Two games in and it looks like Craig MacTavish’s offseason work has paid off up front. The Oilers are bigger, deeper and more capable at forward than they’ve been in ages.
The defence, on the other hand, has not been very good at all.
The Depth Chart Through Two
- No. 1: RD Justin Schultz, 22:58 per game
- No. 2: LD Brad Hunt: 20:40 per game
- No. 3: LD Nikita Nikitin: 20:37 per game
- No. 4: LD Andrew Ference: 19:23 per game
- No. 5: RD Mark Fayne: 18:41 per game
- No. 6: RD Jeff Petry: 18:31 per game
Edmonton has been balancing its three pairs pretty evenly five-on-five; outside of Schultz, five of these guys are clustered between 16:06 per game (Fayne) and 17:00 per game (Hunt) at evens. Aside from the love of Schultz, the right side depth chart is pretty decent; Fayne looked better in his second game and has the track record to round into form while Petry’s been the team’s best defenceman through two contests.
The left side, however, is a mess. Hunt isn’t a first-pair defencemen in the NHL; for all of his ability on the power play he’s in the ‘replacement level’ range at evens. Nikitin has a bit of a mixed history; he might come around but he’s been pretty bad through two games and he wasn’t any better in the preseason. Ference is a fierce competitor but was the team’s worst rearguard against Vancouver and showed last year that he isn’t a good option for more than third pairing minutes.
If only there were some options
- No. 7: LD Darnell Nurse.
- No. 8: LD Oscar Klefbom.
- No. 9: LD Martin Marincin
I imagine we’ll see some changes when the Oilers play Los Angeles. Edmonton is probably going to want a bit more size on the back end, which likely means pulling Hunt from the lineup and replacing him with either Nurse or Klefbom.
The problem, though, is that the Oilers don’t just need an injection of size or nastiness or any other individual element into their lineup. They need a guy who can step in and provide calm two-way play, a guy who can do well at pretty much everything. Actually, they could use two or three of those guys, but they need at least one.
This is a team that loves Klefbom’s raw skill, and understandably so. But Klefbom’s also a guy with pretty significant limitations in terms of hockey sense; doubtless he’ll figure it out with time but Edmonton doesn’t need a project right now. They love everything about Nurse, and again that’s understandable, but he’s 19. If they’re going to keep him he needs to get into some games, but at 19 he’s not a guy who can step in and keep the tiller steady in a storm.
Marincin showed last season that he does lots of things well and that he’s ready right now. Thrown in on a tough minutes pairing with Petry, he displayed both ability with the puck and significant talent without it. He made up for a lack of strength with reach and smarts, and he came to camp stronger and heavier than he was in 2013-14. He’s probably the best left-shooting defenceman on the team, and he’s the guy who should be skating next to Schultz on the team’s top pairing.
Instead, Marincin is down on the farm. The Oilers have lost two games now, and the second one was by the thinnest of margins; it’s not hard to imagine a different result if the defence had been a little less of a disaster. This is a team that has talked about the importance of winning games right out of the gate, which should mean icing the best possible lineup. There’s no room to test-drive guys because they’re good on the power play or were top picks or bring a specific single element that the staff likes. This is a team that has years and years of losing that haven’t ended yet; it can’t be icing less than its best lineup for 20 games before popping out with ‘ah-hah, but I am not left-handed!’
Recall Marincin. Play him with Schultz. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s far superior to what the Oilers have done to date.
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