One More Piece?


The Edmonton Oilers blue-line has been the center of anger and complaints from the fans, self-included, all season long. The team has struggled mightily in the defensive zone, and far too often we see opposing players wide open in front of the net or the slot area to put home a goal. The mistakes have been apparent and much talked about too.

That being said, the defensive play has improved recently, and as a result the team has improved. They’ve taken many strides in terms of taking their man and paying better attention to their assignments, and as a result the chances against have fallen in recent contests. The big tests still await, but it’s a good sign.

A lot of people think that the Oilers blue-line needs to be totally blown up and rebuilt, but is that really the case? Yes, the team doesn’t have enough top-four NHL defenders. Yes, the team doesn’t have a stud. Yes, the team just recently traded a serviceable top-four in Ladislav Smid for futures, and yes there are a lot of prospects waiting in the wings at this position.

All that being said above, the Edmonton Oilers might be one piece away from having a good blue-line, and two pieces away from having a great blue-line. Yes, I Mr. Negativity truly mean what I just said.

The Oilers have some good things back there.

Jeff Petry is a top-four defender on just about every NHL team. I’ve said that before and been ripped for it, but I stand by that statement. Petry moves the puck well, has good offensive instincts, plays a good defensive game and has improved physically. He’s a perfect number three and serviceable number two. He’s averaging around 18 minutes of 5X5 ice time a game and well over 20 overall. He’s good.

Justin Schultz is another piece, as he brings great offensive instincts and an improving defensive game. He still needs a lot of work in his own zone, but he has shown some improvement there. He looks like a perfect second-pairing guy long term, and he’s gotten better this year, averaging around 18 minutes a night 5X5 and over 20 total, just like Petry. He too is a keeper and a good player now.

Andrew Ference is a solid number four on most teams, heck he was a number four on the Boston Bruins, the eastern conference champs, just one year ago. Ference can handle around 20 minutes a night, play a solid-shut down game, and infuse physicality and leadership into a line-up. He’s a good player now and has about two years left in the tank.

All three of the above mentioned guys are top four defenders who can handle 20 or more minutes in an NHL game. The problem is that that’s only three of a needed four guys, and there isn’t any no-doubt top pairing guy in that cluster. The Oilers need that defender, whether it is a home-run like Shea Weber (Discussed here: or a guy like Brian Campbell or Christian Ehrhoff, they need it.

That, to me, is the last missing piece for Edmonton on the blue-line, a legit top-pairing guy. I’d settle on a guy like Campbell or Ehrhoff in a heartbeat, and be willing to part with a lot to get said player. It would make a world of difference for Edmonton and I believe help everyone else on that unit.

Should Edmonton get that above mentioned piece, I beleive their defense would move from the bad to good level on the scale. I truly believe a defender like that can make THAT kind of a difference, and I know there are others out there who agree with me.

After the top-four, Edmonton has some really good depth options. Anton Belov has been a total steal and is proving to be the definition of diamond in the rough. Belov has been playing around 16 minutes 5X5 each game and has looked good doing so. He’s seen some top-four duty recently, and is a perfect third-pairing guy moving forward.

Belov is a perfect number five defender on a good unit, and should Edmonton acquire the missing piece that is exactly where he would be. Nick Schultz and Corey Potter have both looked good this year too and are perfect number six/seven defenders, and next year Darnell Nurse will take that role on the roster.

Should Edmonton add that missing piece, the following would be their depth chart on the blue-line….

Missing Piece – Jeff Petry

Andrew Ference – Justin Schultz

Anton Belov – Nick Schultz

That’s not a bad unit at all. A guy like Campbell, Ehrhoff or if he’s feeling really lucky, Weber, needs to be next on the list for Craig MacTavish. It will make a huge difference.

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