The Edmonton Oilers did a lot of things wrong on Wednesday night versus the St. Louis Blues. Losing 4-2 in a game to the better team is what it is. But the way the team handled the debut of prospect defenseman Dimitri Samorukov could be among the more embarrassing things the team will likely do this season.
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Just one game after making his long-awaited debut for the Oilers and in the NHL — a game in which his wife was flown in to watch — Samorukov is already on his way back to Bakersfield of the AHL. Having played a mere 2:28 of game action and he never saw the ice again after a second mistake that led to a goal by the Blues.
Why Was Samorukov Playing?
The Oilers likely didn’t expect the defenseman to make the costly mistakes he did. And, yes, they were bad. That said, there wasn’t really a need for Samorukov to be playing in this game. The Oilers were without Darnell Nurse, Markus Niemelainen and William Lagesson — Nurse and Lagesson will be joining the team tomorrow in New York City — but they had Philip Broberg available who already played well in a handful of games. While other roster moves would have been necessary due to complications with the salary cap (as one commenter rightfully pointed out), Edmonton could have gone another direction if there was any about at all that Samorukov might not be ready.
It does so much more damage to bring a young man in for 2:28 and then staple him to the bench than it would be to merely make him wait before he gets an NHL game on his resume. The Oilers had seen Samorukov in the AHL, they talked to the coaches down there and they made an assessment that he was ready. Then they pulled it away from him the moment things got ugly.
At this point, he’s probably going back to the AHL and wondering if he’ll ever get the confidence of the team again. What did Samorukov learn from this experience? Whatever it is, it’s probably not good.
Playing vs. Winning
The argument that Samorukov should understand this is professional hockey and if you don’t play well you don’t play is fair. I’m in 100 percent agreement that the NHL isn’t a developmental league. That said, there’s a difference between benching a player and giving that same player a chance to redeem himself. The Oilers went overboard, in my opinion.
Young defensemen are going to make mistakes. That’s the give and take of choosing to play them at important moments and against some pretty good NHL players. Had Tippett — or in this case, Jim Playfair, because Tippett said it was Playfair’s decision to shorten the bench — insulated Samorukov and got him out there in softer minutes against more comparable players, the blueliner might have been able to move on from his early gaffes and played a solid eight or nine minutes. Instead, the rest of the Oilers’ blue line got overworked and they too played less effective hockey. It was a rough game for Duncan Keith as well.
The game was close and for a long time, still within reach for the Oilers. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine there were absolutely no opportunities to play the young man.
The Best Case Scenario Now
Let’s hope the Oilers had a long conversation with the still-developing defenseman and told him not to let Wednesday’s game be an indicator that his chances with this Oilers’ team are all but over. It is important that the coaches, the organization, and the players had a chat with him and said, ‘Hey, it was likely just nerves and we won’t judge you too harshly for it.’ It might sound drastic, but anything else could spell the beginning for the end with this player.
This situation is eerily similar to one that happened with Ethan Bear not all that long ago. Bear made a big mistake against the Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs and never saw the ice again for nearly three periods in a must-win game for the Oilers. He was eventually traded and has said multiple times he knew it was time to leave. In recent interviews, he noted that he still believes it was wrong to punish him the way the Oilers did during that game.
Samorukov doesn’t have the history with the Oilers Bear did, but this has got to sting, and at best, he’s wondering where the heck he sits with this franchise now.
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Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”