Now it is our turn!!!

When Dumb and Dumber came out I must have watched it ten times. So many good scenes but the one I loved was where Lloyd says the line "so you’re telling me there’s a chance!!" Classic. I think that every player that will still be on the Oklahoma City Barons when the NHL starts was thinking that when the end of the lockout was announced Sunday morning.

Since the start of the lockout the top young players of the Oilers have been down in OKC. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle have been there taking up roster spots. Throw Justin Schultz into that mix and for each game roster, twenty percent of that AHL lineup is being taken up by NHL players. Those four players are eating up the top minutes played as well as the power play minutes.

What does that leave for everybody else? A lot less opportunity to get the minutes they need to develop!

The AHL is a development league. Young prospects go down there to work on their skills and overall game. Faceoff, blocking shots, scoring, passing and more! The weekend heavy game schedule allows for longer periods of practice time during which those skills can be worked on. But, there is no better way to improve than through actual game situations!

I have seen a lot of great morning skate players. These are guys that you watch during a morning skate and think "This guy will be a NHL star!" The best of these I ever saw was Sergei Federov’s brother Fedor. He was bigger than his brother by a few inches and thicker. He joined our team in Vancouver one year. During the first practice he was incredible. Honestly, the best player on the ice. We had guys like Bertuzzi, Naslund and Morrison and he looked better than them. Until we played a game! Then we figured it out. All the skills and no tool box. None. He was lost out there, completely.

For the players left behind in the AHL now they will get way more game action. This is how they will improve, along with the normal practice time. Instead of being a third of fourth liner, some guys will be getting first and second line minutes. Big difference. Their confidence should soar.

Winning in the AHL is a nice bonus for the players in that league but make no mistake, they want to get to the NHL. There is no doubt that the team will have a harder time winning now that those top players are gone. But for the players left behind it will give them a chance to improve as players, while playing more!

The Oilers have had some nice drafts recently and now these players have turned professional. I think with the four players mentioned earlier taking up space on the roster some other player’s development has been stalled so far this year. Let’s take a look at the stats of a few.

  • Anton Lander: 31 games 3 goals 5 assists
  • Magnus Paajarvi: 35 games 4 goals 16 assists
  • Curtis Hamilton: 29 games 2 goals 2 assists
  • Tyler Pitlick: 28 games 1 goal 2 assists
  • Ryan Martindale: 7 games 0 goals 3 assists
  • Chris VandeVelde: 29 games 1 goal 8 assists

These are probably the top forwards the Oilers have in their professional system for prospects. I don’t think their goal production is where they or the organization would like it to be. (It should be noted that I think Teemu Hartikainen will start in the NHL). I do not think that any of these players will be forty-goal scorers in the NHL but their numbers should be better than this at this point of their development. It doesn’t get easier to score in the NHL. I firmly believe the Oilers want a couple of these guys to provide secondary scoring at some point with the big team.

If I am these guys I am jacked that the NHL players are off the Barons roster. Now it is their chance to show what they have got! They were never competing with a Hall or Eberle to get called up. Everyone knew those guys would be going back up. But they are competing with each other now for call ups once the NHL season starts. I am very interested to watch the stats from here to the end of the season. I am not a huge stat guy, never was. There is way more to a players game that just stats. That being said when I look at the stats above, it is hard to get past them.

Who makes a move to show they are an NHL player? We will know in the next few months. I know right now that if this group doesn’t start to produce, develop and play like they are expected, another group of prospects are at their heels to do so. There always is!! Such is the cycle in professional hockey.

Let the Chaos begin!

With NHL camps set to open Sunday, a week of craziness is about to start for NHL players and coaches. They will have five days of practice and no exhibition games to prepare for the upcoming forty-eight game sprint.

Training camps are normally a time for coaches to install systems and take a look at line combinations. This takes place over three weeks and seven exhibition games. That is lots of time to figure that out. Coaches will use practice time and video sessions to make sure everyone has the systems figured out. Not so easy to do in five days. Even God took seven to create the world! Six if you don’t count the rest day.

Ralph Krueger was part of the coaching staff last year with the Oilers but that doesn’t mean he will continue to use the same system. He may want to change the whole look of the systems or just slightly adjust. Either way all the players will have to be aware and prepared to play under his plan.

Under a good system of play, each player counts on each other to be in a specific spot on the ice in different circumstances. How many times have you as a fan said "Why did that d-man pinch there? He shouldn’t have done that, it caused a two vs. one! What a dumb play?" Often teams have automatic strong side pinching when they are trailing, with the expectation that one forward will be the high man and can fill the d-man’s spot if the puck slips by. The d-man is counting on him to be there. When the forward misses the assignment the system breaks down and everyone fails.

Having a high man may not seem like a big issue but each detail within a system is linked. In the NHL everyone has to do their own job; that is it. When you do not do your job, you screw your teammates who are fully expecting you to fulfill your part in the system. That is why you hear so many players say it is actually easier to play in the NHL then the AHL. NHL players are very good at following a game plan and understanding their part in it.

The short training camp will require the players to be very attentive to what is being taught to them. They will need to all get on the same page very quickly. The Oilers have an advantage on some teams because there have been very few changes to their personnel. This should help Ralph with installing his system. The players are familiar with each other’s tendencies. They don’t have to get to know both new teammates and systems.

Physically it is a crap shoot for what fans and organizations can expect from the players. For those players that have been playing in the AHL, I believe they will have been working out and staying in shape. Those guys have been under the watchful eye of someone from the Oilers organization since that league started up. They are ready to rumble.

For the players that played in Europe, it is great that they have been playing but there are no guarantees on their conditioning. There are players that get out of shape while they are playing. Living and playing in Europe can be challenging in that good food choices and NHL style workout facilities might not be available on every team. With discipline it can be done but it is harder. For this group their timing and such will be ready but the question mark is will they be able to keep up with an NHL pace.

The biggest unknowns will be all the players who waited out the lockout at home. Many guys will do what is required to stay prepared for a NHL season but it is not easy. It takes a lot of discipline to go to the gym every day with no start date to look forward to. It is very easy to say "I will skate tomorrow or make up for not skating this week next week". I know for a fact some players will look like they were stung by a bee! Coaches will work those guys into the ground getting them in NHL shape. That won’t be fun, in fact it will be brutal.

I don’t miss training camps. They are hard and intense. The first day is always a little crazy with medicals and fitness testing. When camps fire up Sunday it will be interesting to see how both the coaches and players respond to this year’s unique situation. The teams that handle it the best will be the ones that have the most success early. In a forty eight game season, there is little room for error.

  • Rocket

    Hey Jason

    One thing you didn’t mention is that the Barons need to fill those now open roaster spots. I was at the Huskies vs Golden Bears game last night, and two 1st year Huskies stood out from the rest of the players – Brandon Herrod & Jimmy Bubnick.

    Bubnick is a skilled & smooth skating centre who scored at better than a point-per-game in the WHL last year. Herrod was captain of the WHL’s Raiders last year, before being picked up by the Blazers for their play-off run.

    How about the Oiler’s giving two Western Canada boys a shot at the AHL??

    • Jason Strudwick

      Hi, I don’t have a lot of knowledge on CIS players. I do know it is a rare thing for players to come from that league and make it to the NHL. There have been some but not many. If they had NHL potential or AHL potential most likely they would be playing in there now.

      In my experience, often times CIS players can have nice careers over in Europe after they complete their degree.

      Who I am though to stomp on their dreams though, I hope they do get a chance to play pro hockey in North America

  • Jason Strudwick

    Really nice write up JS. Your articles are getting stronger and stronger.

    I agree with the other poster that I would like to see a few more CIS players scouted for the AHL. I feel the level of hockey in the CIS is underrated. Some players just mature more slowly.

  • The Oilers will only go as far as their depth takes them. Hopefully the added opportunity will get more out of guys like Pitlick and Hamilton. We need some guys to round out our depth chart on the bottom two lines. Lander is an important prospect who needs to show that he can post decent scoring totals and be a good fit on the 3rd line.