A Big Boys Bomb is about to go off on the Edmonton Oilers.
Since the 2013 draft, Edmonton has been stocking up on big d-men. A number of them are close to making an impact in the NHL.
The Oilers have 10 large d-men in their prospect pipeline. If two or three of them pan out as Top 4 d-men, the Oilers will be set up for success in the second half of Connor McDavid’s eight-year contract.
The vision is to have a huge defensive group, all able to play the man and defend, but also adept enough to make a quick and accurate first pass to spring McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the attack. The d-men don’t all have to be able to rush the puck like Larry Robinson, or even Darnell Nurse, and they don’t all have to be Big Bobby Clobber brutes. But they do have to be able to retrieve and move the puck fast and true, as opposed to thumping it off the boards, and they do need to be able to stay on the right side of their man in the d-zone.
Oiler GMs Craig MacTavish started the work in 2013, drafting big Nurse, and in 2014, drafting thick Swede William Lagesson. GM Peter Chiarelli accelerated the Big Boys recruitment program, taking towering Ziyat Paigin in 2015, Filip Berglund and Markus Niemelanien in 2016, Dmitri Samorukov and Phil Kemp in 2017 and Evan Bouchard and Michael Kesselring in 2018.
Current GM Ken Holland kept up the momentum in 2019, drafting Philip Broberg, then took Luca Munzenberger and Maxium Wanner this year.
Of course, being big and being able to play effectively in the NHL are two very different things. The Oilers also drafted numerous big d-men in the Decade of Darkness era who failed to pan out, including David Musil, Martin Gernat, Martin Marincin, Troy Hesketh, Johan Motin, Kyle Bigos, Alex Plante and Theo Peckham. If even two of those players had stepped up as Top 4 d-men, the story of the Decade of Darkness would have been much brighter.
Of the current group, Lagesson has a chance to stick in the bottom-pairing this year, while the skilled and lanky Bouchard is a lock to make the team. He may push his way into the Top 4 by Christmas. Samorukov, who excelled in the Top 4 for CSKA in the KHL last season, also has a chance to win an NHL job, with the tall, agile and skilled Broberg maybe getting a chance by the second half of the 2021-22 season.
Bouchard, Samorukov and Broberg have the most obvious potential to play on Edmonton’s first or second pairings, with huge Niemelainen and Kesselring the best bets to stick on the bottom pairing. For Edmonton to thrive, not all of them have to make it, but at two of the top three must do so, as well as two in the much larger bottom group. I’m bullish that’s going to happen.
Kosk+ for Korpi?
There were no end of rumours today that the Oilers are looking to move Mikko Koskinen for Joonas Korpisalo, with Edmonton throwing in as much as a first round pick and/or Samorukov as sweeteners.
It’s hard to imagine how such a deal makes sense, as Korpisalo isn’t obviously a better goalie than Koskinen. Korpisalo has .905 save percentage in 160 NHL games. Koskinen is .907 in 123 games.
Why would the Oilers make such an iffy bet at such a high price? Edmonton would be much better off going with Mike Smith, Koskinen and Alex Stalock this year, giving Stalock a chance if Koskinen fails to step up. If both Stalock and Koskinen don’t cut it, the Oilers could then trade for a goalie.
Even now I’m OK if the Oilers pay a high price to move out Koskinen to get another goalie, but the key is that new goalie must be better than Koskinen.
Fortunately, this rumour was put to bed to some extent by TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, who tweeted: “Korpisalo for Koskinen and a high pick or prospect is not something the organization is considering at the moment. Have a great long weekend everyone!”
At the Cult
McCURDY: Cap space going fast
STAPLES: Oilers a loser of free agency, pundits suggest
McCURDY: Right-shot centre Derek Ryan signs two-year contract at $1.25 million, plus Holland press conference comments
STAPLES: Right-side rearguard Cody Ceci signs four-year deal at $3.25 million