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What can the Edmonton Oilers expect from Cody Ceci in 2023-24?

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Photo credit:Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Aleena Aksenchuk
5 months ago
Last season is behind us, and it’s almost time for the Edmonton Oilers to hit the ice for what will be a year of high expectations. Last season, defenceman Cody Ceci had what one could call a disappointing season, but what could be expected of him moving into the 2023-24 campaign?
Before the 2022-23 season, the expectations for Ceci were for him to remain a solid top-four blueliner for the Oilers mainly due to his exceptional performance in 2021-22. He didn’t stuff the stat sheets with outrageous numbers or woo the entire Edmonton market with his decisions. In fact, it ended up being quite the opposite of what was expected of him.
The Oilers signed Ceci as a free agent during the summer of 2021 and he pleasantly surprised everyone working his way up to the top pairing alongside Darnell Nurse, and contributed to the Oilers reaching the conference finals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that year. Offensively Ceci had the best season of his career scoring five goals and 28 points while maintaining nearly 21 minutes of ice-time a night. 
During the playoffs that year, Ceci helped the Oilers outscore their opponents 18-17 at 5×5 and both he and Nurse helped stabilize each other along the way. In over 500 5×5 minutes during the regular season, the controlled the shot attempt share to the tune of 52 per cent, while outscoring opponents 25-22.
Everyone expected a similar performance last year to what he did in 2021-22 playing again with Nurse this past season on the top-pairing once again. However, the two seemed to lack a critical quality that acts as a glue holding a defensive pairing together: communication, and cohesiveness. The duo were out-scored 46 to 48 at 5×5, a disappointing number for a pair who defended behind two of the team’s top performers, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. In fact, the Oilers’ second-round playoff exit after losing to the Vegas Golden Knights had almost all fingers pointing to the performance of Ceci and Nurse.
Vegas completely outplayed the pairing, outscoring them six to eight, and as noted by OilersNation’s NHL_Sid, the biggest downfall for the Oilers was their inability to contain the top line consisting of Jack Eichel. Due to the game-five suspension of Nurse, Ceci became the primary matchup against Eichel, exposing himself for five of the eight Vegas top-line goals. 
Ceci finished the year with a +11 rating, which was mainly acquired in defence-first situations such as penalty kill (+6) or versus an opposing empty net with an additional player (+6), which contributed to the higher plus/minus rating. There was the quietly acknowledged core injury Ceci struggled with that may have contributed to his lack of success. Nonetheless, it was not the most ideal season for the blueliner.
There were a few positives, though, as Ceci showed that he could put his body on the line as second on the Oilers in blocked shots (110) behind Nurse (164) and third in hits (139) behind Nurse (146) and Klim Kostin (157).
Moving into the 2023-24 season, we certainly cannot sit here and expect the worst for Ceci. He’ll be turning 30 in December and has proven in the past to be a solid defender, as seen in the 2021-22 season and with his previous team the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Still, this upcoming season is shaping up to be a redemption season for the blueliner.
Ceci is capable of remaining as a top-four defenceman, he ate up tough minutes, averaging 20 minutes of ice time a night against tough opponents, but as mentioned before, he was struggling through injury for the majority of the year. Now, with a lengthy offseason of rest and recovery, he should ready to roll for the Oilers.
There’s been plenty of speculation on whether head coach Jay Woodcroft will try out the Nurse-Ceci line one more time. In fact, Daily Faceoff projects that the two will remain on a top line together. The other option the Oilers and head coach Jay Woodcroft could explore would be to pair Ceci with Mattias Ekholm.
The only issue with sending him down the line and pairing with Ekholm is that Bouchard and Ekholm shone as a defensive pairing last season. The two ultimately outplayed Nurse and Ceci throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. The pair transformed the way the Oilers’ defence operated, controlling 59 per cent of chances and 77 per cent of goals that occurred while the two were in the play. 
In the instance that Ceci does move down to play with Ekholm, he will still be putting up heavy minutes and playing alongside another veteran blueliner which could help create more offensive opportunities as Ekholm is known to be a 20-30 point player. It may not be a bad idea to give them a whirl as a pair this season, but whether he will have a year similar to 2021-22 is hard to tell.
Still, it can be expected that Nurse and Ceci will work closely to ensure their partnership is successful if paired together this upcoming season. Every relationship has its ups and downs, and after a season of difficulties this year, we should see these two better understand the game alongside the other and if that doesn’t go the way we’re all hoping then it wouldn’t be surprising to see them playing alongside someone different. With that being said it’s not wrong to assume we may see some movement within the defensive pairings throughout the beginning of the year. 
Hopefully, Ceci and everyone else can put last season in the past and look ahead into what could be for the 2023-24 campaign.

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