Photo credit:© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
2023-24’s Biggest Storylines #7 – Vincent Desharnais and Philip Broberg
5 months ago
The first three pieces of my Oilersnation offseason countdown were all focused on the team’s forward group and how it’s looking heading into next season. I talked about the new guy, Connor Brown, the group of young players that could break out, and the support pieces in the top six.
No matter how you spin it, the Oilers forward group is in really good shape. It’s just a question of whether it’s going to be really good or if it has the potential to be historically good.
It’s a totally different conversation when it comes to the team’s blue line.
The blueline as it’s currently constructed is good enough to get them to the playoffs. Last year, the blue line without Mattias Ekholm was good enough to have them in the playoffs, so I’m not concerned about the current group of seven defensemen being so bad that it sinks their chances of making the postseason.
The top five spots are pretty much set in stone. The sixth spot appears to be up for grabs and that’s the topic of today’s countdown: Will one of Broberg or Desharnais take a step forward?
Last season, Desharnais made some huge strides, and while there’s no denying which of the two defensemen has a higher ceiling, it will be interesting to see who ends up playing more.
With that being said, there are a few things working in Desharnais’ favour as we head into the 2023-24 season. The first is that the coaching staff clearly trusts him more on the right side of the third pairing. The fact that he shoots right also helps, but last year we saw him start to really get exposed in the playoffs and it took a lot for Woodcroft and his staff to make a change and start playing Broberg in that spot.
They clearly value what Desharnais brings to the lineup and I don’t think that their mindset is going to magically change this season. Broberg will have to take the job from Desharnais and play so well that the coaching staff has no choice but to play him on the right side.
Of course, Woodcroft has never shied away from playing eleven forwards and seven defensemen and with the Oilers having a clear hole at fourth line centre, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we saw them use that same approach a lot this season.
The one thing that, outside of a trade, could really change the look of this blueline is the development of Broberg. It’s been four years since he was drafted and while it’s felt like forever, it’s important to remember that he’s just 22 years old. He hasn’t adjusted to the NHL as quickly as you would have liked from a top-ten pick, but there’s still lots of potential here.
For reference, Oscar Klefbom had only played 77 NHL games by this point in his career. If you count playoff games, Broberg is at 79. There is still time for him to turn into an effective NHL defenseman, but the clock is certainly ticking.
If Broberg is going to one day become an impactful top-four defenseman for the Oilers, he needs to make some strides this season and if he does take a leap this season, it will really change the look of this team’s blueline.
If Broberg can adjust to playing the right side, like Ken Holland believes he can, then he and Brett Kulak could create a formidable third-pairing. There’s no denying that the upside of Broberg is much greater than the upside that Desharnais brings.
That’s not meant to be a shot at Desharnais either. I think he can be a strong, everyday NHL defenseman. He just doesn’t have top-four upside like Broberg.
If it doesn’t click in the first half for Broberg, then he could very well be trade bait at the deadline. If he hasn’t shown any signs of improvement by February, then including him in a package for a big-name right-shot defender would not be a terrible idea.
It’s going to be a big season for both Broberg and Desharnais and how those two look early in the season will have a big impact on how the Oilers look heading into the playoffs.
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