Learning to play defense in the NHL must be a difficult process. It’s certainly difficult to watch. In the 2000’s, the Edmonton Oilers cut off their collective noses to spite their face: no AHL team (or a shared one) in order to save a dollar or two meant those valuable years between 20-23 were a dead zone for defensemen. With the new attention to detail throughout the organization, the OKC Barons are an important stop for future NHL defensemen. Well. How’s it going so far?
JUST KEEP PILING ONE ON TOP OF ANOTHER
In the olden days–before free agency–NHL teams owned the rights of player’s forever, or until they sold them to Oakland. However, the modern NHL team must be mindful of the UFA clock that is constantly ticking. Draft a defenseman at 18, sign him at 20 and then develop them in the AHL/ECHL until they’re ready to face the NHL music. There are alternate routes: among current Oilers blue, both Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry went the college route.
When we look forward to 2011-12 and beyond in regard to the Oilers defense, it’s tempting to shoot the moon and talk about Adam Larsson. Elite level defensive talent, already playing in a strong league (SEL) and clearly available. History tells us that the pipeline from OKC will be extremely important for the Hall Oilers over the next several seasons.
A very good yard stick for development is how players are used in the post-season. Development is a key part of an AHL season, but come playoff time the desire to win hockey games means the best group available is likely to make the starting lineup. Here’s how things have gone 2 games into the OKC Barons playoff series against Hamilton:
- Bryan Helmer (2gp, 1-0-1 +1): Legendary AHL star is playing heavy minutes and in all circumstances. At age 38 he’s in the final stages of an exceptional minor league career but is clearly a leader on this team. His goal came at even strength, he’s been on the ice for 2EV goals for and 1 against. He’s also been on the ice for 2 powerplay goals against, so a good guess is that he’s well over 20 minutes per night so far in the playoffs. 3 shots on goal.
- Jeff Petry (2gp, 0-0-0 E): It looks like he’s getting a lot of playing time in all situations. Paired mostly with Helmer, I’d say they are the #1 EV pairing and likely the 1 or 2 PK group. Petry has been on for 2 EV goals (1 for and 1 against) and 2 powerplay goals against so far this playoff. Petry has 5 shots on goal to lead the D.
- Richard Petiot (2gp, 0-0-0 E): He’s all over the scoresheet: 4pim’s, 2 shots on goal and 2 ev goals (one for and one against) along with a PP goal against. A reasonable guess would be that he’s close to leading the team in EV TOI and PK TOI but trailing overall because of Helmer’s use in all situations. 1 shot on goal.
- Jake Taylor (2gp, 0-0-0 E): Paired with Petiot on the 2nd EV pairing (and 1 or 2 PK pairing), the veteran AHLer has been on the ice for 2 EV goals (1 for and 1 against and 2PP goals against. The Petiot-Taylor pairing is likely well over 20 minutes based on PK time alone (OKC has had a lot of PK time this series). 3 shots on goal.
- Kevin Montgomery (2gp, 0-0-0 E): I think he’s probably a third pairing defender on this club based on the lack of activity when he’s on the ice (1 ev goal for and 1 ev goal against) but that’s a guess. Either way, he’s ahead of a couple of the prospects based on the fact that he’s been in both games of the series. 2 shots on goal.
- Alex Plante (1gp, 0-0-0 -1): We know from reports out of OKC that Plante’s one game came paired with Jeff Petry, so I imagine he was over 20 minutes for that game. He was on the ice at 9:43 of the first period game 1 when Hamilton scored and was also on the ice for a PP goal against. I have him slotted here because the coaching staff saw fit to HS him in game 2; he might be higher on the list during the regular year but coach Nelson is looking for consistency so that’s a tell. 2 shots on goal.
- Colten Teubert (1gp, 0-0-0 E): HS to start the series which suggests on that night he was the 7th best option. Suspect he’s going to spend all of next season in OKC based on how he’s faded since a nice start after the deadline. 2 shots on goal.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Only one of the Oiler prospects is being trusted so far in the post-season, and when push came to shove Plante and Teubert were odd men out. It’s no big deal for Teubert in my opinion, he’s the least experienced of the group in terms of pro experience.
But for Plante? Having Montgomery slotted ahead of him should be a concern. I don’t know exactly which chair in the photo above that Plante represents, but it’s not a good chair. Not a good chair at all.