When Mike Green announced that he would be opting out of the NHL playoffs this summer, a handful of young defenders on the Oilers’ roster surely saw an opportunity.
Edmonton’s top-four is set, as Oscar Klefbom will play alongside countryman Adam Larsson, while Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear will continue to play together. After that, the third pair will consist of some combination of Kris Russell, Matt Benning, and Caleb Jones. Green would have also been in the conversation for that third pairing mix, but since he’s chosen to opt-out, there’s a chance for somebody else to wiggle their way into that conversation.
Could that player be William Lagesson?
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, Lagesson played two unspectacular seasons for UMass-Amherst before returning home to Sweden to play professionally for Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League.
A strong season in the SHL brought Lagesson’s status as a legitimate NHL prospect back to life. He came back to North America the following year and became arguably the Bakersfield Condors’ top defenceman, putting up 27 points in 67 games with an impressive plus-25 rating.
Based on that showing in the AHL, it seemed inevitable that Lagesson would kick down the door and command a spot on the Oilers’ roster this year. But that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, it was two of his Condors teammates who ended up forcing their way onto the Oilers’ roster.
Ethan Bear filled into a top-four role when Adam Larsson was injured right off the hop and never looked back. When more injuries ravaged Edmonton’s blueline, Caleb Jones was next to get the call. Both have proved that they’re important contributors to the Oilers’ blueline while Lagesson has only been given an eight-game cup of coffee at the NHL level.
The story on Lagesson is that he’s played well enough to earn a shot, but he’s been trapped behind a massive logjam of defencemen. That’s still the case now as the Oilers head into the playoffs.
After Green opted out, logic would have dictated that Lagesson would become No. 8 on the Oilers’ depth chart among defencemen. There’s the clear top-four, the group of three making up the bottom pair, and then Lagesson, followed by Evan Bouchard, who’s a few years younger.
Something that has left Broberg as the talk of Oilers camp thus far — both with media and those inside the organization.
“You can’t walk away from a scrimmage saying that [Broberg] doesn’t fit (in the NHL),” admitted head coach Dave Tippett. “If anything, you walk away saying he does fit.”
Broberg scored twice in Saturday’s post-practice scrimmage, one an end to end rush and the other a slick one-timer off a James Neal feed. He has gone from being Edmonton’s 11th defenceman to (at worst) No. 8, passing William Lagesson and Evan Bouchard on the depth chart. He may even have leapfrogged Jones, though we’ll give Jones some time to get his game back.
As lofty as that praise is, it would be shocking to see Broberg actually make his NHL debut in this situation. Having a defenceman who has never played in North America make their debut at the age of 19 in the playoffs certainly seems counter to the conservative strategy that Ken Holland is known for. So, with that in mind, I would still guess that Lagesson and Bouchard are more realistic bets to get into a game for the Oilers this summer.
If there are injuries (or, in this summer’s case, illnesses), Lagesson might finally be given his opportunity.
Based on his strong play in the AHL, Lagesson appears ready to step in and play on an NHL third pairing. He doesn’t bring much offence to the table, but his strength comes in his steady play in the defensive end. He’s got a big body, good skating ability, and the acumen of a responsible defender. If Kris Russell were to get injured, Lagesson would be the ideal candidate to step into his role.
Lagesson is a restricted free agent this fall and he’ll be waiver eligible for the first time in his career next season. You have to think that his opportunity to have a consistent role on the Oilers will come soon, but there’s a fair chance that it won’t be this summer.