Although the 2015-16 NHL season does not begin for the better part of two months, excitement and hype surrounding the Oilers is at its highest peak in nearly ten years time, since the Oilers last reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Finals. The vast majority of this excitement is due to the numerous roster changes made this off-season by new General Manager Peter Chiarelli, most of which have been made in order to upgrade the Oilers’ perpetually poor defense and goaltending.
Long considered to be the areas of greatest concern for the Edmonton Oilers, multiple personnel changes both on defense and in goal have significantly improved the pre-existing roster, and could finally provide the Oilers with enough depth and skill on the back end to compete for a playoff spot.
Due to the many changes throughout the Oilers roster, and in anticipation of the coming season, lets take a quick look at how the Oilers’ defensive lines as well as goaltending depth chart could look to open the 2015-16 NHL season.
Sekera – Fayne
Signed to a six year, $33 million contract on July 1st, the presence of Andrej Sekera on the Edmonton blue-line provides the Oilers with a legitimate number one pairing defenseman and elite player which the Oilers have long lacked.
Alongside Sekera will be solid, stay at home defenseman Mark Fayne, who is entering the second year of his four year contract with the Oilers in 2015-16. A quiet, yet extremely reliable and sound defender, Fayne does not generate a whole lot offensively, however he has the ability to shut down the best players on opposing teams.
This combination of Sekera and Fayne will help to solidify the Oilers’ back-end, which has become known on a yearly basis as one of the worst defensive squads in the NHL.
Klefbom – Schultz
As the Oilers’ youngest defensive pairing, the combination of Klefbom and Schultz is a particularly interesting one to say the least.
One player, Klefbom, is trending up following an amazing rookie season, while the other, Schultz, is trending down following three largely uneventful, even disappointing NHL seasons. Recently re-signed to a one year contract, Schultz alongside Klefbom will have high expectations placed upon them this season, as they will be expected to not only be sound defensively, but also to produce the majority of defensive scoring for the Oilers.
Both Klefbom and Schultz have tremendous potential as NHL defensemen, however, they will need to play solid defense, log a high number of minutes as well as contribute offensively if the 2015-16 season is to be considered a success.
Ference – Gryba
On the Oilers’ third pair is captain Andrew Ference, as well as new arrival Eric Gryba.
A tremendous leader, Ference will be back in a more comfortable role on the third pairing, while his smart, yet physical style of play should match well with Gryba’s similar style of rugged, stay at home play.
However, there does remain opportunities for change on the bottom pair, especially so as the season progresses.
Nikita Nikitin, who is in the final year of his contract, will be on the outside looking in to start the season despite retaining a hefty $4.5 million cap hit in 2015-16. Further, there is also Griffin Reinhart, a top defensive prospect of the Oilers acquired on draft day from the New York Islanders. Reinhart could be hard pressed to see consistent NHL ice time however, and might be better suited to open the 2015-16 hockey season at the American Hockey League level.
Talbot – Scrivens – Nilsson
To begin the 2015-16 NHL season, all three of the Oilers’ current goaltenders, Cam Talbot, Ben Scrivens and Anders Nilsson will have a mere one year remaining on their contracts. With all three in contract years, the Oilers can expect to have three competitive and determined goaltenders in the crease at any given time, all of which battling not only for the starting role, but also a new contract.
Quite obviously, in terms of goaltenders the greatest success expected in the upcoming NHL season is from Cam Talbot. Acquired on draft day and one of the most sought after goaltenders available this off-season, Talbot has illustrated the capabilities of a starting NHL goaltender, yet thus far does not have the experience to be defined as such. Talbot will undoubtedly see the majority of playing time, and likely has the greatest potential of the three despite being the oldest.
As for Ben Scrivens and Anders Nilsson, the two will likely be in battle for the backup role to start the season. As we have seen over the past two seasons, Scrivens is an incredibly determined competitor, strong teammate and leader with the Oilers, who in reality deserves to begin the season as the backup for his incredible efforts over the past two seasons.
Nilsson on the other hand, is a bit of a wildcard. At the age of 25, Nilsson has NHL experience from his days with the New York Islanders, yet was strictly average in his limited action. However, Nilsson recently concluded an extremely successful year in the KHL with Kazan Ak-Bars, posting a 1.71 Goals Against Average and a .936% Save Percentage with five shutouts in 38 games. Nilsson does have great potential, yet will certainly have to battle for his playing time in 2015-16.
The Defense Lines and Goaltending
Based on the above projections, the following illustrates the likely Oilers defense lines and goaltending depth chart to begin the 2015-16 NHL season:
Sekera – Fayne
Klefbom – Schultz
Ference – Gryba