Keith Aulie, Mark Fayne, Andrew Ference, Martin Marincin, Nikita Nikitin, Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz.
Barring major injuriHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA...
...sorry. Where was I? Oh yes. Barring major injuries, which of the aforementioned defensemen is the lynchpin for a successful season in 2014-15?
Let's walk through the candidates:
Keith Aulie: Aulie is 25 years old and has 136 games under his belt in 5 NHL seasons. He's split time as 6th defenseman on really bad NHL teams and a 1st pairing defenseman on AHL teams over that span.
Mark Fayne: Fayne is the tough minutes ice-tilter the numbers adore. He's a mudder and his mudder was a mudder.
Andrew Ference: Without Zedno Chara to protect him from...everything...Ference was exposed for the player he is last season. He was mauled against toughs and made to look the fool against seconds. The smart money saw how bad his deal was when it was signed and only the stepfords remain in his corner.
Martin Marincin: Marincin was forced into top 4 minutes as a 21-year-old next to Jeff Petry (like Laco Smid and Theo Peckham with Tom Gilbert) and should've collapsed like his predecessors. Instead, Marincin looked like an NHL defenseman, granted he had his share of HUAs, and finally took some of the load off of Petry.
Nikita Nikitin: Nikitin had a nice run a couple of seasons ago, but has been falling apart since. Last year, Nikitin was on Columbus' third pairing behind Jack Johnson. Ole' spaghettification.
Jeff Petry: Petry is Rebuild v3.0's (are we on Rebuild 4.0 yet?) Tom Gilbert. He plays toughs and saws off, even though he has no help, he does it quietly, but with aplomb. He's a stopper, but he's also a primary puck carrier.
Justin Schultz: Schultz has been an offense-only player since arriving in the NHL two seasons ago. He purposefully avoids contact on the ice and refuses to play below the faceoff circle in the defensive zone. He's been man-handled against top competition and overwhelmed against second-flight competition in his two seasons.
Assuming Fayne and Petry don't collapse like Zimbabwean currency and can be counted on to deliver competent top-4 minutes whether together or apart, which of the remaining five becomes the key figure on the Oilers blueline?