REAR WINDOW

The lottery work being done by the mountain of losses at the NHL level are having the desired impact: stunning talents unavailable any other way are walking through the door for free every draft day. The "fail-fall" strategy is near an end, and the real business of developing players the traditional way comes into focus.

For most of the Edmonton Oilers NHL history, they’ve used an AHL club to develop their prospects (the CHL was their feeder league in the beginning, and the Oilers did have a working relationship with IHL teams over the years; and of course the club currently sends a few entry level kids to Stockton of the ECHL each season). NHL history owes an enormous amount to cities like Hershey, Providence and now Oklahoma City and others for developing quality NHL players.

The Oilers signed coach Todd Nelson this week and his entire staff will also return for another year. With good reason. Edmonton’s current NHL team will boast as many as a half dozen former Baron when the season begins. It’s a long process, taking teenagers and grinding their talents into useful tools, but every team in the NHL has role players who developed in AHL cities. 

During the thirteen year period leading up to the OKC Barons taking to the ice, Oiler fans saw a lot of fits and starts from the club’s AHL prospects. Here’s a list of Oilers picks and minor league free agents who began their pro careers in the AHL and were good enough to play a game (or more) for the Oilers:

  1. C Shawn Horcoff 765 games
  2. R Georges Laraque 695 games 
  3. L Jason Chimera 663 games
  4. C Jarret Stoll 593 games
  5. D Marc Andre Bergeron 465 games
  6. R Fernando Pisani 462 games 
  7. D Matt Greene 461 games
  8. C Kyle Brodziak 419 games
  9. D Tom Gilbert 404 games
  10. R Brad Winchester 390 games
  11. R Zack Stortini 257 games
  12. G Ty Conklin 215 games
  13. D Alexei Semenov 211 games 
  14. C Marc Pouliot 192 games
  15. L JF Jacques 166 games*
  16. D Theo Peckham 156 games*
  17. C Rob Schremp 114 games
  18. L Patrick Thoresen 106 games
  19. G Devan Dubnyk 101 games*
  20. L Liam Reddox 100 games
  21. L Tony Salmelainen 70 games
  22. R Jani Rita 66 games
  23. D Mathieu Roy 65 games
  24. C Tim Sestito 64 games
  25. G Jeff Deslauriers 62 games
  26. D Taylor Chorney 61 games
  27. D Danny Syvret 59 games
  28. D Ales Pisa 53 games
  29. G Mike Morrison 29 games
  30. D Bryan Young 17 games
  31. C Mike Bishai 14 games
  32. L Michel Riesen 12 games
  33. D Alex Plante 10 games
  34. R Colin McDonald 7 games
  35. C Peter Sarno 7 games
  36. D Chris Hajt 6 games
  37. D Doug Lynch 2 games
  38. L Alexei Mikhnov 2 games
  39. G Mike Minard 1 game
  40. D Johan Motin 1 game

Guys like Tom Poti, Mike Comrie, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner didn’t play in the AHL and Sebastien Bisaillon played all of his NHL games before he played in the AHL. I didn’t count those players.

Results

  1. Over those 13 seasons, the Oilers developed 1 player per year if we assume an NHL player graduates at 200 games.
  2. The Oilers also have several players "on track" to pass 200 games. I’d count Peckham, Jacques and Dubnyk as "on track" players..
  3. Total: 13 players at 200 games or more and another 3 "on track" for the 13 seasons. That works out to 1.23actual NHL players per season.

THE NEW TEMPLATE

The Oilers during last decade weren’t developing players at a rapid enough rate to fill the holes created by retirement, players lost to free agency and injury. So if 1.3 players isn’t enough, how many does an NHL team need. Since arriving in OKC, Nelson and the staff have graduated the following new pro’s to the NHL:

  1. D Jeff Petry 108 games*
  2. R Linus Omark 65 games
  3. L Teemu Hartikainen 29 games
  4. C Chris VandeVelde 17 games
  5. L Phil Cornet 2 games
  6. C Milan Kytnar 1 game

Hall, Eberle, the Nuge and now Yakupov are not included because they came right to the NHL; I’ve also excluded Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander because both of those players were deemed good enough to being their careers in the NHL. I think we’d need to see some exceptional evidence that Nelson and his team have performed strong work and made a clear difference before we gave them credit for those two players.

On the other hand, Jeff Petry articles that show progress are all over the internet and the young man is quick to point out the importance of learning at the AHL level.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

We’re early days in the OKC regime and it will be at least a couple of years before we can see enough results to begin drawing conclusions. The early returns are positive–Jeff Petry looks ike a clear winner, Teemu Hartikainen has earned a long look this fall and despite being on the outside looking in Linus Omark was qualified (perhaps indicating interest from another NHL team).

If we see another regular emerge this season from the group of AHL players listed above (and the prospects already there like Pitlick, Hamilton or Roy) then I think we can begin to assert that Todd Nelson is ahead of the curve established by the previous regime.

And that’s a positive arrow for Steve Tambellini.

  • yawto

    The farm system is much improved that is a fact.

    But I can’t help but think these players got their cups of coffee because ST and Oiler brass didn’t acquire actual NHLers to fill the gaps when the season began or when injuries hit. They went with rookies.

    On the other hand, PRV’s coffee was taken away when Smyth decided he wanted back on the team.

  • The thing with this rebuild and the resurgence of having an AHL club is that the team has been able to chose NHL talent right out of the draft with their 1st rounders. I want to see what they will be able to do with the Hamilton/Pitlick/Rieder type forwards and those 2nd (or later) round defenders like Marincin/Musil/Gernat.

    Last year was an attrocious year for the young forwards. This year they get Rieder who by all accounts has an NHL-type shot and some highly touted defenders.

    The team succeeded in the OKC last year, but I’m waiting for a player to come from there outside of Jeff Petry. I want to see a Teubert, Plante, or Hartikainen show up at TC this year and blow some socks off using the tools he developed in Oklahoma. Havent seen it yet.

  • yawto

    I think with the loss of guys like Keller, Montgomery, Tremblay, Chorney, etc. (there are others I’m forgetting) and I believe Josh Green is still a UFA, this year in OKC will be all about putting young players in key roles and seeing how they handle it.

    I’d expect Paajarvi, Lander, Marincin, Pitlick, possibly Hartikainen (if he’s not in the NHL), and to a lesser extent Hamilton and Roy to be given major opportunities this year to step forward.

  • yawto

    Which left winger is going to make the biggest splash? Paajarvi or Hartikinen? The way our roster looks, Smyth and Hall will be number 1 and 2 LW, which leaves a spot on the third line.

    That is unless Smyth gets reduced minutes on the third line, then either Paajarvi or Hartikinen will be on the top or second line? Personally I’d like to see Paajarvi on the third line with Horcoff and Hemsky because he is very defensive minded and has the speed to play with Hemmer. If there’s someone behind him on D that can make a great stretch pass, this line has the potential to catch top lines with their pants down. Plus I think a vet on the top line would help the Nuge and Ebs, with Hall, Yak, and Gagner on the second line simply lighting it up.

  • vetinari

    The farm has been better at developing kids since moving to OKC but it still feels like the numbers are skewed somehow. If you look at the quality of prospects at different points in the team’s history, would most of them even make the Oiler roster (or anyone else’s for that matter) if they were starting their careers today– i.e. players like Stortini, Jacques, Rita, Salmelainen, Chorney and others? In other words, many of these players racked up a significant number of NHL games to their credit at a time when they otherwise likely shouldn’t have.

    While I agree that MacGregor’s scouting, Nelson’s coaching and Tambi’s drafting have all helped the AHL and NHL teams these past few years, I can’t help but see the development of draftees as a necessity brought on by the failure of management to bring in timely and adequate free agents or make beneficial long term trades to supplement our roster permitting us to delay the debut of some of these players (Paajarvi, Lander, Omark) until they were fully able to handle NHL duty.

    Don’t get me wrong– we should have been on this track 5 to 10 years earlier, but the need to go this route and fast-track it was the result of several high profile players publicly spurning the Oilers (Heatley, Pronger, Souray) at some point, tainting the potential pool of free agents and trade targets and resulting in the Oilers placing all their chips on the “draft and development” model.

  • @ Will

    It really depends where they start them, what they give them for expectations, and how much rope they give them.

    I think Paajarvi is the more skilled of the 2 and if given a long look with quality teamates on the 1st or 2nd line he will have a bigger impact. If they put him on the 3rd line as a defensive forward I think he will do ok, but everyone evaluates based on points and after his rookie season even if he makes a great shutdown winger many people will see him as a failure.

    Hartikainan uses his body more but he is not as fast, has less skill, and is not defensively aware. That being said the fans and probably management as well have lower expectations of him.
    If he replaced Eager on the 4th line next year, hit like crazy and was available to move up the line as injuries required it I think people would be happy with him.

    My prediction is if they use them on the 3rd and 4th lines people will be happier with the contribution Hartikainan puts forward. If they put Paajarvi on 1st or 2nd line and are patient with him then he will have the bigger impact.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Wish we could erase that last 13 yrs, not alot to write home about in that crew. Clearly an insufficient talent pool created by amatuer scouting.

    Hopefully MacGregor can punch the accelerator rather than slam on the brakes like Pendergast.

  • RexLibris

    Funny timing.

    I was just looking through the draft and development history for the Oilers with regards to their farm system.

    That list speaks volumes about the Oilers drafting during that period. Seemingly perpetual 1st round busts while guys like Pisani, Horcoff, Stoll, Greene and Petry look to be the crowning achievements.

    This organization wasted an entire generation of drafted talent with their AHL shortcuts, splitting a team between Iowa and Hamilton, then neglecting to have one altogether and billeting them out like refugees.

    That being said, I think Tambellini does deserve credit for his having resurrected the AHL farm team for the Oilers. It would appear, based on Hartikainen, Cornet, and Paajarvi’s reactions during assignment that he has also managed to change the perception that OKC is a demotion. For that he deserves some credit.

    I would rather have, during a rebuild where draft acquisition is paramount, a cautious GM than one that goes in guns blazing always looking to make changes. His approach will need to change in the next year or two as the team begins to climb the standings, but for the time being things have certainly improved.

  • RexLibris

    @Wes Mantooth

    Me too. I wish I could catch some OKC games on this interwebs device. I’d love to see Marincin annihilate some players from the Heat.

    😉

    I believe Gernat and Musil are returning to junior for another year. Gernat certainly.

  • RexLibris

    I think you missed Phil Cornet on your list of grads.

    Normally I wouldn’t notice a guy like that, but I happened to be setting next to him at the draft and high fived him when the Oil took him. Don’t act like you’re not jealous.

  • nuge2drai

    @AutoOiler

    Oiler Domination to Follow

    Why would you think im Steves Mom? I am just giving him some credit for fixing one of many issues the oilers had when he took over.

    Take a look at the team Steve inherited:

    http://oilers.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=430063

    For all the crap he takes, the roster above is incredibly horrible!!! The SCARY thing is that team had no cap space.

    He hasnt done such a horrible job like everyone claims – he is slow – patient – “steady” and im hoping this team takes a big step forward this year.

    • Not really. He never started a season in the AHL. After his juniour seasons were over he was eligible to play in the AHL for the remainder of the AHL season. He did that 2 years in a row, but was never sent to the AHL when the NHL was a full-time possibility.

  • With the future cost of our emerging stars on offence looks like our defence will have to be/remain by committee of draftees . Maybe Klefbom should remain here if thats the design or template . Maybe one more middle of the road defenceman is all we might afford at this time ? Could remain status quo on draftees rather than going overboard outside of organization . Assessment of these draftees hangs on Tams shoulders if they do .

  • The cost of what we need and can get , might be more advisable to stick with whats in the system now . Suspects and prospects should emerge this season with any luck . Outside costs could prove detrimental to our future success .