AHL Defence Log Jam Presents Problem for Oilers Next Season

Oilers fans are aware that the team has a nice collection of defence prospects. The AHL roster currently has the following defencemen: Logan Day, Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, William Lagesson, Ryan Stanton, Keegan Lowe, Jake Kulevich, and Brandon Manning.

Bear, Jones, Lagesson, Lowe, and Manning are signed to NHL contracts that extend through next season.

The Oilers also have some CHL defence prospects that will be ineligible to play in the CHL next season. They will be AHL bound. Those prospects are Evan Bouchard and Dmitri Samorukov. The addition of those two would bring the total number of defencemen on the AHL roster next year to 7.

The Oilers also have Joel Persson slated to come to North America from Sweden next season. He could be in the mix for an AHL spot as well. There are as many as 8 defencemen that could warrant receiving roles in Bakersfield next season.

There is also the possibility that the Condors would elect to re-sign someone like Day to an AHL contract again. The point is that the AHL team will be over-flowing with defencemen that will need minutes next season. It’s a good problem to have, but it is a problem nonetheless.

The question for the Oilers is what are they going to do with all of these defencemen next season?

They have 6 defencemen of their own that are signed through next season: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell, Andrej Sekera, and Matt Benning. There isn’t any room for any more defencemen that need ice time in Edmonton next season, assuming that the roster continues to stay the way it is through the summer.

The Oilers have a lot of flaws on their roster. They need to add more quality pieces that are ready to contribute to an NHL team in a big way right now if they want to make the playoffs next season. A lot of people are hesitant about the idea of trading pieces of the future for immediate help. The Oilers are trying to build an annual contender around Connor McDavid, after all. They need to draft and develop their own prospects if they want to achieve that goal. However, the Oilers currently have 6 defence prospects that are likely to be NHL-ready sometime within the next 2 years: Bouchard, Jones, Bear, Persson, Lagesson, and Samorukov.

There is absolutely no chance that the Oilers will replace all 6 of their current NHL defencemen with all 6 of these prospects in the next 2 years. That means that the Oilers can afford to move some of them.

Bouchard and Samorukov are right at the beginning of their ELCs. Bouchard has the potential to be a franchise defenceman, so he is untouchable in my opinion. Samorukov has progressed tremendously this season. A lot of people are really high on this kid. It is too early to move him in my opinion.

The Oilers signed Persson to a 1-year NHL contract for next season. They want to see what they have in him. They aren’t going to trade him.

That leaves Jones, Lagesson, and Bear. Next season will be the final year of the ELCs of all three of these players, so the Oilers will have to make decisions on their futures in the next 15 months.

Jones is a mobile, puck-moving defender. He is not of the same quality as his brother Seth in Columbus, so I don’t see a top-pairing player in Caleb. I have yet to see sufficient evidence that he has the ceiling of a 2nd pairing defender either. He could definitely be an excellent 3rd pairing left-handed defender though.

Lagesson is a physical, shut-down defender. His offensive game is improving, but that is not his style of play. Based on what I’ve read about the player, he seems like a poor man’s Larsson. His skill-set is valuable, but he projects as a 3rd pairing left-handed defender. Since the demand for puck-moving defenders is high in today’s NHL, I would choose to keep Jones over Lagesson.

Bear is another mobile, puck-moving defender. He was on the cusp of a earning a roster spot with the Oilers to start last season. He had some injury troubles this season, but he has had a good season in Bakersfield despite that. He fits the bill for what the Oilers need: a good offensive right-handed defenceman.

Here’s the thing though: competition for the 3RD spot in Edmonton next season will come down to Benning, Persson, and Bear in all likelihood. Benning has almost 200 NHL games played, so he has a leg up on the other two. Persson is 25 years old, and he has been one of the best defencemen in the SHL for the last two seasons. He is likely more NHL-ready than Bear right now because of his age. There is also a small chance that Bouchard impresses so much in training camp that the Oilers won’t have a choice but to keep him up with the big club (not advocating for that by any stretch).

Bear isn’t likely to get a spot on the Oilers next season, even though he may be ready. Right-handed offensive defencemen are a valuable commodity in the NHL. Out of Bear, Jones, and Lagesson, Bear would likely yield the biggest return for the Oilers.

Given the fact that there isn’t likely going to be enough ice time to go around for all of these defence prospects in Bakersfield next season, and the fact that their ELCs only have one year left on them, it makes sense for the Oilers to trade one or two of Jones, Lagesson, and Bear.

Lagesson is the player that I would be the least concerned about losing in a trade, especially if it was in a trade for an upgrade on the wing or on defence. Bouchard has a far higher ceiling than Bear. Persson is likely to be just as good as Bear or better right now. Bear’s ceiling is unknown. The Oilers don’t have a lot of right-handed defence prospects right now, but they could afford to part with Bear; especially if he was a part of a trade for a top 6 winger or a top puck moving defenceman.

The Oilers don’t HAVE to move any defensive prospects this summer if they don’t want to. They could choose to work to make room for all of the prospects in the AHL. They could find a way to get rid of Manning’s roster spot (easier said than done, I realize). They could keep a guy like Persson up in Edmonton as a 7D. They could move Keegan Lowe, although losing his veteran presence would hurt Bakersfield. Although they don’t have to move any defensive prospects this summer, the Oilers would certainly be smart to think about it if they want to add to their NHL roster for next season.

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