(photos via cbc.ca)
When the Oilers inked Andrej Sekera to his 6 year/33 million dollar contract this past offseason the 5.5 million dollar average put him in the same range as the likes of Matthew Carle, Nick Leddy, James Wisniewski, Brooks Orpik, Oliver Ekman-Larson, Tyler Myers and Jeff Petry (who he essentially replaces on the Oilers back end). Obviously, he isn’t going to be as good as Oliver Ekman Larson, or as bad as James Wisniewski. However, I do feel as though this could end up being a really good signing by the Oilers.
Sekera, 29, is essentially in his prime as an NHL defenseman, so six more years isn’t asking a lot out of him. He should be able to play at a rather high level for the entire contract.
The part of Sekera’s game that I really like is that he appears to have figured out the NHL game on both ends of the puck, but just hasn’t been able to do it in the same year. I took a closer look at that.
2013/2014 could be considered Sekera’s breakout season. He smashed his previous career high in points with 44 and also picked up 4 power play goals. It was also his career high in even strength minutes, proving that he could anchor a blue line on his own.
The only area of Sekera’s game that worried me in 13/14 was his even strength abilities. His goals against per 60 was a whopping 6.57, that number gets even more worrisome when compared to his goals for per 60 which was 6.32.
So while he took major strides in the offensive side of his game, it was clear he lost a step defensively. Which leads us to this past season…
If we use the same metrics for 2015 as we did for 2014 we can see that Sekera made some improvements. His GF/60 stayed the same, so the production of his team was relatively constant while he was on the ice. However his GA/60 dropped greatly to 3.96. The massive drop could be attributed to the fact that Sekera spent half the season on a rather defensively sound Kings team, who were far more competitive than the Hurricanes were in 2014.
Sekera also saw an increase in how often his team possessed the puck while he was on the ice, as his CF% rose to 54%. So while Sekera had taken some strides forward defensively, there were still some numbers that worried me about his game.
He shot the puck less, about 3.7 times per 60 minutes when compared to 13/14 when he shot 4.35 times per 60. His point total drop also concerns me as he dropped from 44 to 23, which is more in line with his career average. He saw a drop in his power play production, which is something the Oilers definitely hope he will be able to rebound from.
I expect his offense to rebound this season. Last year he saw a major decline in his power play minutes and saw an increase in his defensive zone starts, which will both affect point production from a defenseman. He also shot the puck less, as I pointed out earlier, and at a lower percentage. Sekera should have no problem putting up more points when he is distributing the puck to the highly skilled Oilers forwards. If he replaces Justin Shultz on the Oilers power play, he could really rack up the points as Shultz took the majority of the Oilers Grade A scoring chances last season.
2015/2016 will really be a make or break year for the Slovakian defenseman. Will he find a way to combine his offensive success of two years ago with his strong defensive awareness of last season? Or will he see another dip in point production and struggle on the often defensively challenged Oilers?
I believe it will be the former as Sekera has already proven he excels as ‘the man’ on a blue line. The experience of playing meaningful games last season with the Kings should definitely help him anchor a young Oilers blue line, while shooting the puck more and getting better offensive opportunities will help him rebound offensively. I believe its reasonable to expect Sekera to crack 40 points again this year as he attempts to help return the Oilers blueline to respectability.