By Greg Price
If there is anything Taberite Brandon Davidson has proven in his hockey career, it is to not bet against him.
Davidson has taken every challenge head on and emerged stronger than before. Monday proved no different as the sixth-round NHL draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers finally made the opening-day roster, as the Oilers’ final cut came in the form of forward Leon Draisaitl to get the active roster down to 23 players.
“Initially I was kind of shocked. I knew with the circumstances and the numbers that they had, I knew it was a long shot. I’ve been trying out for this team for five years,” said Davidson.
“To be turned away again and again and to finally overcome that and to make the opening-day roster is a big deal for me.”
Having fought for everything that has been given to him, Davidson was not drafted in his first eligible NHL Entry Draft year, playing ‘AAA’ midget in Lethbridge at the time.
The following season he was a walk on with the Regina Pats, where his play was impressive enough to be selected in the sixth round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Oilers.
Davidson continued to raise his play with the Pats where he eventually earned the team’s captaincy. As Davidson continued to build his dream of being an NHLer, that dream nearly turned into a nightmare as he would battle and beat testicular cancer in his first professional season in Oklahoma City.
Soldiering on, Davidson finally made his breakthrough last year, playing in 12 games for the Edmonton Oilers. But the 2015-2016 NHL marks the time he has earned his spot right form the start of training camp and impressing in pre-season. Nevertheless, Davidson is not one to sit on his laurels.
“The work ain’t over yet. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it’s great to be here and have this opportunity,” said Davidson. “I knew I had to be good (in training camp) and I needed to get noticed with the new coach and the new management changes. For me I play a simple game, but doing the right things at the right time got me noticed. Being a physical contributor helped me as well.”
NHL scouts have noted Davidson is the epitome of the KISS method, making the safe, simple play and making it consistently. The 6-foot-2, 215 pound left-shooting defencmen uses his big frame to box out opponents to win puck battles, takes the body and fill shooting lanes. During his brief time in Edmonton last NHL season, he averaged 1.5 hits per game and 1.8 blocked shots, with the latter being the highest per-game rate of any Oilers’ defender, all while being relatively clean in his own end with his defensive duties.
“I was more comfortable this year than I was in past years because I had been through the process and played 12 games (which included his first NHL goal),” said Davidson. “I was a little more comfortable and I had a good head about me. I knew there was a big challenge ahead of me. I just controlled what I could , that was just me and that’s all I worried about, making sure I was ready to go every day and it paid off for me.”
Davidson perhaps also benefited from the new era that is the Edmonton oilers with the sweeping changes that have been made. Out is former GM Craig MacTavish and in is new GM Peter Chiarelli who jettisoned struggling players like goalie Ben Scrivens and Nikita Nikitin who were waive despite hefty contracts.
Six pre-season games in, the Oilers have racked up some wins under new head coach Todd McLellan and optimism that seemed to be missing from last year’s squad who once again manage dot secure the first-overall NHL draft pick in difference maker Connor McDavid, thanks again to the team’s struggles.
“Everything has been changed and revamped with the coaching staff and management. Everyone that has come in has changed the philosophy surrounding the team. It had to be done and you can see it in pre-season,” said Davidson. “Some people might still have their doubts where we are going, but there is that big change and there is that feeling of hope. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think the pieces are there and you are seeing some results.”
The talent definitely matches the hype of No. 1 overall 2015 NHL Entry Draft pick Connor McDavid, according to Davidson.
“He is one of the best skaters I have ever seen play. He is definitely going to be the player everyone expects him to be and will be a key player,” said Davidson. “He is someone you work an NHL team around. He has the skill, the character and the leadership. Exciting times are ahead with our young core and he’s a very special player. With all the new adjustments we’ve made, things should go well.”
With McLellan taking over the reins as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, it will mark the second Taberite he has coached with Davidson. McLellan was the former head coach of the San Jose Sharks in which former NHLer and Taberite Devin Setoguchi had his best season in 2008-2009, when he scored 31 goals and 65 points.
“He has been very clear with what he wants. It has been a general black and white with how he wants his defencemen to play. I was able to adjust to that,” said Davidson.
“He allows us to play and use our own personal abilities, but he also wants us to play in the system. That is what is unique about Todd, he wants order, but he also understands players are special and each brings something different to the table.”
Edmonton Oilers begin its 2015-2016 NHL season tomorrow on the road today against the St. Louis Blues.