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Photo Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The Battle on the Blue

The battle for spots on the Edmonton Oilers back end is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in camp. In a perfect world, GM Ken Holland would have acquired a legit top four right shot d-man in the off-season that could at least act as a stop-gap until Evan Bouchard is ready to roll full-time. Holland had a heaping pile of issues to handle on his to-do list so I’m not going to be too hard on him for not landing the d-man, after all, the last guy gave up Taylor Hall to try and accomplish the same thing.

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WHAT WE KNOW:

We know that Dave Tippett wants to start the year with Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson working together in the Oilers version of a shutdown pair.

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Oscar Klefbom is locked in as a left shot d-man in the top four and will probably see Joel Persson as a partner a few more times in pre-season to see if they can click.

Tippett wants to play Kris Russell on the left side and right now the incumbent to start with him on the third pair is Matt Benning.

The seventh spot is 100 percent up for grabs, and there is most definitely some wiggle room on the right side.

THE CANDIDATES:

Joel Persson is going to get the first legitimate shot at securing a spot next to Klefbom and that doesn’t surprise me at all. The Oilers signed Persson to a one-way contract and I think the thought process all along was that Persson may be able to do the job if they didn’t find a better option in the off-season.

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The Oilers skated in Kelowna on Sunday and Monday and the top six looked as expected.

Nurse – Larsson
Klefbom – Persson
Russell – Benning

If Persson impresses the only real battle we may be looking at will be for the 7th spot up in the press box. If he doesn’t, things get interesting.

Ken Holland has mentioned that he prefers to call a player up from Bakersfield as opposed to sending them down because they aren’t ready. That’s likely how Bouchard is going to be handled.

Ethan Bear had an excellent off-season preparing for another chance to crack the Oilers line up and it’s paying off. After showing some potential during 18 games with the Oil in 2017-18, Bear spent all of last year with the Condors. I would think that at this point Bear is the biggest threat to Persson and could get the next shot if Persson stumbles and may even get a game next to Klefbom before any decisions are made.

By all accounts William Lagesson spent last season, his first in North America, adjusting well to the smaller ice and he’s now become a viable option for Tippett. Lagesson’s game was described to me by someone in the organization as “mature, steady and safe”. I know that description isn’t sexy but it sounds like a guy who could play third pairing minutes and not cause any issues. From the small glimpses I’ve had of him, he’s a guy who goes into the corner and comes out with the puck. There is value there. He does shoot left so if Tippett sticks to his guns on the lefty-righty pairs Lagesson won’t have a great shot to be in the top six when camp breaks.

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Brandon Manning is still hanging around but I’d be shocked if he factors into the line up on opening night.

THE OPTIONS:

Sep 16, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Joel Persson (36) skates during warmup before a game against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Here are five scenarios I could see happening on opening night.

Nurse – Larsson
Klefbom – Persson
Russell – Benning
Lagesson

This would mean Persson plays well the rest of the way in the pre-season.

———

Nurse – Larsson
Klefbom – Bear
Russell – Benning
Persson

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If Bear outplays Persson the Oilers could start with Bear alongside Klefbom and have Persson in the press box to flip in and out with Bear at times.

———

Nurse – Larsson
Klefbom – Russell
Lagesson – Benning
Persson

If Tippett decides he wants to go with a more experienced d-man alongside Klefbom.

———

Nurse – Larsson
Klefbom – Persson
Russell – Bear
Benning

If Persson and Bear both play well the rest of the pre-season and Benning continues to play the way that he has so far.

———

Nurse – Larsson
Klefbom – Persson
Russell – Bear
Lagesson

This would be a long shot and it would mean that the Oilers trade Benning prior to the season beginning. I don’t think they will move him but it’s been floated out there by a few folks so I figured it was worth a look.

What do you think the Oilers blue line will look like on opening night? My apologies to Brandon Manning for not fitting him in.

Previously by Dustin Nielson: