A little over a month ago I wrote this. Since it's valid in relation to the U of A game last night, I figured more eyes and input wouldn't hurt. Here's my take...
The Edmonton Oilers are a team on the cusp of a bumper harvest of legitimate defensive prospects. The last several years has seen them stock the cupboards with all sorts of young, talented d-men from the ranks of major junior, the NCAA and Europe. Players like Nurse, Klefbom and Marincin are bubbling just under the NHL ranks and are the young men whom fans have pinned high hopes on. But the less heralded second tier of up-and-comers could very well produce a couple of useful NHL pieces. Herein lies the problem. With only 6 regular spots available on the big team on any given year, where and how will they all fit? Short answer, they wont. The beginning of a long answer? There could be another option for one of them.
Hockey Prospectus recently came out with a look at the Oilers' Top 10 Prospects 2013. The list is populated with 5 defensemen, 4 of them slotting into the top 6. Martin Gernat is the player at #6 and he appears to be facing an uphill battle in his quest to gain NHL employment. Gernat has some nice things about him but there are hurdles standing in his way. The 3 D-men ahead of him all have things going for them that he doesn't boast and there are some not uncommon warts in his game.
- Nurse and Klefbom have the ever valued draft pedigree and more polished defense first attitudes and abilities.
- Marincin is a year older and models quite succinctly to Gernat's size and style of play, but he can play with an a bit of an edge.
- He has consistently had less than glowing assessments of his overall defensive game since his draft day.
- His slight frame may prove physically insufficient for the rigours of everyday NHL defensive service unless he can pack on some serious weight.
- He is a left shooter in an organization flush with lefties
In all honesty, Gernat's quickest path to the NHL as a defenseman may be in the form of a trade to another organization. But maybe not...
The Oilers future is lacking in, as Lowetide likes to say, sixes, sevens and nines. The prospect system isn't flush with forwards that project to be good fits on the 3rd and 4th lines. Players with a mix of size, skill and skating ability to fit MacT's vision of the team. They did a good job at the June draft picking up a guy like Yakimov and there are some current prospects who could potentially develop into the players with the required skill sets (Lander, Khaira, Kessey, Ewanyk & Moroz are a few loose examples). But I don't think anyone can be completely confident with what the Oilers have in the pipeline for quality bottom 6 prospects. This is where I see some opportunity for Martin Gernat if a little bit of a nontraditional approach were taken.
The Oilers should entertain moving him to forward.
Yes I know. The NHL isn't EA Sports and NHL teams typically don't change player's positions. But there are some success stories. Wendel Clark was a high flying, rugged D-man in his junior days. It wasn't until his first season with the Leafs was he moved to the left wing. A quality career of complimentary scoring, face punching and injuries followed. Dustin Byfuglien is a unique and (currently) successful example of F to D. Brent Burns has gone from F to D and back again with middling to above average results depending on which position you look at. A recent player traded from the Oilers spent most of his time as a teen playing defense before he entered leagues of men. In North America he has always shown that he was willing and capable of minding his defensive duties. Maybe a by-product of his past? Hard to say, but there could be some residual effects and those effects could also apply to Gernat. I know, I know. These are all far from perfect examples and a trip over to Uncle Google's house will probably provide you with more failures than successes, but you get the point. It can be done given the right circumstances. The end game is what the team could ultimately wind up with.
Gernat would be almost everything an NHL team looks for in a role playing forward (although he'd probably end up shy of being an intimidating physical force). Given the proper tutelage I'm sure he could grasp the far less complicated duties a winger is saddled with. Maybe he even develops the chops to run as a 3rd line center? He's already made the impressive climb up the prospect ranks from an unknown 5th round pick to quality prospect D-man. Is another unlikely ascension that far fetched?
What is obvious is that if moved to forward, and when he does start to fill out his 6'5" frame a little more, he would be a load for the opposition. He skates very well and coupled with his size it makes him "a hard man to handle at full speed". All reports of him sing the praises of soft hands and good vision. He has great offensive instincts, but as a D-man he has been characterized at times as somewhat of a rover and lacking a polished defensive game. When you take a moment and consider all the factors, the people ahead of him, the impending blue line log jam and player style, he really starts to look like a perfect candidate for a positional switch. Size, skill, mobility and defensive experience. A coaches dream forward.
If I were MacTavish I'd be sitting down with Gernat, his agent and Todd Nelson to discuss the possibilities. Give him a few months in the AHL in a supporting forward role to see if there is something there. If it doesn't work what does the organization really have to lose? You move him back to D and let him develop. He doesn't figure to fit into the plans on the blue line for at least 2 years anyways. If it works you've polished an already unlikely 5th round gem into something very valuable. If it works, you will have solved the problem of what to do with one of the many beautiful defensive prospects the Oilers have amassed. And if it works, you will have traded a few months of defensive prospect development for a unique forward asset that would cost you far more in trade or free agency. Stranger things have happened (almost completely unrelated). You may say different or call me crazy but I think it may be worth a roll of the dice.
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