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Using That Final Roster Spot

Should the Oilers carry 8 defensemen into the season, or 14 forwards?

Derek Leung

When the Edmonton Oilers settle on their 23-man roster it will consist of two goalies and either 8 defensemen and 13 forwards, or 7 defensemen and 14 forwards. If you asked me prior to training camp which one of these scenarios was more likely, I would have said it was a slam dunk for there to be eight bodies on the back end.

Now, things are less clear.

Most of Craig MacTavish's key additions in the off season were to the defense. For some time it seemed that there were more NHL-calibre defensemen than available jobs, especially with the expectation that Oscar Klefbom would be knocking loudly on the door. Fast forward to the present and Oscar Klefbom has been assigned to Oklahoma City, Denis Grebeshkov has underwhelmed, and Corey Potter is injured.

Just ten healthy defensemen remain on the training camp roster, including Darnell Nurse and Taylor Fedun; the latter's waiver-exempt status should see him eventually sent to OKC. Perhaps a little surprisingly, Nurse has made it difficult to send him back to junior, but that should be the end result. Keeping Nurse with the big club as an extra or in a limited role would be a disservice to his development and to his contract status in the long term.

Up front, the Oilers are in hot water. Losing Sam Gagner - means that the team desperately needs help at center (as if they didn't before), and the astute general manager would be out looking for reinforcements. The Oilers currently have a few options up the middle, but none of them are what one would call a sure thing. The cautious approach may be to keep as much center depth on the roster as possible and rotate players based on their results.

The huge amount of uncertainty in both experience and injury suggest that more forwards is preferable to more defense, at least to start the year. Will Acton, Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander combine for just 68 NHL games; all but one of which belong to Lander. If it's feasible, adding another experienced center wouldn't hurt.

The Oilers are one badly-timed injury away from being completely sunk at center, which may make it wise for them to carry some insurance - no matter how thin.