We kick off Winter 2014 edition of the Top 25 Under 25 with one of the two players drafted by the Oilers in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (bonus points if you can name the other without the help of Google), Brandon Davidson. For those of you playing along at home, Davidson's inclusion in the Top 25 means that 79% of our faithful readers were wrong two days ago when they selected Mitch Moroz as the player in his grouping most deserving of inclusion on this most hallowed of lists.
As you can see, Davidson has dropped four spots on our list since the summer. A drop in the rankings is nothing new for Davidson, he's bounced up and down in in the Top 25 Under 25 since making his first appearance on the list in the same slot he lands now, back in the summer of 2010. He's been as high as 18, and as low as 28. He's found himself in the top 25 only to be on the outside looking in the very next time around. On the scorecards of all nine returning voters, Davidson ranks lower today than he did when we last checked in on him. It looks as if it's Zsolt's confidence in him that kept 79% of you from being right.
So why the change of heart with so many of our voters? Some of it certainly has to do with his production this season, five assists in 42 games isn't what many had hoped for from a offensive defenceman. It is worth noting that some of Davidson's lacklustre counting numbers are a byproduct of some bad luck; he's averaging 1.2 shots per game but has yet to score a goal this season. But even if you give him the benefit of the doubt the numbers are hardly encouraging. Coming off a strong playoff performance last spring this is not what I, and I think many other, had expected from him.
Davidson's play during the Barons' payoff run was something that Ben noted in his post on Davidson in the last Top 25 Under 25.
Luckily, Davidson came into his own during the playoffs. This isn't as ridiculous as it sounds: Davidson played 26 regular season AHL games and 17 in the playoffs. Two small samples but one not much worse than the other. Starting off with one assist (5v5) and -1 in five games against Charlotte, Davidson played a whale of a series against Texas. Another fine series against Grand Rapids left Davidson with a highly respectable six assists in 17 games, four at 5v5 and two at 5v4. He was on the first pairing with Garrett Stafford, one of the best AHL journeymen in recent history, veteran of seven NHL games, and someone who could tell Davidson a thing or two about busting your ass to get a chance in pro hockey.
Looking at 42 games this season I think we might have leaned a little too much on those strong games in the playoffs. Can you really blame us though? Having batted cancer, Davidson is a great comeback story and really seems to be the kind of guy that you like to route for. And route for him we did. Seriously, go back and reread Ben's writeup, if that doesn't leave you wanting him to succeed then rebuild has actually crushed your soul. The numbers are what the numbers are, but I wouldn't through in the towel on him just yet though because, according to his coach, Davidson has been paying a lot better of late. From an interview Todd Nelson did with Jason Gregor recently:
He had a tough go the first three months and now we’re seeing improvement in his play and he’s back to where he was at the end of last year; he’s playing steady hockey. A lot of things that these young defencemen go through is centred around confidence. I think that with Brandon at the start of the year things didn’t go his way so you lose your confidence and also you start to struggle, but I think that he’s playing probably the best hockey that he’s played all year. He’s steady and he’s once again making smart decisions and he’s winning battles in the corner. With him, I think that he’s much more improved than he was at the start of the year, so that’s a good sign for us.
That is certainly encouraging to hear, but a lack of production isn't the only thing holding him back in our rankings. The other consideration, and this may well be more important than his on-ice production right now, is where he fits into the Oilers depth chart. The Oilers defence this season is best compared to a tire fire, it's unappealing in every way. Looking down the pipe however there are some prospects who look like they could provide some help some day (please don't let this be the plan for next season). That list includes Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, and Martin Gernat. Even players like Dillon Simpson and Taylor Fedun likely slot in ahead of Davidson in the grand scheme of things. I won't suggest that all, or even most, of those players will make it to the NHL, but they will be given a lot of chances to succeed, and if they're getting the opportunities then someone else is being pushed aside, that someone could well be Davidson.
At 22 years old Davidson is hardly old, but he's struggled with consistency and with his slot on the depth chart being what it is his opportunities to figure things out are going to be limited. Thanks to a strong playoff performance last year things looked good for the blueliner but six months later things suddenly aren't lining up quite as well for him. He's always been a long shot though and it's gotten him this far, no reason to change things up now I guess.