There aren’t a lot of free agents on the market this summer who might plausibly address the Edmonton Oilers’ weakness at right defence, but Jason Demers is one of them. A long-time member of the San Jose Sharks under current Edmonton coach Todd McLellan, Demers has been the No. 4 defenceman for the Dallas Stars in the postseason and will be in action against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night.
Is he a player the Oilers should consider signing?
Demers is a player I’ve been watching throughout the postseason, but one I really keyed in on in this series between Dallas and St. Louis. I’d encourage interested Oilers fans to keep an eye on him in Game 7. What kind of player is he?
As a skater, I’ve been impressed with Demers. He has good straight-line speed moving forward and backward and perhaps more importantly performed well moving side-to-side in the defensive zone. He’s not an elite skater but he’s strong in pretty much all areas.
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I was impressed with his hockey sense, too, particularly on the defensive side of the puck. He’s extremely aggressive defensively, and like my Edmonton Journal colleague David Staples I noted that he did a strong job of closing quickly with opponents, thereby forcing the m to make decisions in a hurry and increasing the chance of a turnover. The Staples report noted that reach was a problem, but I tend to disagree; Demers doesn’t have a massive wingspan but he’s so good with his stick that it makes up for him not being 6’4”. That ability to play with the stick helps compensate for average size.
The Gregor scouting report linked above provides perhaps the best description of Demers from a size/physical perspective, with Gregor noting that he is “[n]ot overly physical, but has good positioning.” He’s only listed at 6’1”, 200 pounds, so he’s not a bruiser defensively, although in my viewing he didn’t shy from contact and he won his share of battles. The best Oilers comparison is probably Andrej Sekera (though Demers is both bigger and somewhat more physical): a player who competes and who wins battles but who can be outmuscled.
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Staples and Gregor had rather different takes on Demers’ puck skills. Gregor’s report described Demers as a player with “second tier vision”, one who was willing and able to make plays but lacked the creativity of a strong puck-mover. Staples, on the other hand, had high praise for his puck-moving game (with the caveat that this was based off a handful of games):
There’s not a d-man on the Oilers who has as good a first pass as Demers ( not that this is any kind of high praise, given how weak most Oilers d-men are at this), but even on a fast-moving, sharp-passing team like Dallas, Demers stands out as a solid puck mover.
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I lean more towards the report put together by Gregor. Demers is certainly able and willing to make a pass, but he’s not creative with the puck and under pressure he can fall into the trap of just ringing it around the boards and hoping for the best. The NHL.com highlight doesn’t go far enough back to show it, but on the Blues’ first goal in Game 6, Demers did exactly this and ended up turning the puck over. By my count, he had two turnovers in Game 6 in that fashion and a third play where the puck was just high enough not to be intercepted but which resulted in an icing call.
That tendency would seem to be confirmed by the data collected by Dimitri Filipovic in the first round. Demers is just below average for an NHL defenceman both in terms of how frequently he exits the zone and how successful he is at making exits where his team retains control of the puck. Some of that comes from playing with Kris Russell (who exited the zone a lot but threw the puck away too often in Round 1) and some of it would seem to be a reflection of the player’s limitations in this regard.
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In other words, he’s good with the puck, but an NHL general manager probably doesn’t want him as the only puck-carrying option on a pairing.

To Sign or Not to Sign

I don’t think Demers should be Plan A.
Free agency opens on July 1, and if at that point the Oilers have not been able to sufficiently address their weaknesses on the right side, they should certainly consider Demers. He’s a smart, mobile defender who plays an aggressive and effective defensive game and provides competence with the puck. However, he’s not a primary offensive option, he has limitations as a puck-mover, and he has only average size.
The trouble is a) that Edmonton needs a legitimate first-pair guy and b) given the lack of right-shooting defencemen in free agency, Demers is almost certainly going to get paid. The play here should be to pursue all available trade avenues first for a more reasonably priced player with a better chance at filling a top-pair role. Failing that, Demers is a reasonable but expensive fallback option.
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At least, that’s my view. What Would You Do Wednesday is primarily about our readers, so I turn it over to you: Should the Oilers plan to sign Demers this summer?

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS