Broberg under pressure in pivotal season
There is a short list of players in Canadian markets who, for any number of reasons, are under heightened pressure to produce in the approaching season. Edmonton Oilers defenceman Philip Broberg is squarely on that list.
It’s never easy being a 22-year-old defenceman in the NHL, certainly so when playing within a high-octane, up-tempo Oilers lineup that can expose its own blueline to chase offence.
Now add to the mix that Broberg will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and the reality of where he was selected in the 2019 draft. The Oilers grabbed him with the eighth-overall pick to fill an obvious need on the backend, doing so one spot ahead of Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras.
Broberg tried to carve out his niche in the Oilers lineup last season, playing 46 games and tallying eight points. The puck movement we have seen from Broberg in lower-level leagues, including the AHL team in Bakersfield, hasn’t yet materialized in Edmonton. But the confidence in the defensive zone has, to some degree. It remains a work in progress, even in a modern era where younger defenders are playing more minutes and carrying heavier expectations.
But Ken Holland and the Oilers front office are surely wrestling with several items. Chief among them: Broberg hasn’t been very influential in his 69 games so far, and that’s doubly true when you compare him to his counterparts from that same draft.
In fact, look at the top 15 skaters from that draft class – we will use Goals Above Replacement as our unit of measure here – and see where Broberg slots in:
Broberg’s critics are keen to look at the players drafted right behind him, several of whom have already been quite impactful at the NHL level. To that end, there are two compelling arguments: that the Oilers may have reached by taking Broberg eighth overall, and that other options – and likely forward options – would have been better fits for broader Oilers roster building.
The litigation of those arguments will go on for some time. But the Oilers did draft for the defensive need, and in contrast to other defenders taken at the top of that draft – names like Bowen Byram, Moritz Seider, Victor Soderstrom, and Cam York – Broberg compares relatively well. Much of that has to do with a bounce-back sophomore season, playing very well with newfound partner Evan Bouchard.
Bouchard is another young and talented defender with a fair bit more of a track record at the NHL level. The two were able to feed off one another last season, and even if you think Bouchard was carrying more of the two-way burden on that pair, there’s enough evidence to suggest Broberg wasn’t merely along for the ride.
If we look at how Broberg played over the last two seasons and isolated for his production with his primary partner and all other partners, you see a noticeable jump in real goal and expected goal differentials. Notably, Bouchard’s expected goal differentials remained high with or without Bouchard as his partner last season – those couple hundred minutes mostly scattered around Brett Kulak, Vincent Desharnais, Darnell Nurse, and Tyson Barrie:
The direct offence and counting numbers may not be there yet with Broberg – 11 career points isn’t anything to write home about. But if nothing else, the most notable takeaway from last season for Broberg is how many minutes he spent playing in the offensive zone, serving as a boon to his even-strength goal differentials.
Contractually speaking, the limited usage for Broberg and poor counting totals may suppress the value of his next contract, which may make him a more attractive extension candidate for an Oilers team up against the cap.
At any rate, there’s a fascinating season ahead for Broberg. A breakout year is what the Oilers front office and fan base are desperately hoping for, but it may complicate the Oilers from a salary cap standpoint as soon as next season.
But if there’s no breakout season in 2023-24, we might be having a very different discussion as to his long-term future in Edmonton.
Data via Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference