There is a large hole to be filled on the right side of the defence for the Edmonton Oilers. Adam Larsson was selected in the Seattle Expansion Draft, and signed a four-year deal at $4 million average annual value (AAV). Cody Ceci joined the Oilers on a similar deal, worth $750k less AAV for the same term, that Larsson signed for.
Ceci shouldn’t have the most difficult time making up for what the Oilers lost in Larsson, as he has been playing that role for nearly as long throughout his entire career.
Defensive Zone Contribution
The void that needs to be filled is in the defensive zone, where Larsson has been the go-to man in his own end. Offensively, he and Ceci have performed similarly throughout their career, with the edge going to Ceci. When it comes to physicality, Larsson has the edge, but at the cost of spending much more time in the box. Though the Oilers have had a good penalty kill since head coach Dave Tippett was hired, it’s not a place your team wants to be. Ceci is able to play at a high level while also avoiding putting his team at a disadvantage. He received some recognition for this in 2014-15, when he received votes for the Lady Byng Award.
Larsson’s career 1.76 blocks per game and 2.41 hits per game will shift to Ceci, who owns 1.66 blocks per game and 1.39 hits per game in his career. As I stated previously, Ceci is able to stay out of the box more, at the cost of hitting less. This doesn’t mean he is less effective defensively though, some players are just more controlled and better with their sticks.
The Oilers need Ceci to be the defensive force that Larsson was, and that also means being relied upon to start plays in the defensive zone much more. Larsson’s defensive zone start percentage (dZS%) was 60.3 during his tenure in Edmonton. Ceci joins the team with a career dZS% of 60.7, showing that he can more easily acclimate himself to the role he will be playing for the Oilers.
Ceci’s one season as part of the Toronto Maple Leafs was a down year. That’s the year that many fans remember and criticize him for due to Toronto’s media. He was able to bounce back nicely after joining the Pittsburgh Penguins, recording 11 more points and 15 fewer giveaways. He was a plus-18, and played over two minutes less average time on ice (ATOI) last season, compared to 2019-20. He will not be used in many offensive situations, as the right side of the defence also has Tyson Barrie and Evan Bouchard, who are offensive-minded defencemen. In Ceci’s eight-year career, his 18:31 ATOI in 2020-21 was the lowest since his rookie campaign.
Ceci may see similarities between the Penguins lineup and the Oilers lineup, as the offensive lines match up pretty closely. If he was able to find success in Pittsburgh with less playing time, then it may carry over to this season in Edmonton. His time in Ottawa proved that he was able to contribute in his own end as well as help out in the offensive zone. Experiencing some of his old form from a couple years ago could ignite a spark and inject even more confidence back into his game.
After signing Ceci to a four year deal, the Oilers are hoping that he can exceed his career years when he was a part of the Ottawa Senators. There was life in a shortened 2020-21 season, and he recorded a career best plus/minus to go with that. For a player that starts over 60 percent of the faceoffs in his own end, that isn’t something to overlook. With a possible Duncan Keith pairing, these two will probably be the shutdown pair and be the go-to duo matching up against top opposing lines. If Ceci’s partner isn’t Keith, being paired with Darnell Nurse or Kris Russell would also mean he would be a part of the shutdown line on the back-end.
All things considered, Ceci has had himself a solid career so far. He has big shoes to fill on the Oilers defence, but it won’t be completely up to him to replace what Larsson provided the team. Ceci joins the Oilers with a different attitude than what Larsson had, as he is on a fair deal and there is no trade to live up to.
It is a new team and group that Ceci is now a part of, and with that will hopefully bring new life for each season. 26 is the number to top, and he was on pace to pass that point total last season. With the offensive firepower attacking from multiple lines at five-on-five, the exposure can easily push him to a career high in points. In a weaker Pacific Division, it bodes well in comparison to what he had to match up against each night in the former East Division.
Longtime Edmonton Oilers fan with a background in hockey analytics. Have enjoyed following and writing about the Oilers and the NHL for some time now.