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GDB -7.0: Who Will Be Third Pair Left Defence? (8pm MT, Streaming)

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
The battle to be Tyson Barrie’s partner on the Oilers’ third pair is the only opening on the Oilers’ blue line. The top two pairs are set, and Philip Broberg, Markus Niemelainen, Ryan Murray and Dmitri Samorukov have tonight and Friday, if they play, to earn the spot. The salary cap will have Broberg on the opening day roster on Monday. He started camp as the favourite to earn that job, but Niemelainen, Murray and Samorukov have pushed him, and it isn’t a lock he will be the one skating beside Barrie on opening night next Wednesday.
Broberg is the best skater. Niemelainen is the most physical. Murray the most experienced, and Samorukov is the biggest unknown. They all play a slightly different game and excel in one area more than the others. Murray’s age and experience makes him best suited to be the #7, if he doesn’t win the #6 spot. He can still improve his game, but he doesn’t need to play big minutes in the AHL. Broberg, Niemelainen and Samorukov would be better served to play big minutes in Bakersfield, than to sit in the press box most nights in Edmonton.
None of them are focused on the #7 job — they all want to earn the right to play with Barrie. They will get a great opportunity to show Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson they can handle NHL forwards as the Canucks will ice close to a full NHL roster, and I expect Seattle to be similar on Friday. Samorukov won’t play tonight, and we won’t know for sure who of Broberg, Niemelainen and Murrary are in, but I’d expect Broberg and Murray to play for sure.
Broberg has the best upside long term. He has been okay, not great, thus far in training camp, but the coaching staff knows him well. They know what he is capable of and what he excels at. Niemelainen has made himself noticeable in every game, mainly because he brings an element the Oilers don’t have: He’s a physical force. He skates very well for a big man, and he has the unique ability to drill opposing players with hard, clean body checks. He worked on his puck skills in the off-season, because uou can’t just be a banger in 2022, you need to be able to move the puck. He will never be Barrie or Evan Bouchard, in terms of puck moving, but he has improved his puck skills. Has he improved them enough for Woodcroft and Manson to keep him?
Murray will be on the roster, but will he be in the lineup or in the press box. His ability to play both sides make him an ideal, veteran #7 defenceman. He is a steady defender, who doesn’t really excel in any noticeable area, but more importantly he doesn’t stand out for major gaffes. He is a reliable defender the coaches can trust. That is very valuable to staying in the NHL. Samorukov is the wildcard for me. He’s a mix of Broberg and Niemelainen. He skates well, and does use his long, lanky frame to be physical, he just doesn’t run guys over like Niemelainen. He has looked calmer this year. He has NHL skills, the question surrounding him since turning pro has been can he calm his game down and make the right reads? I believe he’s taken strides in these areas.
Samorukov requires waivers, and with Broberg set to make the opening day roster, the Oilers might not dress him in the final two games, simply so teams aren’t sure about him when he goes through waivers. At this point, I’d lean to him not being claimed, as many organizations have similar young D-men who are on the cusp of being NHLers, but require waivers.
Tonight, and Friday, will present a much stiffer challenge for the Oilers defenders, and it will play a role in determining who lines up beside Barrie next Wednesday. Will Broberg hang onto the spot he had when camp began, or will someone take it from him?

LINEUPS…

Oilers

Holloway – McDavid – Hyman
Shore – RNH – Puljujarvi
Janmark – McLeod – Ryan
Hamblin – Malone – Virtanen
Nurse – Ceci
Kulak – Bouchard
Broberg – Murray
Niemelainen – Demers
Skinner
These line combinations might be giving us a glimpse of what Jay Woodcroft is thinking regarding his top-nine. Ryan McLeod might start the season on the fourth line, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would centre a third line with Warren Foegele and Jesse Puljujarvi. McDavid is playing in Leon Draisaitl’s spot. Jesse Puljujarvi needs to find his stride. He’s had a quiet preseason.
If Kailer Yamamoto didn’t faceplant into the boards in the third period, he might be dressed tonight. I’m told they are giving him the night off as he is a bit banged up, but nothing too serious. Unclear if he will play Friday yet or not. Tyler Benson news isn’t as favourable. He will be out a while, I’m told, but they aren’t sure how long just yet. We will know more in next few days. He was having a very strong camp and had put himself in the conversation for the fourth line LW slot.
The major decision up front still remains which of Derek Ryan or Mattias Janmark will be placed on waivers, so the Oilers can be cap compliant. Ryan is 36, and I wonder if age plays a factor in the decision. Foegele has already played four preseason games and gets the night off and Shore gets bumped up to play with RNH.
Not sure at this moment which of the eight D-men will play. I’d play Niemelainen.

Canucks…

Pearson – Miller -Garland
Kuzmenko – Pettersson – Podkolzin
Hoglander – Horvat – Joshua
Karlsson – Dickinson – Lazar
Hughes – Schenn
Ekman-Larsson – Poolman
Burroughs – Myers
Wolanin – Rathbone
Demko
The Canucks will go with a heavy NHL roster, after icing more of an AHL roster in Edmonton on Monday. Brock Boeser and Ilya Mihkeyev won’t be ready to start the season, so we’ll see if Andrei Kuzmenko and Vasily Podkolsin can take advantage of increased opportunity. If they start the season with Pettersson they can’t say they weren’t given the chance to produce.
Dakota Joshua and Linus Karlsson are trying to crack the lineup and will need strong showings to stay in the hunt.
The Canucks lowered their goals against after Bruce Boudreau took over. From January 1st to the end of the season the Canucks had the eighth-best goals against average in the NHL. Thatcher Demko was a big reason for that, and he should give the Canucks a chance most nights.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton wasn’t as crisp as Woodcroft wanted on Monday, and he will be looking for them to tighten up, especially on the PK. Vancouver wins 3-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Holloway scores to fire up the hype train even more.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Devin Shore scores.

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