What the Oilers have/What the Oilers Need: Defence & Goaltending

This is the second part in a series we started yesterday. We looked at the forward roster then, attempting to identify keepers for next season and roles that needed to be filled. We do the same today, but this time focusing on defence and goaltending.

The Blue Line

The options:

  • Anton Belov
  • Taylor Fedun
  • Andrew Ference
  • Mark Fraser
  • Oscar Klefbom
  • Martin Marincin
  • Darnell Nurse
  • Jeff Petry
  • Corey Potter
  • Justin Schultz
  • Nick Schultz

The problem here is that the Oilers really don’t have anybody on the team who should be playing above the No. 3 slot on an NHL team.

There are some keepers, though. On the right side, Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz are both legitimate NHL defencemen; on the left side Andrew Ference was a No. 4 in Boston before signing with Edmonton. To that group we should likely add Martin Marincin, who has been unexpectedly good since being recalled from the AHL. Ideally, that quartet would furnish the Oilers with their bottom-four group, but that’s likely impossible given the lack of top-end defencemen available either via trade or free agency.

Assuming that those four players mentioned above will need to fill four of the top-five slots on the Oilers’ blue line and an external addition will take the other, that leaves the six/seven slots open for a mix of current NHL’ers and up-and-coming prospects. From the current group, we can likely cull Nick Schultz (deadline move), Mark Fraser (not good enough) and Corey Potter (a decent No. 6/7 who has had injury problems and is in the downslope of his career).

That leaves four players. Anton Belov has had an up-and-down campaign, in some games looking like the Oilers’ best defender but more recently falling outside the regular rotation. Taylor Fedun is an exceptional No. 1 AHL defenceman and looked good in a cameo, but has a year of waiver exemption remaining despite being an older prospect. Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse are both gifted youngsters, but both play the left side (where Marincin is likely to take the third-pairing role) and there’s no reason they can’t be sent back to the AHL and junior, respectively (though Nurse is likely to get an NHL cameo if he shows well in camp).

It’s a highly fluid situation and could change depending on what happens after the Olympics, but as things stand I’d pencil in Fedun as the No. 7, Klefbom as the first call-up, Nurse in major junior and send Belov down the line. It would be nice if Fedun and Belov both got NHL ice time down the stretch, as keeping Belov in the No. 7 role and bumping Fedun down to the AHL to start next season is another option. Both could be retained, but Edmonton is likely better off adding a veteran right-shooting presence on the starboard side to partner with Marincin.

Goaltenders

The options:

  • Ilya Bryzgalov
  • Richard Bachman
  • Ben Scrivens

Both of the Oilers’ current goalies fall into the 1A/1B level presently. Bryzgalov was a successful starter but has had a tough few seasons, while Scrivens has promise as a starter but hasn’t proved anything yet.

Should the Oilers keep one and add a veteran starter via free agency? Possibly, depending on what the market for those guys is; I’d be very tempted to retain Scrivens and add someone like Jaroslav Halak to battle him for playing time rather than spending big money on marquee goalie like Jonas Hiller. There’s nothing wrong with keeping Scrivens and Bryzgalov both, though, and it might allow them to be more aggressive at other positions in free agency if they have a low-cost tandem.

There’s also nothing wrong with Richard Bachman as the third-string goalie.

Completed Roster

As with yesterday’s roster, there is wiggle room here. We’ve mentioned Bryzgalov and Belov as particular examples of players who could be retained in one role or another. Another possibility is that the Oilers can add a top right-side defenceman, which would bump Ference and Marincin up one slot each and move Schultz and Petry down one spot. 

In both this post and yesterday’s post, these "completed rosters" are more flexible guidelines, designed to be adjusted depending on what players are available and what happens down the stretch. But again, this is the basic framework I’d endeavour to execute prior to the trade deadline and then over the summer. 

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