Blue line depth a key to Edmonton Oilers’ chances vs. Blackhawks as hockey’s “play-ins” finally begin

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That wasn’t all bad luck. Devastating as it seemed at the time, the injury to Larsson in Game 1 had a major silver lining. When Persson was cleared to play in Game 2, it wasn’t Bear’s spot he took, but Larsson’s. Only when Persson got hurt a second time in Game 6 (after taking a couple of heavy hits courtesy today’s opponents the Blackhawks), did #8 man Brandon Manning get a stretch of games. Persson reclaimed that spot from Manning after three weeks on the shelf, but by then Bear had clearly won the Sekera job without a throw. By the time Larsson was ready to return, Persson was being farmed out. Meanwhile Bear just kept on playing games, and wound up appearing in all 71. Quite a feat for a would-be #7 d-man, wouldn’t you say?

Indeed, Bear’s emergence was one of the major stories for the Oilers in 2019-20. Far from a #7, he quickly established himself in the top four, and the #1 minute man on the right hand side. At even strength only Larsson was close, as a top four was clearly established,

The top six as laid out here show Saturday’s expected pairings, but look down each column and a clear hierarchy is apparent. On each side of the blueline, the list is in order, be it games played, even strength ice time per game, or percentage of that ice time played against Elite competition (stick tap to PuckIQ.com). Red figures represent players above the arbitrary thresholds of 15 minutes a night and 30% vs. Elites.

We went into this aspect in some detail in a recent post about Ethan Bear’s exceptional rookie season, and bring forward this chart of deployment, again from PuckIQ.com: