That Blueline Mix
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
Markus Niemelainen, Ben Gleason and Philip Kemp aren’t top of mind when it comes to how the Edmonton Oilers blueline is going to shape up this season, but they were all on the ice last night in a 2-1 overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks. Simply put, you’ve got to stay in the mix to be in the mix.
Niemelainen, 25, has 43 NHL games with the Oilers on his resume, with 23 of those coming last season. He’s split the last three seasons between Edmonton and Bakersfield. The six-foot-six Finn still ranks as more of a prospect than a suspect for me, but there’s traffic in front of him down the depth chart – notably Philip Broberg and Vincent Desharnais.
Gleason, 25, an undrafted rearguard out of the London Knights, is here on a one-year deal after spending the past five seasons with the Texas Stars in the AHL. He got into four games with Dallas back in 2018-19 – that’s a long time ago in hockey years. Against the Canucks, Gleason was paired with Desharnais, who has also taken a long and winding road to get here.
As for Kemp, 24, a seventh-round pick, 208th overall, by the Oilers, he’s a no-frills, defend-first blueliner who played for Jay Woodcroft in two of three seasons he spent in Bakersfield after three years at Yale. Kemp got a two-year contract extension from Ken Holland last summer, so it’s time for him to make some noise even though he plays a quiet game.
DEPTH THAT CAN PLAY
Sep 27, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Phil Kemp (76) and Vancouver Canucks forward Dakota Joshua (81) battle for a loose puck during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
With Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard, Mattias Ekholm, Cody Ceci, and Brett Kulak as locks on the roster and Desharnais and Broberg next in line by most accounts, we likely won’t see Niemelainen, Gleason, or Kemp when the regular season begins, but having one or more of them as next-man-up in Bakersfield is important.
“I’ll start with Phil,” Woodcroft said post-game. “Phil’s a heart-and-soul player that’s been in our organization, a great leader in the AHL. “I saw him break up numerous rushes today, willing to be in the shooting lanes. I thought he had a good game.
“I thought Niemelainen tried to be physical and ratcheted up the physical play in the game. He was also in the shooting lanes, and he closes fast and he’s long. For Gleason, I thought it was a better game than in game number one for him. I saw what has allowed him to play in four NHL games in his first year in Dallas. He’s somebody that has good vision. He can make a play with the puck and get his shot through from the blue line.”
The Oilers stayed remarkably healthy on the blueline last season. Nurse. Bouchard and Kulak all played 82 games. Ceci played 80 and Ekholm played 78 combined with the Oilers and Nashville. The Oilers can’t count on staying that healthy again — Ekholm is working through a strained hip flexor right now.
Niemelainen, Gleason, and Kemp might not start the season here, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see them at some point.
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