What is happening on the Oilers’ farm team? Which players are legitimate call-up options? Which prospects are improving their stock and which ones are falling off the map?
With Edmonton’s playoff ambitions dead for months, the focus of fans naturally turns to the future and a good chunk of that future can be found in the American Hockey League.
This is my best guess at what a stable, healthy Oklahoma depth chart would look like. There are a few caveats – we haven’t seen a stable, healthy depth chart, we aren’t going to see a stable healthy depth chart and head coach Todd Nelson has made a point of finding time for Ewanyk and Kessy – so this should only be seen as an approximation. The guys on NHL contracts are in white, AHL-only deals in orange.
At left wing, Pinizzotto and Combs seem out of place but there are mitigating factors. Pinizzotto has a long record as a gritty, two-way guy but has struggled with injury and was buried in the San Antonio lineup. Combs was nearly a point-per-game player in the AHL during a call-up last season, but this year fell out of favour and had just two helpers through 19 games with San Antonio (I mentioned this to him on Sunday and asked him where he was playing in the lineup; he grinned and said ‘mostly in the stands’). Both guys have been really good early, with Combs picking up two points on Sunday and Pinizzotto being robbed twice on Saturday. I’d expect Pinizzotto plays in the NHL at some point this season (fourth line/penalty kill) and Combs should provide OKC with some needed scoring.
Curtis Hamilton has played much better of late but is on the shelf with (yet another) injury. He’s a pending restricted free agent and there is at least some chance the Oilers opt to cut bait. I was surprised Eager’s point totals were so low – he’s looked pretty good in depth minutes – and MacIntyre hasn’t been getting a lot of play as the Barons fight to get back in the playoff race.
At centre, there aren’t enough good things to say about Lander. He’s been a dominant pivot for Oklahoma, running the power play and the penalty kill and taking top-line minutes at evens, too. He’s been playing a safe game in the NHL (and he’s good at playing a safe game) but he needs to show the other things he does well. Horak has spent quite a bit of time at left wing and brings a skill-set similar but also inferior to Lander’s; he’s a decent NHL prospect and a plausible injury fill-in at this point.
Watching Acton play at the AHL level, it’s easy to see why the Oilers wanted to try him in the majors; he’s an extremely effective defensive forward. Ewanyk’s a rookie pro and years away from the NHL but he fights and he hits and he kills penalties. Stretch is a really nice fit as an AHL pro because he can be subbed in on any line at centre or at right wing; if they need scoring he can play there and if there’s no room he can be bumped down the lineup. He’s a better player today than a lot of the guys with NHL contracts.
On right wing, there isn’t a lot of separation but that’s misleading. The AHL’er, Ford, might be the best of the bunch here. He hasn’t been getting tons of minutes but he has generated points and he plays a greasy and defensively responsible game; like Stretch he can sub-in wherever. If it isn’t Ford it’s Hamilton, who plays a punishing physical game and still finds points while mostly playing on a defensive line. Miller is the purest offensive talent on the list, small and fast and with good vision. Kessy is in a similar boat to Ewanyk and plays with Ewanyk on the penalty kill; his gifts are primarily related to physical play but Nelson is trying to round him into a guy who does defensive things right and there are encouraging signs.
Pitlick is the most interesting guy on the list. At the AHL level he doesn’t especially stand out from the other right wings because while he’s big and fast and has a range of skills he isn’t as physical as Hamilton or as defensively responsible as Hamilton or Ford or as offensively talented as Miller. He’s actually looked better at the NHL level, which I suspect has a lot to do with having major-league speed – a more important attribute in the majors than the minors.
Defence & Goaltending
Fedun is the best player on this list today. He’s a little undersized but the has smarts and vision, makes crisp passes both out of his own end and from the point in the offensive zone and most importantly plays a responsible game in the defensive end of the rink. He’s a complete player, and he’s not likely to get any better in the AHL; the Oilers ought to give him a shot in the majors because the only question now is whether he can make the leap to NHL speed and there’s only one way to find out.
Klefbom’s physical tools make him the blue-chip prospect in this group. He’s a guy who looks like he should put up points but somehow never does, but he’s big and he’s fast and he’s poised with the puck. That’s a pretty great package for any defenceman because it means he can both break up the cycle in his own end and competently move the puck out after. Too many big defencemen treat the puck like a grenade, and too many puck-moving defencemen lack the ability to play a physical game; Klefbom marries the two skill-sets. He’s still raw, but he’s a credible call-up right now and if he keeps progressing in how he thinks the game he will without question be an NHL’er.
Hunt’s probably the number three man on the depth chart. He has a wicked shot and is a puck-rusher, but he’s extremely small and (at least when playing his off-side) not exactly bullet-proof defensively. Grebeshkov is likely fourth on the organizational recall list right now, after Hunt; he’s a player I’ve always liked but he’s also a greatly diminished version of the defender who was an effective Oiler a few years back.
Behind that quartet is a pair of rookie professionals. Gernat has impressed with his speed and offensive game, but (much like Martin Marincin a year ago) needs to pack on a bunch of weight and get tighter in the defensive zone. Musil was written off in some quarters before he ever played a professional game, but he’s made a pretty smooth transition – he isn’t fast but he’s big and solid and sometimes that’s what a team wants in front of the net. Both guys are on track, but both would be poor call-up choices this year.
Davidson was in the call-up conversation early in the year but has had a difficult campaign; if his contract ran out this year he would be in jeopardy but with one more season on his entry-level deal he has at least a little time to correct.
In net, Bachman is number three on the depth chart with a bullet (he recently played three games in three night for the Barons) and Pickard is only nominally his backup; if injuries hit Brossoit would be promoted from the ECHL. The numbers on the chart above are all AHL, so it’s important not to read too much into them for the non-Bachman goalies; at the ECHL level all have played ten games and Brossoit has a 0.934 save percentage, Bunz a 0.898 save percentage and Pickard a 0.881 save percentage.
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