It was not so long ago that Jeff Petry (in photo) was playing in Oklahoma City and the Oilers were hoping Taylor Chorney and Theo Peckham would develop. Now, Petry is in the NHL, and 200+ games into his career. Chorney and Peckham are down the line.
The Oilers have a large number of defensemen in the system, and when Dillon Simpson is signed it’s going to get crazy. Can they keep all of them? Who is expendable?
I’ve followed the Oilers prospects since the WHA, and do not recall a time when they’ve had more legit NHL prospects playing pro hockey. The first defenseman who went from Oiler prospect to NHL player was Charlie Huddy—signed in 1979, and NHLer by 1981—but he was alone on the 1979-80 Houston Apollos and the next legit prospect to develop through the minors was Steve Smith in 1983-84.
The Oilers draft record when it comes to defensemen is even less impressive. After a brilliant start (Lowe, Coffey, Steve Smith and Jeff Beukeboom between 1979 and 1983) the Oilers drafted only four defensemen who played over 400 NHL games: Geoff Smith (1987), Tom Poti (1996), Matt Greene (2002) and I’m going to assume Jeff Petry (2006) also makes it that far.
Part of it comes from Edmonton’s drafting strategy: the club (correctly) uses most of its high draft picks on forwards (they’re a more reliable bet, due to injuries etc). Since 2007, the Oilers have devoted more dear picks to defense and the results—while slow to emerge—are finally hitting the NHL roster sheet.
RECENT TOP 60 PICKS
- Jeff Petry #45 overall 2006 (228 NHL games)
- Alex Plante #15 overall 2007 (10 NHL games)
- Martin Marincin #46 overall 2010 (36 NHL games)
- Oscar Klefbom #19 overall 2011 (9 NHL games)
- David Musil #31 overall 2011
- Darnell Nurse #7 overall 2013
And it’s quite likely the Oilers will invest a top 3 pick on Aaron Ekblad if he’s still on the board when they pick at the June draft. Add that group to free agent signing Justin Schultz, draft picks who appear to be trending in a good way (Martin Gernat, Brandon Davidson) and there’s over a half dozen defensemen who are trending well.
And that’s before Dillon Simpson signs. I’m not sure where he’ll slot in the depth chart, but would guess it’s clear of Musil, Gernat and Davidson (plus Fedun), and he could get a long look for NHL duty in the fall. Remember, college men are often closer to NHL ready than junior graduates.
CAN THEY KEEP THEM ALL?
No. I don’t think the Oilers can ice a group of defenders who are all so young and inexperienced at the pro level. The “keepers” would appear to be Petry, Marincin, Klefbom and Nurse, plus Ekblad if they select him. However, that’s a guess, and I’m excluding Simpson because he hasn’t turn pro yet.
If I had to choose a candidate for trade, it would probably come down to Marincin versus Klefbom. Both are LH, as are Nurse and Simpson (Petry and Schultz are the prominent RH’s).
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
As painful as it might be to contemplate, the Oilers are probably going to trade one or more of these young defensemen. The idea of having three or four inexperienced defensemen on the same NHL team makes me cringe, no matter the quality. Rookies make mistakes and need guidance from experienced men, that’s the way it’s always been and I don’t see it changing now.
The young defenseman with the most value is Jeff Petry. If Craig MacTavish goes searching for a top pairing defender this summer, Petry might be part of the ask. I don’t believe it would be wise to move Petry, and would suggest Marincin or Klefbom are the more attractive candidates to move.
Which puts their current NHL auditions in an interesting light. Not only are they gaining valuable experience, they are also being (possibly) showcased for a summer trade.
The Oilers can’t develop all of these kids in the NHL at the same time. They’ll get killed.
(photos by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved)