There are only so many slots available for young defencemen on an NHL roster, which is why it makes sense to think that only one of Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse will play for the Edmonton Oilers next season.
The Depth Chart
- Justin Schultz (RFA): 23:26 minutes per game, 120 games of experience
- Jeff Petry (RFA): 21:36 minutes per game, 234 games of experience
- Andrew Ference: 21:03 minutes per game, 831 games of experience
- Martin Marincin: 19:09 minutes per game, 42 games of experience
We can reasonably assume those four names. To that group we can add players from three sources: external additions, holdovers (any of Mark Fraser, Philip Larsen or Anton Belov) and youth.
As it stands, the Oilers will be icing a minimum of three defencemen with less than 250 games of experience, two with less than two full seasons under their belts, and at least one with less than a full season.
I would argue it isn’t at all a good idea for the Oilers to go into next season with five of their top seven below that 250 game mark, four under the two season mark, or three with less than a year’s experience. If Craig MacTavish agrees with me, that sets the cap for fresh rookies at one.
Who Will It Be?
Oscar Klefbom has been a welcome addition to the Oilers’ defence corps. His player type – the big guy who isn’t totally incompetent with the puck – is one that’s been widely reputed to exist but hasn’t been seen in Edmonton for some time. He’s a very good skater, he’s strong enough to win battles in the corners and his puck-moving ability dramatically exceeds his point totals.
He’s rawer than Marincin, but his strength gives him an important edge that his teammate lacks.
Darnell Nurse was assigned to Oklahoma City yesterday, and in a lot of ways his scouting report reads like Klefbom’s. Nurse has far shinier point totals and a reputation for a mean streak that Klefbom lacks, and it’s almost certainly not a stretch to project him as the better player long-term, but the problem for him is readiness. Klefbom’s older and more seasoned, and there’s no real downside in letting Nurse have another year of junior hockey (everything I’ve read and heard says he’s still progressing).
The wild card here is Aaron Ekblad, who might be the Oilers’ first round pick at this summer’s draft. He would figure into this conversation. Also figuring into this discussion are things like how Klefbom closes out the year, what Nurse looks like in the AHL, who gets added over the summer and what happens in training camp.
But right now, assuming no Ekblad, I’d slot Klefbom into the Oilers’ lineup and send Nurse back to junior.