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Philip Broberg, Markus Niemelainen and the Edmonton Oilers young defencemen

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Photo credit:James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
11 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers have been in a precarious spot this year with a stretch of games forcing them into playing some young defencemen.
While Evan Bouchard won a spot on the roster outright and has arguably been the clubs best defenceman this year, the Oilers have needed to rely on some other young defencemen.
Darnell Nurse missed seven games with a broken finger. Slater Koekkoek has missed the last eight with a lower-body injury. Duncan Keith has missed the last five with a back injury. Cody Ceci has been in COVID-19 protocols missing the last three games.
So yeah, things have been tough. The Oilers have had three defencemen recalled and have been forced to step into the lineup in the wake of the missing rearguard. Philip Broberg, William Lagesson and Markus Niemelainen all have been forced to play some fairly significant minutes for three players with minimal pro hockey experience.
Broberg, 20, has likely been the best of the trio. He’s appeared in seven games and with him on the ice at 5×5, the Oilers have been doing well. They control 53.13 percent of the shot attempts, and 46.12 percent of the expected goal share. The Oilers have scored two goals with him on the ice, while giving up eight. While that expected goal numbers is definitely below where we would like it, he’s been one of the unluckiest Oilers with a PDO of 89.6. Long story short: the Oilers can’t find the back of the net, or get a save with him on the ice.
He’s looked good doing it, too. Broberg skates incredibly well and has great vision. I’ve thought his defensive play has been sound, too, for someone who only came to play hockey in North America this year. When the Oilers other defencemen get healthy, there’s a good chance we see him sent to the American League, but more on that later.
Niemelainen, 23, is the next on the list to talk about. At 6’6, he’s laid 16 hits in just three games played. He hasn’t shyed away from that physical game and it’s been refreshing to see. With Adam Larsson being lost to Seattle in free agency and the expansion draft, the Oilers have lost some of that snarl on their backend. The Oilers defence has been soft to play against and Niemelainen is a player who forces opponents to have their head on a swivel. That’s a good thing.
His underlying numbers have been strong, too. Small sample size of just three games, but at 5×5 the Oilers have controlled 48.39 percent of the shot attempts and 51.18 percent of the expected goals. Niemelainen has been on the ice for no Oilers goals, but on for two goals against. Much like Broberg, the Oilers have terrible luck with him on the ice. He’s posted a 90.9 PDO on the ice and with no goals, that 90.9 represents the Oilers’ on-ice save percentage. There’s a chance we see him stick around with the big club once everyone gets healthy.
Lastly, Lagesson is an interesting case. At 25-years-old, the Oilers likely know what they have in him — a middle-of-the-road seventh defenceman who can fill in admirably in a pinch. We got a good dose of Lagesson last season and the results were… uh… not good. In 19 games at 5×5, the Oilers controlled 40.53 percent of the shot attempts, 50 percent of the goals, and 39.39 percent of the expected goals. His PDO was also wildly inflated at 105.9. He struggled to pass the eye test, too. This year, things have been better but again, we’re looking at a five game sample size. At 5×5, the Oilers have controlled 54.76 percent of the shot attempts, 66.67 percent of the goals, and 50.44 percent of the expected goals.
He’s the most likely of the trio to be returned to the AHL level first. His agents’ comments aren’t going to help his case, either. Lagesson is the only waiver eligible player of the three, too. He was on waivers just six weeks ago and cleared so there’s an reasonable expectation he does so again. If Edmonton could get something in a trade for him, I would encourage the team to explore that avenue.
Even with the departures of Ethan Bear (who is having a tremendous season in Carolina) and Caleb Jones, the Oilers still have a number of good players in the system. Beyond the aforementioned trio, guys like Dmitri Samorukov, Michael Kesselring, Philip Kemp, and Filip Berglund will all be knocking on the door soon, too.
All in all, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Niemelainen sticking around at the NHL level. He’s got a bit more experience than Broberg with 35 AHL games under his belt, and is no stranger to the North American game. You can argue the advantage that he has over a guy like Broberg at this point is the physical element he brings to his game.
He’s a big physical body and his underlying numbers have been strong enough in a small sample. I wouldn’t be against Broberg at the NHL level, either, but he could still use more AHL seasoning, too.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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