Edmonton Oilers possess gritty group of prospects at AHL level

By Lawrence Bailey
Photo: Forward Teemu Hartikainen has seen his stock go up considerably over the second half of the 2010-11 season. (Photo courtesy of www.kalpa-hockey.fi)

The Oklahoma City Barons had what can only be viewed as a positive and successful season in their first year as the Oilers AHL affiliate. They lost in the first round of the playoffs, and suffered through countless callups to the injury ravaged NHL club, but the fans responded and by all accounts a strong bond between city and team, the future looks bright in OKC.

Forwards

Linus Omark, RW, 24

His time was brief but boy oh boy did he make an impression. The slick, skilled Swede put up 31 points in 28 games (including a five goal game) in the AHL before being called up and sticking with the big club. Omark brought the fans out of their seats more than once in the Cox Center, but there is little to no chance he’ll be back there next season, as the winger seems locked in to an NHL roster spot.


Teemu Hartikainen, LW, 21

Another OKC fan favorite, "Harski" took a bit of time to adjust after making the jump from Finland, but once he hit his stride he was able to put up one heck of a rookie AHL campaign. The 6’1 215 lbs. winger played a physical style, reminiscent of Tomas Holmstrom, and overcame his slow start to register 42 points in 66 games spending much of his times working the cycle along the boards or parked in front of the opposing net. He also showed well in a brief stint with the Oilers, and may be an option for the NHL club next season, however it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him playing a key role for the Barons next year.


Ryan O’Marra, C, 23

Once a highly touted offensive star, then a written off failed prospect, O’Marra has clawed tooth and nail to get back, reinventing himself along the way. It seems to have worked. His 22 points in 53 AHL games show that offense isn’t his calling card, but his work ethic, physicality, and attention to defense and the little things like faceoffs earned him a 21 game NHL audition this year and should see him in the mix to be a NHL depth forward or a key leader in Oklahoma City (and among the first callups) in 2011-12.


Mark Arcobello, C, 22

No one benefitted more from the rash of callups to the NHL than Mark Arcobello. The undersized skilled pivot, a four-year Yale man, started his rookie pro campaign plying his trade for the Stockton Thunder on an AHL/ECHL contract. After producing at a near point-per-game clip (22 points in 26 games) following a callup to the Barons, Arcobello scored an NHL contract and can be safely penciled into the top six in OKC for next season.

Philippe Cornet, LW, 21

After struggling to find his way and struggling for consistency early in his rookie pro campaign, Cornet posted a respectable seven goals and 16 assists scoreline in 60 games by the time the dust settled. He’ll be entering the second year of his three year entry level deal next season and will be looking to take a solid step forward. There are plenty of quality young forwards coming up behind him, so he’ll need to build on this year, but the arrows are pointed in the right direction so far after a good developmental season in the AHL.


Milan Kytnar, C, 21

Much like Cornet, it took Kytnar some time to establish himself and his game as an AHL rookie. He found a groove though and settled into more of a checking role, tackling the kind of jobs that make you a coach’s favorite. It’s likely he’ll be back in a similar bottom six/penalty killing role next season, though he’s a long way down the NHL call up list at this time.

Matt Marquardt, LW, 23

Marquardt was little more than a depth forward for the Barons this year, and with players like Arcobello and late season signees Tanner House and Hunter Tremblay seemingly passing him by, the writing appears to be on the wall. Add to the mix graduating juniors and the possibility of a European forward or two being added to the mix and Marquardt is one RFA who is a good bet not to see a qualifying offer this summer.


Chris Vande Velde, C, 24

After an abysmal start to the year as he made the transition from the University of North Dakota to the pro ranks, Vande Velde turned things around in the second half of the season and looks to be a key cog in the Barons machinery next year. Much like O’Marra his calling cards are girt, defense, leadership and faceoffs-all skills in demand in the Oilers organization currently. He’s a longshot to make the big club out of camp, but his continued development in what will likely be a more featured role next season could be a stepping stone to the show.


Defensemen

Jeff Petry, D, 23

Much like Linus Omark, Petry delivered tremendous AHL results before being recalled to the Oilers, likely for good. The big, smooth skating rearguard posted 24 points in 41 games, and played in every situation for the Barons. He’s a very good bet to be skating a regular shift in Edmonton next season, but if OKC is fortunate enough to get him back he will likely be a big time minute eater on the back end and an anchor for the club’s defense.


Alex Plante, D, 22

Since being drafted, Plante has been up and down as a prospect, though generally trending in the right direction. He had a quality sophomore AHL campaign, really adding an element of physicality and intimidation to his bag of tricks this year. With Theo Peckham in Edmonton and Colten Teubert added in the Dustin Penner trade, some feel the writing is on the wall for the rugged stay-at-home defender, and it probably didn’t help that his three-game NHL stint this year was lackluster to say the least. Nonetheless, as he enters the last year of his entry-level deal, it will be important for Plante to establish himself, take a step or three forward and really push the issue, otherwise he may not be in the Oilers organization at this time next season.


Taylor Chorney, D, 24

If Plante is a yo-yo then Chorney has been a roller coaster, but this last season was a very positive one for the undersized puck mover. He put up quality numbers the first half of the year in the AHL and didn’t look too out of place in a dozen NHL games before getting hurt for the bulk of the second half. Chorney is a guy with a legitimate shot at being a sixth or seventh defenseman with the Oilers, though another year opening in the AHL is a real possibility. He’s one of the more interesting AHL RFAs this year, and it will be interesting to see the nature of his deal once it gets signed.


Jordan Bendfeld, D, 23

Similar to Matt Marquardt, Bendfeld was a marginal player this season splitting time between OKC and Stockton. He was also passed by recent signees, graduating juniors and is unlikely to see an offer this summer as an RFA.

Kevin Montgomery, D, 23

Acquired at the trade deadline in a deal for Shawn Belle that was mostly motivated by the AHL’s veteran limits, Montgomery came in and performed incredibly well down the stretch posting 12 points and a plus-eight in 16 games. He’s an RFA this offseason, but his chemistry with different players-particularly Colten Teubert-and his intriguing skillset as a complement to some of the more mean and rugged blueliners on the Barons roster lead many to believe he will be back for another tour next season.

Johan Motin, D, 21

In many ways the forgotten man on the farm, Motin is among the youngest pro Oilers prospects (only Teubert is younger amongst the defensemen). He split his time between the AHL and ECHL this season, but will be entering his sixth pro campaign at just 21-years old next year after three years in the SEL and two in the AHL/ECHL. There’s a good chance he plays an understated depth role for the Barons again in 2011-12, but he is certainly still young enough to improve and will be playing for a new contract as this coming season is the last year on his entry-level deal.


Colten Teubert, D, 21

One of the key pieces to the Dustin Penner deadline day deal and a player long coveted by some among the Oilers front office, Teubert struggled in his first year as a pro though earned the praise of the OKC coaching staff after coming over in February. A player with impressive draft pedigree, quality natural ability, and one heck of a mean streak, Teubert could realistically parlay a good 2011-12 AHL campaign into an NHL roster spot sooner than later. He plays a similar style to guys like Plante and Peckham, though his shot and offensive ability is a cut above those two. In many ways he is a man who controls his own destiny, and if he can prove that he’s capable of thinking and reacting to the speed of the pro game at a high level, he’ll be in the show for quite some time.

Goaltending

Bryan Pitton, G, 23

All signs point to Pitton joining players like Bendfeld and Marquardt among the ranks of the untendered restricted free agents. His numbers have been below average, he hasn’t really taken a big step forward, and the organization continues drafting goalies and signing veteran free agents in a way that imply they don’t have much faith in him. That said, with Martin Gerber and Jeff Deslauriers likely gone this offseason and only rookie pro Olivier Roy in the mix, Pitton could find a one or two year reprieve by being in the right organization at the right time. No one will be watching the Oilers minor league signings between the pipe more closely that Bryan Pitton.