It’s early days, but Andrej Sekera’s performance three games into the season doesn’t match the expectations placed on him. He’s not alone — the entire defense has been wobbly at times this year. That’s good news. Why? The future of this Oilers defense is finally coming into view. (source: HockeyAnalysis.com)
VETERANS GET MORE ROPE
NHL coaches say lots of things but their actions are the things worth paying attention to, and for Edmonton Oilers fans the past can probably predict the future.
- If there’s a change, expect a young player to be sent down/out. Remember last season, in the fall, when Martin Marincin was up and down like a yo-yo? He was sent to the minors October 5th and recalled on the 16th. He was inserted into the lineup, and Edmonton went 4-1 in the games he played (between 15:46 and 18:07 in those games). The Oilers then went 1-6 in the games he played through the end of November, and MM was back in the AHL. He was inconsistent in those games but veterans were making as many (or more) errors. After the November 25th game Marincin didn’t see NHL ice until February.
- Veterans get more chances and it sometimes drives fans crazy. This has been happening since I was a kid — the old grizzled veteran starts slow and fans are up in arms because the fresh daisy is wasting in the AHL. A coach knows the veteran can be relied on and is willing to wait an extra game or even several for said player to turn it around.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO THE CURRENT OILERS?
Edmonton is in an unusual spot because two of their most expensive blue liners, Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin, are unable to fill the roles one associates with their respective cap hits. Many get mad at the player, but for me the Oilers signed both men and if you’re going to yell at a cloud, best make it orange and blue.
Veterans who Todd McLellan will likely rely on this season? Andrej Sekera, Mark Fayne, Justin Schultz, Eric Gryba. Youngsters he’ll probably retain all season? Oscar Klefbom.
After that? We’re left with two young men (Griffin Reinhart and Brandon Davidson) who need to show well in their NHL opportunities.
GAME ONE, THE REINHART GAME
In his game, Reinhart got the zone-start push with Gryba and both men had a solid possession number. McLellan, like most coaches I’ve ever seen, isn’t going to assume one good (or fairly good) game by a rookie automatically means another, but most of us (myself included) were somewhat surprised Reinhart didn’t get the next game.
GAME THREE, THE DAVIDSON GAME
This is last night. Davidson got a very similar zone start (fewer minutes) and his possession number (this is all 5×5 via HockeyAnalysis.com) were less, but somewhat similar.By eye, Reinhart was the more effective player, but that’s not much to go on. I would say that both men have value to the team but that Reinhart is likely to have the more prominent role as seasons roll along.
Notice the ‘tough zone start’ pairing changed in these two games, further indicating McLellan is getting the lay of the land.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
For Oilers fans, it looks like more auditions (Reinhart next is a good bet) before eventually settling in. Andrew Ference is also in the mix and don’t count out a Darnell Nurse recall or a trade. Two things we can conclude about this Edmonton defense:
- Todd McLellan hasn’t found his answer on the third pairing
- This is not an outstanding group. Two too young, two too old, and so very little in their prime.
We talked about it during the Schultz arbitration period. At that time, Edmonton could have bought out Nikitin and signed Cody Franson. The Oilers decided that wasn’t better than the status quo. Which brings us here.
There’s every chance we’re witnessing Todd McLellan’s education on what Oilers fans already know: This team needs more talent on defense in its prime. Let us pray we don’t have to wait until Klefbom, Nurse and Reinhart are 25.