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Oilers' facelift continues with Sekera, Letestu

by Derek Van Diest /

EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli checked off two more items on his list during the first day of NHL free agency.

On Wednesday, Chiarelli signed veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera to a six-year, $33 million contract and center Mark Letestu to a three-year, $5.4 million contract.

"At the start of the shopping period, we had [Sekera] on our list and began talks with his agent," Chiarelli said. "It was at that point that there was interest and there was a little bit of recruitment from that period and dialog. He's a really versatile [defenseman] and really strong. He can play on our top pair if need be. We'd like to spread it out a bit so he can kind of be the linchpin of that second pair. He plays both sides. He played most of the year on the left, but when he was traded [to the Los Angeles Kings] he moved to the right."

Sekera, 29, started last season with the Carolina Hurricanes before being traded to the Kings on Feb. 25 for a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and defensive prospect Roland McKeown.

In 57 games with Carolina, Sekera had two goals and 17 assists, and three assists in 16 games with Los Angeles. A third-round pick (No. 71) of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2004 NHL Draft, Sekera has 31 goals and 128 assists in 486 games.

"I'm very happy we got him," Chiarelli said. "He is a first-pairing defenseman, but that just means that's a tool for the coach who he can put on the first pair. That doesn't mean he has to be on the first-pair to be a first-pairing defenseman. With him it's about versatility. He's solid, he's very, very strong, he's a solid player with the puck, can play a lot of different positions on defense and can skate and push the puck."

Sekera joins a crowded group on the Oilers blue line, which includes Mark Fayne, Andrew Ference, Oscar Klefbom, Justin Schultz, Nikita Nikitin, along with Eric Gryba and Griffin Reinhart, who were acquired earlier this week.

Defenseman prospect Darnell Nurse also is expected to challenge for a roster spot this season.

"We were fortunate to get some things done at the draft, so it took a little bit of the urgency away from it," Chiarelli said of the Sekera signing. "Now we have some extra parts, but I'd rather have nine D than five D. That creates competition and I'm all for competition."

Along with adding to the defense, Chiarelli brought in Letestu to strengthen the Oilers' depth at center.

Letestu, 30, had seven goals and six assists in 54 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. In 318 games, he has 58 goals and 69 assists.

"What we wanted was a right-shot center who is good on faceoffs. That was the general premise behind it," Chiarelli said. "It's another tool that your coach has, you can put a right-hand or a left-hand center out there for draws. There was some familiarity for Mark, and that was the driving force behind that."

Since being hired in April as general manager and president of hockey operations, Chiarelli has worked on revamping the Oilers roster.

Along with selecting center Connor McDavid with the first pick at this year's draft, Chiarelli traded for goaltender Cam Talbot from the New York Rangers, Reinhart from the New York Islanders, and forward Lauri Korpikoski from the Arizona Coyotes.

"It's always a feel-good time around the draft and free agency when you draft people and you sign people, so generally speaking there is a general optimism," Chiarelli said. "We had a checklist and went down it. Normally, you don't hit on all the things and we didn't hit on all of them. But we got a lot of the pieces that we wanted."

Chiarelli said he's pleased with the improvements, but he did not rule out making further changes before Edmonton opens the season Oct. 8 at the St. Louis Blues.

"I would say I'm happy with this roster," Chiarelli said. "I guess you can never be satisfied, but we set out to do some things and we did a lot of them. What I see this as a good first step heading down the road."

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