Oilers Get Blue Line Experience with Keith Addition

It has been a busy off-season thus far for general manager Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers. With the addition of Duncan Keith on the back-end, it adds experience for the regular season and come playoff time as the Oilers plan on going deeper in the postseason. Keith was acquired on July 12, along with Tim Soderlund, from the Chicago Blackhawks for defenceman Caleb Jones and a conditional draft pick in 2022.

Keith should slot in behind Darnell Nurse on the second pairing on the left side. The 38-year-old can still skate and play with the best of them, as he logged 23:25 of average ice time (ATOI) per game last year, which led the Blackhawks. He leaves Chicago ranked second in franchise history with 1192 games played (GP) and 10th in points with 625.

Last season Keith showed some visible signs of regression, but that was on a Blackhawks team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs. He finished 2020-21 with 15 points in 54 games. His decrease in offensive production could be attributed to a secondary role on the power play with Adam Boqvist getting time last season.

Playoff Experience

Keith brings an incredible amount of playoff experience to the Oilers. This will help the boys in the locker room down the stretch and positively impact the young group of forwards and defense on the team. In his 16 year career, he has made the playoffs in 10 of them. Of those 10 postseason appearances, he won the Stanley Cup three times and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2015. The other two Stanley Cups came in 2010 and 2013.

Duncan Keith Blackhawks
Duncan Keith with the Chicago Blackhawks, Nov. 9, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Over his career, Keith has averaged 28:00 ATOI in the playoffs. Even into his 30s, he has played over 25 minutes on average per night. He has exceeded 30 minutes of ATOI in three of those seasons. His postseason numbers are also very impressive, recording 18 goals and 86 points in 135 games.

Additional Accomplishments

Keith also comes to the Oilers as a former two-time Norris Trophy winner and three-time All-Star. He has topped the 60 point mark twice in his career, 61 and 69, and both happened to be in the years he won the Norris Trophy. These career years occurred in the 2009-10 and 2013-14 seasons. He was also an All-Star in those seasons and was named again in 2016-17 at age 33. That was the only other season where he recorded more than 50 points.

Keith has a career average of 0.52 points per game (P/G). Not known as a player who can score goals, he has reached the 10-goal mark on three separate occasions, but none since his last Stanley Cup in 2014-15. Impressively, his career plus/minus is plus-144, with only four seasons as a negative, including last season.

Role in Edmonton

Keith wasn’t brought over to the Oilers to help on the power play. Though he contributed a lot in the past for the Blackhawks in this regard, Tyson Barrie should quarterback the top power-play unit, while Nurse and Evan Bouchard will either sub in or man the point on the second unit. If tragedy strikes and Keith has to step up and log time on the power play, he has recorded 30 goals and 184 power-play points in his career.

Keith will be someone the Oilers depend on when on the penalty kill, along with his projected new defense partner Cody Ceci. Keith should get penalty kill time every game, as I wouldn’t expect Barrie or Bouchard to be trusted to fill those roles. It’s almost a certainty that Keith’s ATOI decreases from recent years, as he is no longer the number one defenseman. With less power-play time and about the same penalty-kill time, he will have to be relied on more defensively this season. Though offense shouldn’t be the focus on the penalty kill, Keith has produced a bit in the past, posting five goals and 20 points while shorthanded in his career.

Duncan Keith
Duncan Keith (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite all of the criticism in bringing Keith over, I believe he will be a very important addition to the blue line. With multiple defencemen in the pipeline that are set to breakthrough very soon, Keith will be an important role model and mentor for the next group, even if it’s just a limited exposure in training camp. He has proven that he knows how to win and get the job done when it’s that time, so hopefully, he can show the rest of the team that as well and push them over the edge.