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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Changes on the blueline?

For years the Oilers struggled to stock their cupboards with good, defensive prospects. They used high picks on forwards and all of their picks afterward usually flamed out within a couple of seasons. Now, it seems like things are finally changing for the better thanks to some strong drafting by Peter Chiarelli and his staff.

There are a handful of players currently in the AHL who seem primed and ready to push for an NHL job this coming fall while they also have a few players who spent the year in junior who also look like they are ready to become impactful pro hockey players at either the NHL or AHL level.

At the NHL level, the Oilers currently have six qualified NHL defensemen under contract for next season which is going to make things very interesting this offseason. We could very well see the Oilers move on from a veteran defenseman in order to make room for a younger option from the farm team. Even if they do that, I also think we could see them deal off one of their defensive prospects in a package for some immediate help.

To get a better feel on things, I took an inventory of what the Oilers have at every level of their organization.

THE NHL

LEFT SIDE: Right now, the Oilers have Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and Andrej Sekera under contract for next season. Klefbom and Nurse will more than likely be back, but I’m not so sure about Andrej Sekera. The 32-year-old has two more years at $5.5 million, which is pricey for a third pairing option. At the same time, Sekera was their best defenseman back in the 2017 playoffs, which was also the last time we saw him healthy. I would be in favour of bringing him back and playing him on the third pairing with a younger option next to him.

RIGHT SIDE: The right side features Adam Larsson, Kris Russell, and Matt Benning. To be honest, I could see any of those three being moved out this summer. Russell and Benning could be dealt to shed some salary meanwhile Larsson would hold some value on the trade market and might bring back a decent young forward. It’s also worth noting that Russell is a left-shot defenseman who played the right side last year. The new Head Coach might not be a fan of that.

The other thing that complicates this is the fact that the prospect who appears to be most NHL ready, Caleb Jones, is a left shot. So if the Oilers moved a player from the right side and wanted Jones on the team, it would involve moving Sekera to his off-side, which isn’t the best idea.

THE AHL

LEFT SIDE: As I mentioned above, Jones is their most “NHL ready” defensive prospect. We saw him for 17 games at the NHL level this season and after starting with a few really strong games, his performance declined as he was pushed further up the depth chart. By all accounts, he went back to Bakersfield and dominated down the stretch. I believe he’s good enough to be in the NHL next season.

They also have William Lagesson in Bakersfield and some think that the 23-year-old could push for an NHL roster spot next season. I’m not sure if the Oilers will want him sitting in the press box at the NHL level, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s very high on their list of recall options in 2019-20.

Brandon Manning is also under contract, but I think he’s played his final game with the Edmonton Oilers.

RIGHT SIDE: Ethan Bear is in a very interesting spot. While I value Caleb Jones more than Bear, the fact that Bear shoots right makes him a prime candidate to be in the NHL next season. If the Oilers trade away Kris Russell or Matt Benning in the offseason to clear out some cap space, Bear could be given a chance to crack the NHL roster. The fact he’s a young right shot also gives him some trade value.

He played 18 games with the Oilers in 2017-18 but didn’t get recalled once this past season. Injuries hampered his ability to put together a really strong season in the AHL, but I heard he still took some positive steps forward.

COMING UP

LEFT SIDE: While Jones may graduate to the NHL level, the Oilers will be bringing Dmitri Samorukov up to the AHL level next season. He’s coming off a great season in the OHL and it’s actually led to some chatter about him being in the NHL sooner rather than later.

Jakubec knows his stuff so if he is confident enough to tweet it, I’ll believe it. I don’t think Samorukov will start in the NHL, we could see him for 15-20 games at some point next season when injuries inevitably hit.

RIGHT SIDE: Even though it goes against their new strategy of “over-ripening” prospects, Evan Bouchard could very well be in the NHL to start next season. He played in eight AHL playoff games and produced three goals and five assists. There’s no doubt in my mind that he can dominate at the AHL level. I doubt we see him in the AHL all season. He needs to improve his skating, but I think that will come with time.

They also have Joel Persson who will be making the jump from the SHL to North America. While he could very well start in the AHL, I think the Oilers could have him pencilled in to be their seventh defenseman next year. He had 31 points in 50 games with Vaxjo this past season. Both he and Bouchard have legitimate chances to crack the roster.

THE DEPTH CHART

There are plenty of ways to rank the Oilers defensemen, but this is my depth chart:

Oscar Klefbom Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse Kris Russell
Andrej Sekera Matt Benning
Caleb Jones Evan Bouchard
Dmitri Samorukov Joel Persson
William Lagesson Ethan Bear

That’s twelve defensemen who will all be looking to play prominent roles at the pro level next season. When you add in their AHL veterans like Ryan Stanton and Keegan Lowe and even Logan Day who was on an AHL deal this past year, it’s getting to the point where ice time could be tough to come by.

That’s why I think the Oilers could dangle one of their young options in a trade for a young forward. I’d consider moving one of Ethan Bear or Matt Benning from the right side. Bouchard is close to ready and the Oilers might be able to package Bear or Benning with a pick and get a young forward in return.

If they want to make a big splash, maybe they dangle someone from the left side, but I’d be hesitant to do that.

Ken Holland has some decisions to make when it comes to the teams’ defensive core. He has some young players who appear ready and some veterans on bad contracts. I think what he decides to do may surprise some Oilers fans.

  • IRONman

    Bye Sekera. Keep Klefbom and Larsson they are on good contract. Good age. Nurse has to go. Too expensive next season. Can fetch a scoring winger in trade.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        I too would make sure Nurse is around, he hasnt really come into his own yet. When he does he will be one hell of a player, Nurse is still a work in progress, didnt have the best year last year, but I think the late start into the season didnt help him.Signing him long term is a good idea, once he comes into his own, much like Draisaitl’s deal was thought of as a huge overpay, Drai’s contract is a bargain right now for what he is bringing

      • toprightcorner

        Nurse will want $6.5-$7mill and for a guy that cannot transition the puck, that is a huge overpay. Nurse is worth $5 mill but he will want way more than that and dmen are getting huge dollars these days. Trade Nurse for Gostesbere, and his $4.5 mill for 4 more years.

    • jesse says yep

      Who do you wish you still had in 4 years? Klefbom’s 15pts for 4.5m or Nurse’s 40 pts for 6mil?
      If it was my cheque book I would sign Nurse long term next season and trade Klef in a year or two when Jones is ready to take his spot in the lineup.

      • IRONman

        Nurse will not sign for 6 million. You are not looking around the NHL. Wake up. Nurse scores 50 pts he will want PK money. Like $ 9,000,000. He is not worth it. Think about it

      • CityofWhat

        “When Jones is ready to take his spot”
        I don’t see Jones taking Klefbom’s spot even if Klefbom is no longer here. That spot will be for Samorukov in 2-3 Years.
        With the prospects we currently have I see the D- pairing looking like this in 3 years.
        Samorukov – Bouchard
        Nurse – Bear
        Jones – Lagesson

      • Stallions #35

        And Nurse is more durable than Klef. I love Klef but he just can’t stay healthy enough…I think he has played 1 maybe 2 full seasons in his career?

    • El Connor mcdaddy

      If you trade Nurse you’re a clown. Hes young, and he is good. And his potential is still mostly untapped. he has no where to go but up. Klefbom is a good defensman but he constantly gets dragged down by injury troubles. Klefbom’s ceiling is not nearly as high as Nurses when you look at both of their career numbers. Klefbom would also be able to get you a scoring winger in a trade, tons of teams would take Klefbom. I agree with trading Sekera, but would not be angry if he returned to the lineup either. He played well when he returned from injury, and could still return to being a good 3-4 d. But that contract hurts his chances of staying an Oiler.

          • jesse says yep

            Not suggesting he isnt a good player only that he wont get much better other than a bit more polished.
            As for the team not playing well without him, for sure he is an important piece of the defense but even with him playing 1ld the team still missed the playoffs

      • toprightcorner

        Nurse will never be close to Klefbom. Klefbom is very good at puck transition and Nurse can only dump it out off the glass. Nurse is tough, gritty, great skater and a decent shot, but he will never be a top line dman unless he has an elite partner. If you cannot transition the puck you are limited in today’s NHL. His skating is the only thing keeping him from being a bottom pairing guy because that puts him in positions to get secondary assists.

  • Ken Holland

    Oilers 2019-2020 Defence

    Klefbom Larsson
    Nurse Benning
    Sekera Russell

    All NHL defenceman. Stability 1-6. When the group was together, Oilers played quite well. Goaltending, particularly Talbot was not NHL level.

    I am confident going into the season with the group we have signed.

    When injuries occur it will not derail our season, as we have quality in the AHL waiting to make an impact.

    AHL lineup 2019-2020

    Jones Bear
    Samurokov Bouchard
    Lagesson Persson

    • IRONman

      Pay 9 million to Bouchard and Jones. That is the future D for the Oilers. Nurse held out as long as he could to sign a bridge deal. Shows greed. Nurse scores 50 pts and he will ask for PK money. He is no Bouchard. Bouchard is our # 1 D.

      • Kneedroptalbot

        Bouchard has to work on his transitional skating, before he is NHL ready. Last summer at the junior tournament
        speedy forwards were blowing by him, he was flat footed.

  • Rock11

    I know that even mentioning his name has a way of starting wars around here but Russell is the obvious trade bait. As the Left is so deep he is being forced to his offside which is a challenge but I don’t think it can be reasonable argued that replacing Russell with Bear, Bouchard, or Persson would be a significant downgrade. By doing so the team saves $3m in cap space as well. IMO Holland’s first job should be to move out Russell and the return is irrelevant. The cap space is the prize.

    • Kepler62c

      I’m alright with starting the year as is, they have 6 NHL Dmen under contract, and a prime 7th Dman in Persson. Let Jones, Lagesson, Bear percolate in the AHL some more and battle for callups — smart people say Jones is ready, so maybe you run 8 Dmen on the big club again, but I don’t think you need to move any of them out unless someone comes calling with a deal for a good forward. We shouldn’t be taking back nothing for giving someone an NHL level D man, no matter the contract. Injuries happen.

      That said, I agree that Russell would be the best candidate to send out.

      • Big Nuggets

        Jones is a lefty that plays the right side. Trade Benning and Russell. They won’t be able to resist Bouchards offense and Jones is pretty much already NHL ready.
        Klef Larsson
        Nurse Bouchard
        Sekera Jones
        Persson

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      I would trade Benning and use the savings in cap space and juse Bear or someone else to fill Bennings spot. As much as I would love to seee Manning and his contract gone, it’s going to be tough to move a guy who couldnt even crack the AHL roster. If I am the Oilers Benning could bring them a winger for someone who needs a defencemen, it wont bring them anything special but A cagguila type might be in the cards. They also need to see if they can get rid of Petrovic and free up that money. I would wait on trading Russell, I think he would be good with the guys coming up and the fact that his contract is on the downward slide make him affordable to have around, not to mention he could always be traded before the deadline to a team that could use him if the Oilers saw fit

  • jesse says yep

    @TY
    “Now, it seems like things are finally changing for the better thanks to some strong drafting by Peter Chiarelli and his staff.”
    This is bound to get a negative reaction but the proof shows in the depth chart. Building a strong stock of defense prospects is a great way to help your cap troubles as well as providing ready made trade bait. Nashville and probably a few others have used this approach with excellent results.

    Using a combination of picks, defensive prospects and one or more veteran dmen, Holland should be able to fill a couple of the holes in the top 6 and shed some salary. I am really curious to see how it is going to play out.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Caleb Jones has played the right side almost exclusively for the last two years as a pro – most of his time in Bakersfield was spent paired with, firstly, Gravel and, secondly, Lagesson.

    When Jones was recalled, he played the right side initially (with Gravel) and they did quite well in that third pairing role. When Jones was moved up the lineup due to injuries, he played the left side for the first time in his pro career, with Adam Larsson. The pairing struggled quite a bit but that is likely more of a function of the much tougher and less sheltered minutes than Jones switching to his natural side.

    I am generally against d-men playing their off-side if at all possible. With a few exceptions, d-men are almost alwasy less efficient at puck retrieval and, in particular, moving the puck on their off-side – their forehand is to the boards and their back-hand to the middle of the ice. With that said, there are a few d-men that don’t have that drop off and even a couple that seem better on their off-side. Jones seems that way at the AHL level but that does not mean it translates to the NHL. With that said, I would have no issue with a third pairing of Sekera/Jones.

    Bear is 100% below Jones on the depth chart right now (even for the right side, Bear’s natural side). Bear did take nice strides this year in his puck retrieval and board work but still struggles with speed. His offence is higher end than the rest and his shot is a weapon.

  • TKB2677

    For the last I think 6 weeks of the season, the Oilers were running with:
    Klefbom – Larsson
    Nurse – Russell
    Sekera – Benning
    All of these guys are currently signed with the Oilers.

    The common thing I have heard and read from both fans and especially the media is the Oilers need to bring in more dmen who are better skaters, can move the puck better and hopefully produce more offense.

    Lately I have read and heard those same media types mentioning how well Sekera played when he was back and how good he looks at the worlds and how maybe the Oilers need to keep him. I have read and heard media types singing the praises of Russell. I actually heard McCurdy doing that today. Then I have read media types signing the praises of Benning and how they should keep him.

    It doesn’t make sense to get rid of Klefbom or Nurse because they are the only 2 dmen that the Oilers have who can skate well, move the puck decent and have an offensive dimension plus they are both young. So if the Oilers need more dmen who can skate better, move the puck better and maybe produce offense, how do they do that if no current dmen are allowed to be traded?

      • TKB2677

        If Holland is magic, I would like to see the d core as:
        Nurse – Right shot
        Klefbom – Larsson
        Jones – Right shot

        The first right shot would be someone they go trade for. The 3rd pairing right shot could be an internal guy. Supposedly Lagesson is really close and Jones played the right side a lot in the AHL.

        From the Oilers defense from last year, they got rid of 11.4 mill in Sekera, Russell and Benning but they probably spend 6-7 mill on the new top 4 right shot. So they would have 4-5 mill to play with.

      • jesse says yep

        If they shed Manning, Benning and Russells contracts they can realistically afford to spend 5-6 mil on a new dman. And possibly Sekera or Klefbom next year if they need to make room for Nurse

  • toprightcorner

    Fixing the defense is a 2-year job, since the Oilers have so many prospects bursting to get into the NHL. Adding a big name this year likely just puts them in a pickle for the following year. The left side is overcrowded and needs to be thinned. Sekera is having a great World Championships so Holland may find a taker if he heats $2 mill. Sekera at $3.5 is a player teams could want. I like him for stability on the back end to start the season and maybe he is a deadline trade.

    If Holland is going to make a big trade to add a significant piece, it will happen by trading a dman. Nobody will like this, but Nurse has the biggest trade value on the back end and he will never move up to the top pairing because he cannot transition the puck, he just dumps it off the glass if he can’t skate it out and it slows down the forwards. He has 1 more year on a value contract and then he will want way more money than he is worth. He wanted over $5 mill long term last year, net summer he will want over $6.5 and maybe $7. He is not and will never be better than Klefbom because Klefbom is great at transitioning the puck.

    If you want to add an offensive dman, trade Nurse for Gostisbere and his $4.5 mill for 4 more years as PHI wants toughness and has Provorov and Sandheim. If you want a 30 goal winger, trade him for Elhers, Gallager or Johnson.

    Out of the Oilers dmen, Holland has to trade at least 3 players to make room for everyone.

    Nurse, Russel, and Bear are the most likely candidates that will also get you the best return. Lagesson would play in the AHL next year and if Samorukov passes him, as expected, Lagesson could be traded.

    Klefbom – Larsson
    Sekera – Benning
    Jones – Persson
    Gravel

    Lagesson – Bouchard
    Samorukov – Day

    2020

    Klefbom – Larsson
    Jones – Bouchard
    Samorukov – Persson

    If you look at the 2020/21 season, when Nurse would become an RFA, there isn’t really room for him in the lineup, considering he will want $6.5 mill and Jones will be on a bridge for under $2 mill or longterm in the $4 mill range. That makes now the best time to trade Nurse to maximize the return and have minimal effect on the future lineup

    • Ken Holland

      If we retain 2 million of Sekeras contract, we lose a defenceman that we have to replace and 2 million in cap space.

      I would prefer we package him with a prospect for an underachieving forward on a rebuilding team.

      Toffoli, Z Smith, Pageau come to mind.

    • IRONman

      Wow. The salary cap is 83 million. Maybe. I would love to pay all players 10 million but I have 20 players to pay. 4.15 million per player. Math doesn’t add up. I guess they drink the same kool aid as leaf fans. MAXED out!!!