The Edmonton Oilers Defensive Depth

Jonathan Willis
December 31 2012 09:10AM

What sort of shape is the Oilers’ blue line in? Is it good enough to play if/when NHL hockey returns?


In 2011-12, the average NHL team used 10 different defencemen over the course of the season. Eight of those players appeared in 25+ games, getting a significant role on the blue line; seven played in at least 40 contests. These numbers are in the ballpark with figures for previous years.

I think the necessary reaction to those numbers for an NHL general manager is obvious. Each year, his team needs seven guys he can count on to play regularly, and eight guys who can play at the NHL level without getting embarrassed. He also needs at least two more guys – good prospects who aren’t quite ready or steady AHL veterans who can take spot duty – to fill in as required.

(Note: Since the totals quoted above are averages, some teams will need more than 10 defencemen, others less. However, each team only has so much room at the AHL level and under the 50-contract maximum, so it doesn’t make sense to plan for the worst-case scenario: for low-level defenders there’s generally a mid-season trade/waiver option if the situation gets really desperate.)

The Oilers

Last season the Oilers used more than the average number of defencemen. Here’s how they break down by games played:

  • 40+ games (7 players): Nick Schultz, Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Corey Potter, Theo Peckham, Andy Sutton, Ryan Whitney
  • 25+ games (1 player): Cam Barker
  • 1+ games (3 players): Colten Teubert, Taylor Chorney, Alex Plante, Bryan Rodney

The health concerns involving Ryan Whitney meant that this should have been expected; he was hurt early and often and the signs were there in the summer.

It seems fair to say that the Oilers’ 2011-12 blue-line was suboptimal. They gambled on Whitney and reclamation project Cam Barker, and lost both bets. They found a pleasant surprise in Corey Potter, but ended up leaning too much on (ideally) third-pairing types like Potter, Theo Peckham and Andy Sutton (though Sutton was another pleasant surprise, authoring his best campaign in years). Colten Teubert proved to be unready for his 24-game audition. There were also problems at the top of the depth chart, but as those are more difficult to solve it does not make sense to belabor the point.

What does the depth chart look like right now? If we imagined a full NHL season ahead, here’s what the games played might look like if the Oilers used a league-average number of defencemen:

  • 40+ games (7 players): Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz, Nick Schultz, Ryan Whitney, Corey Potter, Theo Peckham
  • 25+ games (1 player): Colten Teubert
  • 1+ games (2 players): Taylor Fedun, Martin Marincin

(Note: I have omitted Andy Sutton, since he is injured and his career may be over.)

I would submit that the above list isn’t good enough, thanks in part to the Sutton injury. Corey Potter is minus-2 on the best team in Austria and even before the lockout should not have been slotted anywhere higher than seventh on the depth chart; Theo Peckham too is problematic if slotted higher than seventh. Colten Teubert is in a tougher spot because he needs to get development time but he really does not seem ready for regular NHL employment; despite positive press about his enforcer abilities he’s really only been a decent defender at the AHL level and I’m betting he’d be exposed in the NHL in the same way he was last year. Fedun would probably be fine in spot duty but Marincin is a ‘best of bad options’ choice - he shouldn’t be a guy expected to play any NHL minutes this early and the alternatives are worse.

The list gets a little better if we project forward to 2013-14 and add in prospect Oscar Klefbom:

  • 40+ games (7 players): Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz, Nick Schultz, Ryan Whitney, Corey Potter, Theo Peckham
  • 25+ games (1 player): Oscar Klefbom
  • 1+ games (2 players): Colten Teubert, Taylor Fedun,

One wrinkle worth considering is Teubert’s waiver exemption: under the current rules he would seem to need to clear waivers in the fall of 2013 and so the Oilers might want to keep him on the NHL roster. That would mean keeping eight guys on the NHL roster or shipping out Theo Peckham; I would guess the latter move. It’s a concern because I really don’t see Teubert as ready for NHL work; I’d be tempted to either trade him or risk sneaking him through waivers.

Problems persist, however. Theo Peckham has only played four ECHL games this year and banking on him in a top-seven role could be problematic (particularly given his conditioning history). I have similar concerns with regard to Corey Potter.

I suspect a lot of teams are going to have defensive depth issues if NHL hockey resumes in January – there are lots of players sitting and I don’t know that the Oilers will be able to do much other than moving ahead with what they have (over a shorter season, fewer defenders will be needed so it’s also less of an issue). I do think the Oilers dodged a bit of a bullet – they should have done more this summer and thanks to the lockout they haven’t paid a price for it. I also think that the status quo should not be nearly good enough in the summer: Steve Tambellini needs to clear out some of the deadwood at the bottom of the NHL roster and bring in a couple of guys capable of doing the kind of job Andy Sutton did a year ago.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.