Given the dearth of Edmonton Oilers news at this point in the summer, this seems as good a time as any to look at a group that gets ignored a lot: AHL players with new contracts coming up.
One of the items Steve Tambellini has pointed to as a priority for this summer is rebuilding the Oilers’ development system, and he’s already taken some steps toward that goal. The Oilers have reactivated their AHL affiliate, which will start next season in Oklahoma City, ending the team’s affiliation with the Springfield Falcons. Additionally, Kevin Prendergast, the man responsible for the Oilers’ disappointing AHL team the last few years, has been fired by the club. Although we’ve had some hints as to who his replacement might be, the Oilers haven’t named one yet.
Whoever ends up with the job has to decide what to do about a group of ‘tweeners whose two-way contracts expire this summer. Let’s take a quick look through that group.
Ryan O’Marra – O’Marra was once a highly touted prospect; he was a key role player for Canada at the World Juniors and was a first round pick of the Islanders in 2005. He was a captain in junior and regarded as a character player; Islanders G.M. once Mike Milbury bragged about how well O’Marra had done on the Islanders’ psych tests. O’Marra struggled with some injuries before being acquired by the Oilers in the Ryan Smyth trade. He has spent most of his professional career in the Oilers development system but the results have been disappointing; O’Marra has had stints in the ECHL and has struggled to put up offence. He played a checking role for Springfield this season, recording 12 goals and six assists, and got his first NHL cup of coffee, playing three games and recording one assist with the Oilers (I covered his first game, shift-by-shift, here). I suspect the Oilers will keep him around another season, but I think he’s a long-shot to ever play in the NHL and it won’t bother me at all if the Oilers cut him loose.
Bryan Lerg – Lerg was an undrafted free agent who the Oilers signed out of Michigan State, but he’s been an unmitigated disaster in the AHL. He’s struggled to get into the line-up, shown no offensive talent, and it is probably in the best interests of both the Oilers and Lerg if he’s shown the door. I’d bet heavy money he isn’t brought back, even on an AHL-only contract.
Vyacheslav Trukhno – Trukhno was a good gamble by the Oilers in the fourth round back in 2005; he played a two-way game and put up some impressive point totals in the QMJHL before turning pro. Unfortunately, returns have diminished in the AHL; he sunk to just 26 points this season and hasn’t topped 35 points in three seasons with the Falcons. The Oilers will almost certainly let him walk this summer.
Geoff Paukovich – I’ll admit that I’ve never been a fan of Paukovich, for reasons elaborated on here, and after an eight point season with the Falcons (his first full AHL season) I think it’s clear the Oilers blew a second round pick back in 2004 when they drafted him, hoping he might add size to their NHL line-up. He’s an AHL depth player and if he’s retained it should be on an AHL-only contract.
Liam Reddox – Reddox is the one player I’d argue is worth retaining on a two-way deal. He’s never going to turn into a scorer, but as he is right now he’s a guy who can step into a bottom-six role at the NHL level and not hurt his team. That has value; those kinds of players are needed in the AHL. He had his struggles this season, but didn’t look bad at the NHL level prior to a Clarke MacArthur hit that derailed a good chunk of the middle of his season:
Reddox was much better after the new year. It won’t be a big deal if the Oilers let him go, but I think he could be useful in a depth role and as a potential call-up. He’s also the kind of player who gives it his all on the ice, and that can’t be a bad influence to have around newly minted professionals.