a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Monday, 25 March 2013

03/25/13 The Mess On Defense

The trade deadline is looming and it appears that Ryan Whitney could be headed out the door. In his place the Oilers are attempting to add collegiate UFA Danny DeKeyser. Unless something else happens between now and next season, the defense will still be a mess.

I had a brief conversation on Twitter with Alan Hull over the weekend, in which we discussed the Oilers' defensive issues going forward. The trouble is that there's very little high-quality NHL talent on the left side (beyond of Ladislav Smid), but virtually the whole of the team's prospect depth is in left-shooting defenders. On the right, the opposite is true: Justin Shultz and Jeff Petry are a good one-two-punch, but the trailers behind them are pretty thin on talent.

I'll show you what I mean. Below is the Oilers' organizational depth chart for the defensemen currently on the team or in the system:

Ladislav Smid Justin Schultz
Nick Schultz Jeff Petry
Ryan Whitney Corey Potter
Mark Fistric Colten Teubert
Theo Peckham Taylor Fedun
Oscar Klefbom Alex Plante
Martin Marincin Kyle Bigos
David Musil
Martin Gernat
Brandon Davidson
Dillon Simpson
Joey Laleggia
Erik Gustafsson
Bold denotes a roster player

It paints a picture. The Oilers are woefully thin on the left side at the NHL level, with pending UFA Ladislav Smid as their best option. Not much for puck-movers that are NHL-ready, unless you count frequent healthy scratch Ryan Whitney, who you can't count, so don't do it.

But just look at that crop of lefties bubbling up from underneath. If the Oilers added DeKeyser they would have a formidable group of left-shooting prospect D, even though he'd probably get rushed to the NHL. There's an all-around guy in Klefbom, offensive options in Marincin and Gernat, shutdown players like Musil.  Unfortunately, they're all at least a year away from being NHL rookies, and a few years away from impacting the Oilers in a meaningful way.

On the right it's a different story, with only four right-shooting trailers behind Potter. Corey Potter is a marginal NHL player at best, and there are some major question marks surrounding all four of the others. Once again, these players are at least a year or two away from impacting the NHL team, if they ever do it at all.

On the other hand, Justin Schultz looks legit and Jeff Petry plays a fairly complete game. That's the good news on the right side.

So what happens next?

The organization's prospect strength is in defense, and particularly in all those quality lefties. The Oilers may need to trade one or more of them in order to address needs for the NHL roster on LD, which requires a Whitney replacement regardless of what happens with DeKeyser. This chart also underscores how important it is to re-sign Ladislav Smid.

More moves will have to be made to build some depth on the right that's close to contributing at the NHL level. If *Heaven forbid* Justin Schultz got injured, suddenly the Oilers would have Petry, Potter and Teubert patrolling the right next season. That just isn't gonna cut it if they're hoping for the playoffs.

In other words, there's work to be done. There's a gap between the guys who are ready to fill in and the ones who are already in the NHL. There's a chasm between the overall quality of the left and right defense. This could all work itself out between now and the time the Oilers are ready to contend, but they'll have to start doing some winning between now and then. That may require some maneuvering.

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