After losing Adam Larsson to the Seattle Kraken this offseason, Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was forced to rebuild his blueline on the fly, making a series of moves within a span of hours when the free agency period opened on July 28. When the dust settled, it was Cody Ceci ostensibly stepping into the void left by the departure of Edmonton’s top shutdown defender.
An unrestricted free agent who spent last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ceci was signed by Holland to a four-year contract worth $13 million. The 27-year-old is expected to play on the right side of Edmonton’s No. 2 defensive pairing, just as Larsson did. He is a defensively-minded player, also just like Larsson.
Skeptics doubt Ceci can replace the steady Larsson, but to be fair, Oil Country isn’t that familiar with the newcomer. Ceci has spent his entire eight-season NHL career playing on Eastern Conference teams and has only played three games at his new home rink, Rogers Place.
With that in mind, here’s a bit of introduction to Ceci, with a few interesting things to know about the 6-foot-2, 210-pound product of Ottawa.
He Got to Live His Childhood Dream
A lifelong Ottawa Senators fan, Ceci first got to play to major junior in his hometown with the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League, then was drafted by his favorite NHL team, 15th overall, in 2012.
Ceci’s start with the Sens was storybook stuff: Called up from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis, he made his debut in front of family and friends at the Canadian Tire Centre on Dec. 12, 2013 against the Buffalo Sabres. That afternoon, mother Karen Sylvester-Ceci posted on Twitter a photo of a young Cody, fully attired in uniform, standing next to then-Sens star Mike Fisher prior to an Ottawa game at Corel Centre in 2003.
Two games later, at home against the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 16, 2013, he sent the Ottawa crowd into a frenzy when he scored with 61 seconds left in overtime to lift the Sens to a 3-2 win while becoming the first player in franchise history to score his first career NHL goal in overtime.
He’s a World Champion
Ceci was a member of Canada’s team that won gold at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia. He had one goal and five assists, zero penalty minutes, and a plus-eight rating in 10 games. His Canadian teammates included Oilers superstar Connor McDavid.
Additionally, Ceci represented his country at the 2011 IIHF World U18 Championships in Germany, where Canada finished fourth. In seven games, the 17-year-old Ceci recorded one assist.
He’s Back With Tyson Barrie
While the two right-side defencemen won’t play on the same pair, Ceci and Oilers defenceman Tyson Barrie are reuniting as teammates in Edmonton after a season together with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019-20.
Barrie and Ceci have strikingly similar stories: After spending the first several years of their career with one team (Barrie with the Colorado Avalanche, Ceci in Ottawa), both joined the Maple Leafs with one year remaining on their contracts, and both had rough seasons in Toronto, where they were raked over the coals by Leafs observers. Not re-signed by the Leafs, both took a one-year deal elsewhere (Barrie in Edmonton, Ceci with the Penguins) to prove themselves worthy of a long-term deal. And both did just that.
Playing on Edmonton’s top pairing alongside Darnell Nurse, Barrie led NHL rearguards in points with 48 points while ranking second among defensemen in assists (40) and power-play points (23). In his first move on July 23, Holland rewarded the 30-year-old Barrie to a three-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $4.5 million.
Ceci was one of Pittsburgh’s most effective defenders in scoring chances allowed, expected goals, and actual goals produced, and was the Penguins’ most-used player on the penalty-kill, logging an average of 2:32 of short-handed ice time per game. He was second on the team with a plus-18 rating, just behind Kris Letang’s plus-19.
Barrie and Ceci are being joined in Edmonton by another member of the 2019-20 Leafs: forward Zach Hyman was signed by Edmonton to a seven-year, $38.5 million deal on July 23.
His Dad Played Football For Edmonton’s Enemy
Cody’s father, Parri Ceci, was a wide receiver who played in the Canadian Football League. Parri, however, lined up for Edmonton’s least favorite gridiron team, the Calgary Stampeders, who drafted the elder Ceci 27th overall in 1984.
Parri has a place in Canadian university football lore: He was named MVP of the Vanier Cup in 1984 when he scored two touchdowns to lead the Guelph Gryphons to victory in the national championship. One of his catches went for 89 yards, setting a record at the time for longest in Vanier Cup history.
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However, in the Ceci family, the football apple fell far from the tree, rolled down the hill, and turned into a puck: Cody’s younger brother Cole Ceci is a goalie who spent three seasons in the OHL and now plays at York University in Toronto. The brothers’ preference to play on the ice rather than the field might have something to do with their mother, who used to be a figure skater.
Nearly 40 years after his father lined up on the other side of the Battle of Alberta, Ceci will play for Edmonton against the Calgary Flames for the first time in the regular season on Oct. 16, when the Oilers host their provincial rivals at Rogers Place. That comes three days after the Oilers’ season-opener, at home against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct .13, when Edmonton fans can start to get more acquainted with their team’s newest blueliner.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.