Oilers Should Target Hamonic, Shattenkirk or Vatanen

The Edmonton Oilers defense is work in progress to say the least and the team is still searching for a No.1 defenseman let alone another defender to round out the Top 4. Currently, the Oilers long-term plan has Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera and Darnell Nurse penciled into three of the four spots in the top two pairings. The jury is still out on the rest of the Oilers defense crop but it’s unlikely there is another answer to the top four that isn’t years away.

The closest prospect to having the best shot at being a Top 4 defenseman is the prized draft day trade acquisition of Griffin Reinhart. Reinhart started the year with the Oilers but after 12 games of empty boxcars, some questionable defense play and playing time falling to just 16:11 TOI, the Oilers demoted him to the AHL Bakersfield Condors.

Reinhart, who turns 22 later this week, still has plenty of time to develop into the role the Oilers see him in but this team needs to make immediate improvements. It’s looking more and more likely that Reinhart won’t develop into the No.1 defenseman scouts projected him to be in his draft year but more of a No.4-6 NHL regular.

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Still what options do the Oilers have in house that make sense in a Top 4 role?

Here is a look at the Oilers current top 14 on the defensive depth chart — with a healthy roster:

Oscar Klefbom

Andrej Sekera

Darnell Nurse

Justin Schultz

Brandon Davidson

Eric Gryba

Mark Fayne

Andrew Ference

Brad Hunt

Nikita Niktin (AHL)

Griffin Reinhart (AHL)

Dillon Simpson (AHL)

Jordan Oesterle (AHL)

David Musil (AHL)

Shuffling The Deck

We’ve included only the top 14 defensemen in the organization because there is very little in trade value with the rest of the crop. There will be a shuffling in the deck next season and when you look at the fact that Nikitin, Schultz and possibly Fayne and Ference could be out of the picture with either buy-outs, trades or buried contracts, the Oilers are going to have some spots available.

The developing core is built around Klefbom, Sekera and Nurse. The No.5/6/7 spots aren’t all that bad all things considered with the job Gryba and Davidson have done. That gives the Oilers NHL roster just 5 of 7/8 defenders for 2016-17. Yes the top three guys can all develop into top-pairing guys and have all shown flashes of being that guy but they need to keep adding to that group.

However talented those three at the top are or will be potentially down the road, that isn’t right now. The Oilers defense badly needs a defender who is further along in his development than the likes of Reinhart, Simpson, Oesterle or Musil, most of whom may never develop into the Top 4 roles the Oilers believe they could be.

Edmonton is currently sitting with strong odds to end up with a Top 5 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. If you look at the defense available through the draft the best of the crop is Jakob Chychrun, a 6’2 +200lbs defender playing for the OHL Sarnia Sting. The scouting reports believe Chychrun to be a future franchise defenseman or at the very least a top-pairing defender.

Either way the answer isn’t internal and Peter Chiarelli knows this.

Travis Hamonic
Travis Hamonic, NY Islanders (Amy Irvin, THW)

Travis Hamonic (NY Islanders)

Age: 25     |     Contract: $3.85M until 2020 (UFA)

Hamonic is just entering his prime as a top-pairing shutdown defenseman something the Oilers sorely need. There are rumours circulating in some circles that the Oilers and Islanders were close to a blockbuster deal built around Hamonic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the center pieces going each way.

RNH got injured and is out 6-8 weeks so that deal is unlikely, if it were even true in the first place as it wasn’t reported by any reporter in the know in the Edmonton media. Either way Hamonic is a star on the rise that the team sorely needs that is on a very cap friendly deal giving Chiarelli the flexibility to keep the core together.

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Through 41 games this season Hamonic is averaging 23:48 TOI for the Islanders and plays the most even strength minutes on the team. Hamonic is a valuable member of the Isles PK as well.

In Edmonton he would immediately jump into a top-pairing role and his minutes would translate straight across more or less,  especially with the current injury to Klefbom. Long-term Hamonic’s game can give Nurse the steady defensive defenseman that would allow him to open up his game and contribute offensively. He can also look fairly well on paper in a shutdown pairing with either Klefbom or Sekera.

trade deadline
Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis Blues)

Age: 26     |     Contract: $4.25M until 2017 (UFA)

Shattenkirk is going to be one of the priciest defenders to pick up at the trade deadline this season and rightfully so. The 26-year-old is currently anchoring the second-pairing as the Blues No.3 but if it wasn’t for playing behind Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, he’d be higher on the depth chart.

The Blues defenseman is being shopped and is a true top-pairing defenseman. He’d be a great addition to the Oilers powerplay. He currently leads the Blues defense with 15 PP points and plays the most minutes on the Blues PP with 2:30 TOI. He’s on pace for a 17 goal 50 point season, the last time the Oilers had a defenseman score 50 points was Sheldon Souray in 2008-09 when he recorded 53 points.

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All things considered Shattenkirk is rumoured to be available and a large part of that has to do with the fact the Blues are so tight up against the cap and currently have $10.9M sitting on IR with $2.57M available cap space to make a deadline deal. The other reason is because there is a belief that Shattenkirk is wanting to test the UFA waters next summer where he would be the top defenseman available in his class, barring that the Tampa Bay Lightning can’t re-sign Victor Hedman.

If Edmonton can trade and give Shattenkirk the money he wants there could be something here to really bolster the teams defense and create a clear cut top four.

(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Sami Vatanen (Anaheim Ducks)

Age: 24     |     Contract: $1.26M Pending RFA


The last of the three Edmonton needs to make a run at is Vatanen. He’s a smaller smooth skating mobile defenseman that can put up big points and help his team on both sides of the ice. Vatanen is on pace for 41 points for the Ducks and is averaging 21:35 TOI. If you break down his ice time on special teams only Kevin Bieksa is playing more than his 2:15 PK TOI and only Cam Fowler averages more than his 2:34 PP TOI.

Vatanen is a dependable defenseman who’s on the rise which goes back to the argument of being future along in his development than a guy like Reinhart and even Nurse. That’s not to say Vatanen is going to be better long term than Nurse, it’s interchangeable, but Vatanen is better right now. Hands down Vatanen will be a lot better than Reinhart who struggles in alot of the areas that Vatanen owns as strengths.

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He’s a talented Finnish defenseman that fits the Kimmo Timonen mold and we have yet to see him at his best. The sticking point is that Vatanen is a pending RFA and will get a hefty raise over the $1.26M he’s making. Anaheim is in great financial shape with $16M in cap space right now, the team however has a self imposed cap which could make Vatanen expendable. Either way the Ducks have stumbled upon a group of young defenseman still playing NHL minutes on their ELC’s, it’s going to be a huge price to get him out of there and the Ducks want someone who can help them win now. The Ducks also need to bolster their scoring.

Would moving both Nail Yakupov and Reinhart along with a pick get the deal done?