Play of In-House D-Man Led Oilers to Pass on Big Deadline Deal

During his latest written edition of 32 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet noted that while speaking with Edmonton Oilers’ head coach Jay Woodcroft, it was revealed the team was looking at more than just Mattias Ekholm and Nick Bjugstad as trade options this season. There was another player on the Oilers’ radar at the NHL Trade Deadline but the organization ultimately decided to pass on acquiring that player because they had someone in-house they were growing comfortable with and felt could fill the role they were trying to fill externally.

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Who the Oilers were trying to acquire wasn’t revealed but the player Friedman believed the Oilers had already on the roster that not only seized the opportunity given but forced them to change their minds was defenseman Vincent Desharnais.

What Woodcroft Revealed About the Oilers’ Plans

Heading into the trade deadline, the Oilers did tackle a couple of items on their to-do list. They acquired Ekholm as a top-four defense-first blueliner and they added a depth center in Bjugstad. Both trades have worked out extremely well and the Oilers are the hottest team in the NHL since the deadline and one of the best since the All-Star Break. They are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and just defeated the two teams they were chasing in the Pacific Division (the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights). Ekholm and Bjugstad were a big part of those wins.

Mattias Ekholm Edmonton Oilers
Mattias Ekholm, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The team was also rumored to be looking for some depth on their blue line. It wasn’t clear if the rookies could handle the required load that would come with a ton of playoff games and the inexperience of players like Philip Broberg and Desharnais was a slight concern. That is until Desharnias’ play became impossible to ignore.

Woodcroft confirmed that the Oilers declined to pursue a particular player at this season’s trade deadline because he felt someone already on the roster could fill the role. Friedman notes, “I believe the player Woodcroft believes in was Vincent Desharnais.”

How Good Has Desharnais Been?

He hasn’t played every game since first being called up to the main roster and his contract has allowed the Oilers some flexibility to move him around when required, but Deharnais has played well enough to warrant a full-time stint in the NHL this season. He’s big, he’s unafraid, and he’s steady, all things the Oilers absolutely needed at this season’s deadline.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Oilers’ 2-0 Win Over the Kings

Edmonton wanted to become more reliable and they needed size to keep up in a playoff run. With Bjugstad, Ekholm, Darnell Nurse, Klim Kostin, Evander Kane, and Desharnais on the roster now, there’s no shortage of size and grittiness and all are willing to engage the opposition to impose their will. But, it’s not just his size that the Oilers like so much. Ahead of the deadline, Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer said, “The emergence of Vincent Desharnais has changed the complexion of the D. The need for a shutdown D man isn’t as strong.” Even though the Oilers picked up Ekholm — who has offered both steady defense and great offense — clearly, that proved to be an accurate statement.

He’s a Rookie Who Acts Like a Seasoned Pro

What made the Oilers potentially realize Desharnais was someone they could trust was the fact he doesn’t act like a rookie. He’s 26 years old and has worked his entire career to get to the NHL. Now that he’s here, he’s not going to do anything to jeopardize losing the spot he’s worked so hard to earn. That means being solid and dependable and engaging with the opposition’s top players, which he’s done repeatedly.

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He’s mixed it up with John Tavares to the point he caused the Maple Leafs’ captain to be fined by the NHL and he’s intelligently annoyed more than a few top-tier players on other teams. He’s doing his job by throwing some of the best off their game, while also limiting his own mistakes on the ice.

This is the type of player the Oilers were looking for and since they already had him on the roster, there was no need to go out and acquire someone else.