Despite this, Aulie has to be the odds-on favourite to make next season’s team, with Klefbom likely ticketed for the minor leagues.
We like to talk about training camp as a critical time for the team’s decision-makers (it is, but generally within carefully defined parameters), but the recipients of most roster spots are telegraphed well in advance of players returning from their summer holidays. NHL teams just don’t like handing out one-way contracts to players they aren’t relatively sure are going to make the cut.
Players on the 2014-15 defensive depth chart with a one-way deal include:
- Justin Schultz (once his new deal is ironed out)
- Nikita Nikitin (new deal)
- Mark Fayne (new deal)
- Andrew Ference (existing deal)
- Jeff Petry (new deal)
- Keith Aulie (new deal)
That’s six of the team’s seven slots, with impressive rookie Martin Marincin a near-lock for the other.
That doesn’t mean that Oscar Klefbom or someone like Darnell Nurse can’t make the team out of camp; it simply means that doing so would either require an injury, or necessitate a trade or demotion.
Development and the No. 7 Slot
Would the Oilers have been better off leaving a slot open for a guy like Nurse or Klefbom rather than signing a (relatively unimpressive) veteran like Aulie? Probably not.
Even granting that Aulie is a dud (and it would be awfully early to state that), as a general rule an NHL team just shouldn’t be putting prospects in the No. 7 hole. The fact is that the No. 7 defenceman is going to be watching a lot of games from the pressbox, and even when he makes it into the lineup he’s not going to be playing a ton.
Applying this to Klefbom, there’s no question that he’s going to have more opportunity filing the rough edges off his game in 20-25 minutes of duty every night (likely including both special teams) at the AHL level than he would playing 15 minutes per game and sitting out a bunch of them in the NHL. This is particularly true when the facilities and the coaching staff down on the farm are excellent, as they are in Oklahoma City.
Assuming the Oilers subscribe to roughly this school of thought, that means there is no real chance of a prospect with waiver eligibility winning the No. 7 role; he has to play in the top-six or not at all. The Oilers have five of those spots filled with established players, all with expensive contracts (we’re presuming here that Schultz will cost some money to sign), and a sixth which will likely go to Marincin.
And frankly, that’s how it should be. Marincin earned the right to be penciled in when he showed he was ready over 44 games last season, games he got to play thanks to injuries and poor performances on the parent club.
It will be up to Klefbom to show the same when he gets his shot this season.
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