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Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports

When Andrej Sekera returns, the Oilers should keep Yohann Auvitu instead of Eric Gryba

The Oilers have badly missed Andrej Sekera on the blueline this season. The veteran, jack of all trades defender seems thoroughly solid yet unspectacular when he plays, but during his absence this season, it’s become noticeable just how valuable he is to this Oilers team.

Sekera is skating with the team and will apparently be back in late December or early January. When he returns, the Oilers will have to jettison one of their depth defenders from the roster. A couple months ago, it seemed Yohann Auvitu would be the obvious choice, but after a rough season, Eric Gryba is likely the better option to be the odd man out.

Gryba was acquired by the Oilers as one of Peter Chiarelli’s first moves after taking over as general manager back in 2015. Chiarelli dealt enigmatic defenceman Martin Marincin to the Maple Leafs for a fourth round pick and then flipped that pick to the Senators for Gryba. The goal here was to make Edmonton’s blueline tougher and Gryba filled the role very well.

He’s a big, lumbering, tough defender who plays with an edge to him. But as the game has sped up and teams around the league are quickly pivoting to favour speed and skill over grit and toughness, Gryba has had a difficult time keeping up and being effective in his niche.

At the beginning of the season, Gryba was consistently slotting into the lineup on the team’s second or third pairing and was playing roughly 15 minutes a night. But as of late, Todd McLellan has opted to use Gryba less. In the team’s last eight games, Gryba has slotted in only five times, and he had his ice time dip to around 10 minutes in three of them.

Gryba was exposed in night’s game against the incredibly fast and skilled Maple Leafs. He played just 10:28 of ice time and was nowhere to be found in the third period. Late in the second, he took a terrible penalty which led to a power play goal that gave Toronto a 4-3 lead. Gryba was also involved in two of Toronto’s first period goals. First (pictured above), he turned the puck over and let Dominic Moore of all players to walk right in and score an easy goal, then second, he got spun around and allowed Matt Martin to be completely wide open at the side of the net. Getting buried by guys like Auston Matthews and William Nylander would be one thing, but this is Dom Moore and Matt Martin we’re talking about here.

Big picture, Gryba doesn’t have a point through 19 games. His possession numbers are solid, but a good chunk of that has to do with playing major minutes with Darnell Nurse, who’s been a monster this season. Gryba has allowed a lot of scoring chances against despite playing against the other team’s middling players, and his penalty differential in the worst of any Oilers defender. Edmonton’s penalty kill has been wretched this season and having a defenceman that frequently ends up in the box because of unnecessary plays isn’t helping.

Yohann Auvitu has played in 12 games thus far and has seen his usage increase over the past few games. In those 12 games, the French defender has one goal and three assists and has done an exceptional job at driving offence.

The reality here is that the Oilers have a one-dimensional player who isn’t fulfilling that one dimension, which is shutdown defence. On the other hand, there’s Auvitu, who, while not without his own flaws, has been able to fulfill his calling card. Auvitu is a zombie defensively, there’s really no doubt about that, but he moves the puck up ice and drives offence. In a sheltered role, he can be an effective player for an Oilers team that desperately needs a spark offensively.

Come late December or early January when Andrej Sekera is ready to return to the lineup, assuming the Oilers haven’t suffered another injury to one of their five main defencemen, Auvitu is the better No. 7 defenceman to keep on the roster.

Obviously this isn’t a major issue and it isn’t going to make or break the team, but the Oilers are best to keep the player with the skillset that can help them more, even if it is a minor difference. Both Gryba and Auvitu would have to clear waivers if sent down, and I would venture a guess that another team in the league is more likely to take a flyer on Auvitu and his unique skillset than Gryba, who’s seemingly had the game pass him by.

Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Corsica

  • Colourshaper

    Couldn’t agree more. Auvitu isn’t perfect, but Gryba is just cringeworthy lately with how slow he’s been (not to mention the terrible penalties).

  • I am Batman

    The season is lost so the oilers are better off trading both for picks that the can use as currency to acquire something for the future.
    Oilers should be heavy sellers this deadline, when have we seen this before?

        • NoBuBlackOPS

          I disagree trading Letestu away is not a bad idea. He’s got a reasonable contract he’s a UFA at the end of the year. Seeing as the playoffs are a long shot it’s better to sell off UFA assets for picks or prospects. Than potentially loose them for nothing. Like you said he’s a sold guy good team guy can also be a point producer on the PP plays the PK. That all has value to a playoff bound team.

  • Ginbaby

    I agree with the general population that Gryba has been playing unintelligently. Too many terrible penalties. I have a hard time with Auvitu every night because he has no physical presence in that he can’t seperate players from the puck or break up the cycle. I am not saying he has to crush bones, but smaller D have to be able to establish body position to be effective. I have also noticed he runs up the ice before it is safe to do so a la the Matt Martin goal. Puck is turned over at Edmonton blue line but he is heading up ice while the puck is in the air. I think they need another solution to their 6-7 D woes.

  • TKB2677

    The problem I see with Gryba is he’s just too slow. Gryba can battle in front of the goal, break up the cycle and when he is able to keep his gap and angles, he is an NHL dman. He’s just too slow by today’s standards to play a regular shift or anymore than sporadic spot starts.
    The problem I see with Auvitu is he’s an AHL dman. He can skate and move the puck, he just have ZERO clue in the defensive zone. He doesn’t engage what so ever and is scared of contact. He’s be better off as a forward because in order to be an NHL dman, you at least have to be able to defend some. He can’t defend at all.

    • SEHockey

      Auvitu is NHL all right. He has a bunch of much valued skills (the article is right on spot). And just considering his few games with the Oilers, he has given good fruit. His skills have developed very much since the beginning of the season, and will continue to do so, specially if the defence coaches assist him in this process (as should be done with most Europeans). Gryba just needs to upgrade himself. The “slow back-end bear” view of defence is getting outdated, and will get him downgraded soon. Hockey is “hysterically fast”, defence is offence in milliseconds, and viceversa. The “one-role” only player, is getting extinct. We need multi-tasking players that although shining at their main role, are able to be “good enough” at other roles.

  • Danoilerfanincalgary

    The season is not lost it should never be lost. No matter what the circumstance these Oilers need to always be thinking winning no matter where they are in the standings. No more lottery picks or tanking us fans deserve much better than any mentality like that anymore give us a break. As for Gryba I for one really liked him but it looks like the game speed is too much for him now his NHL career is on fumes unfortunately. As for Auvito he should be playing wing we need wingers Schlepys not getting the job done.

  • Beer

    Does Sykera get hurt last year in the first place if Gryba is in the line up? He is the only defenceman we have that scares anybody. More injuries coming to the blue after you ship him out. Anahiem was not scared to run our D. They were scared when Gryba was dressed after Sykera got hurt.

  • Finnaggled

    as always, gryba is good in short stints against specific teams, but that boy is playing in the deep end with the big boys lately.
    this writer is writing a piece based on the oilers “needs”, once sekera is back. but then fails to take in account the balance shift that’ll take place once sekera is actually back (and knocks the rust off). Auvitu’s skill set will then be covered and then some. Although I read earlier (seperate blog) about coverting Auvitu to an extra winger, which i found intriguing on a guess and check basis.
    Either way, Gryba just got his contract and it came from Chia and he’s most certainly a Chia kind of guy, so he’s staying.

    • FISTO Siltanen

      Gryba was resigned at a price that has zero impact on the cap if he goes to the minors.

      I think the Oilers debated between him and Hendricks and chose position of need.

  • Bob Lawblaw

    I think Auvitu would rather be a forward. I’ve seen him down low on too many occasions leaving a forward to cover his point. I know the Oilers want to “spring” the defence but Auvitu takes it to another level. It’s not like he’s Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey.

  • SEHockey

    Auvitu is a perfect 5 – 7th D-man. His “protector role” skills, need work, true. Still too much of slower pace European guardian instincts to be rewired. But his “offensive launchpad” role -which is as well a critical part of the modern defencemen, specially in his hyper-active accelerate hockey-, is gooood. When he is on play, the game flows well, and the team creates danger. In todays hockey, it is good to keep Auvitu. I dont know if as a winger, or as an “in-between defenceman” with a safer “bear” around him. Having been less than 40 games at the NHL, I am quite sure that he will get the good protective moves all right. A well-coached Auvitu may be part of the solution to the Oilers problems.

  • Margret

    Classic case of asking a player to do too much. Gryba is a perfect 6 to 7 d-man. Right now, because of lack of personnel, he’s being asked to play a roll he can’t be successful at. Before you run him out of town, think back to Justin Schultz on the Oil and where he is now.

  • camdog

    Every team gets to keep 3 extra players. Between d-man and forwards at least one will be injured. They will likely both stay, unless somebody down in the AHL passes them on depth charts.

  • camdog

    Davidson to be put on waivers as noted on Sportsnet (if trade can’t be made). As predicted in pre season it was pretty clear that all 3 of Marancin, Reinhart and Davidson would be moved along this season, well except for some media/bloggers that were calling Marancin a star. With Davidson he hasn’t been the same player he was in his first fullish season with the club, might have been an injury that slowed him down.

  • McDynasty97

    Just have to say… there are a lot more problems with this team than our 6-7-8 defenseman….
    My 2 cents… Gryba > Auvitu. Only reason Gryba has looks to bad is the fact that he hasn’t got the same opportunity as last year. His confidence is shot just like the rest of the team. If he plays against calgary tonight he will show a lot better! Give the guy a chance! Let’s cream the Flamers!!!