Important work is being done in Oklahoma City. As Oiler fans watch a stream of #1 overall selections dazzle at the NHL level, the support group is learning the trade and preparing to make the jump. Role players may not be as sexy as the impact kids, but they’re important all the same.
The OKC pipeline has supplied some quality since 2010 fall and it looks like there’s plenty more on the way. An NHL team that has already added the top end talent up front will need 2-way forwards, effective defenders and perhaps a goalie or two along the way. Of course, some of these young men will be used as trade assets at the deadline or later this summer as the club makes an effort to move up the standings.
THE (POSSIBLE) GRADUATES
- Teemu Hartikainen: Had a 2-goal game against Anaheim April 1, and was featured on the 1line that evening. There’s an opening on the big league roster as things stand now; Hartikainen has a reputation as a slow starter and a strong finisher. If he can come to camp and play well, he may not see OKC again.
- Magnus Paajarvi: One of the truly impressive things about last season was Paajarvi’s attitude about getting sent down. He welcomed it, worked hard while down there and showed real maturity during what must have been a difficult situation. I’ll be cheering for him and he’s scored 15 in a season before, no reason MP can’t do it again.
- Anton Lander: Spent most of the season in Edmonton, so maybe his OKC time might be considered "upgrading." There’s a chance he’ll spend another semester in OKC but the organization is very high on him.
- Tyler Pitlick: Went 5-15-20 in his final 40 AHL games, which represented a major upswing in production. Pitlick’s "saw him good" curb appeal is impressive, pretty much everyone I’ve talked to says he’ll be a player. Oiler fans are hoping he takes a big step forward in 12-13; a very good chance he plays in Edmonton sometime this season.
- Chris VandeVelde: He’s not a sexy pick, but VV does some valuable things like penalty kill and check the other team’s best players. I think he’ll be a top 9F in OKC and we can probably expect to see him at some point in Edmonton.
- Curtis Hamilton: This will be a huge season for Hamilton, who had injury problems and failed to establish himself as a top 9 option in his rookie AHL season. Some of that might have had to do with the veteran group up front, but this season the highly touted WHL winger will need to improve on his 46, 5-6-11 season.
- Phil Cornet: Scored 24 goals in a season in which the young man moved way up the depth chart and even made his first NHL appearance.
- Colten Teubert: He didn’t look ready during his NHL audition but it’s also true that playing defense in the NHL is a damn tough job. You’re rarely noticed doing the right thing, but a bad decision or a slow decision gets caught on camera forever. Teubert needs more time but everything I read says he’s progressing and was counted on down the stretch. Coach Nelson cited Teubert’s injury as being a major factor in ending the team’s playoff run.
- Antti Tyrvainen: I wouldn’t count this guy out, he’s rambunctious and a discturber on a team looking under every rock for exactly that guy. Tyrvainen may get a cup of coffee this season.
- Alex Plante: Plante had another strong season and continues to improve at playing defense. I have no idea if he’ll ever make the grade but his numbers suggest good arrows.
- Kirill Tulupov: Russian coke machine with a licence to crush opponents (and teammates in training camp). I don’t even know if they’ll sign him but this cat is an interesting player.
- Martin Marincin: Very excited to see how he progresses this season. Marincin finished off a fine junior career and played a little in OKC last year (with encouraging results). No need to fast track him, which is a sign of a maturing organization.
- Olivier Roy: A good junior goalie is killing it at the pro level. Roy’s Stockton season in 11-12 was outstanding and his cup of coffee in OKC was impressive too. Definitely a player to follow in 12-13.
- Tyler Bunz: Generally regarded as a slightly better prospect than Roy, Tyler Bunz will probably get a chance to show his stuff in Stockton before playing 13-14 in OKC. I’d expect a few games for him in the AHL this coming season.
- Brandon Davidson: Will turn pro this fall at age 21 and the Oilers clearly like what they see in him. Effective at moving the puck and his scouting report says he’s a leader. It’ll be very interesting to see how coach Nelson uses him.
- Kristians Pelss: Won’t turn 20 until September but he’ll make his pro debut all the same. Oil Kings fans came to appreciate his work ethic and his quick, accurate shot. He’s already beaten the odds by signing a pro contract (Pelss was selected 181st overall in 2010).
- Taylor Fedun: Easy to forget he never did get to OKC but everything I read about Fedun suggests he’s been working like a demon to get back to level before training camp. I don’t think we should count him out.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
We don’t know the name of the ‘next Jeff Petry’ and we don’t really know all of these kids are headed to OKC (the organization will sign some more pro’s before training camp). We do have some evidence that the Stu MacGregor drafting model–married to the Todd Nelson coaching strategy–is showing signs of being a winning combination.