The Oilers were dealt a significant blow on Thursday when it was announced that Adam Larsson would miss six-to-eight weeks of play due to a broken foot. The excitement and optimism that stemmed from Wednesday’s season-opening win against Vancouver quickly turned to subtle anxiety.
Injuries are a part of hockey. Every team has to deal with them and a key part of being successful in this league is having the depth to navigate losing any player on your roster at any given time. But, from the perspective of the Oilers, injuries to the blueline have played a key role in derailing the past two seasons. The Oilers sorely missed Andrej Sekera in 2017-18 and they went into a tailspin in 2018-19 after Oscar Klefbom got hurt. Can they work around the loss of Larsson?
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday SUNDAY EDITION question. How should the Oilers structure their blueline in the absence of Larsson?
On the team’s roster right now are… Five left-handed defencemen in Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell, Brandon Manning, and William Lagesson, and two right-handed defencemen in Matt Benning and Ethan Bear. Joel Persson, another righty, is currently on the Injured Reserve but he should be available to play soon.
First and foremost, I would keep playing Oscar Klefbom and Ethan Bear together. That might change when Joel Persson comes back, but I figure Bear is ready to be thrown into the deep end in a large role alongside Klefbom. This is a pairing that can move the puck and create offence incredibly effectively.
The bigger question is who plays with Nurse on the team’s shutdown pair. Kris Russell would probably be the logical decision given that his style of play is more defensively-oriented. We’ve seen this pairing quite a bit in the past. Over the course of 1480 even-strength minutes, Nurse and Russell have been outshot 1493 to 1279, though they’ve nearly broken even in terms of goals.
Could Matt Benning play in that role? Benning and Nurse were a pairing together in 2016-17 and played quite well together. Of course, that was while being given sheltered third-pairing minutes. Benning has always struggled when taking on a larger role on the blueline. I think he’s best kept on that pairing.
Then there’s William Lagesson, who was recalled on Friday. I can’t imagine the Oilers want to have Lagesson up here just to sit and watch in the press box. I would give him a look alongside Benning on the team’s third pair. That would leave Brandon Manning as the seventh guy.
I wonder how long the Oilers can keep Evan Bouchard down. It’s clear the team wants to take it slow with their top prospect, but this might be an interesting time to see what he can do in a top-four role. I wouldn’t mind seeing Bouchard slide in alongside Nurse, giving that pairing more of an offensive dimension. That said, I would rather give Bear an extended look in the top-four before calling Bouchard up.
The loss of Larsson is unfortunate, but, at the very least, it’ll give Edmonton’s young defencemen a chance to step up. This is a great chance for Ethan Bear to show he can play in a bigger role on the team.
What say you, Nation? How would you organize the blueline with Larsson out of the lineup?