Former US President George Bush put it so well many moons ago when he asked "is our children learning?" The answer appears to be a resounding "yes" based on this season’s OKC results.
The Edmonton Oilers cut corners in the 2000’s when it came to their AHL farm club. There were times when the organization ran without a team, instead lending out their top end pro prospects so they could be used (or misused) by other teams. Jeff Deslauriers development looks like a dog’s breakfast and if there was a way to sue for mismanagement of career then I expect JDD might be first in line.
Under Daryl Katz ownership, the organization has decided to build from the ground up. So, despite the decision to run three first rounders at the NHL level (and thus having them skip the AHL altogether) this season’s results have been very impressive. I think coach Todd Nelson and his staff should get a lot of credit, along with the scouting department. As always, most of the credit goes to the player. The guys who have shone this season don’t have tremendous draft pedigree but do like like they have NHL futures. Are the days of Michel Riesen gone forever? Or at least for a time?
The 20 year olds
Teemu Hartikainen (66gp, 17-25-42 -1) has a nice range of skills and delivered a quality season with OKC Barons. His recall this week meant most of us got our first look at the player. One showing is never a good idea, we jump to conclusions. Let’s agree that Hartikainen looked as good as his scouting reports, with his size and determination in full view. Colten Teubert is just getting started in OKC but early returns have been positive and the math (so far) suggests he might have been caught in a numbers game with the Kings’ AHL team. Johan Motin (34gp, 1-3-4 -7) was forced down the depth chart this season (the Barons were a far better group than the Oilers had put together in the past) but he’s young and has defensive ability.
The 21 year olds
Milan Kytnar (67gp, 7-11-18 E) surprised with his range of abilities and the truth is the young man passed other more heralded prospects at least in math class. He’s not a flashy prospect but certainly a player to follow. Alex Plante (62gp, 1-13-14 +7) has had an uneven season and the acquisition of Teubert may indicate the organization isn’t sold on him, but the coaching staff appears to be pleased with his overall performance this year.
The 22 year olds
Jeff Petry (41gp, 7-17-24 -6) has a nice range of skills, something that is badly lacking throughout the organizational depth chart. He has performed well in his NHL auditions and many of us believe he won’t return to Oklahoma City–that he’s here to stay.
Ther 23 year olds
Linus Omark (28gp, 14-17-31 +7) ripped through Oklahoma and found his way to the NHL in a quick hurry. I’m not certain anyone knows where he fits on the Oilers depth chart in the future, but he’s impossible to ignore and brings exceptional skill and a motor that won’t quit. Ryan O’Marra (53gp, 2-20-22 +9) took the long and winding road on the prospect trail but does appear to have turned a corner in the last couple of years. O’Marra built on what he accomplished this season and things have never looked better for him as a pro. Taylor Chorney (46gp, 3-13-16 -1) did what he needed to do: spend the season in OKC and prove he could compete at that level. He was injured on callup but his arrows are headed in a much better direction than they were a year ago. Chris Vande Velde (67gp, 12-4-16 -17) struggled early but turned things around about Christmastime and his recall this week indicates the organization sees something in him.
Ten prospects (and there are more) with progress this season, and many of them have played in the show during 2010-11. The Oilers had an exceptional rookie crop this season, mostly from the 1st rounders (Hall, Pääjärvi, Eberle, Dubnyk); the kicker looks strong too, with Jeff Petry and Linus Omark contributing.
The Oilers will pick in the lottery this summer and come to training camp with another elite level prospect. It’s very important to remember that the AHL club is ready (once again) to bear fruit and those players (Hartikainen, Teubert, Plante, Vande Velde) will give the Oilers the kind of depth we haven’t seen in many years.
Nation Radio hits the airwaves at noon today on Team 1260. Jonathan Willis from Oilers Nation will be in studio with us at 1pm and we’ll have EJ McGuire from Central Scouting to kick of the show at noon. Tom Awad from Hockey Prospectus, Todd Nelson from the OKC Barons and Marty Williamson from the Niagra Ice Dogs are also scheduled to appear. We’re getting a lot of emails each week and they’re top drawer. Please send them this morning to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get as many of them to air as possible.