Although the forward lines were heavily revamped over the summer, so too was the defensive group which saw a greater emphasis on youth and toughness brought into and developed within the organization.
10-11 Preview: Forwards
From top to bottom, the Oilers lacked the kind of backend skill and leadership that’s required to turn this team into a championship calibre club. That’s still a work in progress, but greater responsibility is being put on the younger players as they aim to develop into something more.
It doesn’t take much to throw a loop into the defensive pairings and responsibilities on the blueline. One player leaving or another coming in can completely change the dynamic of the defensive structure. That’s exactly what happened over the summer, and several Oilers defencemen will be looking to take the next step this season. NHL.com predicts Paajarvi to win the Calder Mike Milbury on Calgary/EdmontonKelly Hrudey on goaltending & the Western ConferenceCraig Simpson on Calgary/Edmonton, Northwest Division & Western ConferenceROLE PLAY
Part of the rebuild action-plan is to provide a greater opportunity for players to take on additional responsibilities and climb their way up the depth chart. Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney
and Ladislav Smid
will see their roles increased this season.
|Tom Gilbert will be looking to have a bounceback season offensively, as he struggled during 2009-2010 |
While Whitney and Gilbert finished last season on a tear as they anchored the Oilers’ top defensive pairing, that was a reasonably small sample size. The two have shown excellent chemistry to this point, as their respective abilities are a great complement each other's game. They will be counted on to provide top unit minutes and to defend some of the league’s best offensive lines; all the while maintaining a high level of offensive play, which would include a resurgence in Gilbert’s goal-scoring totals.
For Ladislav Smid
, his opportunity couldn’t come at a better time. While the young defender has been working toward a greater role for some time now, his play hasn’t quite warranted it and ill-timed injuries have put a halt on his steady seasonal progress. MAKE OR BREAK
In what happens to be a contract year for Smid, he looks poised to further establish himself in the NHL as a legitimate top-four defenceman. He brings an element to the team that lacks further down the organization; excellent skating and mobility, composure with the puck, and added bit of toughness that he showcases both during play and after the whistle as well.
In order for Smid to truly become that dependable top-four defenceman, an added bit of offence would be a tremendous asset for the club moving forward. With only a handful of NHL goals on his career resume, he needs to add some offensive flare to his game in order to take the next step.
Part of a team’s plan during a period of rebuilding is recognizing the talent and securing it long-term if the pieces fit. Smid has been given a terrific opportunity to succeed this season, and he absolutely needs to make the most of it. OFFENCE, OFFENCE, OFFENCE
|Kurtis Foster is poised to repeat or improve upon his career year that he enjoyed during 2009-2010. |
With the amount of raw young talent up front, the Oilers defence will need to provide some additional help from the blueline. Free agent signing Kurtis Foster will most definitely help in this area, as the 28-year old will be counted on to put up significant numbers both on the powerplay and at even strength. But beyond Foster, who’s the real offensive specialist on this team?
The Oilers will need to put up offensive numbers by committee. The top-four will include three offensively minded players in Gilbert, Whitney, and Foster. Given their past resumes, despite the recent inconsistency, it shouldn’t be unreasonable to expect 35-45 points out of all three. If Smid can provide some additional support in this area, the amount of offence coming from the backend should provide some excellent assistance for the kids up front. SIZE & TOUGHNESS
The Oilers don’t lack in size anymore. What about toughness? While newcomer Jim Vandermeer and rookie Theo Peckham
will anchor the Oilers’ third pairing and provide those tough minutes, we need to remember that inexperience can sometimes be a challenge for this role.
|Theo Peckham will be starting the season in the NHL for the first time in his career. |
Peckham, for the first time in his career, has earned a job directly out of camp and appears ready to begin his NHL livelihood as a regular. Can he handle the pressure and responsibility that comes with this kind of role? Only time will tell, but being paired with unflappable veteran Jim Vandermeer should provide some excellent leadership as he aims to carve out his niche with the Oilers.
Veteran Jason Strudwick likely won’t be in the lineup on opening night, but his infectious leadership qualities should help assist Peckham along the way as well. In addition, Strudwick will certainly provide that toughness when called upon at some point during this season. Strudwick has been a valuable member of the Oilers for the past few years, as he’s started every season in the number seven role but has helped to plug some of the holes during the regular season that resulted from injuries to his fellow blueliners.
There’s that theme again. Size and toughness are two things you can’t teach. While the defencemen will be encouraged to utilize their natural strengths, they need to work as a unit to provide the necessary support for one another. Whether we’re talking about offence, defence, toughness, or anything else that comes with the territory, the Oilers need to be prepared to handle the challenges as a unit.
As is the case with a rebuilding team, the goal of the Oilers’ defensive group is development. Additional responsibilities, increased expectations, and earning your future with the team; it’s up to the players to meet and perhaps exceed these challenges. The third and final edition of our Season Preview Series will be posted tomorrow, where we take a closer look at the goaltenders.
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com