The Edmonton Oilers are not going to be a playoff team this year, obviously. But it is equally apparent that the parent club has high hopes that the farm team in Oklahoma City can make a fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
About Last Night
Mark Arcobello scored two goals against Hamilton last night, giving the Barons a 2-1 victory. He now has 22 points in 11 games at the AHL level this season, even as the Oilers lean heavily on a converted left wing in the fourth line centre position and Sam Gagner pivots the first line. It’s an ugly miscarriage of justice for Arcobello, but it’s awfully nice for the Barons, who sit two points outside of a playoff position.
Anton Lander assisted on one of those goals and now has 45 points in 42 AHL games. Like Arcobello, he’s more deserving of NHL minutes than players currently on the Oilers’ roster, but like Arcobello he’s a vital part of the Barons’ attack. With Lander and Arcobello, Oklahoma City has a 1-2 attack down the middle that they haven’t had all season.
The Team Before
Up until the Arcobello demotion, there simply wasn’t any way that this Barons team should have been a playoff contender.
AHL teams play a pile of back-to-back games, and all too often play three games in three nights. With that kind of schedule, it’s important to have a reliable backup, and the Barons haven’t had one. Instead, the team has rotated through people like Tyler Bunz (0.904 SV% in the ECHL) and Chet Pickard (0.879 SV% in the ECHL) and Ty Rimmer (0.905 SV% in the CHL). The result has been an over reliance on Richard Bachman.
AHL teams benefit from veteran defencemen. The Barons have one, Denis Grebeshkov, and he’s a pale imitation of the player he once was, having fallen to the point that he isn’t an everyday defender even at the minor league level. Three of the team’s top four defenders for most of the year have been rookies (Oscar Klefbom, Martin Gernat and David Musil) and the other guys are second-year players. The top four of Klefbom, Taylor Fedun, Philip Larsen and Martin Marincin that looked so promising out of the gate didn’t last any length of time at all thanks to injuries and recalls.
There is also the problem of the forward group. Between the departure of Linus Omark and the arrival of Mark Arcobello the only consistent offensive threat was Anton Lander. Some players were injured, others were inconsistent, and it took two months for Roman Horak to find his way in Oklahoma (Nov-Jan: 17 points in 29 games; Feb-present: 17 points in 14 games).
The Team After
The blue line is still green and the goaltending is still very much a one-man show, but Oklahoma’s forwards have gone a long way toward making up the gap. With Lander playing with his regular linemates for much of the year (ECHL call-up Austin Fyten and top prospect Tyler Pitlick) and Arcobello centering a red-hot Horak and recently acquired veteran Steve Pinizzotto, the Barons have a power-vs.-power line and a second unit that can light up anybody. With a veteran third group (Ben Eager, Will Acton, Matt Ford) and a fourth unit that brings a little bit of everything (Curtis Hamilton, C.J. Stretch, Jack Combs) suddenly the position is a major strength for the Barons.
The team is 10-2-2 since the demotion of Arcobello, and now within two points of a playoff position, despite rivals who keep winning and a horrendous inability to win shootouts (the Barons are 1-7 in those situations).
That has to be why Arcobello and Lander and Pitlick and Fedun continue to get time in the minors. The Oilers have no spare healthy bodies on the team, and despite recent wins (hello there, Ben Scrivens) haven’t played particularly well of late. More than that, the team needs to know whether Lander and Pitlick are going to be risked on waivers next season or brought up to the majors, and now’s the time to find out.
But Todd Nelson’s team is red-hot, and the Oilers believe there’s great value in having their prospects participate in long playoff runs (as they have the last two seasons). So the status quo remains.