For many years, the Edmonton Oilers did not have an AHL affiliate under their exclusive control. The team started to correct that in the late 2000’s with the Springfield Falcons, a team that was uniformly terrible under their watch. Since then, the Oilers have moved on to the Oklahoma City Barons, a much more successful team on the ice.
But winning is only part of the equation for an AHL team; the more important task is developing NHL players. Looking back five seasons, how did the Falcons do in that regard?
The Oilers affiliation with the Falcons started in 2007-08, so the 2008-09 team we’re considering here was only in its second year of operation. The head coaches of that team (Jeff Truitt for 50 games, then Rob Daum) are long gone but assistant coach Gerry Fleming is still part of the team of the organization as Todd Nelson’s top assistant in Oklahoma.
We’ll start with the prospect forwards today (min. 25 games played; maximum 25 years of age as of February 1) and look at both their 2008-09 season and what happened after.
- Ryan Potulny (24 y.o., 70GP, 62 points). Potulny was Springfield’s leading scorer by a 20-point margin, and in posting 38 goals he scored 25 more than the next best player on the team. He’d play in eight games in 2008-09 before making the jump the next year. Playing for a terrible Oilers team in 2009-10 he scored 15 goals and 32 points, but he’s played all of 10 games since leaving as a free agent.
- Rob Schremp (22 y.o., 69GP, 42 points). The American Linus Omark had a disappointing AHL season after scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace the year before. He got four games in call-ups and posted three assists, prompting all kinds of fan rage at Craig MacTavish for not using him more (he wasn’t as good as his point totals indicated). He’d get claimed by the Islanders after being sent down out of camp in 2009-10 and play 100-odd games before moving off to Europe.
- Ryan Stone (23 y.o, 39GP, 28 points). The Oilers acquired the big, physical Stone midseason in the Mathieu Garon trade, and like Potulny he would graduate to that awful 2009-10 Edmonton team. His point totals were lousy but he was actually pretty good over 27 contests but had two significant knee injuries. He left as a free agent the next year and was never the same player.
- Slava Trukhno (21 y.o., 56GP, 26 points). A 2005 fourth round pick, Trukhno scored brilliantly in the QMJHL (critics will note the aid of Claude Giroux in 2006-07, but he did it all by himself in 2005-06). The scoring never translated to the pro game and he went away.
- Gilbert Brule (22 y.o., 39GP, 24 points). After Columbus gave up on the 2005 No. 6 pick, Edmonton took him on and gave him most of a year in the minors to find his offensive game (he had 11 games as a callup as well). He joined Potulny and Stone on the 2009-10 Oilers and had great chemistry with Dustin Penner, but his play fell off in following years. Phoenix grabbed him on waivers but he didn’t deliver much and seems to be done with hockey.
- Colin McDonald (24 y.o., 77GP, 22 points). The big winger had a lot going for him, but for the longest time through the AHL and college couldn’t score to save his life. He got a two-game recall in 2009-10 but in 2010-11 scored 42 goals for Todd Nelson’s Barons (though he never got an NHL shot despite that). He left the organization, had parts of two more good offensive seasons in the minors, and has spent the last two years as a full-time NHL’er with the Islanders. There turned out to be a player there after all, but the Oilers didn’t get value from him.
- Tyler Spurgeon (22 y.o., 73 GP, 20 points). Not much to see here. Spurgeon was a late pick (242nd overall in 2004; the draft ends at 210 these days) and 2008-09 was both his first and his last full AHL season. Injuries played a big part in it, and he’s had a nice career in Austria.
- Bryan Lerg (23 y.o, 42GP, 17 points). An undrafted college free agent, Lerg had a reputation as a two-way forward but struggled badly in Springfield. He’s gone on to be a pretty good AHL player in first the Pittsburgh and later Colorado organizations.
- Ryan O’Marra (21 y.o., 62GP, 10 points). The 2005 first round pick had come to Edmonton in the Ryan Smyth deal, but he split 2007-08 between the AHL and ECHL and in 2008-09 scored just one goal in a full year at the AHL level. Remarkably, his defensive chops were enough to get him games with both the Oilers and the Ducks before he headed overseas to play in Italy.
- Geoff Paukovich (22 y.o., 46GP, nine points). Part of the Oilers’ “Coke Machine” drafting era, Paukovich was big and mean but didn’t have enough game to stick at a high level. The 2004 second round pick would play just one more year in the AHL before being relegated to the East Coast league.
- Tim Sestito (24 y.o., 51GP, eight points). How many 5’11” forwards who can’t score a lick in the AHL at age 24 end up being NHL players? One at least. Sestito got a one-game recall from the Oilers in 2008-09, but was dealt to New Jersey for a bag of pucks in the summer. He’s still with the Devils organization (he played 16 games this year) and has a grand total of six assists in 86 career NHL games.
The Falcons didn’t have anyone truly remarkable here, but they did churn out some useful depth players. The table below shows how many NHL games played each guy would go on to play after the 2008-09 season; players with an asterisk have a reasonable chance of adding to their totals.
Brule is probably the best of the lot because he had one impressive NHL season in a top-nine role; Steve Tambellini rewarded him with $3.7 million dollars over two years and he didn’t come close to delivering on it but in 2009-10 he was major value for $800,000. Others who were briefly mistaken for difference makers include Schremp and Potulny, but both had enough flaws not to stick long-term.
If anyone is going to unseat Brule in terms of games played, it’ll probably be Colin McDonald. McDonald’s a fourth-line player and he’ll be 30 next season, so he might not make it, but he’s big, strong, good defensively and under Todd Nelson he figured out how to score enough to make the grade. It’s a little funny that the terrible Oilers teams of the last few years never found a spot for him when he might end up having the longest career of the prospects on that 2008-09 team.
There’s not much to say about the others. Stone ran into injury, and O’Marra battled it before coming to Edmonton. I’m still astonished that Sestito has played the equivalent of more than one full NHL season since leaving Edmonton.
Tomorrow we’ll add in defencemen and goalies.