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Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report: The Defence Never Rests

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Photo credit:Bakersfield Condors
Bruce Curlock
4 months ago
Whatever is in the water in Edmonton, some of it appears to add value to how the Edmonton Oilers develop defencemen.
It doesn’t matter the management teams who pick the players because we have seen two of them. It doesn’t matter the coaching staff because there have been two of them as well. No matter who makes the picks at the draft or develops the players, the Oilers suddenly have had an uncanny ability to develop defensemen in the last few years.
Evan Bouchard, Vincent Desharnais, and Michael Kesselring are all NHL regulars with long careers ahead. However, that is not all. There is certainly one more that is on the radar screen of Oiler fans and management: Philip Broberg. To say he has been brilliant in his twenty games in Bakersfield would be an understatement.
It’s not just the 2019 first-round pick who’s making waves. There are two more defensemen who are playing well and might just be contributors at the NHL level. More on all these defensemen plus some news and notes in this week’s Edmonton Oiler Prospect Report.

Who Caught My Eye This Week?

Philip Broberg

Yes, this is becoming redundant, but his play is stunningly good. This coaching staff in Bakersfield deserves all the accolades it gets for Broberg’s play. They have him on the top pair in all situations. 5v5, 4v4, powerplay, penalty kill and end-of-game high-leverage situations. Broberg is everywhere, racking up 23-plus minutes a night. This week was more of the same. In three games, Broberg recorded three assists and was a healthy plus-four. His totals in 20 games in the AHL are 1-11-12 and a plus-12 with 49 shots on net. Some of what he is doing is very simple stuff.
Using his skating and ability to add a dynamic to the offensive attack of the Condors. Watch this clip where he busts it hard from his slot and makes a great entry. The defence is forced to back off, and it creates some nice space for his teammates to make a great play for a goal.

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Some of it is very impressive offensive skills that most people don’t think he has. Watch this play here where he shows great patience and vision. Then, he uses his length to find the seam to his linemate for another goal.

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Even more impressive has been his defensive game. Just watch this play. Remember these are big, strong, fast men he is playing against. Watch the ease with which he defuses a risky situation and then confidently attacks back up the ice.

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Finally, his patience and understanding of how to use his size in high-leverage situations has really blossomed. Watch him defend this 2v1 where he uses his lateral mobility to maintain his position between the two attackers. Notice his stick stays in the lane as well. Finally, when the attacker brings the puck to the middle, watch his footwork to adjust and shut down the potential shot on the net.

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As I have said for some time, Broberg is an NHL defenseman, and he will need to be on the Oilers’ roster at some point. His ability and contract make it a virtual certainty unless he is dealt at the trade deadline.

Marcus Niemelainen

When last we talked about Niemelainen, he was recovering from another injury. Niemelainen has suffered a litany of injuries in his professional career. His highest total of games in the AHL is 34.  He has seen NHL time of course, but what has impacted his development more than anything has been injuries. While there has been little spoken of it, there is no question that concussion-type injuries have been a problem. This is a problem for a 6’5″ defensive defenseman who takes pride in trying to hurt people. Here are a few examples.

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Now whether due to injuries or maturation, Niemelainen is playing a more patient game and one that involves more offensive forays. In his three games since returning from his latest injury, Niemelainen had totals of 1-1-2 and a plus two along with four shots on net. His goal was exactly what you might expect from a player who has not shown much upside in this area of his game.

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Of course, the offence will never be his forte. His defence will be his calling card if he makes the NHL. What I have noticed is his willingness to use his size and length in a more reasoned way for the most part. Watch this one little play as an example. Niemelainen has a player in a vulnerable spot only two stick lengths away from him. Instead of trying to run him through the boards, watch the subtle way he gets his stick on the puck first and then wraps his man up to eliminate him from the play.

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Again, this is a very subtle play, but to me a very nice development in his game. Niemelainen can skate at the NHL level. No question. His size and length are NHL calibre. If he can develop some modest offensive skills, there is a player who can play in the bottom pairing on an NHL team. What will ensure he has that chance is staying healthy. If this more measured approach to defending sticks, I think he can stay healthy and that is good news for the Edmonton Oilers.

Maximus Wanner

The kid just keeps doing good things. I love this clip here because it shows you everything about life as a rookie defensman in the AHL. He makes a great stand-up play at the blueline to defend a pass entry. He then gathers the puck and gets himself in a bad spot to make an outlet. He gets bailed out by a teammate who gets the puck out of the zone. Then watch him go. Wanner has the presence of mind to activate as the weakside defenseman and finishes off a great pass with a wonderful move for the goal.

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You can see the athleticism in this player. Some chaos as well. However, he is twenty years old. His play and his confidence to make plays at his age is impressive. Wanner is a legitimate NHL defence prospect.

News And Notes

Bad news for those who thought Jayden Grubbe couldn’t skate well enough to make the NHL. He isn’t all the way there, but he is improving. Watch this race that Grubbe wins to create a great chance on the net during the penalty kill.

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This play is starting to become more commonplace with Grubbe. He is certainly improving his skating. His boots are much closer to the ice surface and he does appear to be developing a bit of a transition skating element to his game.  Here is another example this week where he scored a goal. The goal is very nice and he will need to create offense, but focus on his skating technique.

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I love how his skates stay nice and low to the ice. He actually does a very nice job with his edges coming out of the turn. It’s not there yet, but it is getting better. More development here would make Grubbe a legitimate bottom-six prospect.
Luca Munzenberger needs to go pro. I watched both games this weekend against Boston University. While the rest of his defensive group was busy racking up negatives and getting caved on possession, Munzenberger was a stable force ensuring the scores were not worse. In a series where Vermont was outscored 6-2 at even strength, Munzenberger was 2-2. The program does not give Munzenberger a lot of chances to develop pro skills. Given the Oilers’ success with defenders, he should turn professional this fall and join the Condors.
That’s it for this week folks. See you next Sunday. Have a great week.

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