The Oilers’ crowded defensive depth chart means playing time will be tough to find in Bakersfield

Darnell Nurse

It’s no secret that the Oilers have a crowd on the back end. Prospects Darnell Nurse, Griffin Reinhart and Brandon Davidson will all push for spots on the NHL roster. Newcomers Andrej Sekera and Eric Gryba are major-league veterans and will figure into the mix. Those five players will have to contend with a returning group of five who were on the blue line last season.

What gets talked about less is that the NHL roster isn’t the only place that’s crowded. The Bakersfield Condors have a long list of defenceman looking for AHL playing time, and one of head coach Gerry Fleming’s key challenges will be to find development time for all his prospects.

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The Defensive Depth Chart

Reinhart, Griffin4

Pairing Left Defence Right Defence
NHL First Pair Andrej Sekera Mark Fayne
NHL Second Pair Oscar Klefbom Justin Schultz
NHL Third Pair Griffin Reinhart Eric Gryba
NHL Reserve Andrew Ference Nikita Nikitin
AHL First Pair Darnell Nurse David Musil
AHL Second Pair Brandon Davidson Brad Hunt
AHL Third Pair Jordan Oesterle Dillon Simpson
AHL Reserve Joey Laleggia Martin Gernat (LD)
ECHL Ben Betker Nick Pageau 

I’ve assumed here that the Oilers will keep eight defencemen in the majors, press-boxing disappointing veterans Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin. That’s not the only option available to Edmonton, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll see a player like Griffin Reinhart start the year in the AHL.

Even if he doesn’t, Bakersfield is going to have a full roster.

It’s assured that Darnell Nurse will get a ton of playing time if he ends up in the minors; he’s a good bet to be a top-pairing defenceman out of the gate in the AHL, assuming that he’s demoted and doesn’t make the Oilers out of training camp.

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David Musil is another player who will get a lot of playing time; he’s entering his third professional campaign, got an NHL cup of coffee last season and this is a make-or-break year for him. In 2016-17 Musil will need to clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL and the 2011 second-round pick has a lot of good qualities. The organization has little choice but to play him a lot and he’s likely to earn his minutes on merit in any event.

Davidson, Brandon

Brandon Davidson will need to clear waivers to be demoted and is a strong candidate for NHL employment next year, even if only as a No. 7 defenceman. If he’s in the minors, he’ll likely be behind only Nurse on the left side depth chart.


Brad Hunt is the lone veteran in the group, and my guess is that he shifts over to the right side as he has in years past. He’ll power the Condors’ power play and likely get top-four minutes as a mentor to the younger players on the roster.

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I have Jordan Oesterle and Dillon Simpson starting on the third pairing as they enter their second professional campaigns. Oesterle had an NHL cameo last season and should push for top-four work but there simply isn’t much room. Simpson too should be expected to push for top-four work as part of his progression as a prospect. There’s no real rush on either guy, but both should be in the NHL conversation next year at this point so they’ll have to be given a chance to show progress.

Outside the top-six on my depth chart are rookie pros Ben Betker and Joey Laleggia and imploding prospect Martin Gernat.

Gernat, Martin

Gernat is in free-fall after previously being a prospect of significant interest; he’s a wildcard at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised if after a hard summer he shows well in training camp and gets some major-league consideration. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Oilers loaned him to a European club to make room. He’s 6’5” and he can skate and move the puck, so it would be a shame if he were squeezed out without getting another shot but it could easily happen.

Either or both of Laleggia and Betker might find themselves in the ECHL to start the year, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, since it would guarantee playing time. It’s a safe bet that at least one defenceman will be injured before the end of training camp, so one of these guys can probably force his way into Bakersfield’s top-six. I wouldn’t be surprised if both ended up playing about 55 games in the AHL, getting a cup of coffee in the ECHL and spending some time in the pressbox.

Nick Pageau is on an AHL contract and at age 27 can’t really be described as a prospect. He’ll likely start the year in the ECHL and only be brought up if injury opens up a need.

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    • Young Oil

      That’s what happens when you only draft two right handed defencemen while drafting 12 left handed defencemen from 2009-2014.

      It was a ridiculous decision, prevented many LHD from reaching their potential due to lack of playing time, or playing on their off side, while leaving the right hand side completely bare.

  • Ever the Optimist

    Well I have Nurse and Reinhart above Gryba , Ference and Nikitin . If not , then we have a defence no better than last years leagues worst defence . Chia worked specifically on defence to make it a priority , and that must mean a big overhaul from last season . If he goes with most of last years failures then he has failed as well . Pretty sure he would have added another defenseman to team if he did not think Reinhart and Nurse would not be on team to start .

    • Ference has a no-move clause; I’d happily bury him in the minors in the Oilers’ shoes but it’s not an option.

      I have trouble seeing Nikitin getting demoted due to his contract, particularly since they decided not to buy him out.

      Gryba’s an actual right-side defender and Chiarelli wouldn’t have acquired him if he didn’t think he’d play.

          • Canoe Ride 27.1

            I hear you brother. My response was to one that had Gryba behind Nurse and Reinhart. That will eventually be the case. I think JW’s depth chart in this article is right. A vet like Gryba can and will handle the role, and the boys will get their chance soon enough.

          • Reg Dunlop

            Dougie Hamilton was deemed expendable by an NHL management team and now Calgary is pinning its hopes on him. Seems like a MacT-led oil type of move. Try not to be too hard on him when he underwhelms against big, fast and aggressive western competition. And, as always, have a happy McDavid.

      • BDH

        It refreshing to see a well though out point of view with actual reasons behind it. Sure beats “Nurse will force his way on the team!”, crying about what could have been with Petry, and random Fernando Pisani references. Best blogger in the Nation by far.

  • Rock11

    Depth on D! I am so grateful that I am patient:)

    The McDavid effect of a skilled center with the biscuit moving toward the other goalie at warp three has to bode well for our D and G.

    Is it just me or has every day since the draft been bright?

  • TKB2677

    I really didn’t understand the point of resigning Hunt. If the major purpose of your minor league team is to develop players to hopefully play in the NHL, what was the point in keeping Hunt? He’s not ever going to be an NHL Dman. He’s a great, point producing AHLer but that’s all he will ever be. I know you need some vets but I don’t see Hunt as even a call up option. Plus it’s not like they are starting all AL rookies. Musil has 2 AHL seasons. Simpson and Oesterle have a year of AHL. I have to think that unless somehow Nikitin gets moved and maybe even Ference. Someone like Reinhart, Davidson at the very least will be in the minors just out of numbers. So having Hunt seems pointless.

    • Rock11

      I think the point is that the AHL is a tough league as well. Throwing rookies into the deep end in that league can be just as problematic as doing it at the NHL level. Guys like Hunt can can take some of the burden off the new guys and let them ease in with appropriate roles.

    • I believe Hunt was signed by MacT prior to Chia coming over.

      I agree with your comments and the sentiment raised here over the past few weeks – we need our ECHL and AHL teams to be development focused.

      Winning is a secondary objective.

      It seems like Flemming has that approach so hopefully we no longer see prospects getting just 8-10 mins/night.

      • TKB2677

        I just don’t see the point of having guys that you know as an organization can never make your big club. I have to assume that even Mac T knows that.

        There are going to be guys that are long shots but due to their age or raw skill set, you keep a few of them around to fill out spots and see what happens. Hunt got into 11 NHL games last year, 3 the previous year with the Oilers and proved he can’t play at an NHL level. He can’t skate even close to well enough to keep up and if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s small. So he can’t even fill the role as a big, tough, physical, clear the net guy that you hold your nose for when guys skate around him because you know he makes life hell for the opponents. All he has is a big shot. Hunt is 26 so he’s entering his prime. He’s as good as he is going to get.

        Gernat is looking like a lost cause but he’s 6’4, 202. He can skate, move the puck, shoots well and he’s only 22. SO there is an example of a guy that maybe is a longer shot at this point but you hold onto him a little longer because of the raw tools.

        I want to see guys like Simpson, Oesterle, Laleggia on the PP. See what offense if any they have. If Nurse or Reinhart are down there, they should see time. Hell, give Musil time. But if you got Brad Hunt and his big shot, he’s automatically going to be on your first unit. So he’s taking ice time and opportunity away. Unless the Oilers GM tells Fleming, he will be fired on the spot if Hunt sees any PP time, of course he will play him. I would if I was him. You as a coach want to win.

      • TKB2677

        I get that. Musil has been in the AHL for 2 seasons so he has experience. Davidson has a couple of AHL seasons. Simpson has a year in the AHL, Oesterle has a year in the AHL. So all these guys have AHL experience so it’s not like they are dressing an entire defense core of graduated juniors. In addition, due to a numbers games, one of Nurse or Reinhart will most likely be in the AHL. So there’s 5 Dmen.

        Even if something crazy happens and let’s say that somehow both Nikitin and Ference are magically gone and both Reinhart and Nurse are with the big club. Musil, Davidson, Oesterle and Simpson should be your AHL top 4 at the every least. You don’t bring Hunt back to be a #5. So automatically, he is bumping down a guy.

  • Canoe Ride 27.1

    I wouldn’t call this stacked on the left side. I would call it almost average, Sekera is a 3/4. Klefbom is a developing 3/4, Rienhart and Nurse are question marks and Ference barely makes a beer league team according to most on Oilersnation. I hope I’m wrong and everybody plays above their ability and stays healthy because it kinda reminds me of the Centre situation of last summer.

  • crackerjack14

    Love Gryba on the 3rd pairing! He can play a little but most importantly he is mean and can hit. Guys dont like playing against him.

    Sekera – Fayne

    Klefbom – Schultz

    Nikitin – Gryba


    Not a Nikitin fan but I bet he comes to camp with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. He makes opening night roster IMO

  • Reg Dunlop

    We are one injury, one ‘underperformer’, and one trade away from being at a reasonable number of D.

    Me no worried. This D roster is better than last year.

    • Randaman

      I had a discussion/disagreement with a buddy today about Reinhart. I say he doesn’t have to go through waivers to be sent down. Is this correct?

      Could cost me a 15 pack of Beer although we would drink them together on Saturday watching Price tear through the Yankees.

      Good times. Go Jays

  • Jaxon

    Laleggia never sets foot in the ECHL. He will be an impact player in the AHL and will push for some NHL time. His NHLEs and comparables are just too impressive. Nobody with a comparative NCAA career ever played in the ECHL and very few even played in the AHL. Most of his comparables went straight to the NHL or played 5 games at the end of their final college season, just like LaLeggia did last year. They will need to make room for him in the top 4 AHL minimum.

  • Jaxon

    Chiarelli mentioned Sekera as a possible RD and LaLeggia needs to be put in a position to move up to the NHL if he proves himself in the AHL. I see Nurse, Reinhart and LaLeggia pushing their way up the depth chart as the year goes on making some roster moves necessary/possible.

    Pairing: Left Defence – Right Defence

    NHL First Pair: Klefbom – Sekera

    NHL Second Pair: Nikitin – Fayne

    NHL Third Pair: Reinhart – Schultz

    NHL Reserve: Ference – Gryba

    AHL First Pair: Nurse – Hunt

    AHL Second Pair: LaLeggia – Musil

    AHL Third Pair: Davidson – Oesterle

    AHL Reserve: Betker – Simpson

    ECHL: Gernat – Pageau

  • Reg Dunlop

    No way Reinhart is above Nurse, the difference in lateral movement, reach and recovery speed is just too great. Nurse can start as a third pairing, much like Klefbom, and move up as the season progresses.

    Reinhart has to learn the speed of the NHL. He might get there some day, but is as raw as Musil in NHL experience. He may be a bit bigger, a lot smarter, but otherwise they are equal, separated only by draft pedigree.

    Nurse simply brings far too much to the table.

  • Ndustry

    LOL Fayne lol A top pairing defencemen! lol OMG I wonder if any GM would buy him at this price for that role? We always balk at all of our 5-6 Defencemen, well that’s where Fayne sat in NJ – 6 in ice time for defence lol Although he comes from a good system in NJ the Defensive core was far less than impressive. I guess a good system can do that for you, you don’t need great defencemen to play good defence. But seriously I nearly topple over myself with how much respect Fayne gets and I even like him! I just don’t hold him in the same regard as alot are seeming too (based on a single season performance on the worst Defense in the NHL lol smh) If you count Musil Hunt and Petry he was 9th for ice time with the Oilers lol One bad season though and he’s another Nikitin with this crowd!

    • O.C.


      Are you able to add a skill testing question step before you can post on here?

      Its an easy way to avoid posts that contain “lol” or “omg”.

      Judging by this guy’s writing, likely 2+2 would be enough to deter him.

      • Train#97

        Would you rather have somebody say I am laughing out loud right now or oh my God. They are called abbreviations. It’s like an acronym and life changes and so does the way we communicate.
        Move on . I’m laughing out loud.

      • Ndustry

        Since when would math deter bad English? You never did well in math eh? Or social jargon, slang, I learnt lol from pokerstars, and omg is oh my god, and smh is shake my head. I know it’s not text book grammar but its common for the internet and god forbid a forum or discussion. I suppose essay form is actual discussion or something. Geez, sheesh, omg, smh, lmfao, or go Hail Fayne as you can narrowly understand speech without phonetically correct grammar god forbid you had to read a script or a book with alot of “out there” social dialogue! I don’t know why anyone who is good at Language Arts actually thinks they are smarter than anyone really. What school was that? The University of the unemployed in their feild? ROTFLMFAO! Alot is not a word but I love it, to plus too plus two out loud equals the difference between me and you.

          • Ndustry

            I doubt you could even read Law let alone tolerate writing it. It would be nice if you could check my background, but I was easily the most talented in my grade for math through school and placed in the top percentile in the country on government standardized tests. However the last book I read aside from Doyle Brunsons Super System (poker) was My Teacher is an Alien in grade 3.

  • Tikkanese

    Defensive woes continue because new GM failed to land his NDR.1 target Hamilton, just like we have been plagued for years now . We almost always never get our man or main target . Should he have put in Nurse to procure his Nbr.1 target ? Will Nurse ever turn out as good an investment as Hamilton would have been is the question ? A lot of you on ON do not see Nurse being on squad this year . We have seen all to often and with regularity how going to default positions has not helped us going forward . I look at defence with Sekara and Hamilton and that would have been a nicer start than what we appear to be going with . I’m sure we will debate for years to come whether we should have put Nurse in that deal to get Hamilton here and not in arch rival Flames hand . Opportunity knocks and we are still not getting thru that door once again . It’s only been slightly over 100 days Chia has been GM , but when it comes to on ice changes I am not very impressed with what has been done so far . Koolaid and hype do not change that assessment , as that’s basically been recycled and all we have had for last nine years .

  • O.C.

    A lot to be said about why you have a mix of vets and rookies in the AHL. It’s a development league. You don’t sweat teaching and losing games in that league.

    You cannot afford to “sacrifice games for teaching” in the NHL.

    I watched Nurse play his first AHL game, live, the year before last. He was a huge force. His skill set was undeniable. He is faster, bigger, smarter, than most anyone out there. Remember that was the year before last, and he was jaw droppingly talented.

    He needs to confidently learn when and when not to jump. But that is a two way street. When he does go, coaches have to let him jump up, and prepare their systems and teammates for that weapon.

    I’ve not seen Griffin, but if he is as described, with the right development, he could be a Luke Richardson, Jason Smith, Kevin Lowe type of talent.

    Is there room to slot either or both of Reinhart or Nurse as a 6/7, protect them, teach them, and protect the team? Or is it better to put both in the AHL at least to Christmas?

    That’s going to be the most interesting item to watch this fall.

    Then again, bumps and bruises and suspensions happen. Sometimes these scripts write themselves.

  • O.C.

    Could betker go back for an overage season? That would help with the log jam a bit and delay his ELC, 4 years of development instead of 3 before a decision has to Be made.

  • camdog

    “Gernat is in free-fall after previously being a prospect of significant interest; he’s a wildcard at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised if after a hard summer he shows well in training camp and gets some major-league consideration.”

    What exactly do you mean by major-league consideration? You can’t mean NHL…