It’s been years since we’ve been here. A minor league team with balance, a successful won-loss record, the ability to lend bona fide players to the big club and offer a quality proving ground for the kids who represent the future. What in hell is going on around here?
At the turn of the century, the Hamilton Bulldogs were coached by Walt Kyle and Morey Gare. Among the prospects who went on to NHL careers were Daniel Cleary, Jason Chimera and Dan Lacouture. After that, the Oilers went a little wobbly in the development department, getting into shared rosters and things that have more to do with saving money than developing useful hockey players. The Oakland Seals used to do it, so you can see why the Oilers would want to bring the idea back. I mean, how bad could it be? The Seals aren’t defunct or anything. Right? Am I right?
New ownership and a total rebuild (not even recycling the hubcaps) meant that the AHL club would be going through some changes too. Actual money was spent on the roster, bringing in old hands that cost more than $100,000 (Alex Giroux, Martin Gerber, Shawn Belle, Richard Petiot, Brad Moran, Ben Ondrus). Add it to the cost of sending Sheldon Souray on a Hinterland’s who’s who trip and we’re talking about a lot of Rexall playing off broadway.
Let’s say you and I are charged with walking into the office of Mr. Katz today and telling him how he’s benefited from this cash outlay. Is there any evidence? Pardon my language, but there’s a bleeping ton. OKC has a record of 13-7-2, good for 2nd place in the west division and 3rd in the western conference.
Is our children learning?
Teemu Hartikainen (in photo, courtesy this wonderful site) is adjusting well to the AHL game this season. We have some anecdotal evidence that he’s playing the tougher minutes and if true this young man may be NHL ready before the end of this season. Here’s a quick update on each prospect:
- L Linus Omark 22gp, 12-11-23 +5: He’s already proven everything and is well on his way to becoming the legend we predicted he’d be (here) during the summer. A recall to the big club could come soon, as Ales Hemsky hasn’t played in a couple of games and the Oilers are coming off a loss last night. He might meet them out east in the next few days (jmo).
- R Liam Reddox 22gp, 11-9-20 +10: No longer a prospect but rather a useful tweener, Reddox might be just what the doctor ordered for the big club. A solid penalty killer and energy player, he’s delivering a quality season in OKC. Max effort every night. Check out that crazy +10, he also leads the league in SH goals and is 3rd in shots. Reddox is flat out better than some of the bottom 6F’s in Edmonton. Seriously.
- D Shawn Belle 19gp, 2-13-15 -6: He’s been playing the tough minutes with the Barons and was rewarded with the season’s first recall from the farm. Belle performed well and should see more action with the big club later in the year.
- D Jeff Petry: 22gp, 4-10-14 -7: This is the blue chip prospect everyone’s watching closely. Petry would fill a major need on the big club (a defender with a wide range of skills who could be used in multiple roles) when he’s ready. I think it’s very good that Oilers management has kept him on the farm and believe they should keep him in OKC for the entire season. However, his most recent work suggests he’s turned a corner; in his last 6 games, Petry is 2-3-5 and +5. Hard to keep him on the farm if buddy can rip that off every week.
- R Colin McDonald: 22gp, 11-2-13 +2. Like Reddox, McDonald is no longer a prospect so much as a tweener, or a guy waiting for his NHL opportunity. McDonald is showing some impressive things this season: his 11 goals ties him with Reddox for 7th in AHL goal scoring for the year (they both trail Omark who has 12). He’s playing on a line devoted to creating offense while facing the opposition’s best (the 1line appears to be O’Marra-Omark-Reddox when everyone is healthy but I believe McDonald’s line is facing the toughs). Either way, he’s in the mix for a recall when Tom Renney tires of the addled 4th line.
- C Ryan O’Marra 19gp, 0-12-12 +9. He was having a career year at the pro level when injury struck. The story is here. I mentioned in training camp that O’Marra’s skill set (RH center who can win draws and PK) is a perfect match for the Oilers in terms of need and the song remains the same. I think he might get a long look after the trade deadline if he can return to form after recovering from his injury. An extremely inviting situation for this youing man.
- L Teemu Hartikainen 22gp, 7-3-10 -11. Big man has been very effective on the powerplay this season, scoring 5 goals with the man advantage. That’s an enormous number for this time of year, tying him for 4th in the entire league. When a rookie comes into the AHL and ranks in the top 10 in any category it should be taken seriously. If he can do it in the AHL, then he should be able to do it (although not as often) in the NHL. He seems to be getting them from point blank range, so maybe the idea is to stick his big butt in front of the net and block out the sun. Whatever the strategy, it’s working.
- D Taylor Chorney 22gp, 0-7-7 +6. If Mr Katz wants an example of what can happen when you bring prospects along responsibly, Chorney’s progress will jump off the page. After seasons of -29 and -20, that +6 stands out in a big way. Chorney is playing 2nd pairing with Alex Plante and is back on track as a prospect. Size is always going to be the issue, and he’s going to have to work like a demon in order to get past the bigger blue prospects, but there’s a heartbeat.
- C Chris Vande Velde 21gp, 4-2-6 -7. Started slowly but has improved as the season rolls out. In October VV was 11gp, 1-1-2 -8 but recovered nicely in November (10gp, 3-1-4 +1). Vande Velde is a new pro but is an older prospect so there is some urgency for him to show well (or get passed). Shawn Horcoff was recalled to the NHL on December 4, 2000 after just 24 AHL games. That’s an aggressive timeline but he should be able to impact the game more quickly than some of the other rookie AHL forwards because of age and size. He needs to be better.
- D Alex Plante 21gp, 1-5-6 +1. I think he’s close to NHL ready. Plante plays 2nd pairing minutes and has showed he’s willing to drop the gloves in defense of his teammates. His 51 PIMS have him in the league’s top 30 in that department and he’s a much smoother defender than he was when he arrived in pro hockey. The Oilers need a righty at the NHL level right now and Plante is the obvious candidate. 9gp, 1-3-4 +3 in November, one of these times they recall him to the NHL he won’t be coming back.
- C Milan Kytnar: 21pg, 1-4-5 -5. A pleasant surprise. I thought Kytnar might get lost in the shuffle and spend the entire season in Stockton, but he’s found a depth role and every game he plays is one step closer to moving up the depth chart. Kytnar has had a meandering career but there might be a player here.
- D Johan Motin 18gp, 1-2-3 -1. One of the ways we can track progress for prospects in the AHL is with playing time. Motin has missed a few games this season, and was a healthy scratch (unless I’ve missed something) the night Richard Petiot was hurt. The top 6D that night were Petiot-Taylor, Belle-Petry, Chorney-Plante. I think it’s reasonable to suggest that Motin is not running with the other prospects.
- L Phil Cornet: 14gp, 0-2-2 -1. He’s about where we thought he’d be, having a tough time posting offense in a tough pro league. He has played 4 times in November and posted 1 shot.
Mr. Katz, your money is being spent wisely in Oklahoma City. Those veterans are providing some room and structure for the prospects and the kids are flourishing in some areas and solid in others. Not all of these kids will play in the NHL, and very few will spend 200+ games in the big league. However, there’s some real progress among the baker’s dozen above and (barring injury) two or three will grab hold of an NHL job and keep it for years.
Daniel Cleary, Jason Chimera and Dan Lacouture proved it a decade ago, but someone in Edmonton was busy in the counting room.