Moments after the Oilers inked Kyle Brodziak on July 1st, the team announced a one-year deal with defender Kevin Gravel. Gravel will only make $700,000 this coming season, and comes to Edmonton looking to get his career back on track after a battle with illness a season ago.
Gravel is one of a number of players fighting for a roster spot this fall, with a chance to make his mark as Edmonton’s number seven defender or better. Gravel is a left-shot defender who split his time between the NHL and AHL a year ago, but who was established as a solid bottom of the roster player in 2016-17.
Gravel’s career seemed to be derailed a bit last season by crohn’s disease, but he’s healthy now and ready to battle to get back to the NHL.
So……Just Who Is Kevin Gravel?:
Gravel is a 26 year old defender who stands in at 6’4″ and 212 pounds. He’s entering his sixth professional season, having appeared in the NHL in three different campaigns. He’s played at least partial time in the big leagues since 2015-16, with AHL duty sprinkled in as well.
After just five games in 2015-16, Gravel emerged as a consistent member of LA’s defense in 2016-17. He appeared in 49 games for the Kings while registering 1-6-7 and a +3 rating. Gravel had a 54.6% Corsi For percentage while posting a +1.5 CF% Rel. Gravel averaged 14:09 TOI per game and had a 99.4 PDO, indicating that he wasn’t riding a wave of luck during his strong season.
After emerging as a solid bottom-pairing option that year for LA, Gravel saw expectations rise heading into 2017-18. That was derailed by crohn’s disease, however, which limited him to just 16 NHL games. He did appear in 25 AHL games for the Ontario Reign as well, but he never seemed right and never truly got going last season. Gravel posted just three points, all assists, in those 16 games and finished with a -3 rating.
Here’s a look at Gravel’s scouting report via The Hockey News.
Assets: Owns a huge frame (6-4), which helps him in a shutdown role at lower levels. Uses positioning and an active stick to defend his own zone effectively.
Flaws: Needs to fill out his big frame, use his size more to his advantage and play with a little more aggression. Also, his offensive game is somewhat limited.
Career Potential: Big defenseman with a little upside.
What Can We Expect?:
Gravel is going to enter a battle at Oilers camp. He’s one of a handful of players that has a legit chance to make the team as Edmonton’s seventh defender, a role that could expand should Darnell Nurse’s contract situation not get figured out.
Gravel will compete with guys like Keegan Lowe, Ryan Stanton, Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Jason Garrison and perhaps even Evan Bouchard for a roster spot in Edmonton. He’s got the inside track over the young guys, however, because he’s an older player who can comfortably be stashed in the pressbox without a worry about development.
I think Oiler fans can realistically expect Gravel to make the roster this season in a depth role. He’s a good fit as a seventh defender for a few different reasons. He’s got the size Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli like, he’s a strong shutdown defender, plays physical but also can move the puck a bit and has some speed to his game. He’s not a blazer, but he isn’t a slug out there. That’s key in today’s game.
If Gravel can come in, make the roster and provide solid depth as a seventh D, well Edmonton can consider this signing a victory. I think that is a very realistic outcome, and that it should be the expectation for Gravel’s first season in Northern Alberta.