The Oklahoma City Barons have seen two college defenders debut and then make quick work of the minors before establishing themselves as NHL options. Once they arrive in the NHL, a lack of physical play becomes an issue. Why? And if this is an issue, why are the Oilers procuring these players? Further, what does it tell us about Dillon Simpson and his future in the organization?
TODD NELSON’S BARONS BLUE
Todd Nelson did a very nice job in Oklahoma City. One area of success for him was getting college defensemen straightened away with the pro game and on their way to the NHL:
- Jeff Petry 2010-11 (41gp, 7-17-24 before NHL)
- Justin Schultz 2012-13 (34gp, 18-30-48 before NHL)
Both defenders were (at the time) considered to be puck-moving types and the classic ‘modern’ player who could move the puck quickly. Both arrived in the NHL and became regulars but as time rolled along both were exposed as being soft, or non-aggressive players who were unable to handle the tough business of winning battles in the world’s best league.
One of the areas of ‘disconnect’ between scouting and the development side appears to be the drafting/procurement of college men who can move the puck. This is followed by dissatisfaction from NHL management when these players are defensively insufficient and physically passive.
I’ve long felt the Oilers should avoid college defensemen (this problem goes back to Tom Poti) because it isn’t their preferred player type. Perhaps the forensics will solve this problem and allow Edmonton to move their scouting staff to places where their player-types roam the earth (CHL) freely.
Dillon Simpson is NOT a direct comparable to Schultz and Petry, partly because his offense doesn’t project to be a major part of his pro game. Simpson did get plenty of power-play time at UND but should never be considered an offensive defender. As an OKC Baron the offense is slowly coming but it’s a process as reflected by his month by month scoring since fall:
- October 2014: 6gp, 1-0-1
- November 2014: 12gp, 1-0-1
- December 2014: 11gp, 0-6-6
Simpson’s numbers so far this year (29gp, 2-6-8) pale compared
to Petry in December 2010 (32gp, 7-14-21) and Justin Schultz in December
2012 (31gp, 17-28-45)—he’s not going to be batting in the same part of
the order as these men.
It’s reasonable to assume Simpson
will never be a power play factor—hell, Jeff Petry has 13
power-play points in his NHL career, and three of those came in his
rookie season. Even very good puck-moving defenders don’t spend a great
deal of time on an NHL power play.
If he’s going to make the NHL, Simpson will do it by playing defense and moving the puck effectively. He’ll also block a lot of shots (legendary at UND for it) and generally play an intelligent game. Bruce McCurdy summed up his game (good and bad) very well in the spring:
from April 2014: Overall I found myself more impressed with Simpson’s
game than with his physical skills. His innate understanding of where to
find the “good ice”, to recognize and execute the simple play, and to
read opposition threats all scored high. The defender prides himself on
his ability to stay out of the penalty box, having taken just 48 penalty
minutes in his four years at UND. Still, there’s a lack of physical
bite to his game which is bound to alienate a portion of the fanbase
should he make it as far as the NHL.”
The lack of physical play may be an alarm bell for Oilers’ brass and it is most certainly an issue for Simpson, but the strong positional play is a major positive. Simpson’s progress could be aided by paying attention to the current issues facing fellow Baron Martin Marincin. The lanky defender impressed a year ago, struggled this season and has been banished to the minors for an extended period. Earlier in the week, Craig MacTavish answered a question from Jim Matheson of the EJ (my thanks to Woodguy for transcribing) in regard to Martin Marincin and his standing in the organization:
MacT: “Well, I think that for me it was the free agent signings, Nikita
Nikitin and Mark Fayne and the emergence of Oscar….has seemingly added
to the depth, I mean it it hasn’t shown in a performance standpoint so you have to be careful and temper that statement.”
More MacT: “There are certain things that Marty Marincin is very capable of doing
and has done at a high level here, but there are also elements to his
game that he’s going to have to improve upon and I just didn’t get enough satisfaction that those deficiencies were being addressed well enough here.”
More More MacT: “Now he’s down in the American league and he’s playing
much better and you see the assertiveness coming in his game.He has to
be more assertive and he has to battle and recognize that there are
certain battles which are much more critical than other battles and you
have to fight those critical battle with an intensity that we didn’t
always see in Marty’s game.”
Final MacT: “When he has the puck and he’s facing up ice and he has time he’s as
good a defenceman as we have. But when he’s going back and retrieving
pucks and fighting critical battles in behind the goal line he was
deficient in those areas and those are the things we have instructed him
through our development program to work and improve upon.”
Final Final MacT: “Its amazing the motivation impact that failure does have.He’s gone
down there and when I watch him play he’s stepping the puck up.We’re in
an era now where the open ice is generally in front of your defence so
you’ve got to skate into the open ice and you have to skate there
aggressively and that’s what Marty’s working on.”
Now we can disagree with MacT on the player but it’s a fascinating view into what the organization is thinking, and instructive when it comes to evaluating a player like Simpson. As McCurdy says above, there’s a lack of physical play in Simpson’s game which he makes up for in positioning.
Is that enough? Do the Oilers value that player enough to employ him as an NHL player? And if they don’t why in God’s name do they keep drafting them?