Oilers’ Early 2022-23 Left Defence Trade Targets

The Edmonton Oilers’ biggest concern early in the 2022-23 season is their play in the defensive zone. It’s not that the forwards are losing coverage or not getting back on the rush, it’s that the defencemen are getting caught out of position and giving up high-danger scoring chances.

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The Oilers have run a number of different combinations and have shifted to dressing seven defencemen to help stabilize the back end. For now, the right side seems to be staying intact as the Oilers still haven’t made a move to try and trade Tyson Barrie, while Cody Ceci and Evan Bouchard aren’t going anywhere.

But on the left side of the third pairing – what was originally expected to be Philip Broberg’s spot to lose – has been split between Ryan Murray and Markus Niemelainen. Murray hasn’t provided the greatest numbers, while Niemelainen is still learning the NHL. The Oilers would be better off with an experienced shutdown defenceman in that role, and there are a few early-season trade targets from teams expected to be out of the playoff race by the time the trade deadline comes.

Dmitry Kulikov

A second go-around with Dmitry Kulikov could be well worth it. He left Edmonton after a short stint with the team and showed what type of player he could still be with the Minnesota Wild. He can play in all three zones and anywhere in the lineup. The Oilers would likely use him on the third pair, but if Brett Kulak and Barrie continue to have great chemistry, Kulikov could be a solid option alongside Bouchard to stabilize his play and help him develop more.

Dmitry Kulikov Anaheim Ducks
Dmitry Kulikov, Anaheim Ducks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kulikov showed last season that his play isn’t reliant on who he’s playing with; he just goes out and plays hard regardless. He provided the Wild with seven goals and 24 points and was a plus-23 while averaging 18 minutes a game. He also blocked over 100 shots and delivered 100 hits. His all-around play is more effective than Kulak’s, and he could push Kulak to the third pairing, where he’s much more effective, and Kulikov could play on the second pair.

Kulikov is also an effective penalty killer and would give the Oilers yet another option. The team’s penalty kill has allowed a goal in every game this season, and they need to stop this trend. His cap hit is relatively affordable if the Anaheim Ducks were to eat a lot of his salary in a trade, and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t.

Carson Soucy

Carson Soucy is another versatile defenceman who excels in the defensive zone and has been on the Oilers’ radar for a while. He broke out with the Wild before being selected in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. He was expected to play in a third-pairing role for the Kraken last season before he exceeded expectations and became a top-four defenceman.

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Soucy finished the season in the top four among defenders in ice time while also leading the Kraken in plus/minus with a plus-7, which was impressive for a team that finished at the bottom of the league. He is also a good penalty killer.

The main objective for the Oilers should be to get a defenceman who is reliable defensively and focuses on that above all. However, Soucy has managed to play very well at both ends. While succeeding defensively for the Kraken, he also scored 10 goals and earned some second-unit power-play time. The goals would be useful, but there’s little chance he would get power-play minutes on the Oilers. He will cost more to acquire than Kulikov but could be an option for the future.

Vladislav Gavrikov

Another defenceman in the final year of his deal is Vladislav Gavrikov of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Though the Blue Jackets aren’t in a great position to trade a defenceman – they have plenty, but the talent isn’t eye-popping – they will get offers and should consider them. Gavrikov is part of a young defensive group that has allowed a lot of goals thus far, but he’s been one of the bright spots. He is a plus-3, while all others except Andrew Peeke are a minus.

Vladislav Gavrikov Columbus Blue Jackets
Vladislav Gavrikov, Columbus Blue Jackets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As a former sixth-round pick by the Blue Jackets, Gavrikov has developed nicely into a second-pairing defensive defenceman. He logs the second-most minutes on the team and would fit in nicely on the second pairing beside Bouchard, again allowing Kulak to thrive on the third pair with Barrie. Gavrikov is also a major penalty-killer when he isn’t in the penalty box. The number of penalties he took last season is a knock against him, but he blocks a stellar amount of shots and is very physical.

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The Oilers should be looking for a defensively-strong defenceman on an expiring contract who can play on the left side. All of these players fit the bill and can, at least, log minutes as a second-pairing defenceman. None of their cap hits are too high for Edmonton to acquire them, and they would give the team what should be considered the final piece to becoming real Stanley Cup contenders with no holes in the lineup.