When I initially read the news on my trusty TSN app, “Oilers Acquire Mark Fraser From…” I didn’t really need to read much further before thinking, what the…? It’s interesting how a persons mind tends to work when hearing any kind of news initially. Sadness, happiness, intrigue, remorse etc. This trade was a mixed ball for me at first & for the awhile, I didn’t even care who he was traded for & was more concerned as to why, why Mark Fraser & why now?
I’m not sure about you, but the first thing I do after a trade goes down is immediately go to NHL.com to check said players statistics. Fraser doesn’t have a lot of NHL experience, in fact, he’s been more of a fringe NHL defenseman. He’s big, he’s tough & he’s got no qualms about providing a net front presence, something the Oilers have lacked for awhile. Now, I’m not going to WoW you with any fancy stats analysis on Fraser because truthfully, nothing about him really stands out. He missed all of 3 games last year for the Leafs & judging by his time on ice was in the neighborhood of ~17mins/night, which is your basic 2nd pair guy. His +18 really shouldn’t enamor anyone as this particular statistic is based more on the situation at hand than it does for the actual player’s skill set, or lack there of. This year, Fraser’s time on ice number is down a bit & he’s been injured a bit but his sheer character & relationship with coach Eakins is likely a bigger reason he’s now an Oiler.
Ok, now to business, I’m telling you right now, Mark Fraser is by no means a great hockey player & was brought in as a need more than a want. The Oilers have been missing, therefore needing size on the blueline since Andy Sutton left. Fistric added some grit but like Sutton, was often injured. Mark Fraser can fill this void & add what Eakins refers to as “growl” to his game & something that’s been lacking for sometime. Also in play here is the mysterious case of Philip Larsen. The small Danish defenseman has been battling some sort of rare blood disorder & had just returned from IR in time for Wednesday’s game vs the Sharks. According to multiple reports from both the Edmonton Journal & Sun, he has since been placed back onto IR which to me is part of what triggered this deal to happen.
Some will ask: “well why not just call-up Fedun or Klefbom as a 5-6 guy?”
It’s a good question to ask, to which I can only imagine that playing Klefbom or Fedun with N.Schultz right now may in fact stunt their development & with what we’ve seen from the Oilers in recent years, rushing players to play in over their head out of pure necessity hasn’t worked well, so instead why not just let their development continue in a more prominent & protected role. Their time will come soon enough.
Here’s the point to this piece. Having an abrasive forward who plays tough is only helpful if he can actually play. Luke Gazdic will take on all comers & the recent antagonistic measures he’s taken to go after most Oilers fans public enemy #1, Zach Kassian are well documented. The problem is, unless Gazdic chases him all over the ice in attempt to be physical with Kassian, doesn’t help the Oilers overall game. The other issue is, Kassian is a better hockey player than Gazdic, therefore there’s no point in Kassian getting sucked into Gazdic’s cheap talk, leading to a fight when he can instead, just outplay him on the ice, thus putting the Oilers in a severe mismatch.
Enter Mark Fraser.
There are countless players in this league that on any given night, opposing players would just LOVE to cream into the boards, as viciously but legally as possible. For forwards to do this, it’s far easier said than done, unless you can somehow catch them in the neutral zone. However, for a defenseman, not only is it an easier feat to accomplish, it’s far easier for a coach to manage & here’s why. Any wingers job is to get into the corner & battle for loose pucks. Those battles generally occur vs defenseman. Having Mark Fraser on the ice will help initiate contact with the Kassian’s of the world not only more probable, but essential for the each players effectiveness on the ice. There’s no place to hide from a Mark Fraser. You go to the corners, he’s going to hit you, you go to the front of the net, he’s probably going to maim you & judging by Fraser’s penalty minute totals he doesn’t stand out to me as a guy that takes dumb penalties. So if Fraser is playing let’s say, 10-15mins/night, the likelihood of him getting matched up vs the other teams agitator is much higher than say, Luke Gazdic’s 5-7mins/night. If nothing else, it helps make said agitator take notice of who’s on the ice & he can’t hide in the corners or in front of the net, thus making contact imminent.
These types of players are scattered throughout the league. Derek Engelland in Pittsburgh all but paid for Steve MacIntyre’s ticket out of town. Radko Gudas in Tampa, Erskine with the Caps, Matt Carkner has played this role on a few teams now, Gudbranson from the Panthers, Beauchemin in Anaheim, the Kings have a few punchers on the backend, Dillon in Dallas. Anyway, it’s not like other teams avoid this but for the most part & I think this is the most important thing to remember, not every player has it in them to fight. It’s not something you can coach a player or develop him into, he either has the courage to do it, or he doesn’t, simple. Am I an advocate of this kind of player, no, but I think the best thing Mark Fraser can be with the Oilers is to simply show us he’s a better overall player at his position than Larsen, Potter or even Belov & if (and that’s a BIG IF) he can do that then I will imagine the fans & most importantly, the team will be better off because of it.
So, before we knock him down by judging him on based on his statistics, his skating ability, or his pugilism, let’s give him a chance to stand-up & play, starting tomorrow in Boston.
Thanks for reading!
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