The Oilers had been rolling with a top-four that consisted of Oscar Klefbom alongside long-time partner Adam Larsson while Darnell Nurse played with rookie Ethan Bear. On the third pairing, Caleb Jones had stepped up in Kris Russell’s absence to play with Matt Benning. With Russell on the Injured Reserve, William Lagesson had mostly been serving as the seventh defender.
The injury to Klefbom, who leads Oilers’ defencemen (and skaters) with an average of 25:36 minutes player per game, is a massive obstacle to overcome. Last season, Klefbom getting hurt in November played a key role in derailing Edmonton’s playoff chances. Fortunately, the Oilers are deeper on the blueline this year than last thanks largely to the development of Bear and Jones, but, still, Klefbom will be missed.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday TUESDAY EDITION question. How should the Oilers navigate Klefbom’s injury? Should this warrant another call-up from the minors? Perhaps top prospect Evan Bouchard? Or can it be managed internally? Who should cover for Klefbom on the team’s top power-play? And who can step up and take on his minutes?
A big piece of the puzzle here is the health of Russell. He’s been on the shelf since late-January with a concussion and we don’t yet know when he’s going to return. Also, such as the case generally is with concussions, we don’t know how Russell is going to perform when he’s back. Rushing him back to help compensate for Kelfbom’s injury wouldn’t be an ideal plan in this situation.
Until Russell is ready, then, the logical move would be to slide Jones up the lineup alongside Larsson, while feeding more ice-time to the Nurse and Bear pairing. Nurse filled in on the team’s top power-play unit when Klefbom was injured last season and he fared just fine. Bear moves the puck very well around the offensive zone and could also warrant a look in that role. That would also leave Lagesson as the guy to play on the third pair with Benning.
Another possibility would be using Lagesson alongside Larsson in more of a specialty, defensive role while keeping the effective Jones and Benning pairing together. Having Jones to step into Klefbom’s role is a big ask and filling Klefbom’s minutes by committee might be the easiest path forward.
Finally, is there any demand to bring up Bouchard at this stage? The Oilers’ top prospect has been banging on the door with an impressive rookie season in Bakersfield and could warrant a look at the NHL level. That said, the Oilers are set on the right side right now with Larsson, Bear, and Benning, so this might not be the time for Bouchard. The more logical choice would be to call up Brandon Manning to sit and watch from the press box until Russell is ready to return.
What say you, Nation? How do the Oilers navigate Klefbom’s injury? Who needs to step up? Who needs to be called up?