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The Progress Report: Depth on Defence

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Jim Vandermeer (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC).

With Monday’s 1:00pm MST trade deadline in full view, a number of names from the Oilers organization have been mentioned in various rumours and general league-wide rumblings. Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid seem to be the most likely candidates, but another veteran defenceman has had his name emerge as one of the potential movers come sunrise.

When veteran rearguard Jim Vandermeer was acquired on June 30, 2010, the Oilers had now accomplished one of their scheduled off-season upgrades. Patrick O’Sullivan, who endured a disappointing 2009-10 season, was shipped away to help clear cap space and a roster position for the impending battles of training camp.

Having played parts of two seasons with the rival Calgary Flames, many in Oil Country had an idea of what the team had gained on the blueline; an important veteran presence to help guide the youth across the lineup, combined with hard-nosed on-ice charisma that highlights a commanding physical game.

Through one seemingly minor exchange, the Oilers were now a better team both depth-wise and on the physical side as well. Wheels were in motion and the summer kicked off in style.

Vandermeer, like many of his teammates, had a terrific start to the season before slowing down as the early months progressed. As December rolled around, an eight-game absence due to an ankle injury further compounded the frustration. After weeks of rehab and intense skating tests orchestrated by Head Coach Tom Renney, Vandermeer was ready to return.

Unfortunately, that return was a short-lived victory. Only days and one game after making his return to the lineup, Vandermeer re-aggravated the injury and was again relegated to sidelines for an additional seven games.

Ironically enough, this could perhaps be considered the turning point of his season. Since returning in full-health to the lineup on Jan. 23, his defensive game has been brilliant. His shutdown presence and physical reliability has provided the Oilers with options on the backend.

While Vandermeer’s surge has been a tremendous gain for an Oilers squad that lacks defensive depth at the moment, the opportunity has been equally as valuable for the player looking to earn another contract. Vandermeer’s take-notice play recently powered into overdrive, with his most complete performance of the season highlighting a 5-1 road victory over the Colorado Avalanche earlier in the week.

In that commanding win, Vandermeer played an incredible 24:18, leading his team in ice-time for the first time in the 2010-11 campaign; one of the rare occasions this season that an Oiler not named Ryan Whitney or Tom Gilbert have led their club in this regard.

In the 24-plus minutes he played, 20:58 came at even strength, while the remaining 3:20 came shorthanded. Unlike most on the backend, Vandermeer accumulated his entire total without a single second on the power-play. Jason Strudwick was the only other blueliner not to receive any gravy time with the man-advantage that night.

Ice-time aside, the real story was his excellent performance behind the minutes. In his season-high workload, Vandermeer completed the evening with a plus-one rating, one shot on goal, two hits, and one blocked shot. All things considered, a great night for the intentionally uneventful, stay-at-home defenceman.

That 5-1 triumph over the division rival Colorado Avalanche was, perhaps, the most complete team effort of the season. Vandermeer’s performance that night was fittingly appropriate as the Oilers wrapped up the road trip in style. While Vandermeer’s play this season has been incredibly solid, his outing in Denver provided the highlight point as he continues to improve following his extended stints on the IR.

For everyone involved, the emergence of Vandermeer’s reliable defensive game has provided options for the Oilers moving forward. The reality of the situation, however, is that the Oilers are a 30th place club in the NHL standings. Decisions at the deadline and beyond are expected, and Vandermeer is only one piece of the 23-man puzzle that’s currently undergoing a process of change.

Depth defencemen are often a coveted commodity at the trade deadline, so the potential exists for a deal to be made. If tomorrow’s deadline passes and Vandermeer is still a member of the organization, you can expect to see the same rising play and veteran leadership that has seen him emerge, both as a valued defenceman and a proud Edmonton Oiler. 

Regardless of how the next 24 hours shake out, the Oilers have been provided with options due to Vandermeer’s unheralded play and exuding leadership qualities. His play has certainly the accolades, but the decision of whether or not to include him in the organization’s rebuilding plans remains to be seen.

Only time will tell.

Author: Ryan Dittrick |
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