It wasn't that long ago that defensive depth was a huge concern for the Edmonton Oilers.
In a way, it's starting to become a strength. Even with Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones out of the picture, Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg and William Lagesson have shown promise as young defensemen with something to prove.
If all goes well, Dmitri Samorukov could be the next important piece of the puzzle and potentially force his way into the NHL conversation sooner rather than later.
Currently participating in the team's rookie camp, Samorukov - the team's third-round pick in 2017 - is vying for a shot at an NHL spot come October. Samorukov is no stranger to the North American game. He spent his junior years with the OHL's Guelph Storm and has over 50 games of AHL experience with the Bakersfield Condors. But Samorukov is aiming for the big show now after an extra year of development in the KHL, and he's ready to show that he's capable of being a full-time NHLer right now.
"When I first came to the AHL two years ago, it was really good for me for learning how to be a player, and then this season in the KHL to establish myself as a pro player" Samorukov said. "Now I'm trying to knock on the door and do my best."
So far, Samorkukov has shown good signs since turning pro. While he did put up solid numbers in the OHL, Samorukov has worked to build upon his shutdown game and has come a long way, as shown by his play with CSKA Moskva in the KHL last year. A shoulder injury slowed his season in January, but GM Ken Holland said Samorukov has been cleared to play.
"When you come from junior, you have a lot of points, you think you might be something special," Samorukov said. "But when you realize you have some guys that can really get points, you know what kind of game you have to play. I know who I am now."
Making the Oilers is going to be a bit tricky, though. Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie are the two mainstays from last year. Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci will be the veterans anchoring the second pairing. Kris Russell will work with Evan Bouchard on the third, and then there's Lagesson and Slater Koekkoek. So Samorukov is far from a lock of making this team, but like any young prospect, he wants to show he's worth an extended look.
"You come in, you want to show yourself. That's what every kid is doing. So we just trying to be the best and trying to win every game."
The expected plan is to see Samorukov return to Bakersfield and playing top minutes down there with a call-up or two along the way. But a strong prospect camp showing could earn him more attention at main camp, and perhaps a realistic shot at making the Day 1 roster.
"I don't think he'll be ready immediately, but his development took a nice step forward last year," a Russian scout said. "It won't be long."
The Oilers have high expectations, and you'd hope so with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl leading the charge. Defense and goaltending has been a hindrance for the team in recent years, but at the very least, the blueline options long-term seem promising in Oil Country.
Will Samorukov be a key piece of the future? Signs point to yes, but it's all in his hands now. There's going to be steep competition to make the team the next few years, but Samorukov is confident in his ability to surprise and impress.
That's all Oilers fans can want out of him right now.