Barring a shocking trade or a minor free agent signing, the Oilers roster we see now will be the same one we see come September. With minimal changes to the roster, it’s clear that the organization is banking on some best-case scenarios from players this year in order to return to the playoffs.
Over the next few weeks, you’ll see me go through every player who should have an impact in the Oilers organization and try to guess what that players “ceiling” is, and also what their “floor” would be performance wise.
In doing this, I’ll be making a few assumptions. The first being that the player stays healthy for the entire season. Obviously, the worst case scenario for any player would be to miss a significant amount of time with injury. The other is that the player will spend the entire season with the Oilers. It would be easy to say that the best case scenario for some names is that they’re traded away from Edmonton.
For the high end of things, I tried to be realistic yet optimistic. Of course, it’s POSSIBLE for someone like Matt Benning to score 20 goals and log 28 minutes per game this year… but c’mon.
Now that I’ve explained my thought process, here is part two of my “Highs & Lows” for the 2018 Oilers: The Defensemen:
CEILING: Injuries and inconsistency plagued Klefbom in 17-18. He appeared lost in his own end and didn’t produce close to the offence the team needed.
I’ll sound like a broken record in this piece, but all you need to do is look at Klefbom’s 16-17 season to see that he has the potential to be an elite offensive producer.
No one knows who will be anchoring the Oiler’s top PP unit, but Klefbom is probably the favourite. In 16-17 he posted 16 powerplay points, and if that unit clicks this year with him as the quarterback, I think 5-20-25 on the powerplay alone is possible.
He doesn’t need to be great in his own end, just survive. Last year, he was on the ice for 59 even strength goals against in 66 games. I want that number to stay the same this year, but over an 82 game season.
FLOOR: What if the powerplay doesn’t return to form? Or what if it does but Andrej Sekera or Matt Benning or Evan Bouchard are anchoring it? There’s one area where Klefbom can provide supreme value to this roster, and if he can’t win that job, and keep it, this season will be tough to call a success.
It’s expected he’ll start on a pairing with Adam Larsson, but what if his inability to cover someone in his own end or make a breakout pass wasn’t because of a nagging injury. If he can’t hold a spot on one of the top two pairings, his $4.1 million will not look like a bargain anymore.
CEILING: At the age of 25, and with more than 400 games under his belt, we know exactly what Adam Larsson is. He’s a mean defender who can punish opponents in the corner and give you a lot of honest minutes at even strength. On special teams, he won’t give you very much on the powerplay but should be able to make meaningful contributions to the team’s penalty kill.
I’m expecting another solid season, and this will sound boring, but my ceiling for Larsson is simply an expectation for him to consistently play against the oppositions best and make life easy for Cam Talbot while doing so.
FLOOR: This is also going to sound boring but that’s because Adam Larsson is a pretty boring player. I think he’s a very good defender in the sense that he makes life tough on the opposing team. In two years with the Oilers, he’s averaged just 16 points a year. So his floor in terms of production is maybe 10 points?
I’d say the floor for Larsson’s performance has nothing to do with him, but more with whoever he’s paired with. If he’s playing next to the same Oscar Klefbom we saw last year, it could end up reflecting poorly on Larsson.
CEILING: Last year we saw Darnell Nurse start to gain confidence with the puck. He was holding onto it and looking to make a play rather than just trying to get rid of it as quick as possible, which we had seen in his earlier years.
He’s about to his the 300 games played mark, which is usually when you know exactly what a d-man is. If he’s going to discover an offensive side to his game, it will be this year.
As I’ve already said, there’s a spot on the top powerplay unit that is wide open. Darnell hasn’t shown that ability thus far, but he could surprise us, and I am trying to establish his ceiling.
Last year he posted 21 even strength points and none on the powerplay. If he can up his even strength numbers and get 28 points (which would put him 20th amongst NHL d-men) and add 12 with some powerplay responsibilities, I’m willing to say Darnell has the potential to be a 40 point man.
Away from the puck, I want to see Darnell continue to carry his own pairing, which he’s more than capable of doing.
FLOOR: I can’t see Darnell taking a massive step back this year, or any step back at all.
My floor for Darnell is exactly what we saw this year. Top four minutes, no powerplay responsibility and around 20 points.
CEILING: I believe the Sekera we saw in 2016-17 is about as good as it’s going to get. He averaged about 16 minutes a night at even strength and posted 19 points. I’d say that’s his 5v5 ceiling.
I do think he can add a little more offence when it comes to the powerplay. In 16/17 he played 174 powerplay minutes, which was second among Oiler blueliner. In that time, he posted 12 points. If he were to take over the teams top unit this year, 20 points might not be a stretch.
I also expect a healthy Sekera to play a big role in helping the Oilers powerplay rebound from a historically bad season.
Basically, Sekera’s ceiling is being able to anchor a pairing in the teams top four while contributing to both sides of the powerplay.
FLOOR: Again we’re assuming a player stays healthy all year, but even if Sekera stays in the lineup it’s far from a guarantee that he’s the same player we saw in 2016-17. He’s 32 years old and is recovering from major leg surgery. That’s the kind of stuff that sends careers on the decline.
There’s a chance we see Sekera healthy, yet struggling in a league that’s only getting fast. 3-16-19 and no powerplay presence on the power play is his floor.
CEILING: I don’t think Russell will live up to his $4 million deal, and with the amount of hate he gets from the fan base, even if he plays well this year most won’t admit it.
He certainly has his mental lapses, but I don’t think you can deny that Kris Russell is a good third pairing d-man. He can skate well, he plays with no fear (son of a cowboy), and for the most part, can eat a good chunk of minutes.
Benning, Larsson, and Nurse had better GA/60. The team was bad, and Russell wasn’t good, but he was far from the Oilers biggest problem.
It’s tough to put into numbers what we can expect from him, but if he can be a soldier on the penalty kill and find himself on the team’s second pairing, Oilers fans should be more than thrilled.
FLOOR: Well, right now Russell is etched onto the third pairing. If Evan Bouchard or Ethan Bear make this team, someone has to come out of the lineup and it will either be Russell or Benning.
He’s a year older and has another year of tough miles on his body. If he’s lost his foot speed, he might find himself in the press box on a fairly regular basis.
Lots would have to happen for that situation to occur, but it’s possible and that’s what I’ll call his floor.
CEILING: Benning loves to shoot the puck. He’ll fire a wrist shot from far out, he’ll creep into the slot for a quick chance or even wind up for a slapshot from the blueline. If Benning can learn to perfect his shot from the point this year, it could lead to an abundance of opportunities.
Like I said, there’s a spot on the Oiler’s top powerplay unit that is wide open right now and that’s where Benning can make the biggest impact. If he grabs that spot and the power play returns to its 16/17 form, Benning could be a 20 point powerplay guy.
At even strength, I’m not expecting Benning to be more than a third pairing guy, but it’s his third season in the league, maybe he shocks me and proves he’s ready to handle more minutes and tougher matchups.
FLOOR: At this point, I would say Benning is the Oiler’s sixth defenseman and while he could see some time on the team’s second powerplay unit, that time could evaporate if one of Evan Bouchard or Ethan Bear makes the team.
In fact, Benning could be pushed to the teams seventh d-man if that were to happen.
My floor is less than ten points, with less than 41 games played.
CEILING: He’s played 70 career games and he’s only going to make 700k this year. Add on that there are six NHL d-men ahead of him on the depth chart, Evan Bouchard might make the team, and Ethan Bear would probably be the first option to get playing time if there is an injury… it’s not looking good for Kevin.
My ceiling for Gravel is simply getting into 41 games. That would be bad for the Oilers, but good for the depth defenseman. Maybe he could go to AHL and provide some veteran leadership, which might be a positive as well.
FLOOR: Re-read the first part of his ceiling, and then think about that. I can’t see him playing a lot, so honestly, I’m not even going to give him a floor.
NOTE: Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear were not listed here because they will appear in another part of the series.