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Could Vincent Desharnais Be The Top 4 Defenseman The Oilers Need?

February 7, 2024, 5:36 PM ET [17 Comments]
Sean Maloughney
Edmonton Oilers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Vincent Desharnais came in last season as a callup and quickly endeared himself to the fanbase with his physical play and big hits. Throughout the season he was used as a #7 defenseman, eventually earning a more stable role on the third pairing. While his physical play and willingness to engage were great skills, he lacked awareness in his own end and trying to go for the big hit often left him out of position without the foot speed to get back.

This season, Desharnais has continued to improve. He doesn't go for the massive hit as often anymore and has been far more positionally sound in his own end. The numbers heavily support the Kulak-Desharnais pairing too, going 13-9 in 5 on 5 goals with an xGF% of 60.92%. Going into the post-season with a Kulak-Desharnais pairing is excellent. So why break them up? The answer is Cody Ceci.

Cody Ceci's faults were well on display in the 3-1 loss on Tuesday night to the Vegas Golden Knights. Ceci blew by the net and screened Skinner on the second goal against and was generally ineffective in the offensive end and lost possession a few times, killing the Oilers momentum. This wasn't just Ceci having a bad game; these are the types of mistakes that are part of his game... it just doesn't always cost the team.

Edmonton needs an upgrade on the second pairing (yes the Nurse pairing is the second pairing) to play with #25. Ideally this player should be a more defensively aware defender who can excel in a shutdown role. Desharnais has shown he can do that on a third pairing. It benefits the team if the coaching staff can find out whether or not he can do that in a more prominent role.

Desharnais averages roughly 15 minutes a game. Ceci averages roughly 20 minutes a game. Swap their minutes, play Desharnais with Nurse and Ceci with Kulak and see how the big man deals with the increased responsibility. The physical, shutdown defender to play with Darnell Nurse may already exist on this roster.

Have Nurse and Desharnais played together? Yes but it's a fairly small (but promising) sample size. This season, Desharnais and Nurse have played 25 minutes together at 5 on 5. While that duo was on the ice the Oilers went 1-0, with a 64.57 xGF%. Edmonton also outshot their opponents 17-10 (62.96%) with those two players on the ice. In 22/23 these two played 72 minutes went 2-1 with a 51.75xGF%. Edmonton outshot their opponents 33-30 (52.38%).

Now compare those to Ceci and Nurse this season. Ceci and Nurse have played 670 minutes together this season. The Oilers have gone 31-26 (54.39%) when they are on the ice with a 50.71xGF%. The Oilers have been outshot 343-365 (48.45%). When these two are on the ice and McDavid is not the numbers get even worse; 21-19 (52.50), 48.08xGF%, and outshot 262-308(45.96%).

Again, we are looking at a very small sample size with Nurse and Desharnais but the early results show that the two can play well together.

Now, could Knoblauch try this and have it just not work? Absolutely. We have seen plenty of third pairing defenders with strong numbers simply not be as effective in an increased role. Desharnais may just be a very good third pairing player and that is more than okay. Right now however we don't have an answer to that question.

The Oilers have two key needs right now for trade deadline; a top six winger and a top 4 right shot defenseman and likely another depth player or two. With limited cap space and assets, there is likely no way that Ken Holland can address all of those needs. Edmonton has done an excellent job at putting themselves back into a playoff spot and a chance at home ice advantage. This next month must be about figuring out which needs are the most crucial.

Play Desharnais and Nurse together for 6 or 7 games this month. Maybe it works and maybe it doesn't. Regardless, the GM and the coaching staff have that answer and can make a more educated decision on where their focus to improve the roster should be.

The 16 game winning streak was a blast and essential to this team being back in the mix. Now the focus can be set firmly back on the roster, trying some players in different positions and ensuring the best possible lineup is on the ice come Game 1 of the playoffs against whoever Edmonton's opponent may be.

Thanks for reading!
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