As the rebuilding Oilers continue to gather young assets, difficult decisions will have to be made by management and the coaching staff. Some of those decisions, especially at center, may arrive this summer.
- Oilers: Shawn Horcoff is signed through 2015 summer, so he’ll be part of the lineup in the fall. After that, Steve Tambellini has to decide how he’s going to set up the roster at center. Sam Gagner is signed for another season and has the most natural talent, but coach Renney has found Andrew Cogliano to be a useful player on the PK. It is unlikely the club will be this small down the middle when they’re ready to contend, and Sean Couturier is available at the draft this summer. Options include trading Gagner or Cogliano, or moving one of them to the wing. 4th line C Colin Fraser is signed for another year but will have to show more in 11-12 in order to avoid waivers and Oklahoma.
- Barons: The club’s top center is Brad Moran, and he’s a free agent this summer. Ryan O’Marra is RFA and I’d think the Oilers will give him another contract. Two AHL rookies this year are under contract for next season–Chris Vande Velde and Milan Kytnar. Vande Velde was the more highly touted player at the beginning of the season, but Kytnar’s performance has been better overall. Reports from OKC suggest Vande Velde has improved over the season and his FO ability has been mentioned in a few places (without actually posting the FO percentage).
- Thunder: Oilers share affiliation with San Jose. I don’t think there’s a center in Stockton that has any link to the Oilers organization.
- Graduating: Anton Lander has been on the radar of Oilers Nation for two years now and he’s a likely signing this summer. Lander’s reputation is as a 2-way center, and he improved offensively in the SEL this year. I’d guess he’ll start in OKC. Tyler Pitlick played RW with Medicine Hat (WHL) this season and posted solid numbers (56gp, 27-35-62) before losing the rest of the year to injury. He could return to the dub in the fall but is also eligible to turn pro. Ryan Martindale is likely to turn pro this fall, having played 4 complete OHL seasons at the end of this year’s schedule. He’s enjoyed some terrific linemates and posted very good boxcars.
- Current 11-12 depth chart: Horcoff-Gagner-Cogliano-Fraser in the NHL; O’Marra-Kytnar-Vande Velde in OKC. The Oilers need help everywhere at this position and the skils missing read like a laundry list: size, faceoff and PK ability, foot speed, scoring ability. I think that’s why Couturier is such an attractive prospect for the Oilers: IF he emerges as a guy who can play on the top line with Hall (while giving that line size and a defensive conscience) then it’s going to be very hard to pass on selecting him.
- Oilers: Taylor Hall and Magnus Pääjärvi should form a strong 1-2 punch on the portside rolling out over the rest of the decade (unless one of them is moved to center). Ryan Jones is a UFA this summer but one suspects the Oilers will throw more money at him before July 1 (they’ve already offered him a contract). Liam Reddox is an RFA this summer and surely has finally shown enough to earn some security (a one-way deal with a decent raise). JF Jacques is an RFA and performance suggests he will not get a one-way deal but we’ve been wrong about this player before. My guess is that Teemu Hartikainen gives Jacques more than he can handle in the 4line contest at this fall’s TC.
- Barons: Alex Giroux is a UFA but is a candidate to retun. The recent NHL exposure is a nice audition for both player and team when it comes to 11-12 planning. Teemu Hartikainen has done everything asked at the AHL level and should be considered a strong candidate for full-time NHL employment as early as opening night 11-12. Matt Marquardt is RFA and based on the boxcars isn’t a strong candidate for return; Philippe Cornet had a nice January but hasn’t shown much in other months. He might get pushed to Stockton for 10-11. Gregory Stewart is a free agent this summer, I have no idea if he’ll return.
- Thunder: Garet Hunt and Jesse Gimblett have spent time in the Oilers system. Gimblett played 2 games with the OKC Barons this season, I have no idea if either player is in the future plans of the Barons or the parent organization.
- Graduating: Curtis Hamilton has a December 1991 birthday but has played 4 full WHL seasons (minus injury time) so will probably sign and turn pro. A decent guess is that he plays at least one full season in OKC. Hamilton is a talented player but is very likely to need development time in the AHL. Robby Dee has completed his NCAA career and will be in search of a pro contract. It isn’t clear that the Oilers have him on the radar. Drew Czerwonka has another year in junior.
- Current 11-12 depth chart: Hall-Pääjärvi-Reddox-Jacques in the NHL; Hartikainen-Marquardt-Cornet in OKC. Jones is likely to re-sign with the Oilers and I think Hartikainen pushes Jacques to the AHL. Hamilton and possibly Dee join the OKC Barons.
- Oilers: Ales Hemsky is signed for one more season and a lot of this summer will be about him. If the Oilers and Hemsky can agree on a long term deal then the Oilers should be set up very well at this position moving forward. Jordan Eberle (despite recent struggles) is playing beyond his years and both Linus Omark and Gilbert Brule (who can play LW and C, respectively) bring some offensive ability. Steve MacIntyre is a UFA, I don’t know what they’re doing with him.
- Barons: Zack Stortini is in a spot of bother. My understanding of the CBA is that the Oilers will have to offer him a one-way deal in order to retain his rights. Based on this season, I doubt it happens. Colin McDonald is not technically a member of the Oilers organization, but he may have earned the contract with the big club that he lost one year ago. McDonald has had an impressive year. Ben Ondrus is a veteran AHL player (UFA) and if he doesn’t return the organization will need to replace him with a similar talent. OKC property Mark Arcobello is also a player of interest for 11-12.
- Thunder: Arcobello had a strong season in Stockton before being called to OKC. He’s an interesting young player, 5.09, 165 and 22 years old but clearly a talented hockey player. You never know.
- Graduating: Toni Rajala signed his entry level deal a year ago and then played well at IIves Tampere (SM-Liiga) as a teenager. Based on that performance (at that level) I’d suggest the young Finn will get 550 at-bats with the Barons next winter. He’s a prospect worth watching. Cameron Abney is eligible to turn pro in the fall and will likely begin his pro career in California. Kristians Pelss is very likely to play another WHL season. Kellen Jones turns 21 this summer, but has three more NCAA seasons of eligibility and there doesn’t seem to be any hurry.
- Current 11-12 depth chart: Hemsky-Eberle-Brule-Omark for the Oilers. Stortini-McDonald-Arcobello at OKC. Rajala would appear to be an overwhelming favorite to play pro hockey in Oklahoma this fall and my bet is that the Oilers will send Abney California dreaming.
Last season’s list of signings (March-August) included Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Pääjärvi, Jeff Petry, Chris Vande Velde, Linus Omark, Philippe Cornet and Teemu Hartikainen. That my friends is a watershed and we shoudn’t expect that again for many years.
From the group eligible to sign with the Oilers this fall, I believe C’s Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlck, Ryan Martindale, LW Curtis Hamilton and RW Toni Rajala (who is already signed) are locks. They join G Olivier Roy and D’s Martin Marincin and Brandon Davidson from my look at G and D here. Kyle Bigos, Robby Dee, Cameron Abney, Kristian Pelss and Kellen Jones are less likely, but possible. I count Troy Hesketh as the one player in the organizational umbrella that is unlikely to turn pro. We should also be mindful that the lottery pick is a strong candidate to sign and that the Oilers have two more picks that will be in the top 35 at the entry draft.
One final note: the Oilers procurement department is producing quality prospects at a rapid rate. We shouldn’t be surprised if the club begins to offload players deemed trailing in the race for major league jobs. Candidates might include Taylor Chorney, Alexandre Plante, Chris Vande Velde, Liam Reddox and Gilbert Brule.