What Klefbom and Nurse need to do to crack the Oilers’ 2014-15 roster

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It’s certainly fair to argue about the quality of the top-end guys, but the depth on the Oilers’ blue line is unquestionably the best it’s been in some years. The team has six NHL veterans signed to one-way contracts, and Martin Marincin all but inked into a spot on the roster.

Given those numbers, how can two of the team’s most exceptional prospects – Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom – possibly crack the roster? Craig MacTavish was recently asked by TSN’s Bob McKenzie whether those guys had a shot at making the team, and Edmonton’s general manager made it abundantly clear what would need to happen for either of them to be in the opening night roster.

MacTavish

Craig MAcTavish5

That’s why we have training camp. We just don’t know at this point. We don’t know how dominant Darnell’s going to be; we don’t know how dominant Oscar’s going to be. We’re not sure whether Marty Marincin will pick up where he left off last year or if he’ll be ahead of that… I really feel strongly that both Oscar and Darnell – and Marty’s in that mix too – are going to be excellent defencemen for the Edmonton Oilers for 10 or 15 years. Whether next year’s the first year of those 10 or 15 years, that I don’t know. They’re very good prospects, they’re going to be very good players; it’s safe to say that they’ve got to play somewhere near the top four for us to make a case to keep them.

As it Should Be

The Oilers have seven slots open on their NHL roster for defencemen, so why is the general manager talking about the need for Nurse or for Klefbom to clearly be in the top-four if they’re to make the team out of training camp? There are lots of good reasons.

Development. No team in the league is going to take a blue-chip prospect with miles and miles of waiver exemption left and stick him in the No. 7 slot on their team when that player could be playing somewhere between 22 and 28 minutes per game (and in all situations) in the AHL or back in junior.

Developing players need ice time. They need to get a chance to stretch offensive muscles that they might have to rein in at the NHL level right out of the gate. They need the opportunity to be used in the crucial defensive situations that are typically reserved for veterans. They need lots and lots of minutes and the opportunity to excel at one level before moving to the next.

Joensuu, Jesse

Exhibition games are easier than NHL games. As anyone who saw Jesse Joensuu dominate training camp last fall knows, there is a massive gap between succeeding in exhibition play and succeeding in major league play. For a player the team isn’t really sure about – and nearly every prospect, no matter how good, is on that list – there needs to be clear superiority to give the benefit of the doubt to a prospect over a player who has proven that he can get the job done in the majors.

Does that mean that training camp isn’t a pure meritocracy? Yes, absolutely. Training camp matters, especially for the guys on the fringes of the lineup who have precious little gap between them, but it’s an awfully short time and managers would need to be crazy to throw out everything they know about the players in question based on such limited information.

Remember in 2009-10 when Mike Comrie and Patrick O’Sullivan were an unstoppable duo, lighting up opponents pretty much at will? There’s no reason anybody should; it happened but it stopped happening the moment the exhibition portion of the schedule did.

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Real consequences. If the Oilers opt to keep Klefbom or Nurse for an extended period of time, room will need to be made. It isn’t as simple as dumping Aulie to the minors; the team will likely be trading a guy like Jeff Petry to open up a slot for the young defender it’s bringing in. That’s a move that can’t be undone, so if Nurse looks good for a brief span but hits the wall three games after Petry gets sent to New York Edmonton suddenly has a very real problem.

It’s not good enough for four of five dentists to say they prefer Klefbom to Ference on the left side of the third pairing most nights. There has to be a definite, obvious, undeniable edge that would make it obviously crazy to send Nurse back to junior or Klefbom back to the AHL, because if the team gets it wrong there will be real trouble.

If one of Nurse or Klefbom wants to play in the NHL out of camp in 2014-15, he will have to force his way on to the team. That’s how it should be; there’s no rush and absolutely nothing wrong with sending either of them back for more work if they don’t.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • ComeAtMeDog

    The deal is if one forces his way onto the team does not devalue the guy you have to then trade to make room? One plays better than Petry. How will that reflect on Petry?

    Training camp should be rough and tumble.

  • ComeAtMeDog

    It would be foolish to rush any of our defense prospects this year given we finally have some depth. However, if Klef outplays Aulie – why would you hesitate? Aulie is a fringe NHLer based on his history whereas Klef (as MacT states) has 10-15 years of Oiler glory ahead of him. I’d rather play Klef and start his NHL development now – but only if he legitimately earns it. Nurse is another story as he has yet to play pro hockey. He really should spend the year in junior with a late season AHL stint (I believe he is eligible once the junior season ends). Next year is when his true NHL evaluation begins.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    A real battle for spots on the D. So refreshing. Long way to go but we’ve also come a long way from the days of the Potters and Smids having guaranteed spots before training camp starts.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Great read JW. I totally agree with the situation now as it is… in that both Nurse and Klefbom (each) do have to prove with certainty that either they can play very good 15 to 20 minutes per night for 82 games a yr in the NHL at the given class of being top 2 to 4 defenders… or they need to gain more experience ad development for at least another yr in the minors/junior level.

    Another year in junior for Nurse and a season with OKC for Klefbom would definitely be best as they both can each play top minutes, on the PP and/or PK, as also develop more leadership ethics… etc, etc.

    I do not see either of them outing any of Petry, Schultz, Nikitin, Fayne, Ference, and even Marancin this year (unless Marty has total brain cramps or no work ethics)….however, surprises can happen once in awhile. Right now, even with good/very good TC, both should go back down. Being a 7th guy wont cut it and that’s where Aulie comes in for now. Even then, its a no brainer that Klefbom can always come up on recall quite regularly if need be anyways…after say 35 games plus or thru an injury situation.

    Sure is nice to see the blue-line depth getting better after these past recent years.

  • pkam

    The Oilers have spent the better part of a decade lost in the wilderness of horrible hockey. Now, more so than at any other time in that span, patience is required to ensure that the tremendous D prospects are properly developed.

    What MacT said about the prospects having to play in the top 4 is absolutely correct. Nurse, Klefbom and Marincin were not drafted to play as a seventh D man on the Oiler’s roster. They were drafted to play top 4. Unless they clearly demonstrate that they are ready for that kind of heavy lifting, then they should be further developed.

    I am just as excited about their potential as anyone but I also feel patience is now critical. We need them dominating the blue not just participating. The goal, afterall, is to win Stanley not just make it to the dance (playoffs).

    • pkam

      The Oilers will start the season with Schultz, Petry, Ference, Fayne, and Nikitin in the top 6 and Aulie as the #7. So there is only one spot in the top 6 left for competition.

      From their performance in last season, I think both Marincin and Klefbom are ready for the challenge and it will be better for their development to play in NHL.

      Since we can’t send Nurse back to the juniors after 9 games, Nurse has to beat Marincin and Klefbom by a mile to steal that last spot. I don’t believe he can yet but I am more than happy if he can prove me wrong.

  • knee deep in it

    Nurse going back to junior seems almost unavoidable. He is a great prospect and would get first paring minutes and the World Juniors.

    Klefbom has two real opportunities to play a lot of NHL minutes this year. The first is when we suffer a significant injury on defence. This happens every year and Klefbom is the obvious call up.

    The second scenario is if he is traded for a 2nd line center. I would hate to see it happen but it is not impossible. Having Nurse, Klefbom, marincin, Shultz, Musil, and Simpson being in the NHL (or less than 2 years away) is a position of strength that can be used.

  • Spoils

    I only caught brief snippets of the Vancouver rookie game, but Nurse was mixing it up and skating beautifully.

    Still, IF this played out, my money would be on Klefbom being the guy a step ahead of last year that cracks the squad. As this article notes – he’d have to clearly be in the top 4 to make it worthwhile, but he was an allstar at the WJC. There are only two each year and the list includes- PK, Duncan, Drew, Pietrangelo, Weber etc.

    Not likely, but maybe Klefbom does take a bigger step forward than anticipated.

    It would be nice to have something to package up to trade for a #2C.

  • pkam

    Sorry to point to what actually happens with top ten drafted defencemen, but if you are top ten and don’t make club in D+2 you are trending behind the curve. That is, you are behind the average Dman’s arrival in the big league.

    If you are behind curve then your chances aren’t improving the longer it takes to catch up.

    As an analytics friendly site, I’m sure people will understand I’m talking about patterns that look at ten years of data or more. Go ahead and give anecdotes of good Dman drafted in top ten who didn’t in D+2 or less. But this is the point about average, I’ll be able to give more examples.

    Of course there are exceptions and of course development varies. Of course Nurse could develop further in juniors.

    Or, it could set him back further.

    Further, if you can’t crack one of weakest D in league it WOULDN’T indicate you are trending well.

    • The Last Big Bear

      I have to disagree. The IDEAL place for Draisaitl is 3C. That is where he will receive the most sheltered minutes but still get a good amount of ice-time. 2C is a HUGE step up from 3C in the NHL but unlike D where the 3 line gets few minutes, the 3 line on F gets solid minutes and is ideal for a rookie.

  • Sorensenator

    Give Nurse his 9 games, send Klefbom back for one more full year of AHL hockey and be the first call up in case of injury.

    Nurse is young and still has lots to learn. Klefbom has lost significant amounts of time to injury. We aren’t a playoff team anyway, no point in throwing them into the wolves.

    Also, can we please draft a right shot dman at some point? I actually don’t think we have any prospects in the system that shoot right. Not any good ones anyway.

  • Oil Fan in Ottawa

    Whyyyyy does it seem like a forgone conclusion that Petry will be moved?

    What’s wrong with a 2016-17 season with a top 7 of Petry(3.5M), Nurse(1M), Fayne(3.6M), Klefbom (2M), Ference(3.25M), Marincin(2M) and Schultz(4.5M)?

    Obviously you can replace one of the kids with a vet if they don’t pan out but you can ice that group for probably under $20M

  • The Last Big Bear

    You can send Nurse back to juniors after 9 games, it will just start the clock counting on his ELC.

    This might not be a bad thing.

    Had the Oilers had kept him up past 9 games last season, and (as widely expected) he goes back to juniors again this year, he would be negotiating his follow-on RFA contract after his 22 year old rookie season.

    If his ELC slides until he becomes a full-time NHLer, and has the same successful development curve, he would be signing his follow-on RFA contract as a 24 year old established NHLer, wih a 3-year resume of proven NHL results and development.

    The Flames did this last season with Gaudreau, burning a year off his ELC by dressing him in the last game of the season. Hes happy because he gets a signing bonus and some NHL time, and it’s good for the team because it shortens (by one year) the time he has available to prove himself before his next contract comes up.

    Just something to keep in mind when discussion the infamous 9 game window.

  • pkam

    I predict Nurse will get some games, but not more than 9 and eventually he’ll get sent back. I’d be OK with dragging out the 9 so that he gets the benefit of being around the team and practicing with them for a longer period. This would also give him a chance to play games after the season’s been rolling for a while = higher level of play, giving him and coaches an indication of what to work on.

    Klef should start in OKC where he can get his legs under him playing heavy minutes and get himself ready to be the first call up, when the inevitable injuries happen.

  • Serious Gord

    “… I really feel strongly that both Oscar and Darnell – and Marty’s in that mix too – are going to be excellent defencemen for the Edmonton Oilers for 10 or 15 years. Whether next year’s the first year of those 10 or 15 years, that I don’t know. They’re very good prospects, they’re going to be very good players…”

    MacT just can’t keep his mouth shut.

    As GM he has to realize that everything he says in public becomes leverage in salary negotiations sometime down the road.

    Talk like the above costs money.

    • Zarny

      Here is the thing…no they don’t.

      Agents don’t actually keep a binder full of clippings to hold up in negotiations and say “SEE! You said my player is part of the core” or “you said my player would be an excellent defensemen for 10-15 years for the Oilers”.

      That’s just not how it works. What MacT or any GM says in an interview amounts to exactly SFA when it comes time to actually negotiate a contract.

      Talk like the above costs exactly zero dollars just like ripping a player in public doesn’t save money.

  • Serious Gord

    First off, unlikely Oilers make the playoffs this year, sorry! Why rush development. I think that Nurse is back in Sudbury and Kelfbom is back in OKC, will be the first call up covering for injuries or trade.

    I think the plan is in , that’s why a guy like Aulie was brought in.