For me, the best thing to come out of Oklahoma (in my lifetime) is Leon Russell. Russell aside, the Oklahoma City Barons rank second on the list of good things out of the Sooner State.
Alberta and Oklahoma have a lot in common. Both count oil, gas, agriculture and technology as central to the economy. The population of Alberta (3.65M according to 2011 Census) compares to Oklahoma (3.8M, 2012 estimate) and they became province (1905) and state (1907) at about the same time. Oklahoma City and Edmonton are about the same size in terms of population.
Here’s something I didn’t know in 2010 when the Oilers settled on OK City as their farm team: Oklahoma has rabid hockey fans, and they love their Barons. The club boasts a beautiful arena, a world class play by play man in Jim Byers and a color commentator (Doug Sauter) from our neck of the woods who has found a home in Oklahoma.
IT’S ALL ABOUT DEVELOPMENT
For many Oiler fans, the Barons were an early-season Godsend: with the NHL locked out, the Barons offered an opportunity to watch the top end (Hall, Ebs, Nuge, Schultz the younger) and the trending prospects (Lander, Hartikainen, Paajarvi) down on the farm.
When the lockout ended, attention turned to the NHL team, but the final Oiler regular season game allowed followers to once again look south and enjoy a rebuilt Barons club during a strong finish to the regular season and a deep ride into the playoffs (which ended this week).
Most important, the development of young prospects on the farm reached its peak during the AHL playoffs, as reflected by the sheer number of prospected who played regularly and impacted the post-season:
Of the 18 regulars listed here, I count 9 (Arcobello, Rajala, Hartikainen, Cornet, Lander, Marincin, Fedun, Pitlick, Davidson) as legit prospects. A year ago, the prospects who played regular shifts for the Barons during the post-season run counted only 6, with only Paajarvi and Hartikainen playing feature roles.
A brilliant article by Michael Baldwin in the Oklahoman (here) breaks down the roster and where they may be headed this fall. He projects Hartikainen, Lander and Ben Eager onto the NHL roster next season and has several other interesting items in the piece.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
History tells us that very few of the 9 players who helped the Barons into the final 4 this spring will have NHL careers that count beyond 200 games. If we guess two (I’ll say Marincin and Hartikainen) we’re probably either correct or wrong by one either way; however, for this moment in time–and after some severe struggles for some of these prospects–the sun is shining.
Thanks OKC. For the support, for the memories and for the future Oilers who learned their trade in your city. See you in the fall when it starts all over again! (OKC photos by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved)