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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Managing the blueline

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

Gravel

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? 



  • Hemmercules

    They don’t have much of a choice it seems. Two bottom spots up for grabs. I think Bouchard gets his 9 games for sure and possibly more. Haven’t seen or know enough about Garisson to make a call on him. Im happy Nurse signed but missing Sekera with no real replacement is a bit concerning. Our D absolutely has to stay healthy for the team to have any chance. Looking at the Oilers D vs that of SJ and I almost want to cry.

    • OilerForLife

      There will always be injuries and Bear may be more NHL ready at this point. Unfortunately player development, and managing the cap go hand in hand. Preparing for expansion will be an issue moving forward, as well.

    • ricardo2000

      I want to take a look at the Oilers defence in a couple of years. I think Nurse could be #1 acknowledged across the league. Then there is Bouchard, Bear, Benning, plus some others who have yet to declare themselves with their play.
      It would be great if we could afford to trade for or buy on the free agent market. But right now, that just isn’t going to happen. Later, with playoff success, key D-men will want to play here as it should lead to some glorious playoff runs, if not with their names on the silver.
      San Jose spent for Karlsson because their team’s key players are at, or past, their peak (age=30). So they must win now or not at all.

  • That's My Point

    Bouchard is the answer, luckily fell into the Oilers laps.
    He’ll upgrade the powerplay, he had 87 points in OHL from the D and he’s a big man.
    Should get at least 40 points his rookie year this season feeding Draisaitl and McDavid, maybe even be in the Calder conversation?
    Perfect timing for BOUCH with Sekera’s injury.

  • BerkhamstedOil

    Could see Benning in the 2R slot and Russell sliding to 3rd pairing. Benning more adept at pushing puck up quickly, which looks to matter more under new scheme.

  • Spydyr

    Many said that Chia has to do something to replace Sekera last season, he did not. The results speak for themselves. This summer Chia admitted it was a mistake not replacing Sekera. This season Sekera is gone again. What does Chia do? The same as last season. The Oilers cannot even learn from their admitted mistakes. Benning is barely a third pairing NHL defenceman. Playing him on your second pairing is a recipe for disaster. Bringing in other teams castoff is not the answer either.

    Now before all the what can he do to replace Sekera the injury happened so late. It is called a trade good GM do it all the time to build a team. The thing is almost everyone is frightened of Chia making a trade because of his atrocious record. That makes things even more dysfunctional.

    • Hemmercules

      I think it all depends on what the plan actually is. When the Oilers brass sat down the summer and hashed out their plan for this year, was it to make the playoffs? Or was it to build mostly from within no matter what the record on the season ends up being? The fact that a knee jerk trade wasn’t made immediately after Sekera went down tells me they are probably comfortable missing the second season again. You would have to think Chia did some shopping and didn’t find anything worth doing. Maybe he just go tired of being manhandled in trade negotiations and decided to just go with what he has. I my opinion, they aren’t shooting for cup runs in the next couple years in favour of slow improvement to try and win a cup or two near the second half of McD’s tenure.

      • The plan is probably more along the lines of how much are we charging for a burger this year, Can we get away with 20%? How much more can we get for parking fees? How much more can we charge for beverages?They seem more focused on making money than addressing the shortcomings of the on ice product. I cant even remember how long Nicholson has been with the franchise, but it has become obvious that “Forensic Audit”=How much for a burger? If there is a plan , then just what the youknowwhat is it? Exactly the reason there is so much speculation on forums like ON, because to us, the great unwashed that supply the revenue, there does not appear to be a plan other than profits.

    • Redbird62

      Benning has performed well as a third pairing defenseman. It is truly laughable you view him as very barely a third pairing defenseman based on watching him perform the past two seasons and what I have seen is also looking at all the data. Yes he makes mistakes (what a shock for a defenseman with 153 games experience) but even experienced defensemen make several – overall Benning has been pretty steady. Whether he is ready for second pairing duty, remains to be seen. If by the end of camp, it becomes apparent to the coaching staff that he does not seem to be ready for that role, then maybe they do a trade. And even if they do go and get someone like Faulk, based on what I have seen and heard, I would still have more confidence in Benning defensively in than in Faulk.

      • Spydyr

        The teams record last season and the many season before suggests that the teams defence is weak. If a team misses the playoffs with the best offensive player in the world there are issues. My take on Benning is not laughable but your refusal to see the Oilers for what they are may very well be .

        • Redbird62

          First of all, no where did I suggest that the Oilers defense as a whole last year was not weak. With the injury problems had by Sekera, Klefbom, and Larsson, that is not unexpected, but Chiarelli can’t be faulted for what happened with the latter two. We all agree it was a mistake not to do more to replace Sekera last year. The Oilers also did not assume it would be Benning who was going to make up the difference since they played him a whopping extra 40 seconds a game and still 3rd pair minutes. You do nothing to support your argument that Benning is not a capable 3rd pairing defender. Unlike the previous decade, the Oilers defense in 2016/17 was not considered weak and performed very well as a group.
          And you make a claim about how I see the Oilers, but you actually have no idea how I see the Oilers. Most of my comments tend to be specific about an individual player or transaction and on this site it is easier to point out the mistakes in many outlandish takes offered by the negative crowd than the other way around.
          I have a lot of issues with the organization and many of the decisions they have made. You just take the viewpoint that anybody who does not take the most pessimistic perspective of almost every decision they make or any mistake any player makes must see the Oilers through rose colored glasses.

      • Every post on here literally could start with IMO. I agree with Spyder. It is truly laughable to me that you see Benning as anything more than the 7th defenceman or in the AHL. He has NOT performed well on the 3rd pairing or any other pairing. Fringe player IMO. Probably related to somebody in management.

        • Redbird62

          But you give no basis to support your claim that Benning has not performed at a 5/6 level. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not all opinions are created equal. If you bothered to provide any basis and pointed out things that could be verified as to why you believe something, maybe you could be taken seriously. Maybe you would even enlighten me as to why you believe he is so bad. You use terms like “rose colored” or “drink the Kool-Aid” but maybe is you that sees things through mud-colored glasses or have been drinking bad moonshine. Hey I get it the Oilers have sucked for most of the last 11 years, but none of your constant negativity is going to change that.

    • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

      But this time it’s a little different.

      Sekera sustained his injury in Game 5 vs the Ducks. That gave the Oilers, what, 4-5 months to find a decent replacement? This year, Sekera gets another injury just 1 month before the season is supposed to start. Much less time to figure things out. Gravel was signed on July 1st (before the Sekera injury), so it would seem that Chia already planned for a potential defensive injury. The Jerabek signing is just to add another piece to the d-core.

  • BerkhamstedOil

    Was hoping to see Russell transition the puck more quickly during the game yesterday. He was at least coming forward, but still slow in passing the puck up to the forwards. Whether or not a better 2R option should have or might be coming, see Benning as more effective than Russell playing with top six Oiler forwards. JMO…

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Benning was his usual self overwhelmed and out of position, when he was on for that foal, he moved over to the other side of the ice and left his man open for the pass and they scored, this isnt Benning’s first time he has pulled that manoeuvre yet the coaches dont seem to correct him on it, Benning should be an 8th and only if no one from the beer league isnt available

  • Redbird62

    Why do people keep ignoring that before Larsson’s personal tragedy, he was also injured with a bad back for a long stretch last season. He missed 8 games from the end of November through December 18. Even after he returned it was still clearly bothering him for an extend period through January. It was probably the physical break he got while out dealing with his Father’s passing that allowed him to fully recover. So he was healthy for the first 20 games and probably the last 20 games, actually missed 19 games in total, and played somewhat hurt for the other 20. Apparently he was a stud for Sweden at the World Championships. I expect a much better season from a healthy Adam Larsson.

    • Spydyr

      Larsson at this point in time is by far the Oilers best defenceman and the only true first pairing defenceman on the team. Albeit he is defensive defenceman. The Oilers should finally have the offensive first pairing defenceman they have so badly needed for so long in Bouchard but he is a year or two away unless the Oilers rush him and at this point in time it looks like they might be doing just that with no replacement for Sekera forthcoming.

      • Redbird62

        Well we agree on something. I too believe that Larsson is currently the Oilers best defenseman. I also happen to believe that he would have more to give offensively if he was so inclined. Not sure if the coaches hold him back or he does himself. The last half of his first season here, he led the defenseman in 5 on 5 points and racked up 6 points in 13 playoff games. Maybe it is being paired with partners who need him to be the defensive stalwart that holds him back.

        • IRONman

          Larsson describes himself as a stay at home defenceman. I believe he can be 30 pt guy. Good thing about Oilers d is the are about 25 years old avg. nurse, Larsson, Kelfbom and Benning

          • Glencontrolurstik

            Yes, but the question is, how do they compare to Burns, Karlsson & Vlasic?
            That is the competition & the Oilers should be building to compete against those teams.
            Otherwise, it’s pointless.

  • Jaxon

    1st 9:
    Klefbom-Larsson
    Nurse-Benning
    Russell-Bouchard
    Press box rotating in every 3rd game or so: Jerabek/Gravel
    then…
    Klefbom-Larsson
    Nurse-Benning
    Russell-Bear (after 9 or so games in the AHL)
    Press box rotating in every 3rd game or so: Jerabek/Gravel
    If Jarabek or Gravel take Bear’s spot, fine, Bear can go back down to the AHL and doesn’t have to clear waivers. If Bear is playing well leading up to his first game I think he deserves a shot. If he succeeds as a 3rd pair RHD, then it is so good for Edmonton.

  • Beer_League_Ringer

    PC is going with defense by committee, and I don’t think he has much of a choice. That is, other than losing a trade… I am encouraged that he is betting on the young d-core this year, rather than selling the farm for more middling D-men. I am genuinely excited to see how Nurse looks out of the gate. He’s improved every year and in a season or two he will be absolutely horrible to play against (he already is for the most part).

      • Hemmercules

        Its super easy to say “Make a trade and win that trade” on a hockey blog sitting in your office knowing nothing about what has gone on behind the scenes. Chia wouldn’t be GM if he didn’t at least shop around for one when Reggie bit the dust again. No NHL team is going to hand the Oilers a top 3 dman, the price will be significant. It all comes down to what the plan is, sell off your draft picks for the next couple years and trade away one of your top players to really go for it this year. Or take it slow, keep your picks and good players and hope for the best knowing full well that playoffs are probably a long shot.

        • IRONman

          Klefbom and Larsson have to be 2017 players. Nurse is getting better and awesome to have him. Still need rd with heavy shot. Bouchard looks like the guy. Big step to Nhl, wish Bouchard can do it

        • Spydyr

          You don’t trade for a player signed long term. Trade for a 2019 UFA defenceman. Perhaps even an older one that way you have short term help ,the cap hit is off the books next summer and the cost to acquire the player is less.

          If you cannot do that then look at other teams players entering their first year of waiver eligibility and pick up the best one available. Most teams have stronger, deeper defencive depth than the Oilers do. The thing is the Oilers pro scouts get things wrong way more often than they get things right.

          • Hemmercules

            Thats exactly what I mean when I say we don’t know what the plan is. Do the Oilers management think they are going to make a playoff run this year if they add an aging UFA dman that some other team doesn’t want anymore? Or do they keep their picks/prospects, see what happens with the guys they have, and possibly go for that Dman at the deadline or next summer (or make a waiver claim at some point)??

            I firmly believe (and I think Management thinks the same) that the Oilers wont be making a run at the cup in 2019 and thats why we haven’t seen major change other than coaching staff at this point.

          • Spydyr

            So you are saying unless they are going to make a Cup run don’t even try to make the playoffs? That sure sounds like “Oiler braintrust” logic too me.

            I would rather see the team try to build a winning attitude ,compete to win every night and perhaps get some valuable playoff experience. If that means trading a couple players like Caggiula or Kassian or I say do it.

          • Hemmercules

            No, Im saying if everything goes right, the team could make the playoffs with what they have.
            If thats the case they can make a deadline or mid season trade. If they could trade a pick and Drake or Kassian for a good dman they probably would have pulled that trigger already, those guys aren’t exactly hot commodities and good dmen don’t come cheap in trades. I don’t think anyone believes they will win the cup this season and adding some aging dman for a year probably isn’t pushing them over the edge right now.

            Any suggestions who they should target in a trade (i.e. Top 4 UFA dmen)?

  • Leef O'Golin

    Didn’t the Swedish coach give more encouragement for Larsson to expand his offensive side more in the World Championships? Do you see that as a factor for this year?

  • RobertO

    I’d trade Kass for a pick and a prospect, then flip em to a third team for a veteran blueliner. Nice to see we finally have some defensive depth simmering down in the minors and Junior.

    • Spydyr

      If you are going to try an insult someone from behind your computer at least spell their name right. It is right in front of your face and you still do not have the mental capacity to get it right.

        • Spydyr

          I’m used to it. At this time of year many don’t agree with my comments. As the season goes on more and more do agree. It has been that way for many years here.

          • RobertO

            Would you agree with the statement that Keegan Lowe deserves a look in the organization? Still bugs me how they slipped that signing, and the Howson hiring, by the fans after a playoff run. Trade the mall.

          • Know the feeling. Way too many posters drinking the Kool Aid and/or choosing to keep the rose colored glasses on. Dysfunctional, nepotistic, family and friends style managing still getting us nowhere. I would love to be proven wrong, but I think by Halloween or possibly Xmas we will all be discussing what went wrong yet AGAIN. I am already checking other sports schedules to see whats on in January.

      • Van isl Oiler

        Sorry….Spydyr. Spelling is your biggest concern regarding my comment? I apologize for my derogatory post. The fact that I think you post the most while saying the least is entirely my cross to bare. I know I’m not the only one who thinks you significantly lower the overall IQ of the comments section to not much higher than a coffee table, but you are entitled to post as much as you’d like, about whatever you like. So by all means, please continue with your pessimistic, surface scratching insites here in the comments section of Oilers Nation.

        • Van isl Oiler

          Just one request though, could you please, at least entertain the thought of coming up with some of your own analysis on the Oilers? I think we’re all tired of your regurgitated comments from the writers here.

          • Spydyr

            If you look in this thread and many others you would see my own analysis of thing with and on the Oilers. Many times it is different from the writers here. Perhaps instead of whining about what other post you could come up with something that would further the discussion yourself.

    • Spydyr

      Sekera was a good defenceman before the knee injury but how effective do you really think he will be after missing two years to injury, returning from a ruptured Achilles tendon and in his thirties?

  • daryl

    Peter needs to use Sekera’s cap to go and get a Dman. Faulk is a defense nightmare but could be of some help but 2 years nixes that so he needs to find a 5-4 dman with either one year left or trade. Scary right?

  • ricardo2000

    Can Bouchard develop in junior hockey? Being touted as ‘the most NHL-ready’ player in the recent draft suggests this isn’t likely.
    Sending him back to London should also mean sending him some top notch coaching talent. I’m hoping that Paul Coffey, Adam Oates, Bio-steel trainers, skating coaches, etc could be contracted by the Oilers. This would require time off from regular season games and practices to accommodate the trainers. That would be a big problem for the Knights team.

  • SRELIOFAN

    A healthy Larsson will make the Oilers D better, but I believe the biggest improvement will be from a healthy Kelfbom. He is going to go back to his 2017 self and be the PP quarterback that the Oilers need. This will also allow Bouchard to go back and marinate in the OHL.

    Watch this and just TRY to tell me that it doesn’t get you excited about him.

    https://youtu.be/7nKfthKLSNo

  • Johnnymaced

    Hate to be too negative but garrison looked horrible last night, can’t see any advantage to signing him at this point. There’s no way he should take minutes from Bouchard or bear, who probably aren’t ready but would fill in better than what Jay Gar can bring to the team. Bouchard hasn’t faced top flight competition yet but he keeps scoring. Hopefully he makes it hard on the oilers.