Photo: After a period of adjustment, Curtis Hamilton has looked solid in his first year of AHL play. Hamilton projects into a talented, multi-tool forward who could possibly complement star forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
The Oklahoma City Barons are the AHL's top team with a 22-8-1-3 record. The days of the Edmonton Oilers' farm teams being bottom feeders is long gone as the club has made a point both this season and last to put a winning team on the ice, committing to older players and AHL veterans rather than rely exclusively on young prospects. This season, led by players like Ryan Keller, Josh Green, Bryan Helmer, and Yann Danis, the Barons are the team to beat.
Some would argue that the vets are just taking up developmental time from the promising youngsters, however the prevailing opinion-both inside and outside the Oilers organization-is that breeding a winning culture at every level is key. So far so good, at least in the AHL.
Mark Arcobello, RW, 23
The undersized forward is listed as a right winger but has played in a few different spots this season to accommodate healthy scratches and injury. A solid, steady AHL caliber player, Arcobello's 17 points in 32 games and plus-nine rating are evidence of his positive contributions to date. Not likely to see a call up to the NHL, when the Barons are at full health he's likely to slot in as a second or third line complementary player.
Taylor Chorney, D, 24
After being one of the last cuts off the blue line for the Oilers out of training camp, Chorney was claimed off waivers by Saint Louis and sat in the press box for a dozen games before being reclaimed on waivers by Edmonton and sent down to OKC. He's been a steadying force on the back end for the Barons, putting up nine points in 17 games and a decent plus-two rating. A quality puck-mover who thinks the game well, he might get a taste of NHL action if the injury bug hits, but is more likely to spend the year helping on the farm.
Philippe Cornet, LW, 21
After a mostly uninspiring rookie pro season, expectations weren't high for Cornet as his sophomore campaign got underway. Thus far he has vastly exceeded those expectations. With 19 points in 27 games (tops on the club by a solid margin) the QMJHL product has been an indispensible part of the team's top six. More importantly for Cornet, he has caught the eye of the organization and is likely in the conversation for a cup of coffee at the NHL level in case of trades or injury, provided he can maintain his impressive early season form.
Curtis Hamilton, LW, 20
Having just turned 20 a few weeks ago, Hamilton is also just starting to settle in at the pro level. It was a slow start for the multi-tool prospect as it's a big adjustment making the jump from junior aged kids to men in the pros. In the last month however he has seen fewer healthy scratches and more ice time and opportunity, which he's been making the best of. While the numbers aren't there yet, just eight points through 25 appearances, past young rookies have shown that the second half is a key evaluation period as it shows what a player can do once they've adjusted to the pro game.
Teemu Hartikainen, LW, 21
Hartikainen's 2010-11 season started much like Hamilton's 2011-12 campaign before he went on a tear around Christmas time and finished strong (including an impressive stint at the NHL level late in the year). Among the last cuts from the Oilers roster this season, the Finnish fan favorite was a victim of the big club adding veteran depth up front in the offseason. Undeterred he got off to solid start in the AHL (13 points in 19 games) before a shoulder injury sidelined him a month ago. "Harski" is a very good bet to see time in the NHL again this year, be it due to trades or injury, and looks destined for a role with the top team sooner than later-likely in a depth role initially but he definitely has the potential to contribute on the PP and in the top six if he earns that opportunity. Hartikainen has recently returned from his injury and has two points in his past four games.
Tanner House, C, 25
An older free agent following a four-year college career with the University of Maine, House has been a quality member of a very good AHL club. He's a smart, defensively aware pivot who has played up in the line up as needed but is best suited of a depth role and plays it with aplomb. Not a likely call up candidate, House is still very much an important piece in Oklahoma City.
Milan Kytnar, C, 22
One of the most obvious victims of the Oilers depth at center, Kytnar has struggled to crack the line up this year, appearing in just seven games. Worse for him, he has struggled in those games racking up a near team worst minus-three. He's a solid depth forward and would likely be able to take a regular turn with many AHL teams, but barring injury or a demotion to the ECHL, he's not likely to see a lot of gametime in the near future.
Linus Omark, RW, 24
The fact Omark is even in the AHL at this time is a surprise to many, as he definitely has NHL caliber skill. He made the Oilers out of camp, but was relegated to the press box for much of the first quarter of the season before being sent down to the AHL so he could play big minutes and play every game. He made an immediate impact as a point-per-game player-much like he was in his AHL time last season-but a broken ankle has had him out of the line up for about a month, and likely for at least a couple more weeks. Upon his return he will likely vault to the top of the recall list for the big club, and it shouldn't surprise anyone to see him taking a regular turn in the NHL sooner than later.
Ryan O'Marra, C, 24
O'Marra has successfully reinvented himself at the AHL level as a physical, defensively responsible center who is willing to drop the gloves and get his nose dirty when necessary. It's an evolution that has been noticed by the brass in Edmonton and earned him a brief three game call up earlier in the season. While not the most skilled option on the farm he plays a role and plays it well, a fact that could very well see him spend more time in Edmonton this season, particularly if the Oilers choose to give Anton Lander time on the farm to play big minutes. He is a perfect plug and play NHL fourth liner and has shown to be a good solider, both attributes highly thought of by the powers that be.
Tyler Pitlick, C, 20
Much like fellow 2010 2nd round pick and first year pro Curtis Hamilton, Pitlick started slowly but has really begun to find his groove in the last month or two-also after having celebrated his 20th birthday. Spending time both at center and on the right wing, Pitlick brings a good shot, a physical style and a nose for the net to the table and has been gaining confidence in all facets of his game as the season wears on. More of an offensive minded player than a two way talent, a strong second half could see Pitlick emerging as a future option for the Oilers top nine. He has the package of tools that suggest he could provide a physical, checking presence alongside two highly skilled players.
Alex Plante, D, 22
An oft-forgotten and overlooked member of the Oilers blue line prospect stable, Plante has been quietly turning in an impressive season in the AHL. His plus-13 is tops on the club, his 63 penalty minutes trail only tough guy Triston Grant, and his 11 points in 28 games are a quality number for a player known more for his defensive and physical play. His path to the NHL has gotten tougher though, as callups have shown that Colten Teubert-a rearguard who boasts many of the same attributes-is ahead of him in the pecking order, so Plante's time with the Oilers may not be indefinite. Continued quality play with the Barons could make him a more appealing trade target for an NHL club with fewer options on the blue line. At the very least, it couldn't hurt.
Colten Teubert, D, 21
"Tubes" is back with the Barons after an extended stint with the Oilers in which he appeared in 11 NHL games while the big club's blue line was suffering through injury troubles. He didn't look out of place at the top level and has looked even better since heading back to OKC. He's defense-first and tough as they come, however his hard shot and improving decision making have some believing he may have second pairing upside at the next level. At the very least he is putting pressure on players like Andy Sutton and Theo Peckham, players he could make expendable before the 2011-12 season is done.
Hunter Tremblay, LW, 25
Less than a month away from his 26th birthday, Tremblay is not your average AHL rookie. After five years with the OHL's Barrie Colts and the a full four year CIS career at the University of New Brunswick, Tremblay has been a steady contributor for the Barons providing depth up front and some secondary scoring. He's not a prospect for an NHL career, however if he chooses to he has shown this year he is a quality AHL player who could help teams now and into the future.
Antti Tyrvainen, RW, 22
No one knew quite what to expect when the Oilers brought this small bodied, big hearted agitator over from Finland. He was known as an energy player and a big hitter-as well as one of the dirtier players in the Finnish leagues-but the broader skill set was more of an unknown. Through the season's first 14 games, he has two goals and five assists, all but one of which came in his last seven games. He has the type of skill package that suggest he could be a complementary top-nine player at the NHL level or at he very least a bottom-line depth guy.
Chris Vande Velde, C, 24
Not quite as buried as a player like Kytnar, Vande Velde is in the wrong organization based on his skillset. His "big bodied center who can play physical and well defensively" description has been used a couple times already on players-like O'Marra-who are further up the organizational depth chart. He had a real opportunity to establish himself as a rookie pro last season and struggled. Now he's well down the pecking order and not likely to find his way up without a major string of injuries or trades involving the players above him.
Ryan Martindale, C, 20
Among the more disappointing players among the Oilers prospects this season, Martindale has spent much of the year struggling to adjust at the ECHL level. He impressed in camp, but was late to be signed by the Oilers, and once his assignment to the ECHL and slow start were combined with questions about commitment and work ethic that have dogged him since his junior days, red flags started going up. His recent results give reason for some optimism though, as he has looked strong in the ECHL since coming back from a brief AHL stint. He'll need to really light things up in 2012 to get some momentum back, however he certainly has the talent to do so, it's all a matter of whether he has the desire.
Cameron Abney, RW, 20
The former WHL pugilist is plying his trade at the pro level in Stockton. Not hired for what his hands can do with the stick or the puck, the five points in 24 ECHL games aren't what matter, it's the 112 penalty minutes that people will be watching for. It's a big jump from fighting boys in junior to men in the pros, but by all indications Abney is making the transition well.
Olivier Roy, G, 20
Despite posting a poor record thus far, Roy has made a good adjustment to pro hockey and is carrying a quality .910 save percentage through 17 ECHL matches. The former Canadian WJC goalie is getting playing time, seeing a lot of pucks, and will likely be tabbed for an AHL gig next year. Goalies are rarely quick to develop, so for him continuing to refine his game and get used to the size and speed of pro hockey will be the keys.