On Sunday afternoon, Lowetide posted a very interesting bit of information over on his blog Lowetide.ca regarding defender Andrej Sekera. The report, from Sport.sk, had Sekera claiming that he could be returning from injury at the six month mark after surgery. He believes that will be the case, and if it is, that puts Sekera at around a mid-November return.
I won’t post the quote that LT pulled, you can find it by visiting his site and reading his take on it here, but the mid-November item is very interesting and may indicate why we haven’t seen much defensive movement this summer. If Sekera is in fact ready come American Thanksgiving, it puts far less pressure on Peter Chiarelli to add a player.
Sekera coming back around the middle/end of November would have him missing somewhere between 20-25 games this season. That’s still a lot, but it is significantly less than the half season that many people thought Sekera would miss when word first came down about the injury in May.
He won’t return to the lineup at 100%, in fact I think it will take at least ten games for him to get back to form, but having Sekera back in the lineup in November makes replacing him much, much more manageable.
It appears that Matt Benning, who had a surprisingly strong rookie season in 2016-17, is slated to take Sekera’s spot in the top-four. Benning played mostly a third-pairing role last season, but did see a few stretches in a featured role. His ability to play on the powerplay, move the puck adequately and play on the right-side makes him a perfect candidate to replace Sekera, and I think that’s exactly what we see happen.
If Sekera was slated to miss, say, 45 games, I’d be worried about this. Asking Benning to fill that slot for over half a season is asking a lot and probably isn’t realistic. For 20-25 games? I think that is a fair trail run and I believe that a Russell-Benning pairing could survive that timeline.
If Andrej Sekera is correct regarding his recovery timeline, it makes sense that the Oilers didn’t throw assets at the problem for a filler for just a month and a half of action. Is this route still risky? Absolutely it is, but the risk is much more subdued if Sekera can return on his own timeline.
It would also be a major boost for this club, because quite frankly the Oilers are a better team with Sekera on the ice.
The Seventh Defender:
Coming into the off-season, I had Griffin Reinhart, Eric Gryba and Jordan Oesterle as the most likely men to play the seventh defender role on the Oiler roster. Reinhart was selected by Vegas in the expansion draft, while Oesterle signed as a free agent with Chicago on July 1st.
When Sekera returns I expect Gryba, who signed a two-year deal in late June, to be the club’s seventh defender moving forward. Until then, however, that spot appears to be wide open on the depth chart.
Sure, it’s possible that the Oilers keep Gryba as the seventh defender even with Sekera out and play someone from Bakersfield on the third-pairing, but I think Todd McLellan gives Gryba the first shot at a full-time role with Sekera on the mend.
Mark Fayne very well could be the seventh defender to open the season. He was arguably Bakersfield’s best defender a season ago and he’s proven he can play at the NHL level. I still think Fayne is valuable, and I think if he gets a fair chance he could surprise some people as a depth option this season.
Yohann Auvitu kind of puts a wrench into things. The Oilers signed the defender yesterday, but where does he fit? He’s another left-shot and he looked good in NHL action a season ago. I don’t think he’s a lock for the roster, but I do think Auvitu could contribute and he’s certainly a guy that could see time this season. In fact, I’d be stunned if he didn’t get at least a few games during the course of the season.
The other options are Ryan Stanton and Dillon Simpson. Simpson was drafted and has been developed by the Oilers, and looked good in three games a year ago with the team. Judging by his AHL play a year ago, Simpson may just be ready for NHL employment. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing him get that final roster spot in October.
As for Stanton, the veteran AHL’er as some NHL experience and is a steady hand who may appeal to McLellan in training camp. He got a two-year contract and the club clearly likes him as a depth option. Most importantly, he’s also cheap and likely would easily clear waivers. That can’t be said for the other two options in my opinion.
If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on Yohann Auvitu making the Oilers out of camp as the seventh defender who splits time with Eric Gryba on the third-pairing. I’d wager that Ryan Stanton and Dillon Simpson will be the club’s top call-up options as everything stands.