Darnell Nurse! He’s signed! Though I don’t think there was really any doubt that Nurse would get a deal figured out before the start of the season, it’s nice to know that the Oilers are rolling into pre-season action at full strength. Well, mostly at full strength.
As we know, Andrej Sekera suffered an off-season Achilles injury and could very likely miss the entirety of the 2018-19 season. That obviously puts a big wrench in Todd McLellan’s plans. We saw last year just how much the Oilers missed the calm and steady presence of Sekera in the lineup, and they’ll have to navigate yet another season without him.
Knowing that Sekera wasn’t going to be available, Peter Chiarelli has added some extra depth to the blueline. Heading into the pre-season, the Oilers have a blend of veterans and youngsters competing for the final spots on the team’s blueline.
The obvious locks for the roster, pending injuries, are… Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell, and Matt Benning. Fighting for the remaining sports are… Jakub Jerabek, Kevin Gravel, Jason Garrison, Evan Bouchard, and Ethan Bear.
Here’s my best guess on how things shake out to start the season…
Klefbom – Larsson
Nurse – Russell
Jerabek – Benning
I think the obvious top pair is the duo of Klefbom and Larsson who played very well together in 2016-17. An injury to Klefbom and a personal tragedy to Larsson derailed both Swedish defenders’ seasons last year, but it’s reasonable to expect them to look like the solid top pairing they were a couple years ago.
After them, though, it starts to get a little murky. Sekera and Russell would be your ideal second pairing like it was two years ago. The two thrived together, but, without Sekera, Russell was a little lost on the depth chart last year. He bounced all around the lineup never really finding himself a consistent partner. This year, I expect him to start the season on his off-side with Darnell Nurse as the two line up against the difficult competition other teams throw out there.
That leaves us with Jakub Jerabek and Kevin Gravel rotating in and out with Matt Benning on the third pair. Benning struggled last year to take on a bigger role but was very effective when playing third-pairing minutes. Playing him with Jerabek gives the Oilers a pairing in which both players can quickly transition up the ice and move the puck effectively.
The controversial player that I left off of the roster was Evan Bouchard. Edmonton’s first-round pick was labelled as one of the most NHL-ready players in the 2018 draft and the team could use a player of his style who can quarterback a power play and take bombs from the point. That said, it’s a massive ask for a 19-year-old to dive into life at the NHL level. The Oilers would be better suited letting him develop with the London Knights.
Another interesting discussion is Kevin Gravel and Ethan Bear for the No. 7 spot. Bear doesn’t require waivers while Gravel does and Bear is more of a long-term project than Gravel is. With that in mind, I suspect Gravel is more likely to crack the roster than Bear is, even though the former could provide a skillset, a dynamic offensive quarterback, the team doesn’t really have.
What say you, Nation? What do your seven defencemen look like to start the season? Will Evan Bouchard make the team for a nine-game stint? How will the team handle Sekera’s missing minutes?