(Photo by Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved).
As an Oilers fan, I would love to see this damn lockout end today, with news that the NHLers in OKC will fly to YEG after the AHL game against Houston tonight. The positive arrows in OKC are real and spectacular, and the "possible callup" list is increasing.
CLEAR NHL OPTIONS IN OKC
I think the Oilers will rely heavily on the OKC roster in the early weeks of an NHL season (which, lets not get ahead of ourselves, is not a certainty) and the candidates for the big league club are many:
- Jordan Eberle (31, 23-24-47) is on pace for a 50-goal season in the AHL (a rare item) and appears to be at another level altogether this season. Is this the year he moves into "Joey Mullen" territory as a sniper?
- Taylor Hall (23, 12-20-32) is looking close to 100% now (7-9-16 in his last 10 games) and is creating chaos every shift. Is this the year he goes super nova?
- Justin Schultz (31, 17-28-45) A 2012-13 season will offer him a chance to debut in the NHL but rob him of a chance to set some significant rookie scoring records in the AHL. I’m sure he’d be fine with the trade. The day he was signed, many felt he was the most significant free agent signing for the Oilers in many years, and I don’t think he’s disappointed anyone since that day.
- Teemu Hartikainen (31, 10-11-21) has probably done enough to put himself in the conversation for top 9F employment with the big club when everyone returns. There will be no lack of competition–the NHL wingers will include Hall, Eberle, Yakupov, Hemsky, Smyth, Jones–but Hartikainen’s 31 AHL games may give him enough of an edge to play ahead of one of these fellows (or be the first option for injury/slump).
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (19, 8-12-20) took some time away from the Barons in order to lead the WJ’s in scoring (so far) and before that had a strong 19 games in OKC. His PP prowess (3-9-12) remains and he continues to show signs of being a more complete player with terrific anticipation on the forecheck and the backcheck. He is the most sublime Oiler passing center since Doug Weight.
- Magnus Paajarvi (31, 4-15-19) is in basically the same spot as Hartikainen. MP has earned the opportunity to play in the NHL, but as luck would have it the positions he qualifies for are populated by 1st overall picks, emerging impact Eberle’s and effective veterans like Hemsky and Smyth. I had been hoping Paajarvi would find some chemistry with one of the NHL Barons but it was not to be, and that alone might mean he ends up being the odd man out in terms of trade.
- Yann Danis (23, 2.61 .919) had a slow start but is providing the Barons with outstanding goaltending now. I do think he’s a strong option to begin an NHL season in Edmonton because of the inactivity of both of Edmonton’s NHL goaltenders during the lockout. He’s more than an insurance item, he’s very likely one of the two best goalies in the organization at this time. I think it is completely possible the Oilers acquire/sign another AHL veteran goalie right after the lockout ends with a mind to taking Danis north and keeping him there.
THE CALLUP LIST
- Chris VandeVelde (26, 1-8-9) Based on how coach Nelson uses him, and the struggles of Anton Lander in North America, I think its reasonable to suggest VV might be the first center called up due to injury/slump. Although he’s not going to provide much offense, VandeVelde can PK duties and has decent size.
- Colten Teubert (31, 2-3-5 96pims) and a guy who I think is pretty close to being a lock on the Oilers blueline. He had a tough time of it last season after being called up, but the new transitional NHL might be the perfect time for him to step in and I think he’ll get the first call due to injury.
- Taylor Fedun (28, 2-6-8) I think he’s put himself in the conversation, and that has changed since October. Fedun’s situation and some exceptional insight into the player was provided by Jason Strudwick during the Christmas break, if you missed it check it out here. Although Fedun does not offer the physical element that Colten Teubert does, his calm feet and intelligent play surely have the Oilers impressed. If not for this season, then certainly for next.
- Mark Arcobello (29, 9-19-28) Can’t believe I’m saying this–hell we know the Oilers and a small forward is NOT what they are looking for–but Arcobello has once again beaten the odds and found a way to rise to the top. He has been an effective EV player for some time in the AHL and that may get him a look.
- Anton Lander (27, 2-4-6) I am hoping the Oilers allow Lander to spend the entire season in OKC, and in recent weeks he has shown signs of turning things around. That has not been there m.o. in recent years, so Lander makes the list because he is very likely on the Oilers list for early recall.
IT’S A STRETCH!
- Josh Green (14, 2-3-5) Injured for much of the first half and not completely effective when in the lineup, Green does offer the Oilers a veteran hand and some physical play. He can also play center and wing.
- Martin Marincin (28, 3-10-13) has been chaos incorporated for weeks now, but the Oilers don’t usually take a long time before giving their best defensive prospects a taste of the NHL. A callup for a cup of coffee is not out of the question should the NHL return.
- Tanner House (19, 2-1-3) qualifies in much the same way as VandeVelde. This is not an offensive player, but in a 4-line role short term I could see why the Oilers might think about using him. He’d be in the conversation I think if VandeVelde was unavailable for callup.
- Tyler Pitlick (24, 1-2-3) isn’t doing a damn thing offensively, but does have some crash and bang curb appeal–something the Oilers are always looking for. In much the same way as Marincin could receive the call, I think Pitlick may also get a cup of coffee.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
A couple of things:
- Midriff rules in Oklahoma
- The fact that so many established NHL players didn’t play during the lockout opens up the doors for about one dozen AHL players. Along with Hall, Eberle, Nuge and Schultz, and in addition to Paajarvi, Hartikainen and Danis, there are many more prospects and suspects at least "in the conversation" because of the increased opportunity for injury and poor play.
It could be much ado about nothing, but history tells us someone didn’t think the lockout would end and conducted themselves accordingly. As with all pro sports, the list of men ready and waiting to take advantage is surprisingly abundant: the difference between the average 4th liner in the NHL and a top flight AHL forward is probably not as big as the NHLers would like to believe.
This could get interesting.