The Top Goal-Scorer in the American Hockey League

Jonathan Willis
April 23 2011 08:06PM

We’ve had occasion this season to talk about a lot of the Oilers’ prospects in Oklahoma City. At times, it felt like three-quarters of the NHL squad was made up of call-ups from the AHL team. Players like Linus Omark, Teemu Hartikainen and Jeff Petry made lasting impressions, while others like Alex Giroux, Ryan O’Marra and Chris Vande Velde got more limited cameos.

One of the players who has been mostly ignored in this shuffle is Colin McDonald, a long-time Oilers farmhand who this year lead the American Hockey League in goal-scoring.

Now, there are two quick caveats to McDonald’s achievement: first, it is (at least partially) shooting percentage driven, and second he didn’t record assists (16 – still a career high) to match his goal-scoring.

McDonald’s AHL shooting percentage, by season:

  • 2007-08: 12 goals (four on the power play) on 169 shots – 7.1 SH%
  • 2008-09: 10 goals (zero on the power play) on 130 shots – 7.7 SH%
  • 2009-10: 12 goals (zero on the power play) on 190 shots – 6.3 SH%
  • 2010-11: 42 goals (19 on the power play) on 259 shots – 16.2 SH%

To put that in perspective: Colin McDonald’s power play production this season resulted in more goals than he’s ever managed to score in a full AHL season before. Those 19 power play goals almost represent two years’ worth of scoring for McDonald at his previous rates.

The spike in shots and the increased role on the power play are encouraging, but realistically it wouldn’t be a surprise to see McDonald’s production drop to 20 goals next season. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t shock me if it did.

What I do like about McDonald’s outburst this season is that it might be enough to get him in the conversation for an NHL job. McDonald’s not a guy who will make it to the NHL on the basis of his offensive game, but the challenge for him has always been to bring enough offense to the majors to complement his other skills. McDonald’s a regular penalty-killer (interesting side point: he’s scored at least one shorthanded goal every season since his rookie year), he brings a big frame and a defensive conscience, but the problem is that he’s always been a 25-point player in the American Hockey League.

We do know that he’s been employed in a checking role for a few seasons down in the minors. He’s a defensively responsible forward who spends the bulk of his ice-time against the best the AHL has to offer. If he can be a 20-goal scorer in the minors while handling those roles, there’s not a lot separating him from a fourth line job in the NHL.

The reason we didn’t see McDonald with the big club this season was because of his one-way AHL contract – he had no deal in place with the Oilers, just with the Barons. I think at the very least that he’s earned a two-way contract, and my hope is that it’s with the Oilers. He’s still a bit of a long-shot for an NHL career, but he’s a lot closer now than he was the day he turned professional, and at 26 he’s not much older than Fernando Pisani was when he turned himself into a big league player. Lowetide’s mentioned him in the past as a guy who might have a Pisani-like career, and this season represents a big step in that direction.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 Raine Snow
April 23 2011, 08:10PM
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When you got a website like I do...you're always first bitches.

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#2 a lg dubl dubl
April 23 2011, 08:43PM
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to see McDonald have a career like FERNAAAAAAANNDO would be pretty cool hope hes got the heart like ol #34, still think the Oilers could have used Pisani instead of Fraser but thats just me and my opinion.

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#3 ProvidenceFTW
April 23 2011, 08:44PM
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I WOULD be shocked if he only managed to score twenty goals next season, because he has a great shot, and has been put into a goal-scoring role. Nelson, like any good coached, recognized his shot would find the back of the net due to Moran and Giroux's style of play.

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#5 speeds
April 23 2011, 09:24PM
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If you're the GM of the Oilers, and you've got one roster spot you're going to use on either Jones of McDonald on a one way contract (I know, hypothetical, false choice, etc), how much are you willing to give to Jones, per year, on a 2 year deal before you prefer McDonald signed to the league minimum on a one year deal?

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#7 OilLeak
April 23 2011, 10:53PM
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I'm willing to give Colin Mcdonald a contract over Ryan Jones. I would imagine that Mcdonald is miles better defensively than Jones; defensively inept 3rd/4th liners we don't need(Which Jones is).

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#8 Oilerbill
April 24 2011, 12:04AM
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Why do we have to choose between Jones and McDonald? Is the bottom 6 that strong that we only have room for one? Haha really I was laughing as I typed that. As far as Jones being a defensive liability, yes he lacks a bit in that department but defense is the one aspect of hockey that can be taught. Try can not be. besides I really don't think Jones hasdelusions of playing on the top two lines.

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#10 speeds
April 24 2011, 02:22AM
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Oilerbill wrote:

Why do we have to choose between Jones and McDonald? Is the bottom 6 that strong that we only have room for one? Haha really I was laughing as I typed that. As far as Jones being a defensive liability, yes he lacks a bit in that department but defense is the one aspect of hockey that can be taught. Try can not be. besides I really don't think Jones hasdelusions of playing on the top two lines.

It depends what they do with the roster, and how they use their roster spots.

The bottom six won't be much improved by signing Jones, or McDonald. What would improve the bottom six would be signing 2 top 6 forwards, and shoving the guys who would have been "top 6" guys down the depth chart.

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#11 speeds
April 24 2011, 02:32AM
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I just threw out that hypothetical because I was curious where some might think the line is for Jones. If I were the GM, I'm not sure I'd be looking for either as my first choice, depending what else I can do with the roster. But what's the cut off? Was Jones's performance worth an extra 1.0 mil more than the league minimum I'm sure you could sign McDonald for? 1.5?

How much better than McDonald is Jones, really? What sort of performance would we have expected out of Jones had he been in McDonald's spot in the AHL? Out of McDonald in Jones's spot? It's not like McDonald didn't perform, he led the AHL in goals.

I guess a guy could look at the NHLE's, were he up to it!

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#12 @Oilanderp
April 24 2011, 02:56AM
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@speeds

You said, "The bottom six won't be much improved by signing Jones, or McDonald. What would improve the bottom six would be signing 2 top 6 forwards, and shoving the guys who would have been "top 6" guys down the depth chart."

[begin rant] What it takes to be a bottom 6 guy is not simply a lack of "top-6ness". Effective bottom 6 guys aren't reject top 6ers. They aren't failed scorers. The best of your bottom 6 aren't there because they aren't as good as the guys in the top 6. If they are then its a sign that your team lacks depth and you aren't going to win a Cup anytime soon. Bottom 6 guys are there because they are the best defensive specialists on your team. They are really good at making the other guys not score. You don't just 'move guys down' and suddenly you have a bottom 6 worth spitting at. Dave Bolland got 4 pts in his return with CHI against the Crapnucks, but CHI isn't going to put him in the top 6 the next game. Why? He has a role. He wins draws and makes the Knuckleheads not score.

Bottom 6ers are to create energy and momentum by hitting or by distrubing or by stimying defensively the other team. I wouldn't call Jones a defensive specialist, but he sure brings energy and attitude. McDonald has shown this season that maybe his offensive game isn't such a liability that he can't play his already developed defensive game in the big leagues.

Now what's the price? Yes, that's the question.[end rant]

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#13 Hemmertime
April 24 2011, 10:05AM
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speeds wrote:

It depends what they do with the roster, and how they use their roster spots.

The bottom six won't be much improved by signing Jones, or McDonald. What would improve the bottom six would be signing 2 top 6 forwards, and shoving the guys who would have been "top 6" guys down the depth chart.

Im missing my NHL 11 too!

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#14 michael
April 24 2011, 10:38AM
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I have not seen macDonald play at all. I have seen Fraser play.If I am making the descisions for next season based just on numbers I would send Fraser to the minors and give CM a shot at the fourth line position along with VV and Jones.Fraser so disappointed me this season that a trade this summer would do him and all the other disappointed fans some good. Your asked to step up and you deliver the kind of season he did? You gotta wonder. Even Reddox, who only scored one goal, showed that he was willing to compete night in and night out. Look at Omark. Guy gets sent down. Comes back and competes like a pitbull. Thats what disappointed me the most about Fraser. He just didn't bring that desire each and every night. Cripes this in the big league. If your not showing up its going to be noticed. That said. Give CM a shot and see what he can bring to the team next year. Couldn't hurt.

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#15 ClosetGM
April 24 2011, 11:34AM
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Why is everyone always on Jones. I thought he had a great season. We get him for nothing and he goes on to have a breakout year. I really like the kid he brings energy and intensity and thats what wins hockey games. Everytime i turn around people are bashing him. I got an idea how about we dont sign him and add him to the list of people we have gotten rid of and would love to have back right now.

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#16 Dave
April 24 2011, 11:36AM
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If McDonald turns in to a player that can be inserted to the 3rd or 4th line without worry and maybe flipped for a pick come trade deadline then the Oilers have maximized his value.

Pisani's 2006 playoff run was an anomaly. At best he was a responsible defensive player with an underated shot and the play seldom died on his stick. I hope for the organization's sake that McDonald does not become a grossly overpaid bottom 9 forward that cant crack the line up regularly.

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#17 ubermiguel
April 24 2011, 01:46PM
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@Oilanderp wrote:

You said, "The bottom six won't be much improved by signing Jones, or McDonald. What would improve the bottom six would be signing 2 top 6 forwards, and shoving the guys who would have been "top 6" guys down the depth chart."

[begin rant] What it takes to be a bottom 6 guy is not simply a lack of "top-6ness". Effective bottom 6 guys aren't reject top 6ers. They aren't failed scorers. The best of your bottom 6 aren't there because they aren't as good as the guys in the top 6. If they are then its a sign that your team lacks depth and you aren't going to win a Cup anytime soon. Bottom 6 guys are there because they are the best defensive specialists on your team. They are really good at making the other guys not score. You don't just 'move guys down' and suddenly you have a bottom 6 worth spitting at. Dave Bolland got 4 pts in his return with CHI against the Crapnucks, but CHI isn't going to put him in the top 6 the next game. Why? He has a role. He wins draws and makes the Knuckleheads not score.

Bottom 6ers are to create energy and momentum by hitting or by distrubing or by stimying defensively the other team. I wouldn't call Jones a defensive specialist, but he sure brings energy and attitude. McDonald has shown this season that maybe his offensive game isn't such a liability that he can't play his already developed defensive game in the big leagues.

Now what's the price? Yes, that's the question.[end rant]

You are correct But the Oilers have at least two Bottom 6 guys pretending to be Top 6. Horcoff and Cogliano would form 2/3 of an awesome 3rd line. And that's assuming Cogliano turns into Marchant-Part-II which he's shown he can do on occasion.

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#18 Bank Shot
April 24 2011, 02:47PM
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I'm kind of thinking that McDonald is mostly a product of his linemates and opportunity.

I wouldn't be upset with a two way contract next season, but I really doubt it will end up with McDonald seeing any kind of time in the show.

Potulny, and Greentree had big time seasons in the AHl as well and neither of them have translated that into a job in the big leagues.

If McDonald had some upside you would think one of the thirty teams would have offered him a contract by now.

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