Silver Lining for Oilers Despite Keith and Nurse Injuries

To say that it’s not ideal the Edmonton Oilers will be without their three regular left-side defensemen as they take on the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night is an understatement. It’s bad enough when the top-pair defenseman goes down. It’s worse when your second-pair blueliner, slotted to take on the minutes left behind by the first’s absence, goes down a couple of games later.

All that said, there are a few positives to take away from the news that Darnell Nurse is out with a broken finger, Duncan Keith is out with an upper-body injury and Slater Koekkoek is on the IR with a lower-body injury.

The Injuries Aren’t Said to Be Serious

Despite a broken finger, Nurse’s injury won’t require surgery. That means he’s only expected to be out a few weeks and the number of games he’ll miss will be minimal considering how bad the news could have been. The same goes for Keith who is listed on the Oilers official site as day-to-day. The severity of Slater Koekkoek’s injury isn’t as well documented but the Oilers have players who can fill in while he’s away.

Keeping in mind that Keith’s injury might not be ruled serious, but is still a question mark because of his age, all of this could have been much much worse and the Oilers have banked a number of points early in the season. This gives them a bit of cushion to not panic and know they’ll still be in the playoff mix, even if they go on a bit of a losing streak.

This Is an Opportunity for Youngsters and the Depth

When you’re forced to play your depth and rookies as your top-three options, all you can do if you’re head coach Dave Tippett and general manager Ken Holland is hope that your young guys and veterans step up. In this case, the Oilers will need Kris Russell to play above his weight class and for Philip Broberg to show he’s ready, far sooner than the Oilers expected to ask him to take on a bigger role. It’s certainly possible they both perform well.

Philip Broberg Oilers Draft
Philip Broberg, Edmonton Oilers, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Broberg has looked good in the two games and led the Oilers in shots on net Tuesday night versus the Stars. While feeding him to the best players in the NHL on a nightly basis isn’t ideal, there’s no better way to find out if he’ll sink or swim. Russell can play bigger minutes. It’s not what you want on a regular basis, but he’s a solid shot-blocker and he’s got 888 NHL games on his resume.

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The Oilers will ask William Lagesson to step up and they might be forced to call on the services of a player like Dmitri Samorukov. Lagesson has played some NHL games and Samorukov has looked good when healthy. Can each player rise to the task? It’s fair to assume they can until proven otherwise.

One of the keys here is that the rest of the roster comes to the aid of their defense more than they have in the past. For the Oilers to battle through this window without their top-three left-side options, it will take a team effort and help from the forwards to cut down the chances against. That too is a good lesson to learn early in the season.

Holland Now Knows What He Needs

Even if Keith is out one or two games and Nurse is back in a couple of weeks, it should be clear to Holland that the left side will need addressing prior to the playoffs. There’s no better way to force a GM to look at what’s missing than to take away what you had.

Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Keith has played well, but there were legitimate concerns about how healthy he’d stay if he played too many minutes. Getting injured on typical D-to-D pass screams realizing an injury can happen with this player at any moment. Nurse has been outstanding but he’s played so many minutes there was an underlying question about what would happen if he couldn’t play as much as he was. Losing Koekkoek isn’t a massive concern, until, of course, you lose your Plan A and Plan B.

It’s clear the left-side of this Oilers’ blue line needs an extra body, even when healthy. If these injuries have told Holland and the Oilers anything, it’s that they should probably start looking around the league and making a list of players who they should target in the coming months. Having that knowledge now is useful.