Puck moving defensemen series: Edmonton Oilers

Led by Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers finished 4th in the West (103 points) before losing to Anaheim in round 2 of the playoffs. While there’s no doubt that Edmonton boasts one of the top offensive lineups in the league, where does their blue line stack up against the West’s best? We explore.

Note: For detailed explanations on our approach, feel free to access the methodology section from the home page.

09JUL2017 oilers.JPG

Rapid fire observations

+ Andrej Sekera was a rock on the blue line for the Oilers. He logged 21+ mins per night while facing strong QoC, still posting a respectable PMF of -0.74. That is akin to a 2nd pairing puck mover – which is solid considering the role he takes on the blue line. Sekera also posted one of the top 2 defensive ability metrics (DAM) of +0.1 – in line with a solid 2nd pairing d-man. In addition to being well-rounded as a puck mover, Sekera is effective at minimizing opposing scoring chances. News that Sekera will take 6-9 months to recover following his ACL injury creates uncertainty on the back-end.

Kris Russell was significantly below average as a puck mover in 2016/17 (PMF of -4.22 was by far worst on the team). He was the best Oilers’ d-man at minimizing high danger scoring chances (DAM +0.42) – so despite his inability to drive possession, he clogs lanes, keeps shots to the outside, etc. Still, his struggles as a puck mover become even more significant in today’s game.

Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom were both solid for Edmonton in 2016/17, posting PMF of -0.35 (AL) and +0.23 (OK), respectively. When you factor in tough QoC that Larsson and Klefbom faced, their puck moving scores are in line with a solid 2nd pairing. Both should continue to improve and be top-4 staples on the blue line in the years to come.

+ The Adam Larsson – Taylor Hall trade is interesting. Many will argue that Larsson “hasn’t panned out” and that Taylor Hall is better as a Forward than Larsson is as a defenseman. While an argument could be made that both statements are true, the important question for me is whether the Oilers are a better team with Taylor Hall or with Adam Larsson? I would probably make a strong case for the latter. When you think of the Oilers’ roster, you’d still likely argue they need another defenseman to put them over the hump. Their offense, led by McDavid and Draisaitl, is fine. Larsson is a solid, top-4 defenseman who has brought much needed stability to the Oilers’ blue line.

Darnell Nurse missed a big chunk of the season with injury, but showed improvement as a puck mover (posting a PMF of +0.30 in 2016/17 vs -3.11 in 2015/16). Only 22 years old, Nurse should continue improving in 2017/18.

+ Matt Benning was a pleasant surprise for the Oilers in 2016/17, posting a strong PMF of +1.64 (tops on the team). While he excelled as a puck mover, he did so in a somewhat sheltered role (weak QoC and started a higher % of shifts in the offensive zone – 37% – than any other Oilers’ defenseman). Benning played 23+ mins per night in the final 3 Oiler’s playoff games against Anaheim. Still young (only 23), Benning could battle for a top-4 role in 2017/18.

Verdict

Led by McDavid and Co., expect the Oilers to once again be a dynamic powerhouse offensively in 2017/18 and be playoff bound. Improvement on the blue line, however, might be the difference in how far they go. That improvement will likely come from within. Larsson (24), Klefbom (23), Benning (23), Nurse (22) are all young and likely still improving. With Sekera out to begin the season, look for Benning and Nurse to battle hard for a top-4 role.

Unlike other teams, the Oilers’ might not have a true number 1, elite puck-moving defensemen. But with some really good (and young) defenders making strides – it’s clear that their blue line is on a strong, upwards trajectory.


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