RD?

    Let’s imagine that the oilers sign Matt Niskanen. Our D-chart would be

    Marincin Niskanen
    Klefbom Petry
    Ference Schultz.
    (Warm body, as you say)

    I see that as being more beneficial than signing a LD, am I missing something.

    1. Ference stays in his natural position
    2. Nurse arrives when Ference is done.
    3. Our right d is set for the next 5 years.


  • Randaman

    As fans, we can’t talk patience and then want to trade youth. Gagner is still young and not yet in his prime. Can he be better? Of course. Who couldn’t. But, trading him +++ for an aged expensive Dman also weakens an already weak/thin C position. Then what?

    Yak. Trade??? Give up already?? So much for patience.

    Ebs + Gags +++ for a Dman?? Why?? Top pairing Dman are developed and when they are, who would trade them if they were any good?