Sekera nears return, and that’s big for the Oilers

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The Edmonton Oilers gambled that young defensemen could stem the tide while Andrej Sekera healed up from a torn ACL, and many would argue that management made the wrong decision in placing that bet in 2017-18.

With that in mind, it’s not too surprising that people seem excited about what appears to be an imminent return for the veteran defenseman; TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reports that his teammates let out a cheer as he led stretches today.

Oilers announcer Bob Stauffer tweeted out the Oilers’ pairings, and even with Oscar Klefbom sidelined, they look a lot more balanced with Sekera in the mix. Here’s how the top-six looks, according to Stauffer:

Brandon DavidsonAdam Larsson
Darnell NurseKris Russell
Sekera – Matt Benning

The 31-year-old might also end up on the Oilers’ top power-play unit.

It’s easy to dismiss how much of a stabilizing force Sekera could be for Edmonton.

Last season, Sekera averaged 21:28 TOI per game, second only to Klefbom. He averaged 2:01 of PK time per contest, ranking third on the Oilers, and also pitched in 35 points during the regular season.

Once Klefbom gets back in the mix, the Oilers could, say, scratch Benning and boast a far more complete trio of defensive pairings. Sekera may very well help Klefbom get back on track if Edmonton decided to pair those two up.

Either way, the return of a key player can provide a pleasant domino effect for a defense, with guys falling into spots that are more comfortable than maybe they’ve been experiencing so far. We’ve already seen positive signs of the Oilers offense falling into more sensible configurations, as Edmonton’s finally embracing the importance of depth by splitting up Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

As with many Oilers-related questions, there’s the uncomfortable prompt: is this another instance in which improvements are coming too late? Even with two wins in a row and six victories in their last 10 games, Edmonton is ranked second-to-last in the West.

If they’re climbing back, it won’t be easy, yet Sekera’s likely return would give them quite the boost.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.