The Springfield Falcons have picked up some bad habits from their parent club, the Edmonton Oilers. Both teams entered the season with high expectations of a stacked line-up that would result in some high scoring and exciting hockey games. But both teams have struggled on the power play and the penalty kill, and have yet to live up to their off-season promise.
Undoubtedly, the Falcons best forwards have been Rob Schremp, Gilbert Brule, and Ryan Potulny. All three could be in the NHL on a few other teams, but continue to hone their skills at the AHL level. Schremp and Brule have recently seen some NHL time – Brule was pointless in two games, but Schremp had three points in four games. Upon his return to Springfield, he scored a goal and had an assist in three games, while Brule served a four-game suspension for an infraction that occurred prior to his recall. Ryan Potulny has also been a consistent offensive threat through the first third of the season, scoring 16 goals and adding 11 assists in 30 games.
After a brief stint in the ECHL, Bryan Lerg has been hot and cold in recent weeks. When he’s been hot, he’s been one of the Falcons best goal scorers. He was a sniper in college and the Oilers are happy that the speedy forward is now finding his groove in the AHL. His size is his only roadblock to NHL employment. Liam Reddox was recalled by the Oilers in mid November, and although he scored a goal in his first game and was recently slotted on the second line, he’s only added an assist since. Unless the Oilers are out of the playoffs and are sellers at the deadline, he will likely find himself back in the Falcons lineup at some point this season. Energetic Tim Sestito was also rewarded for his tireless work ethic with a one-game NHL recall last month.
One of the biggest reasons for the Springfield’s offensive disappointments is the lack of production from Slava Trukhno. After a strong finish to the 2007-08 season and a solid training camp, much more was expected from the Russian winger than three goals in 27 games. He recently broke his thumb and is expected to be sidelined for several weeks. Ryan O’Marra, the former first rounder acquired from the Islanders in the Ryan Smyth deal, has also disappointed with a mere four points in 26 games. He’s at his best when playing a high-energy, physical game, but must be more consistent if he is to get to the NHL. He was recently named second star in a game, so hopefully he can continue the momentum. Other forwards who have failed to live up to expectations include Colin McDonald, Stephane Goulet, and Geoff Paukovich.
The offense could receive a boost in the New Year if J-F Jacques is healthy enough to return from the offseason surgery he needed to repair a back injury. The big winger could be back as early as January and would inject a nice combination of speed, toughness, and scoring into the lineup.
The Falcons defense has also been a mixed bag of promise, inconsistency, and disappointment.
Theo Peckham’s play has put him head and shoulders above the pack. He plays the toughest minutes and has been Springfield’s best all-around defenseman, continuing to build a reputation as a physical rearguard who can chip in some offense. Sebastien Bisaillon has been using his hard shot to get on the scoreboard more frequently lately, while also being solid in his own zone. In a more limited role, Cody Wild has been slowly eased into his first pro season, with positive results. His speed and freewheeling style have yet to translate into many points, but he has been better defensively than expected. He’s very coachable and could eventually put up quality numbers. Bryan Young loves to hit and has been a reliable, but unspectacular presence on the blueline. The Oilers fifth-round choice in the 2004 draft is set to become a free agent this summer and may not be back with the organization.
In terms of disappointments, no one fits the bill better than the much hyped Taylor Chorney. The former college standout has not played with the same level of confidence and poise that he was known for at the college level and when he captained the U.S. World Junior squad. He was a very unimpressive -21 and had only scored one goal in the first 32 games. Much more is expected from a player with his speed and skills.
Josef Hrabel is another first year AHL player who hasn’t made the expected impact. The 23-year-old Czech native was expected to challenge for an NHL recall, but was injured in camp and has had a very quiet start to his pro career, recording only a single point in 17 games.
The play of Devan Dubnyk was one of the team’s bright spots early in the season. It reached a crescendo in November when he was named AHL player of the week after allowing only four goals on 124 shots, including a 46-save shutout. He’s been unable to keep up with his early numbers though, and has seen his save percentage drop to .901. The Oilers recently assigned Jeff Deslauriers to Springfield for a conditioning stint, which will temporarily lighten Dubnyk’s heavy workload.
The Oilers ECHL affiliate, the Stockton Thunder, is currently in last place in the National Conference with only 24 points in 31 games. Losses usually foreshadow change, and head coach Chris Cichochi was replaced this week by Matt Thomas.
Ryan Huddy is leading the team offensively with 27 points in 28 games, and has been named to the ECHL All-Star game. Offseason free agent signings such as James Bates and Garet Hunt provide energy, but have contributed little on the score sheet. Towering David Rohlfs has been a huge disappointment in Stockton and has only six points and is a -12 in 26 games. The 24-year-old right winger had been one of the top defensive forwards in the CCHA during his college career, but his game hasn’t translated to pro.
Rookie defenseman Jorden Bendfeld had been a steady, physical presence on the blueline, but has been out with an injury since November. Goaltenders Andrew Perugini and Bryan Pitton have been arguably the team’s best players and the most likely candidates for a recall to Springfield.