Oilers defense remains question mark after off-season moves


EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers have added an offensive defenseman to Tyson Barrie and a third-row center with an excellent offensive pedigree to Kyle Turris. They signed Tyler Ennis, recovered Jesse Puljujarvi from Finland and returned the same tandem on goal that left Edmonton in 15th place in goals against per game last season at 3.03.

Meanwhile, it looks like their No. 1 defender, Oscar Klefbom, could miss the entire 2020-21 season due to a shoulder injury.

So GM Ken Holland scratched a few itches in free agency, but has Edmonton really done anything to keep more pucks out of the net?

“That’s a good question,” began head coach Dave Tippett, reaching his home in Arizona.

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Tippett won’t allow an influx of attacking talent to sideline him from the Oilers’ need to play better defensively – especially five-on-five – although he admits his roster is changing, “One of the best ways to defend is to get the puck.

“The most important thing for me is that we can defend better. As a five-on-five group, we need to defend better, ”he said. “It’s not about defense, not just forwards – it’s as a group. I think we can be a better team in defense, and if the goalkeepers are stable and we defend better as a team, we can keep some pucks out of our net.

It’s fair to look at the Oilers goaltending tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith and wonder how a duo that had the best save percentage in the National Hockey League when they were shorthanded finished in 25th place in a five-on-five match.

Did the goalie suddenly worsen evenly? Or has the quality of scoring chances changed?

Edmonton’s kill units were clearly superior – they finished second in the NHL in KP percentage (84.4%). But when the team returned to even-handed play, the Oilers lost goals.

It’s about managing the pucks and playing the game the right way so as not to bleed the odds. Obviously, the top 6 forwards and top 4 defenders – those who play the most minutes – need to find this game to resolve Edmonton’s defensive shortcomings.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to lots of people in the hockey world, then they tell listeners what they heard and what they think.

A few more thoughts on where the Oilers stand after free will:

• Turris arrives as a veteran center in a new role, with a long history under Tippett dating back to the Arizona squad that drafted Turris third overall in 2007. Turris played 63 games as a player. 19-year-old under head coach Wayne Gretzky, then ended up in the minors the following season when Tippett took over.

“Kyle was a good young player, but not quite ready for the league. He thought he should play more, but we had a very good team with a lot of veteran players, ”said Tippett. “I was trying to do things to win, he was a young player who was trying to develop, and those two things didn’t mix. There was no animosity – he just wanted more opportunities.

A few years later, the two would join Team Canada again at the 2014 World Championships, where Turris was Tippett’s third row center. “I really counted on him and he did a great job. A right center player who won all the big draws on the right side for us.

He will do the same in Edmonton, probably with Puljujarvi on his right wing.

• Tippett is watching Puljujarvi’s games with Karpat and had to say on Thursday that Holland did a good job hanging on to this asset.

“I think we’re going to get a great player out of Kenny’s patience,” said Tippett, who wouldn’t promise Turris will be the center tasked with helping bring Puljujarvi back to the NHL.

“He’s doing great wherever he plays,” Tippett said. “I told him he could be a third-row winger or he could be better. He’s okay with that. He’s coming back to try to prove himself.

“You have to give a player a chance to become a player and get the most out of that player. It’s not just the centreman who helps him. He can also help the centreman. He’s a dominant player there, on the power play, on penalties and with his five-on-five game. He will make other players better and he has to be better.

• Caleb Jones will have a much bigger bite this season.

“I think Caleb Jones is ready for a bigger role,” Tippett said.

The cavalry arrive on the Oilers’ blue line, with right-hander Evan Bouchard and left-hangers Philip Broberg and Dmitri Samorukov, all of whom are enjoying strong starts in their European campaigns. Barrie, on a one-year contract, is the bridge to these players.

In the meantime, with Klefbom likely out of place, Jones’ time has come. Tippett hasn’t made any promises, but it’s clear Jones will get the Top 4 in even-matched minutes, possibly alongside Adam Larsson.

We could see a defensive pattern where Jones plays with Larsson to start games. If the Oilers take the lead, Larsson gets more minutes. If they’re lagging behind, the riskier Barrie takes some of those minutes from Larsson.

We also see Ethan Bear being asked to follow the play more often, while his partner Darnell Nurse becomes this team’s stopping defender, playing every tough minute on the left side.

“We’ve improved our skills, our puck game, and they’re all good enough players to play conscious defense,” Tippett said. “We will be better.”


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