It’s a weird thing to sit here and say that the Edmonton Oilers have a bit of a defensive log jam.
But the truth is, even with top rearguard Oscar Klebom out for the year with his arthritic shoulder, Edmonton has more depth on their blue line and players ready to step into action than in a long time.
Don’t get me wrong this is far from a bad thing, but at the end of the day, Dave Tippett and his coaching staff will be forced to toe the line this year between developing young players and playing to win the game.
We all know that Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear will more likely than not be taking the role of the top defensive pairing, while Caleb Jones seems to be slotting alongside Adam Larrson as the days creep toward puck drop. Then we have the third pairing. Tyson Barrie will be an everyday player for the Oilers as he will be quarterbacking the powerplay.
And then you have a revolving door of Slater Koekkoek, Kris Russell and Evan Bouchard. The first of the two are known for their own-zone prowess, something that could help steady Barrie’s game, but Bouchard appears to be pushing hard.
Now before we continue, in no way shape or form is the depth the Oilers have on defence a true issue. The Oilers, like any other NHL team right now, are all hands on deck for players who can make a difference for them. Players will get hurt. Players might get COVID.
The Oilers will have other bodies to fill out the taxi squad and lineup with Kris Russell, William Lagesson and Theodor Lennstrom.
So the biggest spot that seems to need to be filled is on the third pairing in a regular role, and a decision needs to be made on what to do with Bouchard.
He spent last season with the Bakersfield Condors and lit up the league scoring 36 points in 54 games as a rookie — great numbers for a rookie pro defenceman. Since, he went on loan to the HockeyAllsvenskan league with Sodertalje scoring 17 points in 23 games.
“The back-end being crowded is a very good thing, we’ll need lots of players. Bouchard, (William) Lagesson, Koekkoek, they’re playing well. Even though somebody might not be in the starting lineup, depth is critical,” Dave Tippett told Postmedia’s Jim Matheson. “More than anything with Evan is he’s maturing as a person and a player. You saw that with Ethan Bear last year, you’re seeing it with Caleb Jones this year. He’s got lots of talent, and desire. You have to let them go through the process of being a good player before you call them a good player.”
I don’t have any doubt that Bouchard could step into the NHL and be a solid player for the Oilers this year, but is it worthwhile to have him in Edmonton if he’s not playing a regular shift? He could head back to Bakersfield this year and play top-pairing minutes and run the teams powerplay without issue, too. That’s going to be an interesting story to follow over the next four or five days.
What do you think the Oilers should do with their defence and Evan Bouchard?
On Twitter: @zjlaing