Over the last several weeks, the Oiler defence has undergone plenty of changes. Until yesterday, the blue line was down four regulars. Edmonton has plugged in Philip Broberg, William Lagesson and Markus Niemeläinen, while Kris Russell has played all over the place and for all kinds of minutes.
When everyone gets healthy on the blue, the Oilers will need to decide if they’re going to plug Slater Koekkoek back in as 3LD to alternate with Kris Russell, or if they’ll keep one of Broberg, Niemeläinen or Lagesson up. Darnell Nurse is back on the top pair, and seems all but certain that Duncan Keith will find himself back on the second pair once he’s healthy enough to play. The Oilers could go with Koekkoek. They might opt for Wiliam Lagesson, though that relationship might be strained after his agent’s outburst on Twitter last night. Philip Broberg has shown well for his first jump into NHL hockey, but Tippett has suggested that his time on the NHL roster will be short once everyone is healthy.
And Kris Russell? Guy played 26 minutes on the top line a few days ago. He isn’t going anywhere.
That leaves Markus Niemeläinen, who might have piqued the interest of the Oilers enough to stay for a while.
A third round selection in 2016, Niemeläinen was called up a week ago after Cody Ceci enterred into Covid-19 protocol. Since he’s been in Edmonton, the 23 year old from Finland has averaged just under 14 and a half minutes of ice time in three games. Niemeläinen has been paired with Tyson Barrie and Philip Broberg in his short stint with the club, and he hasn’t looked out of place.
With just three games under his NHL belt, it’s a little early to be forecasting Niemeläinen’s immediate future with the club. He had some first game jitters, but he looked much calmer in his last two. At 6’ 5”, Niemeläinen isn’t afraid to use his frame to his advantage. Dustin Brown earned some frequet flyer miles courtesy of Niemeläinen in an otherwise disappointing game for the Oilers last night. In his short stint in Edmonton, his physical play hasn’t gone unnoticed, as he’s given sixteen hits in just three games.
Slater Koekkoek is expected to be out for another week or two while he recovers from a lower body injury. This could give Niemeläinen an opportunity to play in a handful of games before the Oilers need to figure it out. If we see more of what we already have, the Oilers might have a difficult decision on their hands.