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PRINCIPE: Boys on the Blueline

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers
Jordan Oesterle is just one of the few youthful blueliners the Oilers have playing for them now. (photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC)

There's no doubt Ben Scrivens was the star of Friday's game versus Chicago. It looked like a near repeat performance (minus about 20 saves) of his stellar career-high 59-stop robbery of San Jose last season. While Ben did a lot of the heavy lifting in the 2-1 shootout loss, he did get some help from his defence. A blueline full of boys who are becoming men as part of Edmonton's defensive core. A work-in-progress group of guys banding together with an opportunity to grow into long-term pieces on the backend.

It is mainly a baby-faced blueline that Edmonton has patrolling its own end, not that Jeff Petry was an old man. In fact, far from it. But at 27, he was established and was closing in on 300 NHL games before being dealt to Montreal at the trade deadline. It left a 20:57 nightly hole in the Edmonton game plan for others to fill. That's a lot of ice time to be dispersed elsewhere. With no one new arriving to the team on deadline day, it reeked of opportunity for those on the scene. Young and old, the chance was there to play more or to even play at all. The Petry trade opened up a job and new territory for others to explore.

The best place to start was the youngest and least experienced of them all. This time last season, Jordan Oesterle was busy going to school and playing hockey. Now he's getting a first-hand NHL education. Two weeks into his career and he's faced Perry, Getzlaf, Toews, Hossa, Kopitar and Carter, just to name a few. Wow, what a way to open up a career. Lots on the go and lots to learn for the 22-year-old. Thankfully, for his sake, he's been paired up with the elder statesman and Oilers captain Andrew Ference. The duo have played 897 NHL games. Ference with 893 and Oesterle the other 4. An 'Odd Couple' of combinations when it comes to experience with Oesterle being the biggest beneficiary of the opening on defence.

The other 'older' defenceman is Mark Fayne. He's still only 27, but it feels like he's been around much longer with all of his time, prior to this season, being spent in New Jersey. He's been skating with 23-year-old Martin Marincin. While the final duo, and the one with the most long-term future, is Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz. 21 and 24-year-olds are playing together more often and playing better the more time they spend side by side. In talking to Mark Fayne during the Sportsnet broadcast of the game against Chicago, Fayne was clear on his role. Help where you can, answer questions when you're asked and provide some knowledge and experience. Two things everyone, except for Ference and Fayne, is in the early stages of trying to build.

That's why Scrivens performance in Chicago serves as a delicate reminder that as the defence builds its case, the goaltender can help bail them out. If needed, that last line of defence can help out the six defencemen in front of him. It will be a process for Edmonton's backend to grow together. It's impossible to predict who will patrol these positions in the years to come. Remember, another soon to be 20-something Darnell Nurse, is part of the team's plans in the very near future. With exactly five weeks to go in the season, the defence’s development continues for the 'Boys on the Blueline'.
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