With the Oklahoma City Barons sliding down the AHL standings – the team currently sits ninth in the Western Conference and has lost five straight games – head coach Todd Nelson has opted to shuffle the lines. Not only has he broken up the “Nordic Line” of Teemu Hartikainen, Anton Lander and Magnus Paajarvi, but he’s separated NHL stars Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
Via NewsOK, the following are the new line combinations:
It’s a decidedly interesting setup.
The top line will continue to feature Jordan Eberle and Mark Arcobello. Arcobello is a quality AHL player and one of the few guys who has been doing a good job of providing secondary scoring; despite his size (listed at 5’9”, 165 lbs) he was a logical candidate to take the top centre role after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins left for the World Juniors. The addition of Curtis Hamilton, who has had what can charitably be described as a middling season (19GP – 2G- 1A – 3PTS, -6), represents a major opportunity for the struggling prospect. Hamilton’s been a decent defensive option; now it’s time to see if he can be a complementary offensive player.
The second line keeps the pairing of Lander and Paajarvi together, and sticking Hall in there likely won’t hurt anything. For the most part this line has done a decent job of carrying the play but had difficulty converting; Hall’s presence will likely help alleviate that problem.
Teemu Hartikainen has enjoyed an excellent season so far, and on this line he’s going to be the go-to offensive player. Josh Green is highly capable but is only three games removed from an injury that kept him out of the lineup for seven weeks. Philippe Cornet has scored in the past, and in Stockton this year but has so far been a non-factor in AHL play.
The fourth line might be the most interesting of the bunch. Dane Byers and Chris VandeVelde have been Nelson’s go-to guys defensively, with both playing a significant role on the penalty kill and VandeVelde the centre of choice for late game defensive-zone draws. Pitlick, in contrast, has mostly been placed on scoring lines (his offensive development being listed as a priority by Nelson early in the year). Pitlick hasn’t responded with offense. Beyond that, his physical game has been questioned by the coach – asked by Bob Stauffer on Monday about Curtis Hamilton’s physical game, Nelson responded critically but also volunteered Pitlick as a guy who had to “use [his] body more consistently.” It’s not hard to read this demotion as a way of pushing for exactly that.
In a nutshell, as I see it: this is a glorious and surprising opportunity for Hamilton, a chance for a decent second line to start capitalizing more on its chances, a real test of Teemu Hartikainen, and a clear message to Tyler Pitlick. Beyond all that, it’s an attempt to spread out the scoring on a team that has been top-heavy in that department virtually since the season’s opening game.