The Edmonton Oilers announced on Thursday that they had agreed to a one-year contract extension with defenceman Brandon Davidson. Davidson had a pretty decent cameo with the Oilers last year and is a dark-horse candidate for NHL employment in 2015-16, but a number of different factors beyond his own ability are going to make cracking the team difficult.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) July 16, 2015
Griffin Reinhart was the No. 4 overall pick in 2012, and after a year in the AHL he looks primed to make his NHL debut. The current administration traded for him (and paid a fairly dear price in doing so) and under normal conditions he’d be a shoo-in for major-league minutes, though as we’ll see the current state of the depth chart introduces some wrinkles.
Darnell Nurse was the No. 7 overall pick in 2013, and the current administration evidently refused to trade him away in a deal that would have brought Dougie Hamilton to Edmonton. He’s a rookie professional, but he’s one of the best defensive prospects in hockey and will likely make a strong push in training camp to make the team. Failing that, he’s a very good bet to be in the lineup by Christmas.
And that’s ignoring all the other guys. David Musil has speed issues but plays a similar game to Davidson in many ways, has better draft pedigree and should be competitive. Jordan Oesterle’s speed stood out during his NHL cameo a year ago, and impressed during the 2015 preseason; he’ll be back again.
It’s a bad time to be a second-tier defensive prospect, particularly one who primarily plays the left side. Davidson has his work cut out for him if he’s to stand out this year and it won’t get easier moving forward.
A Veteran Logjam
Even ignoring those prospects, the Oilers have a depth chart loaded with NHL contracts. Here’s what the group currently looks like:
- Andrej Sekera – Mark Fayne
- Oscar Klefbom – Justin Schultz
- Nikita Nikitin – Eric Gryba
- Andrew Ference
(Klefbom isn’t technically a veteran, but he’s a lock for the roster all the same).
A lot of those veterans aren’t very good. Watching their NHL games last year, there’s a pretty reasonable argument that Davidson outperformed both Nikitin and Ference, but Nikitin and Ference have NHL contracts and Ference owns a no-move clause which makes it impossible to send him to the minors even if the Oilers were willing to bury his contract.
The Waiver Wire
Like Anton Lander and Tyler Pitlick a year ago, the most probable outcome for Davidson is a place on the waiver wire in the fall, though he has an outside shot if Edmonton opts to keep eight defencemen because it’s easier to place Davidson in the pressbox than it is a younger prospect.
That’s not necessarily a big problem for the Oilers. It gives them depth in the minors and the likelihood of Davidson being claimed looks pretty small, particularly given the number of good defencemen still sitting on the market, some of whom may still be looking for a home come September.
It also isn’t necessarily a terrible thing for Davidson. Lander in particular excelled after being demoted to the AHL, and absolutely earned his NHL shot late in the year. Injuries will hit, trades will happen, and if Davidson does end up in the minors but plays well, he’ll find his way back.
As general manager Peter Chiarelli has put it on multiple occasions, preseason is a different animal than the first 10 games, which is a different animal from the next 10. A “no” at the start of the year isn’t a “no” forever. Despite the obstacles in his path, Davidson could still carve out a career with the Oilers if he forces the issue.