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The Oilers Should Claim Boris Valabik

The Pittsburgh Penguins have placed defenseman Boris Valabik on waivers, which comes at a perfect time for the Edmonton Oilers. Ryan Whitney is out for another two and a half weeks, and Andy Sutton is out for another four games by way of suspension, which means that the Oilers are in need of some temporary help on the blueline. Of course, that "help" is probably just a halfway competent body sitting in the press-box for the next four games ready to step up in case of emergency - not an ideal role for young developing defenders like Colten Teubert and Alex Plante, and the Oilers don't have any other options under contract. That's where Valabik comes in.

The 6'7'' 245 lb. Valabik was the 10th overall pick in 2004, but hasn't been able to translate that draft pedigree into stable employment at the NHL level. In 80 career NHL games in parts of three seasons with the Thrashers, Valabik has registered seven points and a whopping 210 penalty minutes. He's from the Andy Sutton family of big imposing defenders who don't skate or handle the puck all that well.

During his first couple of NHL games in the 2007-08 season, The Falconer paid special attention to Valabik and gave this scouting report:

He looks like he could be a physical third pairing guy. It is only two games and he made some mistakes but his physical play would be a nice addition. I feel better after seeing him play in the NHL than I did after watching him in the AHL. His body works well at this level and the skating is less of an issue than I feared. Valabik made some mental errors but those can be corrected unlike deficiencies in skating or size or heart. This guy has a ton of heart, the question is his head--if he can cut down on the mistakes he can be a NHL player, not a top 4 guy, but a player nonetheless.

Valabik became a full-time NHLer the next season, playing in 50 games. Coach John Anderson used the rookie in difficult circumstances. His end-zone start ratio was the most difficult among Atlanta's defenders and he was allowed to see middling competition. As you might expect, Valabik struggled, ending his rookie season with the worst Corsi number on the team, though not so bad that he wasn't kept around for another year.

Unfortunately, Valabik started the 2009-10 season on injured reserve after surgery on his left ankle. When he returned, John Anderson had him in the lineup consistently, but sheltered him heavily, giving him the most favorable ratio of end-zone starts on the team as well as the least difficult opposition. As you might expect, the results with him on the ice improved substantially. In fact, he had the best Corsi number on the club, but was injured again after just 23 games, this time with a torn ACL.

Valabik hasn't been back to the NHL since, and is coming off yet another leg injury, but his play at the NHL level is good enough to fill the role "competent press-box man" in the short term. Bringing him in would also keep Teubert and Plante in Oklahoma City instead of having them travel with the Oilers only to spend game nights in the press-box.

The acquisition makes sense in the long term too. With Taylor Chorney being claimed by St. Louis - and the Blues are eight days away from fully owning his rights - the organization's professional depth took a hit. If the Oilers keep Valabik on the roster for thirty days, they can send him down to Oklahoma City without needing to offer his rights back to the (Wilkes-Barre) Penguins, and he'd be a big boost for the Barons. His contract isn't onerous either. It's a one-year deal for the league minimum at the NHL level and $105,000 at the AHL level, which means he doesn't need to clear re-entry waivers if he clears on the way down and the Oilers want to bring him back up. Plus, at just twenty-four years old, he'll be a restricted free agent after the season, which gives the Oilers the right to retain his rights in the off-season if they see him developing into a player.