Looking at the Oilers’ forward prospects in the AHL this year, I see three distinct groups. There is the NHL trio of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, three fantastic players who have nothing to prove and will (barring serious injury) enjoy long careers in the majors. After that three, there are two legitimate prospects – Teemu Hartikainen and Magnus Paajarvi. Then there’s everyone else, a group of players who aren’t doing nearly enough.
It’s something that becomes particularly obvious when this year’s group is compared to the 2004-05 Edmonton Roadrunners.
The Roadrunners produced seven forwards who would play in the NHL after the 2004-05 lockout. Two of those players – Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll – already had a full season under their belts and were only in the minors because of the lockout.
Of the other five, the best NHL career belongs to Kyle Brodziak.
Brodizak was always a long-shot, a 214th overall pick as an over-ager. If today’s draft rules, with only 210 picks, were in place in 2003, he may not even have been selected. Timing was an additional problem: 2003 was the strongest draft in recent memory, and Brodziak’s first professional season was in 2004-05 – a year where the ranks of the AHL were bolstered by NHL-calibre players thanks to the lockout.
Here is how the five guys to make the jump to the NHL after 2004-05 performed statistically compared to the current crop of Oklahoma City Barons; the Roadrunners players are highlighted in grey:
Brodziak had the best season of the lot, despite the paltry goal totals. At the age of 20, as a rookie professional, he was a useful AHL player. He did what the Oilers had to hope Hamilton, Pitlick and Lander would do this year; it’s awfully hard to imagine brilliant NHL futures for the latter three when combined they are scoring at an inferior pace to Brodziak as a rookie. Brodziak did it without the benefit of draft pedigree, or a year to adjust to professional hockey. None of the Oilers’ depth prospects are enjoying a comparable season; only Magnus Paajarvi is in the same range.
It is difficult to look at Salmelainen and St. Pierre without thinking about Mark Arcobello and Toni Rajala. Salmelainen, a 5’9” winger, played 57 post-lockout NHL games for a lousy Chicago team; the similarly small St. Pierre played for Chicago, Boston and Ottawa, managing 38 appearances. Both Arcobello and Rajala are outscoring their 2004-05 counterparts; they probably will not get a shot with the Oilers but an NHL cup of coffee for one or both is far from out of the question, despite the size issues.
The other thing that stands out to me is the line here. All five guys who played NHL hockey are bunched together on this list. Hartikainen, Paajarvi and Arcobello are all on the right side of the line; Josh Green and Chris VandeVelde are in the same range as Toby Petersen and everybody else needs to score lots more than they have so far this season.