Lowetide: If Oilers’ Philip Broberg is next man up, he needs NHL games soon


Philip Broberg is NHL-ready.

The Edmonton Oilers have slow-played Broberg, as was the case with Evan Bouchard, and now find themselves in a tough spot.

Why? The club is one injury away from needing Broberg to play NHL games and he hasn’t played much in the league this season.

The acquisition of Troy Stecher at the deadline only exacerbates the situation, as Stecher will also need time to get comfortable during late season games.

It’s a problem. Here’s a solution.

Defencemen get hurt

During the Saturday night game against the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Place, defenceman Vincent Desharnais suffered an injury.

His fight against Colorado’s Josh Manson was wildly entertaining, but the result left the club in limbo on the right side of the defence.

It all worked out, Desharnais was at practice Monday and announced himself fit.

The club has Stecher to slide in on the right side. He’s a veteran of almost 500 NHL games and played as a regular in Arizona before being dealt at the deadline.

Edmonton’s left side of the blue has no such luxury. If someone from the group gets hurt, Broberg will receive an immediate recall from the AHL Bakersfield Condors.

He could have been in Edmonton for several games this year, but the Oilers ran a short-handed roster for cap reasons.

It’s happened before

Bouchard wasn’t ready for NHL action when the club decided he should open the 2018-19 season in Edmonton. He went back to junior, then turned pro and played a season in the AHL 2019-20.

He began the 2020-21 season (pandemic year) in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second pro league.

When the NHL season resumed, Bouchard was used sparingly during the regular season and not at all during the short playoff run.

If the Oilers had used him during the year, Bouchard might have been a viable option in a short and frustrating series for all involved.

What are Broberg’s qualifications?

Broberg is well-suited to one roster position on the Oilers: left defence, third pair. According to Puck IQ, here’s the breakdown of his goal share over the last two seasons, by quality of competition.

Qual Comp Minutes Goal Share

Elite

90

8-10 (44 pct)

Mid-level

223

11-8 (58 pct)

Soft parade

301

14-13 (52 pct)

All numbers five-on-five

These numbers show Broberg as capable against mid-level and low-level competition. While true, the math is a little misleading due to the small sample.

If we drill down on Broberg’s 2022-23 season, and examine shots-attempts against, with special emphasis on close and dangerous shots, we get a more accurate read on this player.

Dangerous Fenwick gives extra value to close and high-danger shots, and Puck IQ counts what each player allows at specific levels of competition while he’s on the ice.

DFF 60 in the table below is dangerous shots against per 60, with Broberg’s rank among all Edmonton defenders who played enough games to qualify.

Qual Comp DFF 60 Rank

Elite

69

7/9

Mid-level

33

2/9

Soft parade

30

2/9

All numbers five-on-five

There are more shots in a game, and the more events that are measured means the more likely we can gauge what’s actually happening on the ice.

His 2022-23 season is a good one for a rookie. Broberg does well against the lower and mid levels, and struggles versus elites.

Since Broberg would face elites on the second pairing, the math suggests he should be kept away from that level of the defensive depth chart until he’s more experienced.

Broberg is fully qualified to play third pair in the NHL today based on his own track record.

Nothing left to prove in the AHL

Broberg’s numbers with the Condors are eye-popping. His offence (8-42-50 in 74 games) is impressive, and his even-strength goal share while in Bakersfield (60-34, 64 percent) is outstanding.

The eye test is equally compelling. Broberg’s speed and mobility are impressive, and he can dance with the puck or pass it with equal ability.

When he gets to Edmonton permanently (surely next season) his offensive ability will be on display, but only at even strength. Bouchard has the power-play minutes tied up for the rest of the decade and possibly beyond depending on his next contract.

What’s next?

Ideally, the Oilers will recall Broberg and play him on the third pairing.

If he can get some games in with a partner like Stecher or Cody Ceci, it should give the coaching staff some confidence in him. It would also help the player build his own confidence as the games become more intense through the rest of the regular season.

Last year’s playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights was even through four games, and the Oilers were in it until a series of unfortunate events in the second period of Game 5.

Broberg took a penalty, followed shortly by another infraction by Mattias Janmark, the series tipped in Vegas’ favour and the die was cast.

Via NHL.com

There was plenty of blame to go around after the series with the Golden Knights, much of it landing on goaltender Stuart Skinner, the other Oilers rookie in the series.

The two 2023 playoff rookies went in different directions last fall.

Skinner won the starting job (again) in net from Jack Campbell. Broberg was carved out of the NHL roster and left to dominate in the AHL.

Leading up to camp, there was talk of Broberg playing the right side with Mattias Ekholm during preseason, a reasonable tactic considering the depth chart was overloaded with veterans on Broberg’s natural (left) side.

Ekholm was injured before training camp and it never happened.

Now, Broberg is second in line for playing time behind Stecher, who needs to get a feel for playing the Oilers style and with individual defensive partners.

That puts Broberg in a difficult role. He hasn’t played in the NHL since November and yet is one injury away from being inserted into the lineup.

The playoffs are a month away.

Management no doubt intended to use Broberg at times during the season. Chasing the playoffs became the priority, followed by the decision to run a man (or more) short on the roster in order to improve the cap situation in front of the deadline.

As time went on, the new coaching staff got comfortable with the starting six, who have been incredibly healthy.

Later in the season, in fact recently, the idea of catching the Vancouver Canucks for first place in the Pacific Division entered the chat and that is a noteworthy goal.

All the while Edmonton keeps running six defencemen out and the men who will be asked to enter the battle when injuries arrive haven’t had many reps with the club.

Stecher played on Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens, just his second game since arriving at the trade deadline 14 days ago.

The staff is comfortable with the top six and coach Kris Knoblauch has a record of 38-12-3 since taking over as head coach.

How can anyone question the team’s decision to run their best available defenders every game?

And yet, there is a reality here.

At some point, an injury will impact the Oilers.

The backup left-handed defenceman hasn’t seen a minute in the NHL in four months.

The Oilers should recall Broberg and get him in some games before the end of the season. It’s the smart play.

(Photo: Curtis Comeau / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)





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