Matt Benning does not like seeing the Boston Bruins on the schedule, that’s for sure. After a tough outing last Thursday in Boston, Benning found himself scratched in New York two days later. During a big win against Boston this past Thursday, Benning was injured and placed on IR Friday.
With that move, the Oilers recalled Kevin Gravel from AHL Bakersfield. You might remember Gravel as the Oilers’ first actual signing on July 1st. He agreed to a one-year bargain contract to fight for the seventh D spot, and although he lost the job in camp he returns early in the season to help an already banged up Edmonton lineup.
The Oilers depth will be tested over the course of the next week. Benning hadn’t been playing well at all, so a chance awaits for anyone who can step up and fill a depth role with the Oilers. The Klefbom-Larsson pairing has played quite well, and Darnell Nurse looks like a legit top-four defender at this point in his career. With Kris Russell playing with him, it opens up bottom-pairing options.
I’ll be honest, I’ve liked Evan Bouchard’s game. He’s had some rookie moments, but overall I think he’s played quite well for this Edmonton team at just 18. Today, as he turns 19, Bouchard has a chance to further cement himself as an NHL’er. With Benning out, he becomes the best right-shot puck mover that this team has. For an Oiler team struggling to transition the puck, Bouchard is going to play a big role in the up coming three games.
Gravel, who we talked about above, also has a pretty big opportunity. He’s not a great puck mover and is more of a shutdown defender, but he does have decent speed and played quite well in 2016-17 before coming down with illness a year ago. He’s arguably been Bakersfield’s best penalty killer early in the AHL season and that is an area where the Oilers need some help.
After a decent camp, Jason Garrison has been a mixed bag. He was fine against the Rangers last Saturday, but boy did he look over matched against Winnipeg on Tuesday night. There’s a chance that he jumps into the lineup tonight, but I’d prefer to see Gravel in that spot.
Peter Chiarelli elected to not address Edmonton’s top-four this summer, but instead opted to find some depth options for the club. Tonight, we’ll see one of them against arguably the best team in the NHL’s Western Conference.
Edmonton’s top-four is starting to take shape. Klefbom, Larsson and Nurse have all played quite well to my eye and I think all fit that role perfectly. It’s up to the bottom three defenders to step up. Bouchard has had his moments early, but he’s still a rookie and has a lot of growing to do. Garrison and Gravel will now be counted on to play minutes for this hockey club.
The Oilers appear, on paper at least, to have defensive depth for the first time in years. We are about to find out if that depth is just a mirage or if it truly exists. The opportunity is there for both Garrison and Gravel, but they’ll have to face some major tests while Benning rests up and gets healthy.
In a crucial early part of the schedule, Edmonton is already facing tests. They failed them miserably last year, but with the calendar turned it’s a whole new day. You’re up, Jason. Kevin, you very well might be next.