Ranking the Oilers blueline…

We were discussing Brandon Davidson’s signing on my show earlier today, and I ranked him #10 on the Oilers depth chart. One of our listeners, David, texted in and asked me to rank the Oilers top-nine.

It was a good question, and one I’m sure will cause much debate.

Here are my rankings, but with an explanation about the system I am ranking them on.

This is not a projection ranking on where I think they will be at the end of the year, it is solely based on where I rank them today. It will be hard to separate what we think they will become, but as of today, this is how I see it.

#1. Andrej Sekera. This one was easy. He is strong, smart with and without the puck and, when given the opportunity, he can help on the PP and can produce 5×5.

#2. Oscar Klefbom. I’m very bullish on Klefbom. He is the entire package. Big, strong, skates well, moves the puck and has good instincts. At the end of the year, I think many will consider him a legit top pairing defender. He isn’t now, but in my eyes, today, he is #2 on the Oilers.

#3. Mark Fayne. He is smart defensively. He proved in New Jersey he can play well against top forwards. His stats weren’t great last year, but I think that was a product of the system and the overall inexperience around him. He should get a heavy dose of defensive zone starts and be on the PK.

#4. Justin Schultz. Stop yelling. This is based on today. Schultz has NHL offensive instincts, is a good skater and has a very good snap shot. His defensive instincts are a concern and so is he consistency. Schultz was overused last year and that hurt him. He is still their best pure offensive D-man and that’s why I have him ranked here.

#5. Eric Gryba. He is a solid third pairing defender. He is physical in the corners, in front of net, will block shots and kill penalties. He played 16 min/game for the Senators in the playoffs last year. He is not flashy, but is reliable and should give them a consistent, reliable third pairing defender.

#6. Andrew Ference. I have him ahead of Nurse, today, only based on experience. Ference thinks the game well, can move the puck okay and is highly competitive. The concern is can he skate well enough? Playing fewer minutes (18:52/game last year) should help, but we will see early in the year if last year was just a case of him struggling with the system and team, or if he has indeed lost a step.

#7. Darnell Nurse. He has the most raw ability of any player on this list. He’s a phenomenal skater, he is mean, physical, aggressive, competitive and he is only 20 years young. I expect him to make the team, and I could see him near the top of this list by the end of the season, but I have him here because he still needs to prove it at the NHL level.

#8. Nikita Nikitin. His biggest issue is when he is bad he is so bad that even when he plays okay, all you think about are the horrendous plays he made the previous game. At certain times last year, he looked like he couldn’t turn, and others he looked like a competent third pairing defender. He has the most to prove.

#9. Griffin Reinhart. He didn’t dominate in the AHL last year. At times he was in the third pairing in the AHL. He has excellent hockey sense and his cardio is always off the charts, but he needs to improve his strength, especially in his lower body.He loves Edmonton and he will feel comfortable coming back to Edmonton. He is only 21, and will continue to improve, but he needs to improve his first two steps to play in the NHL. 

#10. Brandon Davidson. He has potential to be a steady third pairing defender and a PK specialist. “I felt I could handle the size and strength of the players, but I need to get a step quicker,” Davidson told me today when I asked him what he needs to improve on to make the big club.

What are your rankings? Remember: not projections, just how things are today.

Recently by Jason Gregor:      

  • Double Dees

    I don’t know why ppl are so down on GR. sure he hasn’t proved anything yet but you gotta give the kid a chance at the NHL level before u start writing him off. If you haven’t seen him play shut ur mouth.

  • bradleypi

    1. Sekera
    2. Klefbom
    3. Fayne
    4. Gryba(valuable because of his physicality)
    5. Shultz (valuable because of his offense apparently minus his work on the powerplay which is horrendous)
    6. Nurse
    7. Nikitin
    8. Reinhart
    9. Ference (He’s so bad, and that’s in peak physical condition. At least Nikitin has the excuse of being a terrible professional who refuses to come to camp in shape.)
    10. Oosterle (love his game so far)

  • WeridAl

    Having watched Nurse play with OKC Barons in the playoffs I would say your ranking him way to high. 1st game Nurse did OK, but the Comets took the night off that game. Next game was another story, the Comets started to hit Nurse, and it flustered him. He start to make mistakes, he found out he wasn’t the big boy on the block. Try to throw some big hits, and Nurse was the one that bounced off. At times he looked like a deer caught in head lights. He has the skills, but he needs time. Davidson is just a solid all around player, true warrior and leader. Having to cover for Miller for the last 2yrs you have to be good. He also has a good shot from the point, same cannot be said about Nurse. The Cat Reinhart is a beast and demands respect when he is on the ice. Both him and Davidson are smart defensive players that control the play if need be. Not sure if Nurse has the smarts, didn’t see it with OKC Barons the last 2 AHL playoffs. Time will tell I guess.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Should be interesting to see how an experienced coach like McLellan uses this group. Could be a huge upgrade over how they were handled last year.

  • bazmagoo

    @Gregor Your rankings in the article are perfect. I’m very bullish on Klefbom too, it’s a big possibility he’s the best of all our defence prospects. I wonder if Tambellini will get any credit if that happens? Doubt it!

  • bazmagoo

    What an embarrassing list.

    Sekera would be a #3 or #4 Dman on any other team…and Klefbom as a #2…he barely makes the top 6 on most teams.

    Easily bottom 3 defence in the league on the paper

    • Reg Dunlop

      While I doubt that you are an Oiler fan, I have to address the bottom 3 comment. YOU’RE RIGHT!

      It pains to admit but look at the schedule. In St. Louis, guaranteed loss. In Nashville, in Dallas, at home to the Blues… 3 losses. The big game is Saturday night in Calgary, then the second half of a back-to-back in Vancouver… the oil could EASILY be 0-6 to start the season and the wolves will once again be at the door.

      Please, someone give me a reason to be optimistic. I know McDavid will contribute an additional 25-30 goals compared to last season’s total but I fear that we will concede just as many as last year because the defence is the same. Season over by Halloween again?

      • Cheap Shot Charlie

        What if this does happen? Should major changes be made? How can management see another season go down the toilet again before Halloween. I am nervous of this scenario and remain cautiously optimistic.

  • bazmagoo

    Schultz doesn’t have a good snapshot, skates only slightly above average, and never rushes the puck. Anyone can play the trailer to Hall Nuge Ebs and pick up points…Gagner’s 8 point night?

  • Anton CP

    At age of 36, Ference will not get any better. With that in mind then you know he will not rank higher than most of the defenseman the Oilers have. At this point of his career and a NMC that he will serve as 7th D, the HS position. As it for now that the Oilers have 4 D as starters, between Gryba, Nurse, Reinhart, and Nikitin to fight for 2 spots. Davidson will only serve as emergency call up and as a career AHLer.

  • Train#97

    Do you and Ference hang out much?

    Bias Buddy.

    You have Ference ahead of Nurse, and Nikitin behind Nurse-based on experience, of course.

    It would be very hard to make an argument that Ference is that much better than Nikitin. To me they are both same sh!t different pile, unless of course you’re a friend, that you can be bias.

    • Jason Gregor

      No bias. Not a friend.

      I had Nurse ahead of Nikitin because of his unprofessionalism last year showing up to camp out of shape. No excuse for that.

      As I outlined in the post about Ference. Camp and preseason will show us if indeed he has lost a step of if last year was a struggle. Ference competes much harder than Nikitin and has been a much more proven player in his career. That isn’t bias, that is just the truth when you look at their careers.

      Ference has proven more in his career and at least competed last year. Nikitin was a dud in my eyes and I ranked him #8 instead of #7 because of disrespecting his teammates and not coming to camp in the best shape possible.

  • Joy S. Lee


    When you ask me to rank the defensemen on the Oilers as of today, I’m going to make a further assumption: that I want my team to win today. Because I’m going to rank them according to how close they are going to bring the team to that goal…as of today.

    Based on that, I’m going to agree with most of your list, but would slot Gryba in ahead of Schultz. And if I had a single game to win, and was given the choice of having a pairing of Ference and Nikitin on my team, or Nurse and Reinhart; I’ll take those kids. Today! I like my odds better with them, frankly. Vets don’t normally make as many mistakes, but those two kids have qualities that far surpass the two veterans, educated or not. If it’s a give and take toss up, then it’s only a matter of time for the youth, and individual readiness will ultimately dictate.

    All that being said, Nurse and Reinhart getting TONS of ice in Bakersfield running all aspects of a 1st pairing pro D – they could be best in the entire AHL. Both have pro aspirations, however, and could force their way onto the Oilers; if they do, they’ve simply won a job they were ready to win. So, I’ll include my top 16…but my top 7 already comprise the best Oilers long-term D prospects. 10-16 are prospects with the best potential to surprise as NHL material. When 5-7 take a collective step forward; and when 8 and 9 are replaced by 10-16 or someone outside the organization, the transformation from horrible to capable (or even exceptional) NHL D-corps will be mostly identified. From there, it’s up to the team to develop them into a Cup-winning core. Lots of work yet to do, but a massive improvement in the prospects of this group over the past few years. I’m excited to see it all unfold.

    1.Sekera 2.Klefbom 3.Fayne 4.Gryba 5.Schultz 6.Nurse 7.Reinhart 8.Nikitin 9.Ference 10.Davidson
    11.Laleggia 12.Lagesson 13.Betker 14.Musil 15.Simpson 16.Oesterle

  • The Soup Fascist

    There’s a little too much optimism regarding Gryba going on. He’s struggled for the past 2 years in Ottawa, and was leaking chances all last year, especially in the playoffs. He’s realistically a 7th d-man at this point. I’m guessing he’ll be in and out of the lineup. He’s just a placeholder until Reinhart can (hopefully) show that he’s able to play every night as a 5/6 guy.

  • Rebuilding the Rebuild

    What might be better for Nurse and Reinhart ,team , and their development ?

    Being in AHL they would probably be top 1-2, basically not where they would slot in on main club for awhile at least , while in NHL they would be probably 4-7th . The latter is more indicative of where they might eventually slot in on club . If they are on par or better than Nikitin and/or Ference option then I prefer they start on main club .

  • Rebuilding the Rebuild

    Underscores our lack of talented/experienced NHL depth at the D position.

    Sekera and Fayne are Top 4 on most playoff teams.
    Klefbom lacks experience and would consider him at or below T4 on most playoff teams.
    Schultz, Gyrba, Nikitin, Ference – NHL experience that only proves they are below T4 and, with the possible exception of Schultz (jury’s out on him) will never be T4.
    Nurse, Reihart, Davidson – No material NHL experience. Great future 2-3 yrs from now but not solid T4 D today.

    Now assume one or more of Sekera, Fayne or Klefbom get injured – who will fill the role? Not an unlikely proposition. Where is our last T4 D? Its not Schultz.

    Bring on Erhoff or Franson or we will waste another year.

  • BobbyCanuck

    one of the scribes suggested a good way to deal with the Ferance situation would be to ask him to retire, and offer him the same $$ left on his contract for a front-office job

    I like this idea, but wonder about the legality/ethics/optics

  • BobbyCanuck

    Our top defensemen:
    1) Sekera, 2) Klefbom, 3) Fayne, 4) Schultz, 5) Nurse, 6) Ference, 7) Gryba, 8) Davidson, 9) Reinhart, 10) Nikitin.

    But best for Nurse to play in AHL because he can and will learn alot. Reinhart is low on the list but he will rise over the next couple years and hopefully into the top 4. Dmen take time, let’s all repeat that…