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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

About the Blue

So, what’s the Edmonton Oilers’ blueline going to look like for this coming season? While that depends, of course, in large part on how far along the development curve several prospects have moved and how they perform after training camp opens, new associate coach Jim Playfair gave us a pretty good sneak peek today.

For starters, it sounds like the Oilers are going to do everything they can to go lefty-righty with all three of their defensive pairings, which means we’re going to see Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Kris Russell, who has been moved from side-to-side in seasons past, playing on the left side – at least to begin the season.

The only lock on the right side going into camp is Adam Larsson, who will most likely play alongside Nurse in a shut-down pairing, although I might be selling Matt Benning short – if he’s not a lock, he’s certainly close. That leaves at least one opening in the top six and two if they carry seven D-men, which they most likely will.

So, who gets the one top-six job on the right side? If the Oilers stick with the left-righty pairings they prefer, I see it as Evan Bouchard, Joel Persson and Ethan Bear as the top candidates looking for the spot. Another one of them could take the seventh spot, although there’s also leftie Caleb Jones to consider. To hear Playfair tell it, they’ll all get a shot at it.

WHAT HE SAID

Feb 15, 2016; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes associate coach Jim Playfair during a team practice at the Ice Den. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t think we’ve specifically decided who’s ahead of who,” Playfair told Bob Stauffer when asked if Bouchard, just 19, has a legit shot at a roster spot. “I think we’re really trying to get the left-right pairings and people that are ready to win in October.

“I think that’s the big thing. We’re truly trying to come into this thing – that’s why the exhibition games are so important and that’s why the early part of the schedule is so important for us – to figure out who can step in and help us win games. If it’s Bouchard, if it’s Persson, if it’s Jones, whoever it happens to be, we’re not limiting it right now to a window of two or three guys.

“We really want to have it structured where if Bouchard is ready to play and he can move pucks and he can fit into the structure we’re trying to play and he can help us win games in October, that’s the player who is going to play there. I think that’s the good thing about coming into this situation, this season, is nobody is locked into a non-negotiable decision back there.

“The competition is really important. It’s going to be implemented real early. We’ve got a short, three-day window to start camp and we get right into it. My responsibility is to sit down with each player and give them a little bit of clear direction prior to camp, then sit down collectively as a group and give them the structure we want to play with and the areas of the game we want to implement right away. Then, let the players fight it out.

“Being a former player and Dave (Tippett) being a former player, coming to training camp believing there’s a spot you can make . . . you get told that lots, but it isn’t always the case. I think in this situation, there really is an opportunity for players to come in and push for jobs, and I think that’s very exciting.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

Sure, it’s exciting and I’ve got no problem throwing it open and letting promising kids compete, but Bouchard doesn’t turn 20 until Oct. 20 and he’s got just eight AHL games – all in the playoffs with Bakersfield – on his resume. Might Bouchard be good enough to make the roster? Sure, but there’s a difference between being just good enough to survive and thriving.

Let’s not make a mistake rushing this kid. We’ve seen that movie too many times. If Bouchard was to stick, and Nurse and Larsson are a pair, do we see him in a third pairing with Russell? If that’s the ticket, who plays top-pairing minutes with Klefbom? Benning? How will Persson, Bear and Jones play into things? Jones got into 17 games with the Oilers last season, Bear played 18 the season before. Persson, 25, is a bit of a wildcard.

So, the lefties are Klefbom, Nurse and Russell. The righties will be Larsson and Benning. After that, there are four players, minimum, looking for two spots – at least as of today. With fresh sets of eyes in the GM’s box with Ken Holland and on the coaching staff with Tippett, Playfair and Brian Wiseman, we’ll see how it plays out.

Previously by Robin Brownlee



  • Spoils

    I know you play the player when they are ready, but it feels ideal to have Bouchard spend a year dominating the AHL. It means we save a year of his ELC. getting solid contribution from players on an ELC frees up money that is so crucial in the cap era.

    Imagine Broberg AND Bouchard contributing key minutes on an ELA and freeing us up to sign a scorer and to move someone like Nurse for even more scoring … to me that is the recipe to win a cup. By then McDavid will be just exploding with the need to dominate. Leon will be wiser…

    GOil!

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    I still believe at some point we will see either Russell or Benning or maybe both get moved once the season gets going and the Oilers have a chance to see how guys have played after camp and the pre season. we have too many D so there is going to be a trade from the back end at some point. Bouchard ought to stay the season in the AHL unless he blows the doors off, bring him up if you need him, and then send him back…. get him to fix the little things in his game, the kid has it but he needs to fine tune things

    I see one of either Persson or Bear getting a long look for one of the bottom spots, I know Bear was hurt last year a couple times and it set him back but I still like Bear and think he will push for a spot. Persson should be right in the race with Bear for a bottom spot, the guys has been pretty decent so far, be interesting to see how camp and the preseason go

      • billsbills

        If you are going to have Bouchard, Bear, Jones and Samarukov as your top four AHL that should be pretty decent. But it needs to be between Bear and Jones as to who sticks with the Oilers. They are both 22 and both play right side. Even though Jones is a lefty. But the other two are straight out of Junior. Let them both season for a season (pun intended) and protect them from the expansion draft as well.

        I believe two full NHL seasons makes them available for the expansion draft at the end of the 20-21 season. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      That should be the mantra going forward, Like I said with Bouchard, if he is blowing the doors off call him up if needed then send him back. There is no reason to rush anyone, hopefully what Playfair said is going to be part of Hollands vision moving forward

  • toprightcorner

    They don’t want Russel playing RD on the second pairing, if only Jones proves he is NHL worthy, I could see Tippet playing Russell RD on third pairing with Jones. Jones plays RD in the AHL but it is better to play him on natural side in NHL

  • Bond 0097

    There are elite level defenceman that jump right into the nhl, is Bouchard one of those? It’s hard to say but that’s what the preseason is for and there is no shame in tuning his game at the ahl level for as long as it takes to dominate there. I have a lot of time for both Jones and Bear and they deserve a long hard look. Perrson is intriguing, and a nice question to have.

    • The older I get, the better I was...

      I’ve lost any confidence that preseason games are much of an indicator on how players and teams will perform in the regular season. Too many times they are playing the other team’s AHL and rookie squads for the games to be meaningful for evaluating actual regular season performance.

  • billsbills

    Larsson is the the top pairing right D. That’s the anchor right now on the blue line. Saying that anyone else can play top pairing right D is hogwash.

    That leaves Benning for 2nd pairing and a new comer to take third pairing right D with Russell.

    The interesting part for me will be the battle between Klefbom and Nurse as to who will be the teams top pairing on the left side. I am sure Klefbom will start with more power play time. But I truly expect Nurse to pass Klefbom this year. He’s younger, faster, stronger and more durable than Klefbom. He’s been trending up since he came into the league and I would not be surprised at all to see him as the top pairing left spot at the end of this season, just like last year when Klefbom was hurt again.

    He’s already surpassed Klefboms best season for points and believe it or not, is only 27 games behind him in total NHL games played.

    • billsbills

      Sorry fat fingers, meant 37 behind in total games played. 279 to 316.

      Which is wild because if you don’t count the first season the DN played only two games. Klefbom played in two more seasons than Nurse.

      As I said, Nurse is much more durable.

    • crabman

      I think what we will see is Nurse paired with Larsson as a shutdown pair. I don’t think that means Nurse has passed Klefbom on the depth chart though. It will be more of a deployment thing. Larsson doesn’t offer much offence but can play the shutdown well. And with the right side weak at 2RD the second pair will need to face lesser competition and be given an O zone push. That would be a good spot for Klefbom and whemever he is paired with. In the end I think minutes wise Nurse and Klefbom will probably be pretty close for minutes per game and points per game. But as you mention Nurse’s durability will probably win him the day in the end.

          • billsbills

            It does if he is playing more minutes and against the tougher competition.

            Nurse has already played two full 82 game seasons and scored 40 points. Klefbom has only ever played one 82 game season and has never scored 40 points.

            You stated Robin that Nurse and Larsson would be the second pairing and that maybe Benning would be on the top pairing with Klefbom. Maybe it’s splitting hairs but until someone is able to pass Larsson on the right side, whatever pairing he’s in is going to be the top pairing. Getting the most minutes against the toughest competition. Aside from that, Nurse has a higher top end than Klefbom. I am convinced that by the end of the coming season, Nurse will have established himself as the best defenceman on the team.

          • crabman

            @bills, depending on health I think Nurse and Klefbom will be very similar in minutes and with the pp time and offensive zone push Klefbom should finish with more points than Nurse. I don’t think that automatically makes him the teams top defencemen, just like I don’t think Nurse taking on the other teams top players more makes him the teams top defencemen. Lots of teams have shutdown defensive pairs that allow their better offensive defensman easier matchups. As it stands now I think it is still mre defence by committee. And I don’t think the organization is convinced either Klefbom or Nurse will be a real top pairing defenceman otherwise they wouldn’t have drafted Broburg when the teams biggest need is impact wingers.

  • Big Nuggets

    We can try to pick the defence pairings before the season starts but in the end I think it will be a mixture of combinations throughout the season. I think theu will give 20 or more games to Jones, Bear and Lagesson, maybe Persson and Bouchard. Depnding how well these guys play they could trade Russell halfway through the season to make room for them. Bouchard is a wildcard because he already has the offensive chops and is a RD, which might be too tempting for management to just leave him in the minors. Ideally he spends at least the first half of the year in Bakersfield and gets recalled only if he is dominating. I’m curious what will happen with Lagesson. To hear Pouzer tell it he is NHL ready and has a better skill set than Russell as far as getting the puck out of danger and supressing chances. And Holland himself had a quote about how Lagesson was the most important defenseman last season for Bakersfield. I get the idea of having all right shot defensemen on the right side but that means Russell blocks a spot for Jones or Lagesson, who are both in their last season of waiver eligibility. If I was running the defense I would probably run Russell with Nurse and promote Jones or Lagesson, but perhaps the safer play is to wait and see how players are performing and injuries and make a midseason trade if all signs are positive.

  • El Oilero

    Keep Bouchard in the AHL to develop. I would like to see Bear get the 3RD. He has been in the system and given Bouchard coming behind him we need to decide what to do with Bear. This would be a good chance for Bear to jump and be an NHL asset we can trade or keep (and offload Benning) in a year.

    If Jones makes the jump then he opens up the possibility of trading away Russell and his $4M cap hit.

  • QuitForRealThisTime

    Having the depth and competition to ease in players like Bouchard and Broberg will be so important to finally having long term success. I think this year still has it’s challenges, Benning likely to start the year as second pair RD is not ideal. If not him then it is a rookie. Not sure any of these rookies are ready for the this roll. I find this years camp to be pretty interesting with so many unproven players, a lot of crossed fingers. I do think Ken is saving his last couple few million until after camp for one of two positions, 2 pair RD then 3rd line Center. Like I said this year will be a challenge but really feel like next year could be the most critical GM work in franchise history. Lots of cap, good solid d prospects and possibly MCD last year. I for one is pretty happy Holland will be at the helm. Will give Ken some leeway this year as he needed to clean up some Chia mess. Think he has done a solid job so far, no major complaints. Just hope there is no lockout.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    The fact that Matt Benning is not the #7 dman shows me that the Oilers are not playoff bound. Sure, the Oilers have some young guys that will be good in a few years, but today, the defense is abysmal.
    Matt Benning is a #7 NHL defenseman. On a good team he is on the AHL. Here he is top 4?? That is a recipe for failure. He cant skate at this level. Full stop.

  • LTA

    I really think Lagesson might be a serious darkhorse to challenge for a spot this year, maybe even in training camp, and I think some really underestimate his potential imo