The OKC Barons sit in 7th place in the western conference at 6-4-4.I caught up with head coach Todd Nelson on Monday to get an update from the farm.
As always Nelson gave a solid rundown of many prospects in the system. My thoughts are in italics.
start with [Steven] Pinizzotto. How has he been playing for you?
Nelson: He’s been playing well. He’s been doing a good
job defensively; he’s been playing a pretty abrasive style out there. He’s also
chipping in a few points. So I’m happy with the way that he’s been playing.
He came down here with a good attitude, just trying to get
that shot to go back up and he’s up there now. So it’s up to him to go up there
and play well.
Gregor: Anton Lander’s
offensive numbers are decent again, with 13 points in 13 games. How is his overall
Nelson: He’s leading our team in scoring right now, and he’s
been playing very well. Last game he had two goals and one assist and he’s been
playing very consistent. When he first got here he wasn’t finding the back of
the net in the first four games, but since then [he’s] putting up good numbers
and playing very well at both ends.
Gregor: We’ve seen
him put up really good numbers down for you in the American League, but when
during his NHL stints he hasn’t be able to produce. He has told me he needs to find
a way to be more consistent at the NHL.
Is he doing things
differently, so if he does get recalled he will be able to be more effective in
Nelson: Well I think right now he’s just playing even more
confident than he was last year. He’s moving his feet a lot better. That’s
something that he really wants to work on. If he goes up to the National Hockey
League he can pull away from guys in the neutral zone and basically not let the
play die with him. So he’s gotten better at that.
As I mentioned, the
confidence is through the roof right now because he’s just playing solid, he’s
making other players try to take the puck off of him where maybe in previous
years he was looking to get rid of it right away. So you know that’s something
that’s a bit new to his game and he’s a bit more complete than he ever has been
so. If he ever does get the call in the future, I think that everybody hopes
that it does translate up to the National League.
***I would still like to see Lander in Edmonton this year. The way Draisaitl has played recently I think it is very likely we could see him loaned to Germany for the WJC early in December and Lander could get a look in Edmonton.***
Gregor: Is it just a
case of him just developing? As a coach you can only work with players so much,
ultimately a lot of it comes down to their willingness to put in the extra
work. You can never make them move their feet; you can tell them to move their
feet, but ultimately it’s up to them to put in the work. Is Lander one of those
guys who is just finally developing to the level he was expected to reach?
Nelson: I think so. I’ve seen Anton grown every year that
we’ve had him but like you’re right, it’s up to the player to take ownership in
it and Anton has. You can see him doing the extra work after practise trying to
get quicker and it’s not just a onetime thing, he does it daily and it’s just
starting to show on the ice.
Yeah I think that he’s a lot further ahead than he was,
maybe even last year at the start of the year. So he’s just playing [great]
hockey for us.
Gregor: Which other
players, offensively or defensively, are standing out with their play?
Nelson: Well there’s a few guys. We played against some
pretty heavy teams, and our so called skilled guys, that we look to contribute,
haven’t really been finding the back of the net so other guys have stepped up.
Kale Kessey has really turned a corner. He’s playing great hockey for us right
now. He’s playing both ends very well. Another guy that falls into that
category is Curtis Hamilton. We’re seeing his best hockey, well the best hockey
I’ve ever seen him play. And guys like [Tyler] Pitlick and a lot of the role
players are playing very strong right now.
I think that we expect certain offensive numbers from guys
like Jason Williams or Andrew Miller and those guys are chipping in. But I just
feel that the guys on the third line, who are heavier hockey players, they do a
lot better against other teams that are big and strong. Those guys are really
playing well and helping us get through the stretch.
***I always appreciate Nelson’s honesty. He admits his smaller players have struggled against bigger teams. That isn’t ripping them, it just saying what he sees. It also sounds very similar to what we have seen in Edmonton for many years.**
Gregor: How much of that
comes down to the willingness to want to play against the heavier teams. We’ve
seen smaller guys can succeed, you can’t have your whole team full of small
players of course, but you can have the odd smaller guy. How much of that
success comes down to just the sheer desire of the player?
Nelson: A lot of it. Every player motivates themselves
differently and every player has to get up for those games and find a way to
succeed and survive. Our guys, as a group, have bene playing pretty gritting
and playing relentless and that’s what I like out of this team right now. It is
tough playing against the other teams that are maybe a bit stronger and bigger,
but our guys have been finding a way. Those guys have to be willing to compete
Gregor: Do you have
one on one conversations with those players when you see that their battle
level is not at the level it [should be], or do you require veterans or leaders
in the room to challenge their teammates to augment their battle level?
Nelson: Well I think that it falls on me. I have to call a
guy in, which we do. If I see a player not competing hard enough, we call him
in, we have a discussion. By no means is it a brow beating, it’s a discussion
to say ‘we see that you’re not battling hard enough and you just have to raise
your compete level because you’ve shown us that before and you have to be
consistent with it.’ And as long as the player understands where I’m coming
from, then we’re all set.
The biggest mistake you can make is just have mixed signals
where a player thinks he’s battling hard enough, and he isn’t. So you’ve got to
keep your eye on it as coach. It’s constant. It’s one player one day and then
the next day it’s another player, but you have to have those conversations. It
also shows the player that as a coach you care, and you have trust in them.
So I feel that falls on the head coach, but also you want
internal pressure from their teammates as well. Whatever player it is, his line
mates or teammates will hold each other accountable and that’s a testament to
the character that we have in our room because we have some pretty good
character in there.
Gregor: Talk about
Bogdan Yakimov. How is his overall game right now, what do you like, what are
the areas he needs to work on?
Nelson: Well Bogdan is going through a time where he came
back off of injury and maybe he came back a little too early, and he’s
struggling through that. We see this happen with a lot of first year players
and Bogdan is no exception. Other guys that fall into that category are [Jujhar]
Khaira and Mitch Moroz. So the thing is that these are first year players and
they’re going through a bit of an adjustment period and they have to learn.
Bogdan, the way that he practiced today, I liked the way
that he practiced. He was more intense, he was moving his feet. I think that
that is the biggest thing, just getting his feet moving. He’s a big body, he’s
strong in the corners so we have to work on the quickness and so that’s an everyday
process. And if we get him up to speed, he’ll be a much more dominant player
because right now when he’s skating through the neutral zone and he’s trying to
pull away from guys, guys are right there with him or maybe they might catch up
to him and strip him of the puck. So that’s all something that he has to learn.
He has to get better at it physically, but also mentally. I think you have to
will yourself to skate harder in those areas and it comes down to just willing
yourself to move your feet.
Gregor: I love that
response Todd; sometimes it is simply sheer effort from the players. Jujhar
Khaira and Mitch Moroz, two other first year rookies you said were going
through the struggles of turning pro. Is it the pace of the game, is it the
physical aspect of the game, is it the thinking of the game, where are they
Nelson: It’s not so much that the physical part because all
three guys are big men, so they’re definitely strong enough. It’s just a matter
of the quickness; the quickness or the pace where things happen quicker. He has
to stop and start, he has to explode out of those stops, get up to speed
quicker. It’s just a higher pace. It takes time for players to adjust to that.
WE try to mimic that in practice but practicing at a high rate of speed. But
nothing compares to a game, especially if we’re playing against a pretty fast
team, like we’re playing against San Antonio tomorrow. SO that’s something that
the guys really have to work on and it’s pretty much just the pace of play.
***Many first year pros struggle, and as Nelson stated it is up to
them to move their feet and work harder. Much of their development
depends on their willingness to put in the work to improve, and as long
as Nelson keeps encouraging them and telling them what they need to do
then he is doing his job. Realistically if one of those three become a
regular top-nine NHLer the Oilers will be very happy.***
Gregor: Todd, I want
to go back to Curtis Hamilton who you mentioned is playing the best hockey
you’ve ever seen. Health probably has something to do with that I would think,
but also a player who maybe realizes that his time in the organization hangs in
the balance, he’s really got to make a statement this year.
Nelson: I think you’re right. He knows that. He knows that
he got another kick at the can and we saw the growth out of his all four years
but this year you see him take it a step even a bit further. I think his first
couple of years he was trying to make plays off of his back foot, he wasn’t
really engaging, going into the corners or with his physical play. But this
year he’s playing with a lot of confidence.
He leaned out, he got in great shape over the summer which I
think is helping because his speed has increased. He’s just playing with a lot
of confidence and he’s playing on an edge. He’s a player that expected him
maybe a year and a half ago but the thing is that players do go through a
growth period and everybody is different and as you mentioned, he is healthy.
Hopefully he stays healthy because we want to see a full season out of him and
what he’s capable of doing. He scored a big goal for us the other night and
he’s getting involved physically so that’s always good news for us.
**Hamilton needs to have a good season, and most importantly he needs to stay healthy. Maybe he is a late bloomer, or maybe he will never be an NHL player, but if he can stay healthy we will have a better sense of what caliber of player he is.**
Gregor: There are
only three players on your team, due to injuries and recalls, who have played
all thirteen games. Anton Lander is one, he has a point in every game, while
rookies Jordan Oesterle and Dillon Simpson are the others. Those, guys have
both played all of the games on the back end. How have they looked?
Nelson: They’ve been pretty good. They started off
outstanding. Lately they’ve been both… I guess taking on a bit of water here
lately. So both guys are once again learning.
They’ve been playing together, they were playing well. The
last three games have kind of been a struggle for them so we’re probably going
to split them up and give them a fresh start with some other partners. But I’m
happy with the progression and there’s always peaks and valleys over the course
of a season and I think right now Dillon and Jordan are going through just a
bit of a struggle. That’s normal, we just want to see how they can react after face
adversity and overcome it.
Gregor: Oscar Klefbom
back with your team. How do you plan on using him, is he a guy that you look
for twenty five minutes a night?
Nelson: Well yeah, definitely. He’s a guy that can log at
least that and he’s very strong. He kills the cycle and he’s a horse. He wants
to play a lot and we’re definitely going to have him play quite a few minutes.
When he’s down here, he’s a very big part of our defensive core. I’ll put it to
you this way, if we’re not playing him at least twenty minutes then as coaches we’re
not doing our job.
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