The Edmonton Oilers kicked off their Return to Play tournament Tuesday night with a win over archrival Calgary and while it was only an exhibition game, it was an opportunity for the Oilers to see what they were working with. And not just now, but in the future as well.
With defenseman Caleb Jones banged up, coach Dave Tippett brought in rookie Philip Broberg as the team's seventh defenseman. Broberg was Edmonton's first selection in the 2019 draft, going eighth overall and then heading back to Sweden, where he played all season in the SHL for Skelleftea.
"We talked about all the other defensemen we have and Broberg is the only guy in our camp who hasn't played an NHL game," Tippett said. "If we got down to a situation where we thought we needed him, I would rather his first experience be an exhibition game. With a young player like that, you could see some of that tonight. He's a real competitive kid and he skates very well but the game moves quick out there. It was good to see him get his feet wet, but he's a young player. He's got great upside."
Broberg played a little more than 11 minutes in the game against Calgary, which is a nice start for a kid who just turned 19 a month ago. Thinking that he'll simply walk right onto Edmonton's top-six would be hasty, but that upside that Tippett mentioned is tantalizing.
Already 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Broberg's size and skating give him the chance to become a mini-Victor Hedman if he develops to his potential, which would obviously be a huge boon for the Oilers. We already know that Edmonton has two of the most elite forwards in the game with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, both of whom helped the Oilers put together the best power play in the league this season.
But defense is an area the franchise has needed to improve on for years and it feels like we're beginning to see the fruits of those labors. While Tippett went with Broberg for the exhibition game against the Flames, his other options included Evan Bouchard and William Lagesson. Bouchard, another Oilers first-rounder, is a deft passer with a nice two-way game, while the 24-year-old Lagesson is a hard-hitting blueliner who has already logged some decent AHL experience and played eight NHL games. Toss in Jones and breakout rookie Ethan Bear and you've got a nice array of young players who can soon help augment or even replace current heavy-lifters such as Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson and Darnell Nurse (Larsson becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2021, as does veteran Kris Russell, who is already 33 years old). And with Tippett at the helm, you know the blueliners are going to learn the structure they need to succeed.
Once the playoffs have ended, Broberg will return to Sweden, where he is slated to play the 2020-21 season in the SHL once again with Skelleftea. It's a smart move by Oilers GM Ken Holland, as Broberg will have more available ice time and a bigger role on the Swedish side (and based on how different the NHL and SHL schedules will be next season, he could return to North America and see action once his Skelleftea duties are done). Broberg will also still be eligible for the 2021 world juniors - assuming they're not cancelled - which happen to be hosted by Edmonton and Red Deer. Broberg was very good for the Swedes at the 2020 world juniors, playing a shutdown role on a Swedish team that won bronze.
The Oilers already have some of the elements necessary to become Stanley Cup contenders, but as players such as Broberg mature, the team will be a lot more well-rounded. And that's a scary thought for the rest of the NHL.