February 16 2012 11:17PM
The trade of Ryan O'Marra opens up opportunities for some OKC Barons forwards. Tanner House--an Alberta boy from Cochrane with a hockey resume that includes stops in Canmore, Penticton and Orono, Maine--has earned praise from his coach for 2-way play and attention to detail. The problem for Tanner House and this year's AHL prospects: goals.
- Barons coach Todd Nelson on House: "He’s a pretty good force. He’s a big part of our penalty-kill. Tanner’s been a pretty sound hockey player for us all year. Our PK’s where it’s at because of guys like him performing well.”
Nelson told me earlier in the season that he felt one of the strengths of the Barons team was quality and depth at center, which at that time included O'Marra, Josh Green, Chris Vande Velde and House. The issue at that time was consistency, and with O'Marra gone House should get more 5x5 chances and an opportunity to show well offensively. He needs them. Badly.
And he isn't alone.
The gap between "AHL veterans" and "young prospects" and their production tells a story. There just isn't anyone emerging from the group of prospects, meaning the Oilers are unlikely to increase the roles played by the prospects anytime soon.
Linus Omark is back, and that means some high octane offense in OKC. Here are the leading scorers among forwards in OKC since January 1st. As you can see, the top tier has very few prospects and a lot of those AHL vets:
- Ryan Keller, 14, 5-8-13 +10
- Mark Arcobello 16, 6-5-11 +5
- Phil Cornet 14, 6-4-10 +5
- Hunter Tremblay 16, 6-4-10 +4
- Josh Green 7, 2-6-8 +5
- Magnus Paajarvi 8, 1-5-6 -1
- Linus Omark 2, 2-1-3 +2
The good to very good prospects (Paajarvi, Omark) are just passing through. I doubt either spends a lot of time in OKC next season. The two pleasant surprises are Cornet (20+ goals on the season from a depth pick) and Hunter Tremblay. Tremblay is long in the tooth for a prospect but has been coming on and may well be the most pleasant surprise of the new year.
- Teemu Hartikainen 13, 2-5-7 +1
- Curtis Hamilton 14, 3-1-4 +4
- Chris VandeVelde 15, 1-3-4 +3
- Antti Tyrvainen 15, 1-3-4 +2
- Tanner House 14, 0-2-2 +1
- Tyler Pitlick 7, 0-1-1 +2
Here are the rest of the prospects and you'd like to see more from all of them. The Oilers have all kinds of holes in Edmonton, and all of these kids has an opportunity (even a guy like Tyrvainen). However, if you're struggling to score in the AHL then getting the call to the NHL isn't going to come.
Teemu Hartikainen's season is a huge concern. Even considering injuries, his inability to build on last year's impressive season is a significant warning sign. Winning games in OKC has its benefits, but developing prospects is job 1.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Generally speaking, you can assume that the new pro's will take some time to adjust to the speed of the game, the size and experience of the opponent and the crazy travel schedule. From January 1 through season's end, the young Oilers need to take steps forward and so far there's not a lot of evidence.
More importantly, a guy like Teemu Hartikainen---who did adjust last season to AHL level play--has stagnated at a time when he could be emerging with the big club. Omark has been injured, so he's a different case. All of the forwards who should be considered prospects (that's eveyone on the list above save for Keller, Arcobello, Green) need to close strong.
It's dangerous to draw conclusions during the season and I do believe that splits (first and second half) can tell us a lot about prospect's progress. So far this season in OKC, Phil Cornet is the only young forward prospect taking it to the limit.
That needs to change, and with the trade of O'Marra some at-bats are shaking loose. I'll be interested to see which prospect gets the push.