The Oklahoma City Barons start rolling today, as coach Todd Nelson welcomes the most talented group in the club’s short history to the AHL. Let’s start with the introductions.
- #1 G Ian Keserich. 26 year old, college man and he has pro experience in the CHL and ECHL. Spent last season in Tulsa (CHL) and could end up in Stockton.
- #2 DTeigan Zahn. Tough defender from the WHL and University of Calgary. Shoots left, a rarity among defenders on this roster. 22 years old, this is his pro debut.
- #3 D Brandon Davidson. 21-year old defender who played as an overager in the WHL (Regina) last season, Davidson got a late start in hockey but has flourished since. Sometimes gets forgotten among the flood of blue, it’ll be interesting to see where he lands on the pro depth chart this season.
- #4 D Alex Plante: Now an AHL veteran at age 23, he has the war wounds to prove it. Plante enjoyed his finest pro season a year ago, highlighted by an appearance in the mid-season All-Star game. He will be counted on to be a veteran presence on a youthful backline this year.
- #5 D Justin Schultz: Originally earmarked for NHL duty, Schultz was a major free agent signing over the summer. Expectations are high in all three zones, as Schultz packs a wallop offensively and is an effective player without the puck. Among new pro’s, he is absolutely the big man on campus this season.
- #6 D Dan Ringwald: 26-year old lefty defender should win a roster spot easily and play a top 4 role in OKC this year. Has played on 31 AHL games since turning pro in 2010, so he might be vulnerable to the new kids as the season wears along. Played well upon arrival in OKC in 2011-12.
- #7 C Ryan Martindale: Got lost in the shuffle last year after a solid rookie camp and then some good moments in main Oiler camp. OKC couldn’t find a place for him and he drifted to OKC and basically lost a season. The lockout may hurt his chances this year too, but he needs to make something happen in year two of his entry level deal. Skilled C.
- #9 R Tyler Pitlick. Among Oiler fans, Pitlick is the AHLer most get excited about when discussing the future. A player with good size, speed and a plus shot, he plays a physical style as well. Oilers brought him along slowly last season, but coach Nelson has indicated a top 6F role is in the cards this season.
- #10 L Teemu Hartikainen. In his first two seasons in North America, the big Finn has scored 31 goals in the AHL and another 5 in the NHL. This should be a breakout season for him, as Harski will probably be one of the wingers to spend time with the Nuge and Eberle. 20+ goals would appear likely.
- #11 R Antti Tyrvainen. In the final year of his deal with the Oilers, this is a huge season for the Finn. Oilers like a lot of what he brings, but 6 goals in 55 AHL games in 2011-12 didn’t turn heads. He has gumption and a bit of the agitator in him, and that should get him a regular role on the Barons.
- #12 C Josh Green. A big part of the OKC lineup, Green had a strong season in 2011-12 (37 points in 51 games) and earned another 7-game paycheck in the NHL for this troubles. I suspect he’ll be on a ‘2line’ with any combination of Hartikainen, Paajarvi, Pitlick and Arcobello.
- #13 L Curtis Hamilton. Like Pitlick last season, Hamilton had a slow start in OKC. Unlike Pitlick, this former Saskatoon Blades star never found the range, instead spending much of the second half on injured reserve. The lockout might be a curse for his development, as offensive chances may be few and far between based on the depth chart. However, coach Nelson has stated he’d like to see Hamilton in 2-way roles and on the PK so that may be the area Hamilton makes his mark this coming season.
- #14 R Jordan Eberle. I think he’ll score 40 goals this season, but many think 50 is probable. Either way, the heart of the offense for OKC this year will be Ebs and the Nuge. A wonderful player at the NHL level, he’s going to give AHL defenders nightmares in 2012-13. I wonder if they’ll have him take a spin at center?
- #15 L Phil Cornet. Led the Barons in goals last season (24) but is an extreme longshot to repeat. Cornet is a skill winger, so must push his way past highly touted players like Hartikainen and Paajarvi to have a role on a skill line this winter. Underestimating him was a bad idea last season, can he do it again?
- #16 C Anton Lander. I think he might end up playing a checking role this season, with PK and defense job one. Why? The Barons are suddenly deep in C’s–RNH, Green, Lander, VandeVelde, Martindale, House–the list goes on, so Lander will probably end up with veterans like Dane Byers on his flank instead of Paajarvi or Eberle. We’ll see, but he’ll be hard pressed to outscore the top end talent at center on this year’s Barons.
- #17 C Eric Hunter. He was drafted twice (2004, 2006) and went to the U of A after his WHL career ended. Hunter played last season in the AHL (75, 6-10-16) and had a couple of big scoring seasons in the WHL for Prince George. He is 26. as mentioned in the Lander comment, this team is deep at center. Stockton may be an option.
- #18 C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. AHL D and G are going to be cursing Bettman’s lockout winter long. Holy hell this kid is going to post some assist totals on the OKC PP. The Nuge had 20 PP assists in the NHL last season, and should pass that total easily in the AHL–which is a very good league. Too much talent to deny most nights in OKC.
- #19 L Magnus Paajarvi. I think this is the season to save him and believe absolutely he’s worth saving. Terrific speed and attention to defensive detail make him unique among the kids Edmonton has drafted at the high end over the last 5 years. So it takes some time to show himself as the player he’ll be, so what? I think Paajarvi gets an initial offensive push and then settles in as a solid 2-way option for the rest of the year.
- #21 C Tanner House. The current OKC depth chart is a little unfair to someone like Tanner House. 26-year old is trying to wrestle the "veteran C with 2-way ability the coach can count on" role from Chris VandeVelde, and with fewer at-bats available that’ll be a tall order. Both VV and House are behind RNH, Green and Lander to start camp. Not a lot of room for error.
- #22 R Justin Maylan. Skilled forward just out of the WHL and signed to a contract by Stockton (ECHL). He’ll no doubt be sent down early but is young (21) and you never know. Scored 89 points with the PA Raiders last season.
- #23 L Kristians Pelss. Very interesting prospect, I think he’ll be in tough to make the Barons out of camp if everything stays the same. The LW depth chart might be Paajarvi, Hartikainen, Byers, Cornet, Hamilton and then guys like Pelss. That’s a lot of talent to beat out in 2 weeks. I do like his long term future, though. Winger with a nice range of skills, that’s my kind of hockey player.
- #25 L Toni Rajala. Like Pelss, he’s in tough on the portside. At 21, Rajala is coming off a solid year in Finland and has enough skill to be considered for prime minutes. His 16 goals last season lead Ilves Tampere in goals and Rajala might end up doing well on RW where the approx. depth chart is Eberle, Pitlick, Arcobello, Tyrvainen, Abney.
- #26 R Mark Arcobello. 24-year old undersized winger who has performed very well as an OKC Baron. In 99 OKC games, he has 28-37-65 totals and has been involved in a lot of the team’s offense since coming up from Stockton. Arcobello begins the season on the outside of the top 6F based on coach Nelson’s words, but he’s beaten the odds in the last two seasons and is likely to do the same this year.
- #27 D Taylor Fedun. He certainly has everyone cheering for him, and based on viewings before his injury Fedun should be up to the challenge of AHL defenseman. The question then involves injury recovery, and we’re about to find out. If he can play regularly, Fedun is a strong candidate for a top 4D role on this team.
- #28 D Martin Marincin. Ranks behind Schultz as the ‘new pro to watch’ among OKC Barons. Marincin has a nice range of skills and the kind of size (6.05, 200) NHL teams look for in defensemen. There’s always an adjustment to the AHL, so we shouldn’t expect miracles and need to remember he’s 20.
- #29 C Chris VandeVelde. Honestly I don’t know if there’s room for anyone at center beyond RNH, Green, Lander and VandeVelde. Which means that a whole pile of C’s (House, Martindale, Hunter) will be taking aim at VV’s job. He’s 25, coach Nelson likes him as a defensive center, but the hell hounds are barking.
- #30 G Tyler Bunz. In a nice spot, he can ease into the pro game in Stockton but the organization also sounds as though they’d like to see him in the AHL some, too. Bunz is a quality prospect, with only concussions slowing him down so far during his development. His upcoming battle with Olivier Roy for top goalie prospect is similar to the JDD-DD battle in the 2000’s. Should be fun to watch.
- #31 G Olivier Roy. Kicked the daylights out of the ECHL and was even better in 128 incredible minutes with the Barons. What I don’t know about goaltending is plenty, but Roy has performed very well since turning pro. I wonder how many games they’ll start him with the Barons this season and would guess 20-25.
- #32 R Gary Steffes. Big forward out of the NCAA (Miami of Ohio), he’s spent the last two seasons with Tulsa of the CHL. A lock for Stockton.
- #33 D Colten Teubert. Big, tough defender is going to have a lot of work this season alongside a defender who lacks experience. The Barons counted on him heavily down the stretch last season and faltered when losing Teubert to injury. I think this might be his last AHL season for many years.
- #34 L Dane Byers. AHL veteran with NHL experience, Byers is in a really good spot on this roster. Coach Nelson can happily play him on a checking line, but also move him up with the big guns if that’s required. Byers is also a player to watch for futurue NHL roles, as he’s a nice fit with Edmonton’s needs as well.
- #35 G Yann Danis. AHL All-Star goalie this past season and the Baron’s MVP in 2011-12. Danis’ SP was among the best in the entire AHL a year ago and he outperformed his backup (LeNeveau) by a considerable amount. I’d guess he’ll get a chance to pay in the NHL some too when it starts again, especially if he can duplicate last season’s performance.
- #36 R Cameron Abney. I believe he’s in a good spot this fall. Abney will no doubt play in both Stockton and OKC as he did last season, but there’s a good chance he makes the Barons out of camp as an enforcer. The AHL is a tough damn league, and the Barons are carrying precious cargo every night. Adding a hired gun may be a good idea.
- #39 D Trevor Ludwig. This is an interesting player. Son of former NHLer Craig Ludwig, he’s a big stay at home type and a lefty shooter. He has about 2 seasons of AHL experience and would be a player to watch based on OKC’s roster makeup. I think he has the best chance of making the Barons among those who are invites or Stockton signings. Ludwig is on a PTO (professional tryout) and is 27.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
This going to be a long winter, but there are things out there worthy of our attention. The OKC Barons get things rolling today, and for Oiler fans that means updates on the Nuge, Ebs, Justin Schultz and the other hopefuls down on the farm.
I don’t think the Edmonton Oilers have ever had so much talent in one minor league city. This group is worth tracking this winter.