The OKC Barons wrapped up their short two-game preseason over the weekend, and before playing those games I chatted with Nelson about how he will use his NHL-caliber players.

This is a huge opportunity for the Oilers to discover who might be capable of playing with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins whenever the NHL returns.

JG: Normally at this time of year in training camp  you would have around the same amount of bodies, but a lot of them would be guys from the East Coast League or the CHL. Now, you have 32 or 33 guys that are all Edmonton products and most of them will be playing in the AHL. How did that change what you did in the first few days of camp compared to the last few years?

TN: I think the biggest thing was that we got right into system work and started working with the guys about how we’re going to play out there. So the first three days we were able to work on our systems, get right into it. Starting tomorrow we’re going to have two scrimmage sessions, and be get ready for two exhibition games on Friday and Saturday against Houston.

In previous camps we have had some players from Edmonton down here, some of the younger guys that got let go earlier from Edmonton, and so it was kind of tough to implement systems at that time. So you pretty much start scrimmaging right off the start, trying to see what some of these other players from different leagues have to offer. That’s the biggest thing, just trying to get into practice mode and getting the guys prepared for games.

JG: I had Jordan Eberle on the program on Friday, and he mentioned you told him that you’ll play him and Nugent‑Hopkins together to start. Do you expect that to last?

TN: Yeah, for sure. We’ll keep those two guys together. And then we have a bunch of different combinations we can use with them on the left side. I think a lot of people want to see what Magnus Paajarvi can do on that left side with them. We have option, Hartikainen of course is in the mix. But I think for the first part, we’ll keep those guys together, and I don’t really see us breaking them up.

*** My thoughts***.. Paajarvi needs to take advantage of this opportunity. It is very rare for a player who isn’t a regular NHLer to get to play with NHL players, but not have to face NHL opposition. Paajarvi will never have a better scenario to get comfortable playing with RNH and Eberle. If the Oilers are going to be competitive in the coming years they will need their support/complementary players to be better. Paajarvi needs to show he can contribute 5×5 with these two.

JG: What about your second line? 

TN: Well Jason, I have so many different combinations. I’m looking at the board, and arguably your fourth or fifth line could be slotted anywhere on there. But right now, we have Hartikainen, Green, and Pitlick as a line. That’s a situation where we want to see Tyler Pitlick take the next step, play in a top‑six role. And I think playing alongside Josh Green and Hartikainen should help him out, and he should see some benefits from that.

JG: And then Anton Lander would be your third‑line centre?

TN: Most likely the way it kind of stacks up, although Anton and Josh could probably flip spots as well. We have a bunch of different combinations. We also have Chris VandeVelde. So when you look at the wingers on those lines, we have Curtis Hamilton, Antti Tyrvainen, Dane Byers, Phil Cornet, Tanner House. We also have Mark Arcobello that was our second leading scorer last year. So we have tons of different combinations. We have guys like House and Arcobello that can play the middle. Tyler Pitlick can play the middle. So it’s just a matter of trying to find the right fit and see what works and just trying to find just enough ice time for everybody.

*** My thoughts***… It’s nice to hear that Pitlick will get an opportunity to show if he has offensive skills. If he isn’t at least a 50-point player this year, the chances of him becoming even a 40-point guy in the NHL are very slim. If you can’t produce in the AHL, it is extremely rare that you’ll produce in the NHL. I like using Lander in the 3rd line slot, because when, or if, he is ready to play in the NHL I see him slotted in there first. His overall game is his best attribute, and I think he’ll be the guy who eventually replaces Horcoff. He’ll take key draws, kill penalties and face tough opposition.

JG: Where does Dane Byers fit in and what will he add to your team? 

TN: I think he’s been a captain for the last three teams he’s played on. He’s a big, strong guy. He’s not afraid of the rough stuff. He’ll take on anybody. So we have grit there. He won’t be the only one though. Antti Tyrvainen and Tanner House can bring some of that as well. Josh Green is a big guy. We have this mentality here that we have to have a wolf‑pack mentality. Something happens; we’re all in there to help each other out. So I don’t see that as being any kind of an issue. We have guys that can take care of that role.

JG: What about on the defence? Justin Schultz, any ideas who you’re going to pair him up with? 

TN: Well, I had plans for Marty Marincin to play with him, but he’s going through some shoulder pain. He has some tendinitis in there, so he hasn’t skated the last couple days. I’m not sure if he’s going to be ready for opening night or not, but that’s who I kind of have slotted for them. And then after that, there’s different combinations we can use. I had Taylor Fedun paired up with Colten Teubert, Alex Plante with Brandon Davidson. We also have Teigan Zahn here and Danny Ringwald, so we have options if Marty Marincin is not able to go.

JG: You mentioned a few young defencemen. Martin Marincin would be one and Brandon Davidson. What do you like about their game, and what’s going to be the aspects both of them need to work on? 

TN: With Brandon, I love his compete level. He came to camp in tremendous shape. He’s a good kid. He works very hard. I think for him it’s just refining his game. I think defensively he’s very strong. One aspect we can work on with him is just moving the puck quicker, snapping a pass on the tape a lot quicker. Stuff like that where he needs to improve to get up to pro speed, but he has the head for making the good first pass and finding options. So that’s just something that as we go along here we’re going to have to work with him and just go from there.

As for Marty, I like the way Marty played for us last year when he came to us. He was outstanding with his defensive play. He had a great stick. He’s a tall, lanky guy that has tremendous range. He has an excellent shot, and also he moves the puck very well. He’s a very good defenceman, and I’m just disappointed that he got a bit banged up, but once he comes back, I’m expecting big things from him.

JG: Has he put on some weight?

TN: Yes, I think he put on about five pounds, five pounds of muscle. His body fat stayed the same, which is good. He’s in good shape, and I think it’s just a matter of time. Once he keeps on growing and develops into a man, he’s going to continue to gain some weight with muscle, but he looks extremely good.

*** My thoughts***… Marincin’s biggest issue is his strength. Will he be strong enough to play in the NHL. Last year was a wasted year for him. He didn’t get the proper diet or training in the summer and didn’t show much, if any, improvement in his overall strength. Scouts have told me they feel he’s got "something," that makes them believe he could be an NHLer, but everyone of them is concerned if he can become strong enough. I’ll be monitoring his progress closely this year.

JG: Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn are in the league this year, Henrique and Larsson are in the New Jersey system, the Charlotte Checkers have Jeff Skinner and Faulk and many others on that deep Carolina farm team. There’s a lot of skill down in the league this year. Do you think having that influx of young talent changes at all how the game will be played in the American League?

TN: Like you mentioned, I think it’s going to be a lot more skilled. That’s pretty apparent, but from a coach’s standpoint, I’m not going to change anything with the way I coach. It’s definitely going to be a high‑end league. Having these players down here is going to raise the level. I think having these players down here is going to help make the younger prospects a lot better as well because they have to compete against better players. So I think it’s a positive situation for development for every team in the league. When you look at our team, from having our guys practice against guys like Jordan and Ryan and Justin, it’s only going to make them a lot better hockey players. So we’re very excited about that. Obviously we want the NHL to resume playing, but right now it’s not happening, so we’re going to make the best of it and try to make our players better.

JG: Jordan Eberle mentioned how he was hoping to get some penalty killing time. He said the one aspect of his game he wants to work on the most is improving his defensive side of the game. How will you work on that with him, and will you use him on the PK? 

TN: Actually, I talked to both him and Ryan today, and I was talking to them about just ice time in general. I said ‘look, I would love to play you guys 25 to 28 minutes a game, but I have other players I have to develop as well.’ They understand that. They’re good people, and they’re just happy to be here playing hockey and being part of a team.

Regarding the penalty killing aspect, I talked to both of them. I told Jordon there’s guys that have roles on this team and I’m going to spot him in on certain penalty‑killing situations. Both players mentioned there are things that they have to work on. Jordan mentioned his defensive game. So did Nugent‑Hopkins and he also mentioned needing to work on draws. So there’s certain little things that they want to work on down here, which I think is fantastic. I think as a coaching staff, what we have to do is help them work on those situations and through videotape and going through things in practice, that’s where we can correct some things and help them out with this.

*** My thoughts***… This illustrates why those two will be solid NHLers. Some wondered if Eberle or RNH would be disappointed having to play in the AHL, and of course they aren’t. I wrote earlier how Jason Spezza benefitted from his 2004/2005 AHL stint due to the lockout, and I expect Eberle and RNH will be even better because of this opportunity. It’s also nice to see that Nelson, and hopefully the entire organization, realize that the development of Pitlick, Lander, Hartikainen, Paajarvi is even more important. The Oilers need at least two of those guys to become regular NHlers.

JG: Todd, last time we spoke, you mentioned you’re going to use Justin Schultz on the point on the power play and Nugent‑Hopkins on the side boards and then Eberle. Who will take up the other two spots on the PP? 

TN: Well, once again we have options. Hartikainen comes to mind at the front of the net, as well as Josh Green. On the goal line, we have an option with Magnus Paajarvi. We’ll just see what fits. Since it’s a development league, I believe in having two power play units, and so there are options with the second unit as well. I’m going to start with putting Harti in front because he did a pretty good job for us last year. Josh Green or Magnus Paajarvi can be down on the goal line. I think they’re both interchangeable.

JG: How many guys do you plan to keep on the roster? Will you have a 23‑man roster, or will you expand it? 

TN: In the American League, you can keep as many as you want, which is nice for this situation. Usually we keep about 23. This year, I think we might end up keeping 24, 25, depending on the situation. I think after training camp we have to see what the best step is for each individual. Is it more beneficial for a player to be staying here, practicing with us, and being in the lineup one night, out of the lineup the next night? 

Or option B, is maybe going to Stockton and playing tons of minutes and getting their confidence. So I think for each player on the bubble like that there’s a different scenario, and I think as an organization we have to see what the best fit is. We’ll probably discuss that as camp keeps on going on here.


  • After their two pre-season games the Barons made a few roster moves. They released D-man Trevor Ludwig and forward Justin Maylan and Eric Hunter from their tryout agreements. Hunter played in Erie of the AHL last year, before spending four years with the U of A Bears. He likely would have lasted longer if there was no lockout.
  • Goalie Tyler Bunz was assigned to Stockton in the ECHL over the weekend. He’ll be the main starter and next year he’ll likely battle Olivier Roy for a spot in OKC.
  • The Barons assigned Phil Cornet, Tony Rajala and Teigan Zahn to Stockton today. That leaves them with 26 players in camp. They start the regular season this Friday.
  • In case you were wondering why Eberle and RNH didn’t play in either exhibition game this past weekend, it’s because the team didn’t see the need for it. They were no reason for them to play. They’ll be ready to go Friday.
  • Do we need to change our attitude about hockey in Canada? I think we do. Read here.


  • RexLibris

    Good EJ article, Jason.

    I agree, sometimes I think we equate hockey with NHL and lose sight of where these young men come from and the lessons that many others learn along the way.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Jason, there is something missing here…I just can’t put my finger on it.
    Oh Yeah. Leave the OKC articles to Lowetide…we need to see more pics of Miss OKLA) (HOMA

    Still, a good read tho.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    I am speechless,impressed,confident and stand corrected on some very important issues.

    When I listen to this conversation I visualise what i can justifiably describe as a very natural,organsied,calm,controlled,honest and proactive environment.I see continuity between the farm and the big club the moment I hear that there will be a considered effort to play our NHL men in “twos”,as this has already been expressed as a methodology that Ralph Krueger will be utilising.I see an elite professional level of understanding of purpose coming from Todd Nelson in his direct and clear descriptions of the dynamic interactions between his non-NHL,I see confidence of purpose and concrete goals being pursued.I see a clear communication platform that allows players to come to their coach with self-motivated intentions and I see the clarity of intent this creates.

      • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

        So now, on top of berating other posters about their apparent lack of knowledge on all things hockey, you’re going to criticize someone for their punctuation.

        Our are you trying to be funny, like book!e on the last article?

        Maybe that person was 8 years old, maybe that person is learning English as a non primary language. Maybe you’re a tool.

        In any case, you’re straying from your usual Oiler trolling and venturing even deeper into @$$hole territory by trolling peoples writing habits.

        And the post wasn’t even that bad.

        • Acumen

          NewAgeSys should clean up the posts if they’re going to be longer than the articles themselves(in most cases).

          DSF is not the first person to point this out.

          And really, what did you expect?

    • DSF

      I see an elite professional understanding of purpose coming from Todd nelson in his direct and clear descriptions of the dynamic interactions between his NHL and non-NHL players in terms of potential minutes and how those minutes will be catalysed,there is a definate and proactive balanced program being endorsed here that exemplifies the calm ,confident,organisational feel I am getting here.
      I like the aknowledgment of and the focus on systematic indoctrination we are hearing discussed,it is comforting to know that there is a designed and implemented continuity being fostered between Todds perspective and Ralphs perspective.This is the natural symbiotic relationship that builds a superior communications platform.
      I would have shuddered if I had just heard the one-dimensional physical “we will work on the basics” prospectus.Instead of that “basics”partyline we know that players and coaches in our organisation already have developed and initiated an open and proactive line of communication and that the players themselves are confident in the system enough that they are bringing honest assesments of their performance abilitys and the work they are eager to put in to improve those facets of their games to the coaches office instead of the other way around.It is comforting to see a level of aknowledgment of these players existing physical dimensions and then a proactive plan to endorse,incorporate,and improve them on individual levels through tactical situational exposure as opposed to simple exposing guys to massive minutes.Incorporating the NHL players in this tactical manner will both preserve the integrity of the OKC platform and also allow a controlled introduction of players from the NHL with specific developmental facets being addressed.With this approach there should be no interference with the existing developmental programs that are in place already,this is a perfect example of ADDING something to gain results—not removing something to gain results,we arent removing OKCs system integrity we are simply adding players into situational dynamics that do not require superior minutes,we are picking our spots and respecting both our developmental system and our Professional system assets or players and their individual evolutionary focus in the process,smooth natural forward motion,excellent.
      I cant believe I just made posts without finding any chinks in the armor,there is nothing but upside here.I can talk about my warm fuzzy feelings forever,but why bother,there is a confidence around here that is newfound,last year seems to have been a turning point organisationally,on both the pro and farm levels.At this point I am forced to stand back and shut up and watch.First Ralph,now Todd Nelson have shown a superior level of communication and clarity,and consequently intent.

      For the first time in say 15 yrs I am sitting back smileing,knowing full well that our Oilers have made an evolutionary advancement ,we have excellent continuity of purpose and focus between our Developmental platform and our Professional platform coaches and their system. Our Achillies Heel has been armored,we are building strength through elite communication and and paralell focus at a foundational level,and we are doing it in an organised controlled calm manner,reeking of elite professionalism.
      The Oilers very experienced and astute hockey professionals are now working with paralell intentions incredibly hard to create a championship environment that will give their organization the window of opportunity it needs to become Champions at the NHL level.

      If this love-in keeps up I am going to be forced to dust off the VW van and become a groupie.

      I see a visual of two lines of civil war soldiers in formation the forward line kneeling and fireing in unison as the second line is standing behind them reloading their muskets.Lets keep it this way it looks like a winning format.

      Just sayin.

  • geoilersgist

    Great read! I can’t wait to watch some OKC games this year!

    Your EJ article is bang on too, I find myself as generally one of those people that if it isn’t the NHL it isn’t good enough. I plan to watch more junior games this year.

  • Acumen

    OK, I don’t post on here often but I want to make a plea to everyone.

    Can we all make a group effort to just ignore DSF PLEASE? He obviously gets a kick out of being a dick and it really ruins the experience of discussing hockey matters on this site when everything in the comments stream is a piss fest initiated by him. Just do what I do and skip the posts where you see “DSF” at the top.

    Thank you.

    Another excellent interview, Jason. Thanks once again.

    Is there going to be any way (stream or over the telly) to watch OKC games this year?

  • Acumen

    A question for Jason, or anyone else who has seen this answered…

    Have anyone from the Oilers brass said what they mean to do with Nuge during the WJCs? I would love to see him, Yakupov, Klefa, and Musil all on that tourney all star team. 🙂

    • Jason Gregor

      He won’t go play in WJC. Why would he go from leading the AHL Barons to playing against 19 year olds.

      I understand fans want to see him play, but going to a stacked WJC team and missing a month of the season makes little sense for his overall development.

      They won’t comment on it publicly now, because they expect to have the NHL back up and running by then anyways, but he isn’t going.

  • DSF

    Some good points, Gregor.

    Some of the most entertaining games I’ve seen have been college or university hockey–lots of speed and intensity.

    I recall the Bears taking it to the Oilers rookies more than once in pre-season exhibition games, so there’s some talent there, too.

    Any insight on why these exhibitions don’t happen any more?

    • Jason Gregor

      At the AHL level there likely isn’t. Green is a veteran who understands how to play. He is proof of how fine the line is between regular NHLer and AHL/NHL guy.