WWYDW(TE): The Blueline With Dmitry Kulikov

It was a quiet trade deadline for Ken Holland this year.

After making moves to acquire Andreas Athanasiou, Mike Green, and Tyler Ennis last season, Holland took a more conservative approach this year, sending a mid-round draft pick to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for rugged, shutdown defender Dmitry Kulikov.

Given the fact Kulikov is coming to Canada from the United States, he’ll have to go through a seven-day quarantine period before he can join the Oilers, so we won’t get to see him suit up for the team for a little while. Until then, we can speculate where he fits.

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That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday TUESDAY EDITION question. Where should Dave Tippett use Kulikov? Which defensive pairing is he best suited for? And, with all of that in mind, what are the optimal pairs for Tippett to roll with?

Here are the defenders in question…

  • Left side: Darnell Nurse, Dmitry Kulikov, Kris Russell, Caleb Jones, William Lagesson, Salter Koekkoek.
  • Right side: Tyson Barrie, Ethan Bear, Adam Larsson, Evan Bouchard.

Koekkoek, as we know, is currently on the Injured Reserve, but it was reported that he’s ahead of schedule and could return to the team by mid-May. He won’t be a factor until late in the season but might have an opportunity to earn a role come playoff time. It’ll be an uphill battle for him.

Bouchard is another interesting case. While other prospects like Tyler Benson and Ryan McLeod are playing key roles for the Bakersfield Condors, Bouchard has been hanging around with the Oilers watching the team play from the pressbox. Bouchard has appeared in 12 games this season and he hasn’t suited up since March 1. He’s currently on the team’s Taxi Squad.

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Anyway, assuming that Bouchard continues to sit in purgatory and Koekkoek is out of the picture, that leaves us with eight defenders to fit into six spots.

Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie have become the team’s top pairing while Adam Larsson has flanked the second pairing with a revolving door of partners. These are the only three defenders on the roster who have played in all 42 of the team’s games this season.

Larsson has played 228:33 even-strength minutes with Kris Russell and they’ve been outscored 8-to-6, he’s played 197:36 with William Lagesson and they’re outscoring opponents 8-to-7, and he’s played 124:04 with Caleb Jones and they’re being outscored 6-to-5. All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

Logic would indicate that Kulikov would join Larsson and the two of them would form Edmonton’s veteran, shutdown defensive pairing and that this duo would be able to take some of the heavy lifting off of Darnell Nurse’s shoulders. But there’s also an argument to be made to spread the two shutdown veterans around, possibly playing Jones with Larsson and putting Kulikov with Ethan Bear. That would give each of Edmonton’s young blueliners a more defensively-oriented veteran to play with.

What say you, Nation? How should the blueline get organized with Kulikov in the mix? Does he fit best with Larsson in a shutdown role? Or could he help Bear or Bouchard? Let us know!