The Edmonton Oilers have a few decisions to make when it comes to their blueline to start the 2019/20 season. The team bought out, veteran rearguard, Andrej Sekera earlier this summer and a replacement has not yet been brought in. Unless Ken Holland is planning on making a mid-to-late summer splash, this could imply that the team is expecting one or two of their bubbling defensive prospects to make the jump to the NHL full-time.
We have a good idea of who is returning to the Oilers blueline. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson will most likely return as the team’s top pairing, Darnell Nurse and Kris Russell are the de-facto second pairing, while Matt Benning will take up residence on the third pairing.
This leaves one spot open on the third pairing.
Who might that player be?
Let’s breakdown each candidate...
The defenceman that has the best chance at making the team out of camp is Joel Persson.
Persson spent last season playing in the SHL with Vaxjo HC. He signed on with the Oilers in May 2018 on a 1-year that saw him stay in his native Sweden. Persson then signed another 1-year contact extension this past January that will allow the Oilers to bring him to North America for the 2019/20 season.
The first thing that stands out is his cap-hit. The team will be paying Persson 1-million-dollars next season with the expectation that he can grab a regular spot on the roster. He is coming off his 2nd pro season in the SHL and, at the age of 25, it certainly seems like Persson is ready to take the next step in his career.
When the Oilers signed him back in 2018, Persson was coming off a season that saw him put up 34pts in 51 games, ranking him 2nd among SHL defenceman. A very reasonable pick-up for an Oilers team looking to add points from the backend. This past season saw a slight (and I mean slight) dip in production, notching 31pts in 50 games, but he was still ranked 5th in defensive scoring.
Persson is very much an offensive defenceman. There is no doubt that he can put up points when given the chance, but there are concerns about his defensive play and his skating.
Given where Edmonton found themselves in goals against last year, 25th in the league, it would be nice if Persson develops a better defensive game. There is also questions on how well he will adapt to the North American style.
Plenty of question marks surround Persson, but the potential is there for an effective NHL defenceman who could possibility develop into a decent top 4 guy.
He is an unknown commodity to most Edmonton Oilers fans, so he has plenty of work to do come training camp.
It took a lot for me not to put Caleb Jones at the top of this list.
The little brother of, Columbus star, Seth Jones has carved out a nice career path in Alberta’s capital. While he does not possess the same top draft pedigree that Seth has, Caleb is still a very good defenceman in his own right.
Jones is set to enter his third pro season after being drafted by Edmonton in the 4th round of the 2015 draft. In that time he has managed 46pts in 111 AHL games with the Bakersfield Condors as well as putting up 6pts in a brief 17 game stint with the Oilers last season.
I absolutely loved what Jones brought to the NHL club in his brief stint. He is a mobile defenseman that moves the puck at a good pace, something that the Oilers don’t have much of. There were times where Jones looked lost on the ice but, as a rookie defenseman, that is to be expected every now and then.
Caleb Jones has the tools to be an NHL player as early as next season, but he will need to continue to show well in camp.
Worst case scenario, he is sent to a stacked Bakersfield team to continue his development.
Out of all three of the players listed in this article, Evan Bouchard has the highest upside.
The London Knights captain is coming off a season that saw him play in 7 NHL games, scoring 1 goal during that stretch, and 45 games in the OHL, where he racked up an impressive 53pts. It is no question that he sits atop of the Oilers prospect pool and will come into the camp hungry for a spot with the big team.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bouchard is his puck-moving ability. The kid is among the strongest passers in his age group and showed well during his brief time in Edmonton. His offensive instincts are also elite, having scored 201pts in his 223 games played with the London Knights. This followed him to the pro ranks as well, picking up 8pts in 8 games with Bakersfield in last season’s AHL playoffs.
He has the potential to be a top-pairing power-play QB in the NHL, but I don’t think he has the inside track to make the club out of training camp. Ken Holland knows what he has in Bouchard and the team is going to give him every chance to succeed. I think the plan going into training camp will be give Bouchard a few months in the AHL just to give him time to adjust fully to professional hockey. However, It will be difficult for the Oilers to stick to this plan if Bouchard tears it up early on.
I don’t believe we will see Bouchard on the opening night roster, but he is a prime candidate to be a mid-season call-up.
So there you have it!
Some other players that ALMOST made the cut here: Ethan Bear, William Lagesson, and Keegan Lowe.
Who do you think will make the team out of camp this October? Let me know in the comments.