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Find Your Way Back

Philip Broberg is set to prove his latest call-up to the Oilers is his last.

Edmonton Oilers v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2022-23 campaign was supposed to be the first step towards Philip Broberg becoming a key piece on the Edmonton Oilers blueline. Well, that wasn’t in the cards to start the season but with the talented Swede now back in the mix, it’s on the coaching staff to give him a real opportunity to find his way.

Be it due to poor play, injury or a combination of the two, Broberg found himself in the AHL to start his season. A disappointing development for both the organization and player to be sure but by no means was it one that should have derailed the talented youngster’s year.

After battling through a couple of injuries and playing seven games for the Bakersfield Condors, Broberg was showing signs of being the player the Oilers were expecting. With the big club struggling to find its footing, it surprised absolutely no one to see the 21-year old be recalled in late November.

Last night’s win over the Montreal Canadiens was Broberg’s fifth game since being back in Edmonton and the Oilers are 4-1 in those games. Now, that’s not to suggest he is the reason why the team has found its way back into the win column but it does show the importance of player with his skill-set.

Anyone who watches this team play with regularity knows the backend lacks players who are hard to play against in the defensive zone and desperately need more players who can move the puck up ice. Broberg is still working on the former but he instantly helps the latter and that cannot be overlooked.

Though much of this fan-base and media types across the city are enamoured with the physicality of a guy like Markus Niemeläinen, he is not the kind of defenceman the Oilers current group can shelter on a nightly basis. Simply put, if you can’t move the puck at this level, you can’t be a regular.

The way Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson have decided to use Broberg upon his return, suggests they didn’t want to put too much onto his plate too quickly. His ice-time has slowly started to climb and he was even given an opportunity in the late going against the Habs to help hold the lead.

All good signs to be sure but the time has come for the coaching staff to take off the kid gloves. Edmonton is in a situation where they are starving for Broberg’s skill-set and instead of loosening the reins, they continue to overload others with minutes they are ill-equipped to handle.

While I can appreciate taking the approach they are with a young defenceman, unlike the current group of forwards, the backend is at full capacity. If this staff genuinely believes the best course of action is to give their two best puck movers the fewest minutes at even strength, they’ve lost the plot.

Leaning on Darnell Nurse for major minutes is all well and good (though anything north of 25 minutes is usually too many) giving heavy minutes to the others isn’t an ideal set-up. Overplaying Cody Ceci, Brett Kulak and Tyson Barrie is a mistake…as is underusing Broberg and Evan Bouchard.

Some will point to Woodcroft and Manson’s hands being somewhat tied but I would beg to differ. For whatever reason, both Kulak and Barrie appear to be at their best when paired with each other. Leaving them together is a no-brainer but it’s the other two pairings where adjustments can easily be made.

The mind-set of having a so-called shutdown pairing is a great theory but when you don’t have the players to make that happen, forcing it is never a good idea. Despite how they are used, for my money, Nurse and Ceci are not a shutdown duo and should be anchoring their own tandems.

For me, the coaching staff should have come to camp with Bouchard and Nurse as the pairing they wanted and allow them to build chemistry as the season moved along. Clearly, that wasn’t on the board and Broberg’s lack of progress during the pre-season made it a complete non-starter. Fair enough.

Where some view Bouchard as a wild card of sorts, in my mind, he would benefit greatly from playing with a guy like Nurse and develop his overall game because of it. As an added benefit, it would be an easy way to get Darnell to reel in his own game a little, in order to help his young partner.

On the flipside of the equation, I don’t think the Oilers have a player who is better suited to helping Broberg find his way at the NHL level. His overall game and on-ice acumen is tailor made for the role he would be asked to play and it would give Edmonton three solid pairings to role at even strength.

Yet, it’s as if this coaching staff wants no part of it and would rather continue down the path of overloading guys with unnecessary workloads. Sorry but it makes no sense and if the want is for Bouchard and Broberg to do more, they have to be allowed the the opportunity to sink or swim.