FORENSICS: BLUE

simpson ferguson 1415 one

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.

I digress. 

simpson ferguson 1415

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. 

simpson ferguson 1415

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:

  • Bruce McCurdy
    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?

  • geeker99

    Lt respect your opinion as always. But after watching Justin so much I believe his high water mark is the AHL. I am starting to believe that he got away with it in the AHL and NCAA but in the NHL to be a good on the PP you require a good slap shot. Justin has a muffin of s wrist shot and no slap shot. Even his wrist shot takes to long to get off and he gets in blocked way to often. If Dillion has a slap shot he maybe a better option with a little bit of time and he will surpass Justin as a better PP option. I firmly believe that Jeff is our best PP player but our trusted management team will not let this happen. JMHO

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    I did see Marincin do some alarming things when he was up with the Oilers but I also saw some good things. Hunt is killing him on the offensive side of the game down in OKC which also isn’t good news but I’m not sure if he will ever bring offense.

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    Seems like for every 1st rounder we bring in, another good prospect falls off a cliff out the back door and diminishes in value. Ganger, Lander, MPS, Yakupov and Justin Schultz.

  • Serious Gord

    I think the number one reason he was drafted by the oil was because his dad is an old boy.

    Probably will never turn a wheel in the NHL for any team besides the oil.

    Zip offense in AHL. No physical presence. No outstanding physical attributes. A smart player who blocks shots and very little else. Another wasted pick made for non-hockey reasons. A perfect example of why the management of this team has to be removed before it will progress to become a top flight team.

    • Reg Dunlop

      What a pathetic comment. Did you Gord spend hours of your time scouting young Simpson or do you make this off the cuff comment based on your hatred of the management? Sometimes you have valid comments but ripping a 20 year old prospect regardless of his lineage is way below the belt.

      • SSB1963

        Too many of us arm chair GM’s think we could do a better job, when in reality we couldn’t put together a Peewee hockey team. Just a frustration of watch this slow rebuild happen.

      • Serious Gord

        No I didn’t spend hours scouting him nor do i think the management spent much time listening to the scouts – he was the son of an old boy. Enough said. And clearly the body of evidence supports my side much better than it does yours.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      Wasted pick? What round was he picked in again?

      Playing his first pro season in OKC and finding his place, has 6 points in his last 11. Best stat is he is contributing dman playing mostly every night on a team thats been almost lights out. Sounds like he has huge arrows. I think he was a good pick, lets wait another 2 years for him to develop in the AHL

      I think your assessment could be for Musil.

      • Serious Gord

        any pick, regardless of where it is made should be done based on hockey – not nepotistic/FOKK reasons.

        Diamonds can turn up at any level of the draft.

        Disregarding the quest to find the best to be nice to an old buy is a very very big reason why the oil is on the cusp of becoming the worst perennially bad team in league history.

        • pkam

          Not sure how you can tell that Simpson is picked base on nepotistic/FOKK reasons instead of done based on hockey? Any proof?

          I guess there must be many picks after him in that year that pan out much better than him already, right? Since there are 29 other NHL teams, I will agree with your assessment if there are more than a dozen of those picks, fair enough?

      • Zarny

        You are correct that you can’t say it was a wasted pick until/if Simpson doesn’t make it. I do think you can say it was a bad pick.

        Simpson was drafted 92nd overall; first pick of the 4th round. He was ranked 157th by Central Scouting for NA skaters. Including goalies and international players he was probably ranked closer to 190th overall. By the rankings he was a bubble player to even be drafted at all.

        Musil was ranked 38th by CS for NA skaters and 41st overall by TSN; the Oilers drafted him 31st. I agree with the sentiment that it was a bad pick because Rattie, Jenner, Jurco and Saad were still all on the board and universally ranked as 1st round players.

        Perhaps the Oilers really wanted another D after getting Klefbom at 19 and perhaps there was some nepotism involved too; Musil at 31 though isn’t even close to the stretch Simpson at 92 is. That was a bad pick.

  • JSR

    Mac t is as stupid as the man who hired him. If Marty M’s defensive Intensity
    Was not critical, what does that make Shultz d-zone coverage? Player evaluation is brutal on this team.

  • Oilers21

    What I don’t get is the double standard regarding player development. Why is Marincin relegated to the AHL because he needs to work on his game (which makes complete sense) when other players get to stay in the NHL despite the fact THEY clearly need to work on their game. I don’t get it

    • Reg Dunlop

      The word ‘generational’ gets tossed around a bit here. Has anyone been overwhelmed by the world jr. performances of the 1A and 1B picks so far? Hanifan seems like just as good of a bet to me. I definitely don’t see the next Gretz or Lemieux out there. Not even the next Tavares.

  • camdog

    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.”

    Wow an Oiler GM stating something Oiler fans have been saying for 10 years. It’s amazing what happens when a player gains confidence in his game, simply amazing!

  • camdog

    I still remember years ago when Kevin Lowe said that the Oilers were going to follow the Red Wings model. It was an outfight lie (or they didn’t understand it), the Oilers never followed their model.Sort of shocking that it took this long for this management regime to understand why the Detroit Red Wings do things the way they do. For what it’s worth Draistle would never have started the season as a Red Wing, he would have been sent back to junior to learn his craft.

  • Zarny

    The Oilers continue to draft players,then completely change the way they play,and call them busts,tossing them in the garbage,if they can’t change their game in its entirety.Smid was not a physical defensemen.he was team Captain for his country at the junior tournament,and was regarded as a puck mover.then he shows up in Edmonton and MacTavish tried to turn him into jason smith.so Smid changed his game,but it wasn’t enough,and Mac T still hated him,and traded him as soon as possible.now here we are talking about how the Oilers need a physical D Man…?

    This management group is chasing their tails,and going in circles,and all they do is critique the players they brought in,for not doing enough to win.could you imagine what the Oilers would’ve done with Nick Lidstrom?he never played physical,and rarely had a bone crushing hit.Nick never won a Norris until the age of 30,and the Oilers would’ve traded him long before that,for pennies on the dollar.

    Managements player evaluation process cannot be trusted,and that proof is in the pudding.gawd I can’t stand this group,and will sour on Katz too,if this circus is still around next year.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      I sort of agree that we try and turn players into something theyre not but smid is a bad example. Hes no puck mover and it was apparent from day 1. He was our only physical presence on the backend for a while.

      I do think we’re messing with our players the way tortorella messed with the sedins. Wanting them to be shot blocking defensive players. Use their strengths and quit trying to change them.

    • SSB1963

      Offensive defenceman? Lol he couldn’t make a breakout pass to save his soul. What he did bring though was an honest hard working game that we are sorely missing.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Im still gonna give schultz his 300 games before i decide he sucks.

    His offensive instincts can be amazing. Just figure out how to defend a little and he can be a top 4 d-man.

  • Harry2

    Why has no writer on this site mentioned anything about the fact that the Barons will not be in OKC next season and the franchise as of now has no home for next year?

  • Sammy p

    Can someone tell me why teams like Calgary with Sean Monahan and Colorado with Nathan McKinnon can transition their first round picks from junior to legitimate NHLers instantly while the Oilers have to “condition” theirs by sending them back to jr.or extended seasoning periods in the AHL ?

    Is our scouting really that bad?

    On the flip side when the picks are brought up directly the hue and cry goes up too much,too soon ,ruining their chances to develop i.e. Gagner, Yakapov,Draisaitle, so then ,which method is correct?

    • Zarny

      Wow well if you want to play the pick and choose game game, tell me how well sam reinhart played for the Flames this year ? Seems Hall and Nugent Hopkins came here was were instant NHLers but yeah only the flames because of Monahan can transition their picks instantly

  • Zarny

    Perhaps part of the problem is the Oilers “preferred player type” hasn’t changed in like 30 years.

    NCAA has always been known as a less physical and more open style of hockey. I think you can argue college players have never been more suited for the NHL.

    I think the issue is more about intensity than physical play. Nic Lidstrom and Scott Neidermeyer weren’t particularly physical; they were just always there. They didn’t lose a lot of puck battles though; especially at critical times of a game.

    It’s probably not a coincidence both were very good skaters. That was the knock on Simpson on draft day although he’s reportedly improved. Never is a long time. I doubt many thought Giordano was going to be a powerplay factor in 2004 either.

  • pkam

    A University Professor once told me ( geology professor) while doing feild work collecting samples, ” you usually find what you are looking for, if that’s what you are thinking about”.

    Fast forward to the Oilers amature scouting,……….I’m not sure if they know what they are looking for? Maybe they are getting mixed signals from management on player type……..but it seem odd to me that they keep going the College route trying to find a complete physical defender.

    This organization constantly outhinks itself trying to re-invent the obvious. I think they have read too many new-age management books!