Hard blow ? Edmonton Oilers recall top defenseman prospect, return Markus Niemelainen to AHL


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The Edmonton Oilers just recalled Philip Broberg while sending Markus Niemelainen to the minors.

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1. Niemelainen didn’t make a big impression, so no surprise to see him go. He was below average at moving the puck, just fine in terms of defensive fundamentals, and too often lacked physical play, the one aspect of his game that propelled him to the NHL. Will we see him again? Maybe, but he needs to improve every aspect of his game at the AHL level.

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2. As for Broberg, who knows what we get? The promise is certainly there, as evidenced by the Bobby Orr-esque goal he scored last week in an AHL, effortlessly propelling end-to-end and around opposing players before beating the goaltender. Here is my Cult colleague Bruce McCurdy’s report on that match: “Broberg provided the undisputed highlight of the evening from Bako’s perspective with a splendid goal on an end-to-end run. A thunderclap from a sleepy power play that was 0 for its last 23 and went nowhere for the 75 seconds before goal. Then Broberg took matters into his own hands (and feet), effectively beating all five opponents, including goalkeeper Justus Annunen, to put the home team on the board at 3-1. The Swede scored again. The goalscoring double was Broberg’s first points of the AHL season, just his fourth game due to two injuries that frustrated his progress, not to mention his fans. But the solid Swede took a big step forward that night, perhaps his first real NHL call-up request. Edmonton’s third pair could definitely use some help.

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3. But even before the start of the season, there were major questions about Broberg. Was he the Philip Broberg who wowed Edmonton Oilers coaches and insiders in training camp for the 2020 Qualifying Round? The Broberg whose height, speed and puck carrying mentioned him as one of the best prospects in the world before the 2019 draft. The Broberg I saw two years ago in Sweden, who dominated from time to time the games with his physical qualities and his dynamic game? The Broberg who was called up to the Oilers last fall and impressed so much he ranked among the best for a game or two?

Or was he the Philip Broberg some were already questioning as a top draft pick, especially when the Oilers could have drafted a young American scorer like Trevor Zegras or Cole Caulfield in 2019? The Broberg who failed to dominate the 2020 World Junior Tournament? The Broberg who has had less and less ice time for his club team in Sweden’s top league as the season and playoffs progress? The Broberg who failed to stay with the Oilers last season on his first attempt at the team, largely due to tentative play?

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Must read: Bruce McCurdy with his article on the state of the Edmonton Oilers, “November gales came early.”

4. On top of all those issues, Broberg failed to bring his “A” game to training camp. We know now — but not then — that his weak play in camp was largely related to an injury he picked up early. This is so often the story of NHL players, that they crumble due to injury. The same was seen with Kailer Yamamoto this year. But it’s also the case that injuries are a part of professional hockey, that careers end because of injuries (as we saw recently with Oscar Klefbom) and that a player who gets injured often will have a hard time reach its full potential. After Broberg recovered from his initial injury, he sliced ​​his hand while cutting meat. He is now back and has played well enough to be recalled.

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5. Broberg’s recall makes sense. The Oilers are struggling on defense. Brett Kulak has yet to show he’s a competent second defenseman at the NHL level. He has yet to progress like Cody Ceci did last year. He wasn’t the player former Duncan Keith was during the second half of last season. Meanwhile, Ryan Murray and Niemelainen failed to inspire in the bottom pair, with Niemelainen failing to impress with the puck, Murray failing to impress without it, giving up too much time and space in the d zone. Broberg could do better.

6. I see this as a reasonable move by the Oilers, maybe even a pointed move. How? Obviously, the defense of oil does not achieve this. It lacks a gritty and intense d-man. The team is missing Adam Larsson and Kris Russell a lot right now, missing all the hardcore chokeholds from opposing forwards they both did in the defensive slot. It was hoped that Niemelainen would provide some of that, but that won’t be the case. Murray is not that kind of d-man. Neither does Broberg. But Broberg could well be a two-way force in mitigating his own lack of physical play. He might even get into the Top 4 if Kulak continues to struggle. Last year, when Broberg was recalled due to numerous backline injuries, he quickly rose through the ranks and led the team for a game or two.

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7. It’s going to cost the Oilers dearly to acquire a physical and trade-efficient veteran defensive back. Before general manager Ken Holland makes such a move, he must first try all internal options. He has to see if Broberg is finally ready for the NHL. So far, Broberg’s career has followed the upward trajectory of Klefbom’s former career. If he does now, Broberg will establish himself as the NHL’s third defenseman this year, and no trade will necessarily have to be made. Instead, the Oilers could pull the trigger by bringing in another forward.

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