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Oilers Will Have to Trade Some Young D-men

The Edmonton Oilers’ pipeline of young defencemen looks very promising. They have drafted well to stock pile some solid prospects and current NHL defenders. Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones (2015 draft), Marcus Niemelainen and Vincent Desharnais (2016), Dmitri Samorukov and Phil Kemp (2017), @Evan Bouchard and Michael Kesselring (2018) and Philip Broberg (2019). Not all nine will play in the NHL, but three already have and I could see at least another three playing, possibly more.

But they won’t all play in Edmonton, not if the Oilers want to be a legitimate Cup contender in the coming years.

You don’t win Stanley Cups with a lot of youth on the blueline. I don’t see Edmonton winning next season if Ethan Bear (132 games), Caleb Jones (93 games) and Evan Bouchard (21 games) are all in the lineup. It isn’t a knock on their ability, just the harsh truth about how experience matters in the playoffs.

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“A genius is the man who can do the average thing when everyone else around him is losing is mind.” Napolean.

I believe this quote is a perfect description of veteran defenceman and why many teams acquire a veteran, or two, when they want to make a push for the Cup.

Many aren’t flashy, but in the playoffs, when the chaos increases, they are often able to make the smart, safe play more consistently than a young player. The main reason I felt Vegas could beat Colorado was due to Colorado’s inexperience on the blueline. Also, their overall lack of size and strength was a concern, but mainly just their inexperience.

The Avalanche blueline averaged 181 NHL regular games played, 6’1″ and 196 pounds. Samuel Girard struggled and I think on a Cup finals team he is better suited to be in the third pairing, at least until he gains more experience.

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To illustrate the importance of experience I have outlined the rosters of the Cup finalists dating from 2010-2020. I only included D-men who played at least five games in the postseason that year.

2010

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Duncan Keith CHI 22 28:10 20:55 2 9 11 404 6’1″ 195
Brent Seabrook CHI 22 24:10 18:50 2 5 7 392 6’3″ 220
Niklas Hjalmarsson CHI 22 21:00 16:58 1 6 7 111 6’3″ 198
Brian Campbell CHI 19 19:34 16:36 1 6 7 561 5’10” 192
Brent Sopel CHI 22 18:29 13:59 1 4 5 583 6’1″ 201
Dustin Byfuglien CHI 22 15:15 13:24 5 4 9 260 6’5″ 260
Jordan Hendry CHI 15 8:08 7:57 0 0 0 92 6’0″ 198
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Chris Pronger PHI 23 29:03 19:32 1 9 10 1104 6’6″ 210
Kimmo Timonen PHI 23 26:37 16:40 1 5 6 812 5’10” 194
Matt Carle PHI 23 25:53 20:26 1 10 11 307 6’0″ 197
Braydon Coburn PHI 23 25:09 19:24 0 0 0 297 6’5″ 224
Lukas Krajicek PHI 22 10:00 9:15 0 3 3 328 6’0″ 187
Ryan Parent PHI 17 7:28 7:01 1 0 1 102 6’2″ 205

The Blackhawks blueline had more experience than some might think. Seabrook and Keith had 796 NHL games played, not to mention some playoff experience. Niklas Hjalmarsson only had 111 NHL regular games played, but he also played 100 in the AHL and  a few years in the SEL in Sweden. Chicago’s blueline averaged 411 GP/player.

The Flyers relied heavily on four defenders in their playoff run with the third pair averaging less than 10 minutes/game. The Flyers averaged 491 GP/player mainly due to Pronger and Timonen.

2011

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Zdeno Chara BOS 24 27:39 19:48 1 6 7 928 6’9″ 250
Dennis Seidenberg BOS 25 27:37 19:48 0 7 7 455 6’0″ 200
Johnny Boychuk BOS 25 20:37 16:30 3 5 8 125 6’2″ 227
Andrew Ference BOS 25 20:36 16:44 3 5 8 640 5’11” 182
Tomas Kaberle BOS 25 16:01 11:25 0 6 6 902 6’1″ 214
Adam McQuaid BOS 23 13:01 11:37 0 4 4 86 6’4″ 210
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Kevin Bieksa VAN 25 25:40 20:00 3 4 7 347 6’1″ 197
Dan Hamhuis VAN 19 24:49 19:56 0 4 4 547 6’1″ 204
Alexander Edler VAN 25 24:46 18:25 2 6 8 304 6’3″ 212
Christian Ehrhoff VAN 23 22:26 16:59 1 3 4 500 6’2″ 201
Sami Salo VAN 21 19:13 13:30 0 0 0 631 6’3″ 215
Christopher Tanev VAN 5 14:40 14:11 0 0 0 29 6’2″ 197
Keith Ballard VAN 10 14:14 13:20 0 0 0 462 5’11” 199
Aaron Rome VAN 14 13:01 12:07 1 0 1 131 6’1″ 218
Andrew Alberts VAN 9 12:48 11:30 0 0 0 381 6’5″ 218

A contrast in the health of the two bluelines. Boston basically used the same six D all playoffs, while the Canucks had to rotate their third pairing quite a bit and Hamhuis missed six games. Johnny Boychuk only had 125 NHL games played at the time, but he spent five seasons (378 GP) in the AHL and was 27 when the Bruins won the Cup. Their blueline averaged 522 GP even with McQuaid (who had 2 1/2 years in the AHL) and Boychuk’s low totals.

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Vancouver’s “smallest” D-man, Keith Ballard was still 5’11” and 199 pounds. Their top-five averaged 6’2″ and 206 pounds and their entire group averaged 412 NHL games played.

2012

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Drew Doughty LA 20 26:08 18:22 3 6 9 316 6’1″ 202
Willie Mitchell LA 20 25:19 17:42 0 1 1 719 6’3″ 210
Rob Scuderi LA 20 21:14 18:05 0 0 0 537 6’1″ 216
Slava Voynov LA 20 19:31 15:58 1 2 3 54 6’0″ 194
Matt Greene LA 20 16:05 12:02 1 3 4 461 6’3″ 236
Alec Martinez LA 20 14:28 10:51 1 1 2 115 6’1″ 209
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Marek Zidlicky NJ 24 23:46 18:45 1 8 9 570 5’11” 190
Bryce Salvador NJ 24 22:24 19:03 4 10 14 692 6’3″ 215
Andy Greene NJ 24 22:01 18:20 0 1 1 347 5’11” 190
Mark Fayne NJ 24 20:19 16:57 0 3 3 139 6’3″ 209
Anton Volchenkov NJ 24 16:03 12:49 1 1 2 557 6’1″ 220
Peter Harrold NJ 17 15:31 12:56 0 4 4 175 5’11” 190
Adam Larsson NJ 5 16:25 15:52 1 0 1 65 6’3″ 210

The Kings remained healthy, which is always a huge bonus, and had a good mix of veterans and younger players. Voynov spent parts of fours seasons in the AHL (231 GP) before becoming a regular in 2012, so his pro experience was much more than the 54 NHL games played. Martinez had over 150 AHL games on top of his NHL games played. The Kings were one of the few Cup winners since 2010 who had an average GP lower than 400. Their group averaged 367 games.

New Jersey was an outlier. They didn’t make the playoffs in 2011, went to Cup Final in 2012 and then missed the playoffs the next five seasons. They got hot for one year, while most of the other Cup finalists had consistent playoff appearances before or after. They had a veteran group (413 GP average) who played a good system.

2013

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Duncan Keith CHI 22 27:37 20:55 2 11 13 607 6’1″ 195
Niklas Hjalmarsson CHI 22 23:14 18:59 0 5 5 306 6’3″ 198
Brent Seabrook CHI 22 23:04 17:55 3 1 4 599 6’3″ 220
Johnny Oduya CHI 19 22:04 19:51 3 5 8 511 6’0″ 194
Michal Rozsival CHI 22 19:15 17:15 0 4 4 783 6’1″ 210
Nick Leddy CHI 22 14:20 12:10 0 2 2 176 6’0″ 207
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Zdeno Chara BOS 22 29:31 22:19 3 12 15 1,055 6’9″ 250
Dennis Seidenberg BOS 18 25:59 20:08 0 1 1 581 6’0″ 200
Andrew Ference BOS 14 24:31 20:59 0 2 2 760 5’11” 182
Johnny Boychuk BOS 22 23:35 20:30 6 1 7 246 6’2″ 227
Matt Bartkowski BOS 7 19:46 18:00 1 1 2 20 6’1″ 201
Torey Krug BOS 15 15:49 12:54 4 2 6 3 5’9″ 186
Wade Redden BOS 5 15:48 13:13 1 1 2 1023 6’2″ 212
Dougie Hamilton BOS 7 15:47 14:01 0 3 3 42 6’6″ 229
Adam McQuaid BOS 22 14:46 13:46 2 2 4 190 6’4″ 210

Two teams who had won a Cup in the previous three seasons. Chicago returned their top-three D-men and Oduya was a perfect match with Hjalmarsson. Boston’s blueline battled injuries a lot with only three playing all 22 games. A young Torey Krug played in the third pair, while another youngster, Dougie Hamilton, only dressed in seven games. Even with Krug, Bartowski and Hamilton the Bruins D corps still averaged 435 GP.

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2014

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Drew Doughty LA 26 28:45 20:20 5 13 18 442 6’1″ 202
Jake Muzzin LA 26 23:23 18:10 6 6 12 132 6’3″ 217
Slava Voynov LA 26 23:07 17:40 2 7 9 184 6’0″ 194
Willie Mitchell LA 18 22:19 18:08 1 3 4 795 6’3″ 210
Jeff Schultz LA 7 18:51 15:28 0 0 0 399 6’6″ 225
Robyn Regehr LA 8 17:11 13:25 0 2 2 1023 6’3″ 225
Alec Martinez LA 26 16:37 13:18 5 5 10 203 6’1″ 209
Matt Greene LA 20 14:27 12:19 0 4 4 504 6’3″ 236
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Ryan McDonagh NYR 25 26:48 18:02 4 13 17 246 6’1″ 215
Dan Girardi NYR 25 24:18 17:44 1 6 7 569 6’1″ 212
Marc Staal NYR 25 21:49 18:09 1 4 5 460 6’4″ 209
Anton Stralman NYR 25 21:03 17:19 0 5 5 394 5’11” 190
John Moore NYR 21 14:32 12:08 0 2 2 173 6’2″ 212
Raphael Diaz NYR 4 14:31 11:00 0 0 0 145 5’11” 197
Kevin Klein NYR 25 13:17 12:36 1 3 4 433 6’1″ 212

LA had five D-men from their 2012 Cup winning team and added a young Jake Muzzin and a veteran Robyn Regehr to the mix. Their D corps was huge, averaging over 6’2 1/2″ and 215 pounds. The Rangers had a very solid top four led by an emerging McDonagh.

2015

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Duncan Keith CHI 23 31:06:00 24:30:00 3 18 21 766 6’1″ 192
Brent Seabrook CHI 23 26:17:00 21:48 7 4 11 763 6’3″ 220
Niklas Hjalmarsson CHI 23 26:02:00 22:37 1 5 6 469 6’3″ 198
Johnny Oduya CHI 23 24:45:00 22:10 0 5 5 664 6’0″ 191
Michal Rozsival CHI 10 17:26 16:44 0 1 1 890 6’1″ 210
Kyle Cumiskey CHI 9 9:28 9:18 0 0 0 139 5’11” 181
Kimmo Timonen CHI 18 8:39 8:29 0 0 0 1108 5’10 194
David Rundblad CHI 5 7:28 7:28 0 0 0 104 6’2″ 187
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Victor Hedman TB 26 23:57 17:37 1 13 14 392 6’6″ 240
Anton Stralman TB 26 22:30 16:16 1 8 9 476 5’11 190
Jason Garrison TB 23 19:29 15:21 2 5 7 388 6’0″ 218
Braydon Coburn TB 26 16:59 14:20 1 3 4 618 6’5″ 224
Matt Carle TB 25 16:30 14:46 0 3 3 660 6’0″ 197
Andrej Sustr TB 26 15:14 14:05 1 1 2 117 6’6″ 216
Nikita Nesterov TB 17 10:46 8:43 1 5 6 27 5’11” 191

Chicago still had their top-five defenders from 2013, and when Rozsival got injured in the second round they leaned heavily on their top-four the rest of the way. In 2010 the Hawks blueline averaged 430 GP/player, and in 2015 it was up to 612.

Jon Cooper has always liked to use seven D-men as Tampa dressed seven defenders in 13 of their 26 games that season. They had one giant defender on each pair (Hedman, Coburn, Sustr), and it is interesting to note how different their blueline looked five years later when they won in 2020. The 2015 team had three D-men who had played in a Cup final before and all among their top-five defenders.

2016

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Kris Letang PIT 23 28:52 22:07 3 12 15 562 6’0″ 201
Brian Dumoulin PIT 24 21:31 18:34 2 6 8 93 6’4″ 207
Ben Lovejoy PIT 24 17:45 15:17 2 4 6 334 6’1″ 205
Ian Cole PIT 24 16:12 13:17 1 2 3 257 6’1″ 225
Trevor Daley PIT 15 22:08 16:52 1 5 6 838 5’11” 199
Olli Maatta PIT 18 17:44 16:15 0 7 7 165 6’2″ 206
Justin Schultz PIT 15 13:30 10:54 0 4 4 266 6’2″ 186
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Brent Burns SJ 24 25:07 18:35 7 17 24 797 6’5″ 230
Marc-Edouard Vlasic SJ 24 23:33 18:43 1 11 12 737 6’1″ 205
Paul Martin SJ 24 22:04 18:27 0 5 5 775 6’1″ 200
Justin Braun SJ 24 21:22 18:23 2 5 7 367 6’2″ 205
Roman Polak SJ 24 15:45 14:46 0 0 0 559 6’0″ 235
Brenden Dillon SJ 24 15:09 14:29 0 2 2 285 6’4″ 220

Dumoulin was the rare top-pairing defender without many NHL games played, but he was 24 when the Penguins won and spent three seasons (188 GP) in the AHL before being a regular in 2016. He is an underrated defender, and many don’t realize he is 6’4″. Size and reach helps a lot in the playoffs when you have skill to go with it.

The Sharks had a solid veteran group with a good mix of good skaters, passers and physical defenders. From 2004-2016 they played the second most playoff games (138, only trailing Detroit’s 140) and had the second most regular seasons wins as well (544 to Detroit’s 547), but they just never found a way to win a Cup.

2017

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Brian Dumoulin PIT 25 21:59 18:19 1 5 6 163 6’4″ 207
Ron Hainsey PIT 25 21:06 18:04 2 6 8 907 6’3″ 201
Olli Maatta PIT 25 20:36 16:57 2 6 8 220 6’2″ 206
Ian Cole PIT 25 18:50 15:50 0 9 9 338 6’1″ 225
Justin Schultz PIT 21 19:44 15:33 4 9 13 344 6’2″ 186
Trevor Daley PIT 21 19:06 15:30 1 4 5 894 5’11” 199
Chad Ruhwedel PIT 6 14:06 13:19 0 0 0 67 5’11” 191
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Roman Josi NSH 22 25:45 18:59 6 8 14 406 6’1″ 201
P.K. Subban NSH 22 25:32 19:46 2 10 12 500 6’0″ 210
Mattias Ekholm NSH 22 25:20 20:19 1 10 11 309 6’4″ 215
Ryan Ellis NSH 22 23:25 18:08 5 8 13 352 5’10” 180
Matt Irwin NSH 22 11:54 10:59 0 2 2 229 6’2″ 190
Yannick Weber NSH 22 11:09 10:44 0 1 1 347 5’11 200

The 2017 Penguins are the only cup winner not to have a legit top-end #1 defender. Letang got injured midway through that season and didn’t play in the playoffs. The Penguins did have five defenders from their 2016 winning team and added veteran Ron Hainsey. Hainsey was very solid for them, but Dumoulin was their best defender and is probably a bit underrated for how good he was during their back-to-back cup wins. They played six D-men quite evenly between 15:30 and 18:19 at 5×5. The previous Cup experience really helped them absorb the loss of Letang as this winning group averaged 419 games played.

The Predators relied heavily on their top-four defenders and you wonder if, like Philly in 2010, if having even a reliable #5 defender who they trusted to play 17-18 minutes a night might have made a slight difference and not taxed the Predators top-four as much.

2018

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
John Carlson WSH 24 25:36 18:36 5 15 20 608 6’3″ 215
Matt Niskanen WSH 24 25:22 20:51 1 8 9 801 6’1″ 203
Dmitry Orlov WSH 24 24:11 20:36 2 6 8 365 5’11” 211
Michal Kempny WSH 24 17:42 16:49 2 3 5 103 6’1″ 195
Brooks Orpik WSH 24 16:48 12:47 1 4 5 982 6’3″ 217
Christian Djoos WSH 22 10:50 10:34 0 1 1 63 6’0″ 180
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Nate Schmidt LVK 20 24:20 18:30 3 4 7 276 6’0″ 195
Brayden McNabb LVK 20 21:18 16:47 2 3 5 314 6’4″ 216
Shea Theodore LVK 20 21:04 16:51 3 7 10 114 6’2″ 195
Deryk Engelland LVK 20 20:53 16:08 0 2 2 548 6’2″ 212
Colin Miller LVK 20 19:07 14:38 3 4 7 185 6’1″ 200
Luca Sbisa LVK 12 16:04 14:31 0 4 4 495 6’3″ 206
Jon Merrill LVK 8 15:43 15:07 0 0 0 250 6’3″ 195

The Capitals deadline acquisition of Michal Kempny turned out to be a huge addition. He paired up with Carlson and played in the top-four at 5×5. Kempny had 103 NHL games, but he was 27 and had played seven years pro in the KHL and Czech leagues. Orlov is one of those rare shorter players, who is very stocky and strong at 211 pounds. He and Niskanen faced many of the tough matchups.

Vegas was unable to finish their Cinderella expansion season, but their group of misfits played hard and were a long, rangy D corps that averaged 6’2″ and 204 pounds.

2019

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Alex Pietrangelo STL 26 25:44 20:15 3 16 19 688 6’3″ 210
Colton Parayko STL 26 25:07 21:00 2 10 12 322 6’6″ 230
Jay Bouwmeester STL 26 23:29 20:33 0 7 7 1184 6’4″ 206
Joel Edmundson STL 22 16:32 15:17 1 6 7 269 6’4″ 227
Vince Dunn STL 20 15:09 13:10 2 6 8 153 6’0″ 203
Carl Gunnarsson STL 19 14:56 13:43 1 2 3 581 6’2″ 198
Robert Bortuzzo STL 17 12:19 9:49 2 0 2 335 6’4″ 216
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Charlie McAvoy BOS 23 24:30 20:33 2 6 8 117 6’0″ 208
Torey Krug BOS 24 22:21 17:41 2 16 18 462 5’9″ 186
Brandon Carlo BOS 24 21:30 17:25 2 2 4 230 6’5″ 227
Zdeno Chara BOS 23 21:28 17:44 2 4 6 1485 6’9″ 250
Matt Grzelcyk BOS 20 16:26 13:50 4 4 8 129 5’9″ 175
John Moore BOS 10 14:05 11:25 0 0 0 508 6’2″ 210
Connor Clifton BOS 18 13:17 12:27 2 3 5 19 5’11” 195

The Blues were an experienced group (504 GP average), with big men who were excellent skaters in Pietrangelo, Parayko and Bouwmeester. Their entire group was huge averaging over 6’3″ and 220 pounds. It was difficult to win battles in front of the net and along the boards consistently against them.

Boston only had two defenders from their 2013 team (Krug and Chara), but a young Charlie McAvoy gave them a dynamic presence on the backend. The Blues relied heavily on their top-three defenders, while the Bruins played their top-four a lot.

2020

Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Victor Hedman TB 25 26:27 20:14 10 12 22 762 6’6″ 240
Ryan McDonagh TB 22 24:15 19:57 1 4 5 662 6’1″ 215
Mikhail Sergachev TB 25 22:36 17:41 3 7 10 228 6’3″ 216
Erik Cernak TB 25 20:42 16:56 0 4 4 125 6’3″ 230
Kevin Shattenkirk TB 25 19:30 17:16 3 10 13 679 6’0″ 203
Jan Rutta TB 5 17:46 15:12 0 1 1 127 6’3″ 204
Zach Bogosian TB 20 17:39 16:23 0 4 4 644 6’2″ 200
Luke Schenn TB 11 10:51 9:04 0 2 2 759 6’2″ 225
Player Team GP TOI/GP 5×5/GP Goals Assts Pts NHL GP Height Weight
Miro Heiskanen DAL 26 25:59 19:52 6 19 25 150 6’1″ 190
Esa Lindell DAL 26 24:45 19:15 1 7 8 308 6’3″ 215
John Klingberg DAL 25 23:09 19:10 4 16 20 425 6’3″ 190
Jamie Oleksiak DAL 26 21:46 18:54 5 4 9 313 6’7″ 255
Andrej Sekera DAL 26 14:45 10:45 0 1 1 764 6’0″ 195
Joel Hanley DAL 12 11:18 11:01 1 1 2 46 5’11” 190
Taylor Fedun DAL 11 7:42 7:30 0 0 0 127 6’1″ 200

Again, Tampa dressed seven D-men in eight of their playoff games. Their blueline had great skill, lots of experience (504 GP average) and they were huge at 6’3″ and 216 pounds. Cernak only had 125 NHL games, but he is a physical specimen. So powerful and strong. Adding veterans like Bogosian and Schenn gave them more options in their third pairing. They weren’t flashy, but were very steady.

Dallas was a surprise finalist, but with Klingberg and Heiskanen their blueline should be solid for years. Dallas had loads of experience within their forwards, but like the 2012 Devils, Dallas missed the playoffs this season after their Cup run last year. Will they bounce back in 2022?

WHAT WILL HOLLAND DO?

The Oscar Klefbom injury is magnified when you look at the importance of skill mixed with experience and size. A healthy Klefbom, along with Darnell Nurse would give the Oilers two top pairing left defenders with 400+ games and both are over 6’3″ and 220 pounds. You could mix in a younger Bouchard and Bear in your third pairing, but now Holland needs to find a second pair left D with experience. Maybe Klefbom can return to play, but at this point that is undetermined.

With Bouchard, Broberg, Samorukov poised to play this season or next, Edmonton has some quality young players coming, but they can’t have all three in the lineup if they expect to compete for the Stanley Cup in the next three or four seasons. At least when you look at the importance of experience on the blueline.

Maybe Holland will just be patient and bring Bouchard this season and then one of Broberg and Samorukov in the following two years, but if that is the plan then he still need to find some quality defenders if the Oilers hope to win a few playoff rounds in the coming years.

The challenge for Holland is his best trade assets are on the blueline, so if he wants to acquire some legit NHL defenders, then a trade might be the most realistic path.

I could see two of the young blueliners traded within the next few seasons.

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