Question 1. Will the defence be improved?
By the end of the regular season, the Oilers were allowing 2.95 goals against and 31.1 shots against per game (4 and 5 worst in the league, respectively). At his year end conferance, GM Peter Chiarelli made it no secret that the Oilers would go out and acquire a defenceman in the offseason. The Oilers quickly went out and did just that. They shopped the 4th overall pick in the 2016 draft to try and swoon other GM's, and they were even in the running to land PK Subban from the Montreal Canadiens. However a trade didn't come until June 29th when the Oilers traded Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenceman Adam Larsson.
This trade started a huge debate which is still raging today. While hockey fans agree that the Devils won the trade, the biggest concern is whether or not Adam Larsson is going to be the defenceman the Oilers need. After all, the guy was drafted 4th overall in 2011 and only had a breakout year last year. That being said, I've heard that Larsson is a great defensive defenceman and was certainly helping the Devils in that regard. However I do think the Oilers should've definitely gotten more for Taylor Hall
So the question now becomes, who is paired with Larsson? Oscar Klefbom is the answer to that question. For the past few years now, Klefbom has certainly been Edmonton's best defeneman. He's big, he moves the puck well, he has good hockey sense and best of all, he doesn't partake in the Oilers tradition of "Jultzing". Those two will most likely form Edmonton's top D-pairing and be a big shut-down contributor to Edmonton's team next season.
One pleasant surprise from the Oilers defence-core last season was the emergence of Brandon Davidson. This guy was drafted and properly developed by the Oilers and stepped into the NHL last year with great success. Yes his season was cut short, and yes I would've loved to have seen more from him, but I do think he handled himself pretty well last year and he definitely seems ready to go for this upcoming season. Plus that contract extension he received last year shows how confident Chiarelli and co. are in this guy.
Darnell Nurse was also another pleasant surprise for the Oilers last year. He showed his tough side and managed to shore up the back-end when injuries to Davidson, Klefbom, and Gryba occured. He was the proven defenceman that the Oilers drafted back in 2013 and it's good to see him developed properly. The only question mark that is existent with Nurse is whether or not he'll make the opening night roster. On that note, let's talk about Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle. Both were young and developming d-man that were thrust into prominent defensive roles with Edmonton when the injury bug hit the team. And I think they handled themsevles well. While both would've benefitted from more development with Bakersfield, they did show upswing and promise as future NHL defenceman. Both will have to compete with Nurse for that final opening nigh roster spot, so it could go to any of them.
And finally we have Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne. Let's start with Fayne. I think he did...Ok with the team last year. He's a right handed shot with makes him valuable to the team straight out, but I don't think he'll amount to anything more than a 3rd pairing guy who will be playing reduced minutes with the Oilers. At best, he's serviceable to the team and at worst, he'll be send back down to Bakersfield. Sekera was a bit of a question mark for me heading into the season last year. The Oilers inked him to a 6 year/$33 million contract last summer and his age indicated he woudln't be as good as he used to be. However he didn't alright for himself when he was playing sheltered minutes behind the rest of the Oilers defence. Once Davidson, Klefbom, Gryba and Ference got injured though, Sekera was required to play more minutes and he showed his age by being, well, not good. Like Fayne, he's a serviceable NHL defenceman who could thrive and excel on the 3rd pairing playing reduced minutes, but we'll see what McLellan does with him.
So the question still remains, will the defence be improved? I think so, yes. Now does that mean all of Edmonton's defensive woes are solved? No. However with the acquisition of Larsson + a healthy Klefbom and Davidson, the Oilers defense should be the best it's been in years. It was strong last year, and this year it should be stronger. If the Oilers can keep their d-men healthy for a significant portion of the season, the defense will massively improve the Oilers and help them push for a playoff spot this season.