Tonight, the Oilers and the Barons are playing on the left coast. The current swing for the Barons might be the closest many of the minor leaguers get to Edmonton this season. The problem doesn’t appear to be prospect development–there are some impressive starts in OK City–but rather good to great performances and terrific health at the major league level. For some of the Oklahoma City Barons, the time is now. And it isn’t coming.
One of these players–the "time is now" group–is Chris VandeVelde. He’ll be 25 years old in March and has enjoyed a solid start to the season (9, 1-2-3 +2 in 11-12 so far) after a nice NHL debut late last season. However, the Oilers drafted RNH, signed Eric Belanger and brought Anton Lander over from Sweden this summer. Bottom line: it’s hard to create a scenario that allows VV to see the NHL without several moves or injuries. He’ll be an RFA in the summer of 2012 and according to last night’s lineup he was behind Green, O’Marra and Arcobello on the lineup card. His linemates were Triston Grant and Tanner House.
Players who are in a similar position to VandeVelde are Gilbert Brule (is he every coming back?) and Ryan O’Marra. At some point this season, it probably makes sense for the Oilers to trim the hedges at the forward position.
This is Curtis Hamilton. #13 in your lineup is at the other end of the spectrum: new pro, 20 years old and looking to establish himself in the AHL. For Hamilton, this season is about getting into as many games as possible and showing enough to stay with OKC (and avoid Ryan Martindale’s fate–the ECHL and Stockton).
Among 20-year old AHL rookies, Hamilton (5, 0-1-1 entering tonight) trails Tyler Pitlick (8, 1-2-3) in both points and games played. It’s a long way to go, but each game played is a step closer to having the game slow down for these kids and that means they can begin to show their abilities at this level.
The third group is the one we should be paying close attention to this winter. This is "go time" for the young pro’s in the middle or at the end of their entry level contracts. The idea is to deliver enough to become a legit option for the organization. A guy like Phil Cornet (in photo) has enjoyed a quality start to the season and has given the Oilers something to think about as his contract enters year two of his three year entry level deal.
Based on their early season performances and long term potential, here are my top 10 AHL level prospects:
- D Jeff Petry: 2, 0-1-1 +1: Although he hasn’t played much in OKC I think Petry is clearly the class of the group. Back in the NHL tonight, he’s showing great poise and has improved to the point where sending him back will be a very difficult choice.
- L Teemu Hartikainen 10, 4-3-7 +2: Hasn’t done a thing to discourage the Finn-crazy Oiler fanbase. His 31 shots on net lap the field of Baron forwards. Hartikainen is probably better than some of the men playing for the Oilers in the NHL this season, but patience should pay off when he arrives for good.
- C Tyler Pitlick 8, 1-2-3 +1: I’m not sure why he’s been a healthy scratch so often, he’s a gritty kid and has made a quick early adjustment to pro hockey. Oiler scouts have always been strong on him, this AHL season has already been more impressive than his average AHL year.
- L Curtis Hamilton 6, 0-2-2 +1. Started slowly and was in the pressbox a few times in the first couple of weeks, but seems to be coming along and the points are beginning to come. Oilers are stacked at LW in the NHL but Hamilton’s range of skills should find him employment when he’s finally ready.
- D Colten Teubert 9 2-2-4 +3: Big, right handed defender made his NHL debut earlier tonight. We won’t really know about him as a player for some time, but if he can play in the NHL and be a physical, effective defender then he’ll have a job in Edmonton for a long time.
- L Phil Cornet 9, 7-1-8 +4: Has really stepped up in the early portions of the season and impressed. Tied with Hartikainen for team lead in PP goals and despite an unsustainable shooting percentage has clearly done enough to stay in OKC this season.
- L Hunter Tremblay 9, 2-3-5 +1: 25-year old has played a lot of hockey at different levels–CHL, Canadian university and now pro–and appears to have a pro skill set. You never know, but he’s playing ahead of some high draft picks and contributes in a lot of areas.
- D Kirill Tulupov 4, 0-3-3 +5: I don’t even know if this fellow is technically Oiler property, but he’s crazy and hits anything that moves. Big time hitter and must be a very intimidating hockey player at any level.
- C Chris VandeVelde: 10, 1-2-3 +1: The great depth Edmonton enjoys at center currently pushes VV down the list. He might get lucky via a trade to another NHL team but at this point he’s pretty much blocked.
- L Antti Tyrvainen 6, 0-1-1 +4: The "other" Finn who came over this fall, Tyrvianen is not a stand out player in any category but is building a resume.