Oklahoma City Barons Watch: October 21

Jonathan Willis
October 21 2013 08:15AM

It’s an interesting year for Oklahoma City. The team is loaded to the gills with defencemen, to such a degree that at some point players like Brandon Davidson have been healthy scratches. Up front, however, a club that already had some weaknesses has lost players like Mark Arcobello and Ryan Hamilton to the NHL, leaving a terribly thin list of quality NHL prospects.

Which prospects are impressing early?

The Forwards

The chart above shows even-strength statistics I have recorded during home games. ‘Fenwick’ is shorthand for shots plus missed shots with a player on the ice; it tracks closely to scoring chances over time. The ‘OZ Start’ and ‘DZ Start’ columns indicate how many times a given player started at either end of the rink. The final column is “Adjusted Fenwick” – which is a fancy way of saying the ratio of shots/missed shots the team manages with each player on the ice with an adjustment factor for which zone they’re starting in.

Normally, 50 percent would be break-even, but because these numbers are only from home games (I don’t accompany the team on the road and those games are only available through an expensive, poor quality internet service) we should expect each player to do a little better. Also, two big caveats: one, it’s still super early (and I’m only listing players with 3+ games) and two these numbers don’t reflect quality of teammates or opposition.

Some notes on individual players of interest to Edmonton:

Andrew Miller. I don’t really think he’s been Oklahoma’s best forward, but he is showing something lately as the team’s second-line right wing (mostly on a line with Broda and Nesbitt). Like just about everyone, I thought Miller was pretty bad during the Oilers’ rookie camp, but he’s shown far more offensive creativity in the minors than he did then and at least as importantly he’s shown some tenacity on the forecheck and the backcheck. It’s early, but he has four pointsi n six games and his line is doing good things.

Tyler Pitlick. The good news is that Pitlick is getting heavy minutes in all situations (including, for the first time as a pro, lots of penalty killing experience). Also good is his combination of speed and physical game; he’s played the ‘big body’ role on a top line with Linus Omark and Anton Lander pretty well (and he threw a beautiful reverse check that steamrolled Greg Nemisz after the Calgary prospect had him lined up) The bad news is he still isn’t scoring; he has three points and just 10 shots through seven contests. Pitlick has mostly played right wing but looked really good in one outing at centre.

Anton Lander. Oklahoma’s best forward early, and by my eye it really hasn’t been close. He’s put up some points (five points in six games), adds a two-way presence to the top line, and is the coach’s top choice on the penalty kill and for defensive zone draws. He’s continuing to play well after a solid finish to 2012-13 and will have earned his next call-up.

Linus Omark. Omark is not only the Barons’ leading scorer but also clearly their most dynamic offensive talent. He can do things nobody else on the team can; if the 2013-14 Barons are the Oilers of years gone by he’s Ales Hemsky to Lander’s Shawn Horcoff. He can posterize defenders one-on-one, distributes the puck very well, wins battles along the boards (I have yet to see him hesitate to engage in traffic, and he’s taken some big hits this year) and scores highlight reel goals. The problems I’ve seen are two-fold: one, he has a tendency to overpass and two he doesn’t always respond well to game situation. What I mean on the second critique is that sometimes the smart play with a lead or in a tie game in the third is to take a lower percentage shot rather than make a higher-risk pass in the offensive zone; it’s something lots of skill players seem to do and in most game situations it isn’t a bad play. But when it goes bad, it goes bad.

Ben Eager. Eager has mostly played in a fourth line role, with that line looking significantly better with him on it than with Erick Lizon taking the spot. Despite poor-ish numbers I’ve been reasonably impressed with his play; in the last game he jumped up to the third line and looked more like a veteran defensive forward than a pure energy guy.

The Defence

Oscar Klefbom. This is not a player the basic statistics (points, plus/minus, etc.) have done justice to over the years. He’s a little like Jeff Petry in that a strong puck-moving game doesn’t really translate to strong scoring totals, but at least at the AHL level Klefbom is calm under pressure and makes hard, accurate outlet passes. More than that, he’s really strong along the boards and wins more than his share of battles there. He’s sort of understated physically; I haven’t seen him blow up a guy with a big hit but when it comes to grinding out puck battles he’s extremely good.

Taylor Fedun. Fedun is a familiar player for Oilers fans. Given his age, I’m not sure what his ceiling is exactly, but there is a lot to like about the player. He can take and make a pass, he is generally in good position defensively, and his skating is a lot better than it was at this point a year ago. He also has a welcome willingness to just shoot the puck (he actually leads the team with 21 shots). At this point, he’s a very good AHL’er and is basically just waiting for a call-up opportunity to show he can play in the majors.

Martin Marincin. Marincin really is a better player than he was a year ago. His competency with the puck has increased and his style has slowly become less high-risk; he’s likely more comfortable too, as he gets used to a new culture, style of play and language. Marincin is a plausible call-up option at this point but I wonder if he doesn’t end up being a victim of the Oilers’ logjam of defence prospects. He’s got enough good points to have real value, but doesn’t project to be as high-end a player as someone like Klefbom or Darnell Nurse, and rookie professional Martin Gernat has a very similar skillset.

Brandon Davidson. I was surprised to see Davidson’s numbers so low, because he’s been impressive by eye. At this level he just does everything well; he doesn’t have one really outstanding quality but he also completely lacks glaring weaknesses. He’s already had one call-up and by eye is probably the best of the left-side defenders on the farm right now.

Philip Larsen. As with Davidson, I was surprised to see Larsen’s numbers come out near the bottom of this list. With that said, somebody has to be at the bottom and with the defence corps being as strong as it is that someone was going to be a pretty good player no matter what. In my judgment Larsen has been the team’s number one defenceman overall. At this level he’s an elite puck-mover and the other thing I’ve been impressed with is his willingness to engage physically, particularly in the corners.

Martin Gernat/David Musil. At least one of these guys probably ends up in the ECHL soon, just for the sake of getting playing time. It’s too bad because both look capable of slotting in at least on the bottom pairing right now. Gernat has really good skills with the puck and all kinds of raw potential; meanwhile Musil has adjusted far better to the professional game as a defensive defenceman than I would have expected given the doom and gloom reports out of junior. I’d guess Musil gets sent down, both based on performance (Gernat had a great second game for the Barons) and because Todd Nelson likes his defencemen to be aggressive and Gernat’s style is more suited to that kind of system.

My Recall List

Ignoring position, here’s how I’d rank the forwards in terms of deserving the next call-up:

  • Anton Lander
  • Linus Omark
  • Ben Eager
  • Tyler Pitlick
  • Andrew Miller

I think Lander’s been the best forward on the team by a fair margin, and if the Oilers need a centre there’s no question who the choice is. If they need a winger, it’s tougher; a case can be made for any of the next three guys and it probably depends on what they want exactly. In that regard, Tyler Pitlick – who combines some skill with a good-sized frame – probably has an edge because he fits the Oilers’ perceived needs, while a very good AHL’er like Linus Omark suffers for being an undersized scorer.

And the defence:

  • Philip Larsen
  • Taylor Fedun
  • Brandon Davidson
  • Martin Marincin
  • Oscar Klefbom

All five of these guys are solid recall options. Larsen’s puck skills make him the top choice for me, while Fedun and Davidson do a bit of everything (with Davidson being the top left-shooting option). I could go either way given a choice between recalling Klefbom or Marincin; Klefbom’s raw skill is better but Marincin’s had a little more polishing in the AHL.

I haven't talked about Richard Bachman, but he's been excellent in net so far for Oklahoma.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 David S
October 21 2013, 08:25AM
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Because OMARK!

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#2 j
October 21 2013, 08:25AM
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Apparently Eager has found his calling i.e. a good AHL player. It's too bad that he can't connect the dots in the big league anymore as we could use a good physical winger who can seal the boards. Maybe the Oilers come to a deal with him next year as a mentor on the Farm. He seems to relish the leadership role with the kids.

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#3 Romulus' Apotheosis
October 21 2013, 08:42AM
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Thanks JW!

Excellent article and overview of the OKC team. Really enjoying your reporting and analysis.

It's rare in sports journalism to find someone do the beat reporter routine and bother to slog through any serious form of analysis. It's great to see you bringing the two together.

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#4 Benhur
October 21 2013, 09:08AM
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Good article David. Interesting. It's nice to get your perspective on the farm team and your take on possible call-ups. Too bad Pitlick isn't putting up more p[oints...that will be what keeps him out of the NHL unless he can get a pure checking line job...but I don't see it even though he likes to bang. I would suspect his body will not stand up to the beating of NHL caliber 4th liners.

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#6 vetinari
October 21 2013, 09:20AM
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@Jonathan - Thanks for the update on the farm. Any sense as to whether the Barons are playing a similar style to the Oilers, especially on the PP and PK?

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#7 Racki
October 21 2013, 09:20AM
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Great to have updates on the progress of OKC guys. Good work Jonathan! I hope that Lander stays on course and reaches his potential. Haven't been too enthusiastic about what I've seen at NHL level. And just saw your new note. I've been hoping that Pitlick gets recalled. Great energy from that guy in preseason.

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#8 Zipdot
October 21 2013, 09:28AM
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Your comment has made me curious.

Do you track the faceoffs yourself (which players in which zones)? How do you do it, using a tablet PC with a spreadsheet or pen and paper or something? I've always wondered how the stat info is captured.

And the shot counts too, for that matter. Do you count these yourself and use a pen and paper??

Any info is appreciated!

Thanks, Z

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#10 Zipdot
October 21 2013, 09:34AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Yes, I count them myself using pen and paper on a chart I've laid out ahead of time.

Coooool, thanks. That is hard work. Good on you.

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#11 Racki
October 21 2013, 09:38AM
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A few years back I watched games closely and reviewed individual players. That is serious business, a pain and makes watching a game feel like work. I applaud guys like you and Staples that do this sort of thing regularly. It is appreciated that you sit there tracking face offs and shots and such.

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#12 Zipdot
October 21 2013, 09:41AM
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I've always wanted to try an experiment with a DVR'd game and go through it minute by minute, recording everything that happened... But thinking about the sheer effort involved has caused me to uh, procrastinate. Yeah, that's it! I'll just do it later...

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#13 Racki
October 21 2013, 09:49AM
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@Zipdot

From my own experience, you learn a lot about individual players but it is very time consuming and tough to do often.

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#14 justDOit
October 21 2013, 09:53AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

No Eager or Pitlick at practice for the Barons. Wouldn't be surprised if both have been recalled.

So MacT obviously hasn't read your call-up list. Tsk tsk...

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#16 Zipdot
October 21 2013, 09:58AM
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Pitlick is getting quite a push. I know it's unreasonable to expect him at this late stage to be touched by the points fairy, but I like to think it's still possible.

Points fairy, could you please... Touch Tyler Pitlick? Sprinkle your points dust on him and make him blossom into the player he can be. And that is...... A right wing mirror image of a poor man's Taylor Hall?

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#17 Reality Check to the head
October 21 2013, 10:03AM
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@Willis

Really enjoy you articles from the Farm team. Its nice for a fan to keep up to date on the players up and coming.

I read you take on him overpassing and making the risky play late in a game (with a lead) and couldnt agree more. Do you think Omark is going to get an honest shot at the NHL level with the Oilers?

Thanks

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#18 oilers2k10
October 21 2013, 10:45AM
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Why would both Eager and Pitlick get recalled? Perhaps there is something more to these Yakupov rumors? IF the Oilers are even trying to move Yakupov then they don't ever deserve top end talent like him again.

Could very easily haunt the Oilers for years if they do trade him, even if it's for someone like Gardner or Murphy.

Oilers have enough Defence in the pipeline that they don't need to trade forward for Defenceman now..it's not like the Oilers are in a must win the stanley cup this year mode anyways..

Full rebuilds take time..if you try to take shortcuts you end up like Toronto..decent but never great.

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#19 Rama Lama
October 21 2013, 10:59AM
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The choice of players used to kill penalties is very confounding........I'm not sure what DE is thinking? The best PK units in the past are not being utilized and instead DE puts out RNH, Hemsky, Eberle, and Hall.

Gone are the weak performers of the PK like Belenger ( thanks the hockey gods for that) replaced by superior performers like Gordon, and Acton. We have better players than last year but worse results. Our 5 on 5 is worse, so is our PP, and PK and we are all supposed to believe this is due to transitioning to a superior system that none of the other NHL coaches use?

Dallas has been outcoached almost every game......nothing else to say.

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#20 Mo Playoffs Mo Problems
October 21 2013, 12:10PM
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@Rama Lama

I agree that the PK hasn't looked great this year, but I believe that Eakins is giving RNH/Eberle/Hemsky/Hall PK time in an effort to improve their defensive game. I think Eakins' swarm is built for speedy defenders so it seems like he's really trying to develop his fastest skill guys' defensive awareness so that in the future it'll look like less of a fire drill in their own end.

If the young stars stay injury free with the added PK time, and it improves their overall game, then I'm fine watching some poorly executed penalty kills in October/November of this year. Especially if it means it may help RNH turn into the Datsuk-type player that everyone hopes he'll be...

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#21 Dennis Verne
October 21 2013, 12:11PM
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With the excess of defencemen in the Oilers system I've often wondered why one or two of them don't try their hands at playing on the left or right wing a al Jason Strudwick. Most of them are good sized which the Oilers could use in the forward ranks and I would think that that kind of versatility would increase their chances of being called up.

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#22 Rama Lama
October 21 2013, 04:39PM
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Mo Playoffs Mo Problems wrote:

I agree that the PK hasn't looked great this year, but I believe that Eakins is giving RNH/Eberle/Hemsky/Hall PK time in an effort to improve their defensive game. I think Eakins' swarm is built for speedy defenders so it seems like he's really trying to develop his fastest skill guys' defensive awareness so that in the future it'll look like less of a fire drill in their own end.

If the young stars stay injury free with the added PK time, and it improves their overall game, then I'm fine watching some poorly executed penalty kills in October/November of this year. Especially if it means it may help RNH turn into the Datsuk-type player that everyone hopes he'll be...

I really hope you are right. I will base judgement on the evidence and right now things are not looking good.

I thought we looked better in the preseason using junior hockey players to be quite frank.

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#23 Citizen David
October 21 2013, 07:10PM
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Absolutely great article. Well done. I never did understand all the Larsen hate. I think he'll see some time with the Oilers this season. The best news is Anton Lander keeping up his play from the playoffs last year. If he turn turn around his trajectory from in between AHL and 4th line to be a good 3rd line center that would be huge.

I still think this organization mis-handles Omark. He is an NHL calibre player.

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#24 Joy S. Lee
October 22 2013, 01:34AM
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I just came by to agree, really good article, and in fact I'll add that I've found all of JW's work on here has reached a new level, and I'm apparently one of many who are really enjoying that. We're really digging what you talkin' 'bout, Willis, and looking forward to more.

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