In a year where there’s been a shortage of feel-good stories about the Oilers, it’s been very difficult to find positives in the performance of the players, the coaches or the management group.
At first glance, Chris Minard, who was recalled by the Oilers yesterday, isn’t an exception to that pattern. He’s been hurt for most of the year, and struggled after coming back from injury. He’s coming up to replace the disappointing (and now injured) Patrick O’Sullivan. Not much there to feel good about.
But there is one thing worth mentioning amid the doom and gloom: not only is Minard a pretty good player, but his results in Springfield have been exceptional.
Last year, even amid the disaster that was the Springfield Falcons, certain players stood out in a positive way. Minor league veteran Ryan Potulny was one of them, and he laid the groundwork for his eventual elevation to an NHL job there, scoring 38 goals under pretty trying circumstances (the next best Falcon, Gilbert Brule, managed 13 goals in limited action).
Chris Minard’s injury-shortened season hasn’t been exactly the same, but it’s been very impressive in its own way, and I hope the Oilers choose to re-sign the pending unrestricted free agent.
Plus/minus is an imperfect metric, but it does tell us something about players. The Falcons, as one might expect, are loaded with minuses, but Minard has been an exception. No regular has a better number than his impressive plus-3 rating with the ailing Falcons.
At first glance, Minard’s scoring totals (15 goals and 10 assists in 31 games) aren’t overly compelling; he’s scoring a lot but he’s not even a point-per-game player. But that’s only at first glance, and if we take his injury into account we see a somewhat different player:
- Pre-Injury: 11GP – 9G – 4A – 13PTS, +6
- Post-Injury (Jan. 22 – Feb. 20): 15GP – 2G – 4A – 6PTS, -6
- Post-Injury (Since Feb. 20): 5GP – 4G – 2A – 6PTS, +3
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that coming back from injury had an effect on Minard’s play, and while I have my doubts he can keep scoring at a 65-goal pace even in the AHL (13 goals in 16 games, leaving out that month) I do think it’s pretty clear that he’s a difference maker in the American Hockey League, even on a team as poor as the Springfield Falcons.
Now, the O’Sullivan injury is giving Minard an NHL chance. This is a key point in his career; to date the 6’1”, 200lb winger has been unable to stick in the big leagues, playing just 35 NHL games, all with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Oilers are a team that has spots to fill. A left-winger with good size and goal-scoring ability could do enough now to earn another contract; he might even be able to impress the coaches to such a degree that they pencil him in for a spot in the lineup next year. It’s an opportunity I hope Minard takes advantage of. He’s already 28 years old, and he’s taken the long road to the NHL, going undrafted, clawing his way up through the ECHL ranks, and proving himself (for years) at the AHL level. He’s running out of time, and this might be the best chance he has to take the leap to the next level.
There’s no reason he can’t do it. He’s been a very good AHL player for years, and his results this season have been exceptional. He’s in a perfect position to prove he deserves a longer look.