The Edmonton Oilers faced much criticism of their signing of Nikita Nikitin this offseason. Making $9 million over two seasons, very few believe he can live up to those dollars.
Nikitin was having a good camp and the pairing of he and Mark Fayne were shaping up as the Oilers top shutdown pairing, at least through Dallas Eakins use of them early on.
The first step to Nikitin earning his money is health. While he appears to be only out a week or two, he will not be in the Oilers lineup opening night on October 9.
Coach Eakins says Nikita Nikitin twisted his ankle and is wearing a boot for precautionary reasons, expected to miss 1-2 weeks.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 3, 2014
The question now is, what is the Oilers contingency plan?
Marincin vs Klefbom Battle Takes on New Meaning
Much of the assumption throughout Oilers training camp has been that Martin Marincin and Oscar Klefbom are battling for the 6th spot on the Oilers backend, while newcomer Keith Aulie and AHL standout Brad Hunt are competing for the No. 7 spot.
That argument of course has been predicated on the fact that the Oilers will start with their full complement of their other NHL defensemen including Andrew Ference, Justin Schultz, Jeff Petry, Fayne and Nikitin.
The obvious thought is that both Marincin and Klefbom will start the year in Edmonton and let their play over the first two weeks of the regular season decide who goes down to Oklahoma City.
Klefbom has outplayed Marincin so far in camp, but Marincin has the upper hand coming in due to his play over 44 games last season.
Door Opens Further for Darnell Nurse
Darnell Nurse, the team’s top defines prospect may have a better shot of sticking with the big club now. Prior to Nikitin’s injury it appeared he was destined to return back to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL.
That still may be his fate, but his chances of at least getting his 9 games in has increased. Nurse has had a good camp, likely outplaying both Marincin and Klefbom, but he still has made his share of youthful mistakes.
The Oilers could conceivably keep all of Marincin, Klefbom and Nurse and see what shakes out over the first few weeks, however the more likely situation will be that two of the three will stick.
Keeping Nurse to start the season would provide more options in the sense that if they kept Marincin and Nurse, Klefbom would be just a call away in OKC whenever they need him. Whereas if Nurse is cut in training camp the decision will be final to leave him for another year of seasoning.
He certainly has the size and skill set to be an NHLer and the brass may want to get an extended look at him, even if it’s only a handful of regular season games before returning to the Soo.
Unlikely given the fact that Nikitin is only supposed to be out for a couple of weeks, but MacTavish seems to continue to want to upgrade his defines corps if possible.
There has been much rumour and speculation with a number of players recently with some teams needing to be cap compliant this week.
We have already seen defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy being acquired by the New York Islanders.
No doubt there will be plenty of discussions between GM’s before the start of the season and don’t be surprised to see more names moved.
Most believe the team will start on October 9 with Marincin and Nurse in the lineup with either Aulie or Hunt in the press box as No.7.
Unless Nurse wows everyone in the first couple of weeks, odds are he will return to junior that will hopefully include a trip to the WJC over Christmas.
That would leave Klefbom playing top minutes in OKC and ready for the first call up.
The Oilers have until Tuesday to make those decisions and we’ll all find out then.
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Carl covers the Edmonton Oilers for THW as well as providing additional prospect coverage. Follow him on twitter @carlTHW, connect on Facebook or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, comments or if you’re interested in him writing for you.