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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

I was wrong about Andrej Sekera

This summer, when news came out that Andrej Sekera had sustained a second serious leg injury, I was not only skeptical about the chances that he would return to the Oilers this season, I thought there was a chance we would never see him play another NHL game.

If you were to dig through the archives of my tweets and time on the radio, you would have heard me say things like:

“He’s done. He’s 32 years old, he was already slowing down. If he couldn’t recover from one injury, why would he be able to recover from a second?

“Even if he plays again, and I don’t think he will, what are we expecting from him? He won’t save the blueline.”

“People keep saying he’ll be back in January, why would you rush him back this year? Have him sit out and be ready for 2019-20 if that’s even possible.”

I’m not even kidding, those are near direct quotes (I cleaned up the English a little bit), but you really couldn’t blame me for thinking like that. A lot of other people agreed with me. He’s 32-year-old and coming off his second major surgery. When he saw him at the back half of the 2017-18 season, he looked like a shell of his former self. No one would have been surprised if Andrej Sekera never regained his 2016-17 form.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong. I was so wrong and I’ve never been happier about being so off base. I’m fully aware that a lot of my takes and predictions end up looking bad in hindsight, but I was proven wrong in a hurry on this one.

Sekera has returned to the lineup and brought a calming presence to the team’s third pairing.

I want to start this by giving some credit to Ken Hitchcock who has done a great job of easing Sekera into the lineup. He never played more than 18 minutes in a game until last game against the New York Rangers. When he returned from his first injury in December of 2017, he played over 18 minutes three times in his first five games back in the lineup. He wasn’t eased into things at all. The conditioning stint in Bakersfield no doubt helped as well.

He was given a chance to slowly walk back into things instead of just throwing him right off the deep end. Hitchcock deserves some praise for how he put Sekera back into the lineup.

When it came time to push Sekera, Hitchcock did it and the veteran defenseman proved he was ready.

On Monday against the Rangers, he played 23:21 which was 5:59 more than he had in any other game this season. Not only did Sekera make it through the game, he excelled in it. The Oilers gave up 26 shots and 22 scoring chances at even strength. Despite playing heavy minutes and only starting two shifts in the offensive zone, Sekera was only on the ice for four shots and four scoring chances against. When he was out there, I sensed that he was controlling the game with his ability to efficiently get the puck out of his own end and make smart moves at the offensive blueline.

While the team has found a new level of success since Sekera returned, there has been one player who has really benefited from the Slovakian defenseman’s presence.

Matt Benning has not been having a very good season, but since he’s been reunited with Sekera, not only has he looked more confident on the ice, but his numbers have almost all increased.

This season, at even strength without Sekera, Benning had a 48.68% Corsi-for, a 55.93% goals for, and a 50.97 scoring chances for while starting 52.17% of his shifts in the offensive zone. That might be a product of the fact that he was either playing with a lower calibre partner, he spent over 100 minutes with both Kevin Gravel and Jason Garrison, or that when he did have a better partner, which was often Darnell Nurse, he was playing over his head in a second pairing role.

With Sekera, he has looked very comfortable in his third pairing role and there’s no doubt having a veteran partner to rely on has done wonders for his game. At even strength with Sekera, he has 52.91% Corsi for, a 66.67% goals for, and a 54.46% scoring chances for while starting 49.33% of his shifts in the offensive zone.

Sekera has seemingly turned Matt Benning back into the competent third pairing defenseman the Oilers were hoping he was and given Ken Hitchcock a more reliable third pairing that can be used in all situations. That has also helped bring Mikko Koskinen’s game back to the level it needs to be at.

Since Sekera has returned, Koskinen has a 0.934 SV% and a 2.20 GAA to go along with it. Those are elite numbers. I’m not saying it’s sustainable, but it’s a fantastic sign that when he has six NHL calibre defensemen in front of him, he’s capable of doing this for extended stretches.

All these numbers are great, but they wouldn’t really mean anything if the Oilers record wasn’t improving but since the return of #2, the Oilers are 7-2-2 and have found themselves pushing to get back into the playoff race.

I’m not going to tell you “I told you so” when it comes to the recent play of Andrej Sekera, because I didn’t. In fact, I told you the exact opposite. It’s never felt this good to be wrong.

  • Jerri Kurli

    I thought Sekera would be useless upon is return. Being out basically 2 years for a guy his age with the game consistently getting faster made that a reasonable prediction. I was wrong as well! He’s been a very pleasant surprise.

  • FlamesFan27

    I think 90% of hockey fans thought the same thing, including me. The odds were against him with age and 2 serious injuries. Good on him for putting in the work to get back to where he is. And good on the Oilers for how he was handled.

  • ziyan94

    Sekera has always brought more to the team beyond his own physical ability. There is a calmness to the way he plays and sees the ice which is contagious for the rest of the team.

  • billsbills

    I wasn’t with you. I never thought he was finished. He’s too smart of a player to be washed up at 32. The question I had was would he still be able to skate at an NHL level. Truthfully the Achilles injury probably helped his knee recover.

    I hope he can maintain his play. Now it will just come down to conditioning and if he can maintain his energy level as he inevitably starts getting more minutes.

  • JayTee

    Pretty sure 100% of OilersNation was with you. He was brought up in trade proposals along with JP to try and get rid of the contract, potential buy-out scenario’s, and even Hossa-like LTIR.

    The Reg-Man is back and is every one glad.

  • FutureGM

    Good on you for owning this Tyler! Sekera is definitely a calming force that has helped stabilize a young D. I thought he would be good in his return, but am pleasantly surprised he has been this good this early

  • Kevwan

    The reason we all thought he’d struggle is that he did last year when he came back from injury. It was only in the last few games of the season and at the Worlds that he played well.

    It is natural and normal to expect to see again what we’ve last seen.

  • Derkus the circus

    Cant complain about #2 return to this point. What seemed to be a likely buyout in january, he has progressed and shown he can be a solid 5-6 guy at the least going forward. Credit to him and his hard work. And while he is 32 the injuries the last few years have created perhaps a few more miles left on the well liked vet.

    • puckle-head

      What a silly comment. He was speculating on future performance, on the basis of the player’s age and the struggles that same player faced coming back from a similar injury a year ago. I.E. What every single hockey analyst/journalist/scout/gm/fan does. Did you want him to cite academic sources tracking injury performance metrics for 32 year-olds?

      • Gravis82

        its not that hard to do. Find players who were injured at 30 for a significant time, were of a similar caliber of player as Sekera, and then see how they did when they came back. It would take 1 day to put that together, or less. Its called evidence based reporting, otherwise known as investigative journalism, and yes I expect it.

    • OilerForLife

      I was wrong about him too. This guy has really showed me both character and leadership. I’ve also heard he calls guys out, but not in an aggressive harsh way, but rather a constructive helpful way. His hockey sense and the way he handles the puck makes other players around him better. He must really take of his body and I’m sure he’s in terrific shape.

      He proved everybody wrong without saying a single word.

  • Spoils

    how long can Sekera keep this up? D last longer right? He excels due to smarts rather than physicality so that should hold up?

    strikes me the oilers can look to trade D for scoring wingers. given that “the market” seemed to think Hall for Larsson made sense…

    trade ideas?

  • Rama Lama

    Maybe to bring this into perspective is just how much is Benning bringing down Sekera. I for one think that Gravel is a much better option than Benning………I’m not sure what the Oilers see in Benning?

    He is not a big shooter, playmaker, rusher, or hitter but he can sometimes put himself in good positions…….hardly a reason to play him over Gravel, but I digress.

    Now that Sekera is back it’s time to send Benning to someone who needs a average defenceman.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    I honestly wasnt sure how Sekera would fare because Achilles injuries can be a serious pain to recover from some of them guys just always have trouble down the road.. One of my worries with Sekera was it was just a long long time to be off the ice so I wasnty sure how his foot speed and how in shape he’d be game wise, but I have to say I am impressed he seems to be pretty good, I think sheltering his minutes to get him with manageable ice time has helped but it is nice seeing a little calmness back there and sure has been nice having him on the PP too.

  • D

    A small group of commenters here on ON have stated that Peter Chiarelli ultimately lost his job because of the prolonged absence of Sekera. He has stabilized the blueline and the Oilers look closer to their 2017 playoff version right now.

  • TKB2677

    Count me in as one of the guys that thought Sekera was done. When you have 2 major injuries back to back, when you are that old, miss that much hockey, miss that much offseason and miss that much training in 2 years, at his age, I just didn’t see him being able to play at the NHL level. It’s the best league in the world. Even guys who are younger and don’t have what has happened to Sekera fall out of the league. So I am pleasantly surprised that he is able to be what looks like a really good 3rd pairing dman. Who know’s if he can be a top 4 guy anymore but after seeing him, maybe he can.

    BUT

    I do not for a second think he should be on the Oilers next season. If there is a way to get rid of him, they have too. He’s a left shot, the Oilers need Klefbom and Nurse as their main left shot guys. Both for salary, ability and age. They need a right shot guy for the top 4 and Sekera is making the money that could easily cover off the cost to get one. They have to find a way to get rid of him.

  • Datsyukian

    Well, I am happy to report I was one of those few who said it here a few months ago that Sekera will not only be back but will be the Oilers’ best defenseman again in no time.

      • TKB2677

        I am one of the posters that wants to trade him. I don’t want to trade him because I dislike him, or have a problem with him. I want to trade him because he makes 5.5 mill, he’s a left shot when they need a right shot, you have 2 much younger, left shot guys to anchor your first & second pair in Nurse and Klefbom and you can’t have a guy making 5.5 mill in your 3rd pair.

        So where would you play him if you think trading him isn’t a good idea?