This is part 2, forwards can be found in my previous blog. As with the forward blog, first paragraph is best case and second is worst case.
Smid – Petry – Return to their form from 2011-2012 and improve some as they are a formidable shutdown pair. Petry gets some time on the power play and improves his point totals slightly, while Smid is in the top 3 in blocked shots and somehow plays 80 games.
While they were not terrible in 2013, the pair does not improve from last season and are more suited for a 3-4 role on a good team. Smid gets injured being an absolute warrior and misses half the year with a broken leg from a slap shot. Petry doesn’t get much powerplay time and his numbers are relatively the same.
Ference – J. Schultz – Schultz returns to his AHL form as he got some much needed rest during the summer, and is able to play at the high level expected of him for a full season. Plays 22+ minutes a night and anchors one of the best powerplays in the NHL. Andrew Ference is a huge upgrade over N. Schultz and covers perfectly for the odd Schultz defensive gaff, excellent on the PK and a great mentor for the young core, teaching them the painful way it takes to win when it matters most.
While Ference is an upgrade over N. Schultz, he is 35 this season and the miles are catching up to him. He slows down noticeably and by the end of the year J. Schultz is left wondering if his partner from last year didn’t change his name. Justin struggles early as he adjusts to a new partner and his powerplay totals are lower with the loss of RNH. As with 2013, Schultz fades as the year goes on and is swimming over his head defensively.
Belov/Grebeshkov/N. Schultz – Belov comes as advertised, the best defenseman in the KHL last season is big, mobile, and dishes out bone crushing hits. Using his monster shot to great effectiveness on the 2nd powerplay unit. After a few declining seasons in the KHL, Denis relishes in a role on the 3rd pairing, and Oilers fans hardly see any of those ghastly turnovers we became accustomed to from the 2009 version of Greb. Nick Schultz is the serviceable veteran and calming influence to the two Russians that he could not be last season to J. Schultz, he is a very expensive 3rd pairing option, and because of his good play for the Oilers during 2013-2014 they are able to turn him into a 2nd or 3rd rounder at the trade deadline.
These three are the new Whitney, Fistric, Potter 3 way combo. Belov struggles to adapt to the smaller ice surface and less time with the puck cause a lot of unexpected turnovers. Grebeshkov has not improved with age, while still a mobile defender his decision making is questionable at best and is turnover prone. Nick Schultz is the perfect 3rd pairing guy, but his $3.5 salary make him a very expensive role player and very hard to trade for anything of value. Belov is disappointing but they send him to down mid January and he goes back to the KHL.
Klefbom – Spends most of the year in the AHL on the first pairing of the OKC barons, shows no signs of the shoulder problems and is unquestionably the best defenseman in the AHL until he is called up when N. Schultz is traded at the deadline. Impresses in his first few months in the NHL and by the end of the year and into playoffs he has beaten out the two Russians and is #5 on a solid, but not flashy, Oilers D corps.
Begins the year in the AHL, struggles early with the smaller ice and shows some rust from only playing 11 games last year. Shakes off the rust 6 weeks into the season and is fairly sufficient in his own end, but the worries about offense are valid and he struggles to get on the score sheet. He is called up to replace Belov and finishes the year rotating in and out of the lineup.
I really think the defense has been improved a lot by the Ference signing and will be a decent ‘by committee’ top 4 and if one of Belov/Grebeshov/Klefbom can prove themselves capable of playing successful NHL minutes this season they should be alright if one of the top 4 gets injured for a short period. I really see Klefbom as playing quality minutes in the AHL until December/January and then making a strong push on the 3rd pairing in the NHL. I haven’t mentioned Corey Potter because I feel he will be lost to the waiver wire before the season starts.
Dubnyk – Improves on his numbers from last season, partly due to self improvement, partly due to a declining number of shots against, and establishes himself as a quality NHL starter well within the top 15 in the league. First season of over .500 hockey in the NHL and Dubnyk has the Oilers knocking on the door of the 6-8 playoff spots.
Injuries have depleted the already thin roster depth, and this means more shots (if that is possible) and regardless of how Dubnyk plays it will be another season of ‘Duby isn’t the problem, but I hope he can be part of the solution whenever this thing finally gets turned around’.
Labarbera – Pushes Dubnyk with his continued good play as a reliable #2 guy and turns Dubnyk into another Mike Smith/Ilya Bryz.
Labarbera is in a tough spot as he is used to playing behind a strong defensive team with structure, the chaos/run and gun style the Oilers play give up chance after quality chance and not even the game’s best goalies would be able to carry this defensive nightmare into the playoffs.