At times like the trade deadline, it’s interesting to look south–to the AHL team in Oklahoma City–in an effort to see how well the prospects are progressing. After an extremely slow start for most of the prospects in the system, several caught fire and are on track with NHL calibre progress.
EXPIRING ENTRY LEVEL DEALS
The Barons have been around for three seasons now, meaning some of the young men employed in the Oilers organization are completing their entry level deals. As you know, the "Red Wing" model of development is to leave players in the minors for most or all of their entry level deals before elevating them, trading them or risking waivers. I did not include Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle in the conversation, as their minor league time was a result of the lockout as opposed to required development time.
- L Magnus Paajarvi (150 NHL, 72 AHL). Paajarvi spent 32% of his entry level deal in OKC (this will change by season’s end), but I think the time spent in the minors was beneficial. He’s kind of a tough player to measure, 10th overall pick had a solid rookie season and then started to slide in year two. I’m going to suggest his time in the AHL was a positive, and that Todd Nelson and his staff deserve significant credit for helping develop him (along with the player, who was eager to play and get better with the Barons). Paajarvi is exempt from waivers for 10 more games, but will need to be protected from waivers later this season and then in the fall when rosters are trimmed.
- L Teemu Hartikainen (48 NHL, 157 AHL). Spent 77% of his entry level deal with the Barons. Oilers handled Hartikainen in a way similar to the Red Wings and their template for minor league development. Hartikainen is an interesting player in so many ways, not the least of which is that he could be an NHL regular making about $1M next season if the club retains him. The club will need to make room–he’s waiver eligible beginning in the fall–and that may impact the deadline for Edmonton. He’s a strong candidate (imo) for a 1-way deal and possibly a multi-year contract from the club.
- D Colten Teubert (24 NHL, 163 AHL). Teubert spent 87% (and counting) of his entry level deal in the minors, and his 24 NHL games happened a year ago. This season, his performances have been uneven and his position on the depth chart may have taken a hit during the year (it’s hard to tell with stay-at-home defensemen). One indicator is that the Oilers organization has not mentioned him as a callup option this year–and there were some trying times. One of the things a club can offer a player on an expiring entry level deal is a "one way" contract. If the club gives Teubert a one way deal–or a deal for more than one season–that would be an indicator they are well pleased with his performance.
- L Phil Cornet (2 NHL, 180 AHL/ECHL). 98.9% of his pro career has been in the minors, but there’s a player here. The questions are: how good a player, and can the Oilers make use of him? He’s scored 35 goals in his last 100 AHL games, and that’s an impressive total. He’s young enough to have a career and I think the Oilers are going to have a hard time letting him go.
- C Mark Arcobello (1 NHL, 162 AHL). 99% of his career since signing an entry level deal has been spent in the minors, and the truth is he’s accomplished more than anyone had a right to expect him to in the last two seasons. Arcobello’s story is terrific, and I do think the club will look at signing him to another contract. A one-way deal seems unlikely, though.
- D Taylor Fedun (0 NHL, 59 AHL). Fedun has played his entire pro career in the minors, and of course his entry level deal was halved by the idiotic play of Eric Nystrom fall 2011. Fedun is an interesting player, in that his performance has exceeded some of the defenders ahead of him entering the season. Edmonton has 5 defensemen signed for the big club next year (Smid, N Schultz, Petry, J Schultz and Corey Potter) and there may be an opportunity for him in the fall as a 6-7D.
- L Antti Tyrvainen (0 NHL, 81 AHL). Tyrvainen lived up to his reputation as an agitator during his pro time in the Oilers system, but didn’t do enough to show he could play effectively at a high level. Among the expiring entry level deals, he is easily the least difficult call.
This is a pretty good group–two players (Paajarvi and Hartikainen) who won’t get through waivers and are going to play in the NHL–probably for 200 or more NHL games (that’s kind of the bar for "NHL player" recognition). Fedun is a nice trailer, Teubert may or may not have a career, and the two AHL forwards (Arcobello and Cornet) have at least had a cup of coffee.
ENTRY LEVEL DEALS WITH ONE YEAR REMAINING
As with Hall and Ebs above, I don’t think there’s a good reason to include RNH and Justin Schultz in the conversation. This look into the minor league club is exactly that, and the lockout skew doesn’t move the conversation forward.
- C Anton Lander (60 NHL, 59 AHL). Spent 50% of the first two years in NA in the AHL. Lander is the poster child for what Detroit does NOT do with their prospects: put them in the NHL before they’re ready. Lander is back up in the big leagues again, it’ll be interesting to see if coach Ralph Krueger can find a role for him. The young Swede did impress earlier in the season on the ‘Nordic line’ with Paajarvi and Hartikainen.
- R Tyler Pitlick (0 NHL, 96 AHL). 100% of his entry level deal has been in the minors and that is unlikely to change. Pitlick has battled injury and ineffectiveness (he’s 8-20-28 in those 96 games) and at this point is trying to comeback from a major injury and re-establish himself as a prospect. Those who see him say he looks like a hockey player, but the results have been far from expectations.
- L Curtis Hamilton (0 NHL, 93 AHL). 100% of his entry level deal has been in the minors and like Pitlick injuries and poor play have been a part of his first two seasons. 93, 9-10-19 in his Barons career, there has been little sustain and no momentum that we can see.
- C Ryan Martindale (0 NHL, 48 AHL, 39 ECHL). Almost disappeared in the first year of his entry level deal, improved markedly in January and had a 3-3-6 in 6gp run during that month. After that, he’s had a hard time getting noticed.
- L Toni Rajala (0 NHL, 35 AHL, 29 ECHL). Although he’s a depth pick and undersized, Rajala has enjoyed the strongest season of the forwards with one year left on their entry level deals. 29, 18-20-38 in Stockton and 35, 11-22-33 in OKC, Rajala–at age 21–has emerged as a legit NHL prospect. He has lots of work to do–adding strength is a must–but with his speed and skill there’s great potential.
- R Cameron Abney (0 NHL, 18 AHL, 65 ECHL). It’s often difficult to know exactly what an organization is thinking about an enforcer prospect, but the ECHL games suggest the Oilers either don’t like him as a fighter or are concerned about his ability to play at the AHL level. Either way, it’s not going well.
- G Olivier Roy (0 NHL, 25 AHL, 49 ECHL). Roy has had an unusal year–average in the AHL (his .902 SP with OKC is a close second to Yann Danis’ .904) but has been outstanding in Stockton (.961 SP in 9 games) and looks to have some traction at the pro level. Probably the best goalie prospect in the system at this time.
One note on this group: I think at this point there’s a real chance Edmonton flushes most of these players, either this summer or next. Lander, Rajala and Roy appear to be the only players who have shown progress. We’ll spend plenty of time over the fall and winter 2013 looking at this group–it’s rare to see this much failure this soon, especially considering there are several 2nd round picks in the group.
ENTRY LEVEL DEALS WITH TWO YEARS REMAINING
Yakupov has two years remaining on his deal (after this season) but as with the players above will not be included in this look at OKC and minor league player progression.
- Martin Marincin (0 NHL, 60 AHL). Began the season like a house on fire (courtesy partner Justin Schultz), then struggled before settling in as a solid third pairing defender. This is where the Detroit template can really help prospect growth: if the Oilers just leave him alone for another two years he should develop a lot in the AHL. There’s no hurry–the club feels Oscar Klefbom is clearly ahead of him and there’s no need to have two rookies in the NHL lineup next season–and he’s showing well. Needs to learn the defensive side of the game, and Oklahoma City is a great place for him to do it.
- G Tyler Bunz: (0 NHL, 1 AHL, 37 ECHL): Has battled concussion problems and is not having a good season with Stockton (37gp, .886SP). I’m not about suggesting a guy in his first year pro can’t make it, but he’s going to have to hurry in year two in order to jump into the fight with Roy. The post-game summaries from teammates and coaches says nice things ("compete level is through the roof!") but the results need to be there.
- L Kristians Pelss: (0 NHL, 17 AHL, 13 ECHL): Chosen 181st overall in the 2010 entry draft, he has a real chance to pass some 2nd rounders as the next rugged winger to come out of the minor league system. Offense is the worry, but Pelss has some skill and a lot of energy. A player to watch next season.
- D Brandon Davidson (0 NHL, 16 AHL, 11 ECHL): Has overcome so much this season that each game is a reward in itself. Back in action after a tough start to the season, ripped up Stockton and is playing well in Okla City. He has earned his playing time and the future looks bright for Davidson. He has a long way to move up, but is left-handed and has a nice range of skills.
Marincin is the class of the group, but there is promise here. Injuries and the lockout impacted playing time and as new pro’s Stockton was home for a time (for all but Marincin), but there are some good arrows from the new group.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Oilers look set up front for years, and with Paajarvi and Hartikainen now needing waiver protection the list of home grown talents will increase. A guess at next year’s 14 opening night spots could have as many as 11 former Oiler draft (Hall, Nuge, Eberle, Yakupov, Gagner, Hemsky, Horcoff, Paajarvi, Hartikainen, Smyth, Lander) picks in the group.
Further down the road there looks to be a dry spot; on defense, that’s just a matter of kids like Oscar Klefbom, David Musil and others turning pro, but at forward there’s some signs of trouble and the goaltending is not strong.
I think the Oilers will draft a forward in the first round (Lazar a strong possibility) and could select a goaltender in round two at this year’s draft.
The minor league system has a clear need at these positions.
One final thing: as much as we may want to see the Oilers add at the deadline, there isn’t enough depth in the system. The only real area of depth is defense, and as I mentioned much of it has yet to arrive.
A trade at the deadline will have to involve NHL roster players, college or junior age prospects or future draft picks. The minor league system simply isn’t strong enough to support a selloff so early in the turn north from the rebuild.