Last week, we took a look at the Edmonton Oilers’ forwards and how Dave Tippett might organize them come opening night. Today, we’ll take a look at the blueline.
While Edmonton added quite a bit of quality depth up front over the off-season and now boasts a stronger group on paper this year than they did last, it’s difficult to argue the same for the team’s defence.
This, of course, comes down to Oscar Klefbom undergoing shoulder surgery that’ll keep him out of action for the entirety of the 2021 season. Ken Holland added an offensive specialist in Tyson Barrie and a quality depth defender in Slater Koekkoek but it’s obviously very difficult for any team to overcome the loss of its top defenceman.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday (MONDAY EDITION) question. How should coach Tippett deploy the team’s defenders? Who’s going to step up and shoulder a larger load in Klefbom’s absence?
The natural place to start is with Darnell Nurse. Last season, Nurse and the Oilers agreed to a two-year bridge contract that walks him right to free agency. That contract suggested that the team didn’t necessarily buy into the idea that Nurse was a key part of the team’s long-term plans, so this year is a big opportunity for him to show he can be a top-pairing defender.
Alongside Nurse will surely be Ethan Bear, one of Edmonton’s breakout rookies from last season. Bear was a huge revelation for the Oilers in 2019-20 as he stepped in and filled a massive role on the right side of the team’s blueline. Hopefully, he can take another step forward in 2021, but there’s always the worry about a sophomore slump.
If Nurse and Bear are Edmonton’s top pairing, who fills out the rest of the blueline?
On the left side, we have veteran Kris Russell, another sophomore in Caleb Jones, and off-season addition Slater Koekkoek, a former No. 10 overall draft pick who has posted some impressive underlying numbers over the past couple of seasons. There’s also Theodor Lennstrom, a veteran of the Swedish Hockey League, and William Lagesson, who always seems to be buried behind a handful of other names.
On the right side, there’s veteran Adam Larsson, who’s best suited for a shutdown role, and off-season addition Tyson Barrie, who’s essentially the opposite as an offensively-minded defenceman. Another name in the mix to consider is top prospect Evan Bouchard, who might force his way onto the team.
Jones has quietly been effective for the Oilers over the past couple of seasons in a sheltered role, but jumping up and taking on second-pairing minutes will be a tough ask. It might make sense to start with Russell there and let Jones build his way into the role.
Russell and Larsson could be deployed by Tippett as a veteran, shutdown pairing, with Jones and Barrie getting softer minutes. That said, Jones and Larsson did spend quite a bit of time together last season (283:24 at even strength) and fared better than any Russell and Larsson pairing from the past.
And, as I said earlier, names like Koekkoek, Bouchard, and Lennstrom are also in the mix, so Tippett has plenty of options to experiment with.
What say you, Nation? How should Dave Tippett deploy his blueline? Who’s going to step up in Oscar Klefbom’s absence? Will a rookie like Evan Bouchard break through?
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