After years of struggling to produce quality NHL defencemen, the Edmonton Oilers are on the verge of seeing that trend changing. The names we hear most often are Ethan Bear, Evan Bouchard, Caleb Jones, William Lagesson and Dmitry Samorukov. With that said, the young blueliner who could be the swingman in determining how the upcoming 2018-19 season plays out is Joel Persson.
At 25-years of age and with two successful campaigns in the SHL under his belt, the free-agent signing might just be that diamond in the rough. For those unfamiliar with the back story, Persson was a teacher’s assistant who was playing tier-three in Sweden prior to his two-season run with the Växjö Lakers. That is about as nondescript as it gets and yet, here we are with the kid on the precipice of making the NHL.
Oilers Lack Skill on Defence
The moment Edmonton decided to sign Persson to a one-way/$1 million deal, it became clear as to what they were hoping for. With the Oilers in dire need of offensively gifted defencemen and value contracts, he will be given every opportunity to show he belongs. If his performance in the SHL is any indication of what we can expect, it would be more than reasonable to envision him breaking camp with the club.
With the buyout of Andrej Sekera and Bouchard likely needing some seasoning in the AHL, the Oilers have two players who can get the puck up ice in Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse. And if we are perfectly honest, Nurse excels at transporting the puck, as opposed to passing it up to the forwards. Obviously, the need for additional puck movers is real and Persson fits that bill.
Persson is an offensive defenseman with a great shot from the point. With high-end puck skills and vision, he excels on the power play. Not a speedster, but owns decent mobility and can walk the blueline very well. On the downside, he is smallish and not much of a force in his own end.
– Erik K. Piri (Elite Prospects, 2017)
There a variety of different scouting reports which can be found on Persson but the one listed above from Erik K, Piri over Elite Prospects seems to sum him up best. There is no question his stature, (5’11” and 180lbs), could be an issue at the NHL level but Persson checks off every other box and that cannot be overlooked. Add to that the fact he is right-handed and giving him a real look is a no-brainer.
Some will suggest the numbers he posted during his rookie season (51GP-6-28-34) were inflated thanks to playing with the Vancouver Canucks youngster Elias Pettersson but he essentially produced the same exact totals during his sophomore campaign (50GP-6-25-31). His skill-set on the man advantage would be a welcome addition for the Oilers, not to mention having him hit Connor McDavid with outlet passes in transition.
Persson Might Be the Perfect Fit
Though there are questions with regards to what Persson is in his own end of the rink, Lakers radio analyst Mike Zanier joined Bob Stauffer back in January to discuss the Swedish rearguard on Oilers NOW and had nothing but glowing feedback with regards to the improvement in the defenceman’s overall game. Heck, he made him sound as if he could be a poor man’s John Klingberg.
While that seems like a reach, the fact even such a comparison was made can’t be a bad thing. If he does end up making the team, would it really be that much of stretch to see Persson playing a key role on the Oilers power play and being used on the third pairing to start? Who knows, maybe he is closer to what Zanier suggested and we see him bumped onto the second pairing in sort order.
Such a set-up would change the entire complication of Edmonton’s defence. With due respect to Kris Russell, he is not a second pairing guy and the tandem of he and Nurse was downright dreadful on most nights last season. Also, with the aforementioned kids pushing and Matt Benning potentially still in the mix, it would open up a window for Ken Holland to pursue a trade to address other needs on the roster.
Yes, the Edmonton Oilers took a flyer on signing Joel Persson but it could pay huge dividends for the organization moving forward. As far as so-called wild cards go, this seems about as safe a bet as one can make and at the end of the day, gambling on talent is always the way to go. That hasn’t been the case in this neck of the woods for some time but that may finally be starting to change.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.