Analyzing potential RD targets for the Edmonton Oilers

Photo credit:© Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
In an article released yesterday, I outlined why the Edmonton Oilers cannot stick with the Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci pairing for next season. While Nurse simply has to perform much better moving forward, I believe he needs a new defensive partner.
Evan Bouchard is an exceptional player, but an RD core of Bouchard, Ceci, and Vincent Desharnais was always quite flawed. In my mind, it’s clear that there’s a hole at right-defence. Now that it’s officially off-season mode for the Oilers, let’s go through a list of potentially available RD targets that Edmonton could acquire or sign.

What should the Oilers look for in a potential RD target?

I’m hesitant to split up the pairing of Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard, so I believe the Oilers should be looking for a partner for Nurse. Here are the criteria that I’m looking for in a potential RD:
      A) This defenceman should be able to drive 5v5 goal and expected goal share at a strong rate
This one is obvious. To win games, you need to out-score the opposition, so teams should target players that help achieve that goal. I believe xGF% is also important as some defencemen’s goal differentials may be inflated or hampered by the finishing abilities of the forwards they play with and the abilities of their goaltenders. Here, I’ll use EvolvingHockey’s RAPM tool.
      B) This defenceman should have plentiful experience against elite opposition
You can find plenty of defencemen that produce excellent results in sheltered roles, but in this case, Edmonton needs a defender that can effectively perform well against top lines on a consistent basis, and has experience doing so. 
      C) This defenceman should be able to effectively defend the rush
      D) This defenceman should have strong breakout abilities
In my prior article, I discussed that the type of partner that Nurse needs most is someone that can efficiently pass the puck out of the zone and effectively defend the rush. To evaluate the potential options, I calculated a total “entry defence score” using various stats such as controlled entry allowed and entry denial rates, while I also calculated a “zone exits score” using stats such as controlled exits per 60 and controlled exit percentage.
Without further ado, here’s a look at the options.
*All on-ice stats via EvolvingHockey, all quality of competition stats via PuckIQ, all microstats via AllThreeZones, and all cap-related info via CapFriendly

Damon Severson

Damon Severson is a 28-year-old pending UFA, who’s played with the New Jersey Devils for his entire nine-season NHL career thus far. 
Severson is a fantastic offensive talent. This season, no defenceman in the entire league had a superior on-ice impact on generating scoring chances at even strength. A significant reason for this is due to his ability to effectively move the puck up the ice, as he ranks 19th in the league among defencemen in controlled zone exit percentage and 1st in DZ shot assists per 60. Furthermore, Severson excels at defending zone entries, ranking near the top of the league in zone denial percentage. Not to mention, he has plenty of experience playing against top opposition in New Jersey. There are tons of reasons to like Severson.
However, there is a red flag in his results. Essentially throughout his entire career, Severson’s actual goal differential has been consistently lower than his expected goal differential. When you see a pattern such as this over a large sample, this typically indicates that a player is doing something wrong that public expected goal models can’t entirely capture. In this case, Severson has issues with turnovers. He ranks in the bottom third of the league in failed zone exits and botched d-zone puck retrievals. In general, Severson is prone to defensive gaffes and errors that lead to his goaltenders consistently posting a lower save percentage than expected with him on-ice.
Still, Severson is a valuable asset. The fact that he can successfully defend zone entries and move the puck out of the DZ at a high volume instantly makes him a significantly better stylistic fit with Nurse than Ceci. However, there’s a major question mark surrounding him: will Severson’s excellent puck-moving and offensive skills outweigh his deficiencies in his own end? Per EvolvingHockey, Severson’s projected contract is $6.2M for 6 years, so it may not be worth the money to take a risky bet on him. 

Dylan Demelo

Dylan Demelo is a 30-year-old defencemen with the Winnipeg Jets, with one year left on his contract at a $3M AAV.
This season, Demelo led all Winnipeg defencemen in TOI% against elite competition, and he produced some quality defensive results. In the past two seasons, his impact on preventing even-strength scoring chances ranks 3rd among all defencemen. Furthermore, Demelo is quite efficient at exiting the zone. Demelo certainly isn’t as good as Severson in zone exit volume, but he’s much better at limiting turnovers, and he’s fantastic at shutting down top lines.
However, in spite of his overall defensive results, he doesn’t seem to be a great zone-entry defender. I’m not exactly sure what’s happening here, and this is my only real concern with his potential stylistic fit with Nurse, but it does seem that his in-zone defensive skills outweigh this. He’s rock-solid in his own end. 
Demelo’s cap hit isn’t expensive, but he does have a modified no-trade clause. That said, perhaps he could be willing to waive it to play with McDavid and Draisaitl, especially considering that he already plays on a Canadian team.
While Josh Morrissey’s offensive production was stellar this season, his defensive results have been quite weak throughout his career. Fortunately for Winnipeg, he was able to form a well-rounded pair with Demelo, who did well at covering up for his deficiencies. If Demelo can do what he did with Morrissey for Nurse, he’s a very appealing option.

Radko Gudas

Rakdo Gudas is a 32-year-old pending UFA, who’s played with the Florida Panthers for the past three seasons.
Gudas is having a very strong season with Florida. He’s produced a slightly superior impact on scoring chance differential than Demelo, while his goal differential is even better. Using his size and physicality, Gudas is a reliable defender that can very effectively defend zone entries, and he’s also above-average at retrieving pucks in the DZ. I was a vocal advocate for Gudas at the trade deadline.
However, Gudas doesn’t play significant minutes against top opposition. Per PuckIQ, he ranked 5th among Florida D in TOI% against elite competition in each of the past two seasons. His results against elites are fine, but that deployment is certainly worth mentioning. Additionally, zone exits are not his strongest suit. With Florida’s current playoff run, a physical, experienced, veteran defender like Gudas may become more expensive. Nonetheless, he is a solid option worth mentioning.

Scott Mayfield

Scott Mayfield is a 30-year-old pending UFA, who’s played with the New York Islanders throughout his entire career.
Mayfield is a player that’s gained a lot of trust from his coaches, playing a higher portion of his TOI against elite competition than various defencemen like Makar, Hedman, Slavin, Fox, and so on (of course, I’m not implying he’s at their levels, but rather displaying the difficulty of his role). In these minutes, Mayfield’s impact on driving scoring chances has been quite strong, ranking in the 86th percentile. He’s also quite aggressive at defending the blueline.
Mayfield’s goal differential is relatively low, but I think the primary reason is the lack of offensive talents and finishers on Long Island, as his impact on preventing goals against is a net positive. That said, Mayfield mightily struggles with breakouts. He’s ranked near the bottom of the league at exiting the zone with possession, while he’s also a bit prone to turning the puck over or icing it as he attempts to exit. He heavily struggled against Carolina’s forecheck in the first round. His net impact is a plus, so he’s not a bad option, but his breakout abilities are a concern. 

Brandon Carlo

Brandon Carlo is a 26-year-old defenceman playing for the Boston Bruins, with 5 years left on his contract at an AAV of $4.1M. Following a disappointing first-round exit to Florida, Boston is in for a tough off-season, with various pending free agents, alongside a $4.5M cap penalty. They’ll need to shed some cap, which is why it’s quite possible that Carlo gets dealt. 
Carlo is a fairly low-event defender. In regards to the defensive side, he’s quite well-rounded, as he can effectively defend the rush, retrieve pucks, and limit turnovers in his own end. Carlo’s impact on both goal and expected goal differential rank in the top third of the league. That said, Carlo is mediocre at breakout passing and doesn’t play a significant amount of time against top opposition.
If the Oilers want to calm down Nurse’s defensive game, Carlo isn’t a bad option. That said, Edmonton is in a tough cap situation, so I’m not a fan of Carlo at $4.1M, and I’m highly doubtful Boston retains any salary.

Carson Soucy

Carson Soucy is a 28-year-old pending UFA, who’s played in Seattle for the past two seasons.
Generally, Soucy’s on-ice results have been solid. He’s fantastic at denying entries, and he’s been Seattle’s best defenceman at shutting down chances off the rush. Soucy wasn’t exceptional at breakouts in 21-22, but he considerably improved this season and led all Seattle defencemen in d-zone puck retrievals leading to exits.  Not to mention, Soucy is versatile in the sense that he has experience playing at both LD and RD. The downside is that he doesn’t have much experience against top opposition, but if the rest of the options are too expensive for Edmonton, Soucy is a relatively cheap option to fall back on. He’s an upgrade over Ceci.

Colton Parayko

Colton Parayko is a 30-year-old defenceman on the St. Louis Blues, with 7 years left on his contract at an AAV of $6.5M.
Parayko is a fascinating player. His entry defence score is below-average, as he’s quite passive at defending the blueline, but the interesting thing is that he doesn’t allow a high volume of rush chances in spite of that fact. Regarding his breakout abilities, Parayko is 14th in the league in total exits per 60, but he isn’t quite efficient. Despite his skill, Parayko tends to clear the puck at a high rate, and his possession exit percentage is somewhat low. 
Playing a difficult role in St. Louis, his on-ice results are somewhat mediocre, with a negative impact on his team’s goal differential. Some of his microstats suggest they could improve on a superior team, especially in a lower role, but considering his hefty contract, alongside his back injuries that may be hampering his play, trading for Parayko is a major risk.

Christopher Tanev

Chris Tanev is a 33-year-old defenceman on the Calgary Flames, with one year left on his contract at an AAV of $4.5M.
I’m a big fan of Tanev. His defensive on-ice metrics have been excellent, as no defenceman has a superior impact at suppressing scoring chances at even-strength than Tanev over the past three seasons. Tanev is also an exceptional puck-mover, as he can efficiently and consistently pass the puck out of his zone while limiting turnovers. I believe he could complement Nurse quite nicely, and if the Oilers retain some salary, they could afford him. However, injuries are a concern, and my big question is: would Calgary trade him to Edmonton?

Other options

Here are some general thoughts about other potential RHD options aside from the ones discussed above:
  • Erik Karlsson isn’t happening. I wrote all about Karlsson prior to the deadline, but he’s turning 33 at the end of May, he has a $11.5M cap hit, his defensive results are abysmal, and he’s due for a major offensive regression. Especially with Evan Bouchard’s offensive emergence, Karlsson just doesn’t make a ton of sense anymore.
  • Matt Dumba is a pending UFA. While Dumba is an above-average breakout passer, he’s a subpar defender in his own zone. I think it’s likely he re-signs in Minnesota. 
  • I like Artem Zub, but considering that he has a new contract extension that starts next year, I’m unsure if he’s available.
  • Luke Schenn is an OK option. He played well with Toronto in the playoffs, but he’s an inadequate entry defender, and doesn’t have enough experience against top competition. I’m doubtful if he’s the guy for Nurse.
  • Connor Murphy is an option. Strong in-zone defender, but subpar at rush defence.
  • A potential wild card is pending UFA Dmitri Orlov, who may be left-handed but has experience at both RD and LD. 

Final Thoughts

An alternative option is to pair Evan Bouchard with Nurse, and find a partner for Ekholm instead. Bouchard is an excellent breakout passer and entry defender, so he matches that criteria for Nurse. Going this route makes Severson more viable as an option, as he can be paired with a calmer defensive presence in Ekholm, who fits well with dynamic puck-movers. That said, my gripe with this option is that a Nurse – Bouchard pair may still have some struggles in their own end, and I’m quite hesitant to split Ekholm and Bouchard. I would prioritize trying to trade for a RD partner for Nurse. The Oilers could also give Brett Kulak a shot at 2RD, but I’d prefer keeping him at LD to drive a strong third-pairing.
To conclude, I believe acquiring a top-four RD should be high on Edmonton’s off-season to-do list, and there are several options available with various pros and cons. Let’s wait and see if Ken Holland ends up acquiring or signing one of those options, or if he decides to prioritize a different area.
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)

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