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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 21.0: Next D-man Up (8pm MT, SNW)

“Good teams overcome injuries” is a phrase many players, coaches and managers have uttered, and the Edmonton Oilers will put that to the test tonight with a youthful defence corps.

Markus Niemelainen will make his NHL debut with Cody Ceci in COVID protocol and Darnell Nurse, Duncan Keith and Slater Koekkoek still injured. He will be the 10th defender to suit up for the Oilers this season. And it is only game #21.

In 2016 the Oilers dressed 14 defenders, ranging from six games (Andrew Ference) to 81 (Andrej Sekera).

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In 2017 they had 11 D-men lace em up, but three of them — Mark Fayne, Dillon Simpson and Jordan Oesterle — played between 2-4 games.

In 2018 they had 11 again, and only Keegan Lowe (2) played fewer than 18 games.

In 2019, 13 players patrolled the blueline, with Chris Wideman (5), Evan Bouchard (7) and Alex Petrovic (9) playing fewer than 12 games.

In 2020 they also had 11 defenders, although Mike Green only played two games, due to injury, after being acquired from Detroit.

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Last season, in 56 games, they used 10 blueliners with Dmitri Kulikov (10) playing the fewest.

Using 10 defenders in a season isn’t unique, but using 10 in the first 21 games — many with such little experience —  stands out. It isn’t ideal, but it is a wonderful opportunity for the young defenders to get noticed and continue their development. Philip Broberg has been solid. He will make the odd incorrect read, because he’s only played four NHL games, but his skill and talent are noticeable and tonight he will move to the right side and play with Niemelainen.

It is easy to notice Niemelainen, due to his hulking 6’5″, lanky frame, but more so for his physical prowess.

“I have nothing but great things to say about Markus Niemelainen,” said Bakersfield Condors head coach Jay Woodcroft when I reached out for a scouting report. “He is smart. He’s competitive. He has dimensional physicality. When you are trying to make the NHL you need one dimension, and he has a dimension. So much so, that not only is he physical, but he is long and can get there. There are guys who run around to try and be physical, but he doesn’t run out of position to be physical. He lets the play come to him and he has a fantastic sense of timing.

“In terms of his puck polish, I think it is coming. We work on it every day. What we are working on with him is to make simple plays with the puck, and he’s been very good improving there. He is really developing nicely.”

Dave Tippett smiled when I asked him this morning about Niemelainen. “He is always smiling. I think he really likes the physical aspect.” Edmonton hasn’t had a really banging, physical defender in a long time. There aren’t many of them in the NHL, and if Niemelainen can bring that element, while being sound defensively he could open a door for himself down the road. Tonight is great opportunity for the 23-year-old.

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LINEUPS…

Oilers

Hyman – McDavid – Kassian
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Foegele – McLeod – Puljujarvi
Benson – Ryan – Scevior

Russell – Barrie
Lagesson – Bouchard
Niemelainen – Broberg

Koskinen

The only lineup change is Niemelainen in for Ceci.

It will be interesting to see how Jim Playfair deploys the defence, but the top-two pairs will likely be the ones who see Sidney Crosby the most. But which line will face him?

“Top players want to play against top players all the time,” said Tippett. “I think both guys want the matchup. It will depend how the game goes, but we won’t shy away from it.”

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There has been a lot of talk about McDavid v. Crosby, but from my perch Draisaitl is very much in the conversation for best player in the game.

“I think the reason many talk about Connor and Sid is because both were first picks overall and Canadian kids. But Draisaitl is right there and I suspect he takes notice,” said Tippett. Draisaitl was named the NHL’s player of the month for November earlier today after producing 15-12-27 in 13 games.

Penguins

Guentzel – Crosby – Rodrigues
Zucker – Carter – Kapanen
Aston-Reese – Blueger – McGinn
Simon – Boyle – Heinen

Domoulin – Letang
Pettersson – Marino
Matheson – Ruhwedel

Jarry

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Tristan Jarry earned the Penguins a point in their 2-1 shootout loss in Calgary on Monday. He was the NHL’s second star of the week last week and he’s been stellar all season posting a .938Sv%. The former Edmonton Oil King has rebounded nicely after a tough playoffs last season.

Guentzel (9-10-19) and Rodrigues (8-7-15) lead the Penguins in goals and points and it isn’t because they are playing with Crosby. Crosby only has two 5×5 points in 10 games this season. Crosby will only make them better, but the Oilers need to respect Guentzel and Rodrigues’ abilities.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have scored 38 goals in nine home games. They’ve scored 5+ goals in six of their nine tilts and the offence continues tonight for both teams. Oilers win a high-scoring game 5-4.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Draisaitl continues his hot start and picks up another goal and assist.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers’ blue line combines to score three points.

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MONTH OF GIVING…

Our 11th annual Month of Giving begins today. Every weekday from today through to Thursday, December 23rd, we will be auctioning off a package on my TSN 1260 radio show with all the proceeds going to various charities including The Christmas Bureau, Santas Anonymous, Operation Friendship Senior Society, The Mayfield Rotary Club, Holiday Hamper Program, Adopt-A-Teen and more.

We will have a new package every day, and you can see all the packages for each week at Jasongregor.com so you can plan ahead and make sure you don’t miss out on a package. We will update the site on Saturday to showcase the following week’s packages.

DAY One: A Furnace or AC Unit courtesy of Legacy Heating and Cooling

See the source image

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There are two items up for grabs, and the winning bid can choose which one they want.

This is what you receive with the furnace:

  • One installed Coleman CP9C 97.5%+ Energy Star High Efficiency Modulating Variable-Speed ECM Gas Furnace
  • Comes with permit and inspection fees
  • Ecobee 5 Thermostat or Nest Thermostat
  • Removal and disposal of old furnace
  • 10 year Parts/Labour – Lifetime Heat Exchanger on Furnace

Here is what you get with the AC Unit:

  • One installed Goodman GSX16 16 Seer Air Conditioner /w Evaporator coil, pad/bracket, electrical connections.
  • Comes with permit and inspection fees
  • Ecobee 5 Thermostat or Nest Thermostat
  • UV Light Coil Purifier
  • 10 year Parts/Labour/Compressor on Air Conditioner

You can bid by listening to TSN 1260 and calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today in support of the Christmas Bureau.

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