It’s been a long time since Dave Tippett was able to ice his ideal blueline.
You have to go back to the Battle of Alberta game played on Jan. 29 to find the last time all of Edmonton’s top-six defenders were healthy. After that game, Kris Russell was placed on the Injured Reserve due to a concussion. A couple of weeks after that, Oscar Klefbom got a procedure done to deal with a nagging injury on his shoulder.
Russell returned to the lineup on Monday in Nashville and Klefbom is apparently set to return any time now. So, save for the newly-acquired Mike Green, who will be on the shelf for a few more weeks, the Oilers have a healthy blueline ready to roll for the first time in over a month.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday ACTUALLY ON A WEDNESDAY edition question. How should Tippett deploy his blueline now that he has a healthy group to work with?
The big question here revolves around Caleb Jones, who has fared incredibly well in an increased role with Klefbom out of the lineup. Much like fellow rookie defenceman Ethan Bear earlier in the season, Jones stepped up when the Oilers needed him most. Jones jumped into the top-four alongside Adam Larsson in Klefbom’s absence and has looked like a savvy veteran despite a major increase in minutes.
In eight games without Klefbom in the lineup, Jones has averaged 18:25 per night, producing two points and a plus-five rating. He moves the puck effectively, plays a smart game in his own zone, and shows the poise of a veteran. Even with Russell and Klefbom back, it would be hard to warrant Jones not continuing to the ice-time. He’s more than just a fill-in, at this point. He makes the team better when he plays.
Klefbom will surely jump back alongside Larsson when he returns while Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear continue rolling as a pairing. That would leave Jones as the third left-handed defenceman, with either Russell or Benning as his partner on the off-side. Russell has plenty of experience playing on his off-side, so it isn’t a big issue having him make that shift.
Ideally, Jones maintaining a larger role alongside Russell or Benning on the third pairing will allow Tippett to roll back Klefbom’s usage as he returns from his injury. The last thing the Oilers want is for him to re-aggravate his shoulder ahead of the run into the playoffs.
What say you, Nation? How should Tippett deploy his blueline once Klefbom returns? Has Jones done enough to warrant maintaining his increased role in the lineup?