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Photo Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Into the Blue

We are now past the midway point of November and the Edmonton Oilers are still sitting atop the Pacific Division. McDavid and Draisaitl will get the majority of the credit with a few crumbs, rightfully so, also being tossed in the direction of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith.

Last season, the team was looking like it might be able to make a push to the post-season but that all changed with injuries to Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell. The Oilers lost Adam Larsson early in this year’s campaign but the rest of the blue line has managed to get the job done in his absence.

Ethan Bear, Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse have handled the majority of the workload. Klefbom is playing well over 25 minutes a night and has 15 points, nine of them on the power play. Nurse has nine points in 22 games while playing 22:41 per night. Bear has seven points in 22 games and leads all NHL rookies with 21:09 of ice-time per game.

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Kris Russell and Matt Benning don’t get talked about in a positive light very often but they have made positive contributions. Benning and Russell actually have the best 5-on-5 Goals For Percentage on the entire team, not just among defensemen. Benning has been on the ice for 14 goals for and just six against which works out to a GF% of 70. Russell is not far behind at 66.67% with 10 goals for and five against.

Bear and Benning are the only d-men on the team to have a shots for percentage above 50% while through 22 games Nurse was dead on 50%.

Let’s take a look at what the Oilers are working with on the blue line in the immediate, short and long-term future.

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RIGHT NOW

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With Larsson and Manning both out the team called up Caleb Jones and while some people have wondered if it will be permanent I’m sure it’s just a temporary fix. In a very small sample size Jones has looked pretty decent and continues to develop towards eventually becoming a regular on the Oilers backend.

When we last saw the Oilers the blue line it looked like this:

Nurse – Bear
Klefbom – Jones
Russell – Benning
Persson

I love the fact that they were willing to put Jones on the second pair as opposed to moving Benning up or flipping Russell over to the right.

VERY SOON

Adam Larsson is expected to be back within a week so something will have to give at that point. It’s likely an easy fix as Jones can head back to Bako to continue to work on his game under Jay Woodcroft.

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At the beginning of the season Tippett made it pretty clear that he liked Nurse and Larsson as a shutdown pairing but when Larsson returns to the line up the logical move would be to have him play alongside Klefbom.

Nurse-Bear
Klefbom-Larsson
Russell – Benning
Persson

I have seen some people suggest that the play of Bear has made Larsson expendable but I completely disagree. There is no way Holland would trade Larsson at any point this season. Bear has looked pretty darn good but I don’t see how you can run with him, Benning, Persson and Jones as options on the right side and expect to remain at the top of the division. It wouldn’t be fair to the players to put Persson, and Jones in those pressure type of situations this early in their career, heck it might not even be fair to put Bear in those spots down the stretch, even though he looks like he’ll be able to handle it. Larsson stays.

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If everyone is still healthy when Brandon Manning returns it will be interesting to see who ends up being the odd man out. It will be either Manning or Persson and the Swede has seemed to fall out of favour as of late.

THE FUTURE

The future of the Oilers blueline looks to be very promising with Jones, Bouchard, Broberg and Samorukov all projected to be NHL defenseman. Do the Oilers have room for two of them, namely Jones and Bouchard, on the team next season?

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Every defenseman on the current blue line is under contract or at least under club control next year. In a perfect world, Holland would likely unload Kris Russell and his $4,000,000. If he could free up Russell’s spot you could see something like this to start next season.

Nurse – Bear
Klefbom – Bouchard
Jones – Larsson
Benning

Benning is making $1,900,000 and will be an RFA at the end of the season, it may be better to have someone with a smaller cap hit as the extra body up in the press box.

Here’s my question for you, what do you think the Oilers backend looks like in three years? Let’s discuss that in the comments.

Previously by Dustin Nielson: