The Edmonton Oilers will be making a change on defence when they play the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night. As has become the habit of the coaching staff lately, that change is not going to involve Brandon Davidson.
Davidson has simply been too good to scratch.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 27, 2015
Davidson started the year on basically the same footing as Andrew Ference. Of Edmonton’s first eight games of the year, Davidson dressed for just one, having the misfortune to enter the lineup on October 13 against the Dallas Stars, a game in which the team from Texas took the Oilers out back to the woodshed and tanned their hide for 60 minutes. Ference, in contrast, played three times in that span.
Davidson re-entered the lineup against the Kings on October 25, and would play in eight of the Oilers’ next 10 games. His ice-time varied widely, from a low of 13:31 against Chicago on November 8 (he’d be scratched the next night) to a high of just over 20 minutes on Halloween against the Flames. Still, he’d clearly shown the coaches something; no longer was there a clearly defined top-six with Davidson on the outside.
He’s now played four consecutive games, and Detroit will be the fifth. He’s topped 20 minutes twice; on November 20 he played a career-high 23:40 against the Devils.
All of Davidson, Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba have played eight of 10 games in November, and after tonight it will be Gryba and Davidson pushing their count to nine. The difference is that Gryba and Reinhart were both acquired by the new administration, that Gryba has nearly 200 games of NHL experience, that Reinhart is a former No. 4 pick who cost a fortune in the offseason. Both of those players started with jobs. Davidson was loose change left over by the last guys who ran the team, a low-end prospect vying with Andrew Ference for occasional game duty.
This is what winning a job look likes. Davidson has come from a long way back, and he’s pulled even with two of the people that Peter Chiarelli brought in to fix things. It’s quite an achievement.
By Eye and By Number
Davidson’s been a pretty impressive player to watch, because he has what Lowetide likes to call a “range of skills.” He has good size (6’2”, 210 pounds) and plays a reasonably physical game. But he’s also competent with the puck, confident enough to rush it up ice if a spot opens up and skilled enough to make a first pass. He’s shown off a fairly heavy slap shot and—bizarrely, for a guy who never put up 15 points in the AHL—has convinced the coaches of his offensive ability to such a degree that he’s even seen power play usage.
By number, he’s been pretty impressive too:
- 54.4 percent Corsi rating (1st among Oilers’ D)
- 52.7 scoring chance percentage (1st among Oilers’ D)
- 24.4 5-on-5 scoring chances against/hour (2nd among Oilers’ D)
- 0.92 5-on-5 points/hour (2nd among Oilers’ D)
Edmonton does its best job of out-shooting the opposition when Davidson is on the ice. It does its best job of out-chancing the opposition when Davidson is on the ice. It allows very few chances against (Oscar Klefbom’s numbers are better, Mark Fayne and Andrej Sekera are just behind) when Davidson is on the ice. And to top it all off, Davidson is scoring.
The caveat is that he’s doing it in third-pair minutes, for the most part; Davidson hasn’t been thrown into the fire against top competition or asked to log a gratuitous amount of defensive zone starts. But even within that context, his performance is impressive, head-and-shoulders above that of the more-touted Gryba and Reinhart.
The guy he reminds me of is Kyle Brodziak. Brodziak was jack-of-all-trades, a player first passed over and then selected late at the NHL Draft, a guy who worked his way up the AHL depth chart and who was always overshadowed by people like Rob Schremp. Brodziak worked his way to an NHL career that so far counts 644 games, and in his prime was a strong defensive specialist who could also chip in 10-20 goals and 30-40 points.
It’s early yet, but Davidson looks like a player who could be a valuable contributor during the heart of his career.