A cancer diagnosis in November 2012 hit the pause button on the defenceman's development in the American Hockey League. He has since rebounded with great courage. But at some point, Davidson likely wants to be known as a full-time NHL player, rather than a hockey player who survived cancer.
Thursday was another step toward that goal, as he was recalled from Oklahoma City on emergency basis.
“It has been a long road to get here,” said Davidson. “I’ve been through a few things and that has kind of maybe faltered things and maybe set me back a little bit. But that’s the way things go sometimes. I’m here now and I’m just trying to think of all the (positives) and try to make sure I do a good job here so I prove a point for next year.”
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The 23-year-old Lethbridge, AB native played his first NHL game on December 10, 2014. He played three more, including logging 18-plus minutes against Arizona on December 16.
“Huge character guy. That’s the best way to describe Brandon,” said Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson, who worked with Davidson in Oklahoma City. “He went through a lot his first season, overcame it and has been improving over time down there and he played well up here when he was up here last time. We’re looking for the same type of game out of him. He’s a strong guy, he’s able to kill the cycle, he’s able to make plays and he played some really big minutes for us the last game he played here. I’m excited for him, he’s excited to be back but it’s quite an inspirational story when you think about Brandon Davidson’s career.”
The reports out of OKC are that Davidson is the Barons most consistent defenceman. He is a calming “veteran” presence on their youthful blueline, despite being only 23. He has played 147 AHL games, recording 28 points (11-17-28) and 113 penalty minutes. As of late, he has played the shut-down role while paired with the offensively inclined Brad Hunt.
Davidson is a RFA at the end of the season, and his second chance in Edmonton this season is an important one.
“I will treat it like a tryout,” said Davidson. “Next year is a big year for me, I need a contract. These last games remaining are a tryout for me to just prove what I can do and hopefully fit in well with the others.”
Davidson says he never felt out of place in his previous four NHL games.
“I felt I played a good game when I came up,” he said. “I felt I belonged and I deserved to maybe stick around a little longer but that’s not the case. That’s the way things go sometimes. I’m back here now and hopefully now I can maybe stick a little longer.”
With Mark Fayne and Andrew Ference both out of the Oilers lineup with injuries, Davidson gets an opportunity to show he’s ready for a longer look.
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Davidson was one of the players Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish said the team wanted to see again down the stretch, when he spoke to the media on trade deadline day. When the Oilers assigned Davidson back to OKC last time, he got the feeling he might be back.
“We did have that exit meeting, there is always talk and stuff,” Davidson said. “They let me know I had done a good job, I gave them exactly what they wanted. Just for me, they wanted me to keep progressing. I’ve kind of been progressing over the years, maybe slower than others, but I haven’t faltered. I’ve kept going in the right direction. Here I am again with another opportunity. I feel like my game is a solid game and that’s all they wanted me to keep working on. Keep getting better and keep progressing as a player and make sure I’m doing all the right things.”
When you think of the Oilers young defencemen in their system, the big names are first-round picks Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom. 23-year-old 2010 second-round pick Martin Marincin has spent a good chunk of time at the NHL level these last two seasons as well. Davidson might not immediately come to mind, being a sixth-round pick (162nd overall in 2010), but his coach feels he should. Nelson says he’s moving toward becoming an NHL defenceman.
“I think he’s trending in that direction,” Nelson said. “We’ll see how he is tonight. Based on his play the last few games that he played here, we see him in the future being a guy that’s knocking on the door to be a guy to stick in the National Hockey League. He’s improved so much at the pro level. We saw signs of him really coming on his first season and he only played the last three months due to his illness. Then last year, he just kept on getting better and better and he’s earned the right to be here. He’s been the most consistent guy down there and I’m excited to watch him play.”
Nelson sees Davidson as a shut-down defenceman at the NHL level.
“That’s what he would be in the future,” said Nelson. “He has some offensive ability but the the things he brings to the table are he’s really reliable, he’ll pay the price with blocking shots, he’ll battle hard in the corners and he has the ability to do that.”