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
“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
- Lay off it, son
- Irreconcilable Differences
- Poker Face
- This, That and the Other Thing
- A Night of Thanks