The Edmonton Oilers and their fans may be forgetting what the playoffs look like. But at the lower levels of the game, Oilers' prospects are getting a lot of quality post-season experience this year. While the parent club hasn't played a post-season game since losing Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, when they make it back to the post-season they'll have players with plenty of non-NHL playoff experience to draw on.
The Oklahoma City Barons made it to the third round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, eventually losing 4 games to 1 to the Toronto Marlies after getting past both the Houston Aeros and the San Antonio Rampage in rounds one and two, respectively. While many of the key Barons in this run are veterans carrying the load, there are a few Oilers prospects making a significant impact, the most notable being Teemu Hartikainen, Tyler Pitlick, and Chris Vande Velde.
The hulking Hartikainen made great strides this year in regards to his skating and is now performing at a high level when it matters most. With four goals and eight points through 14 playoff games thus far, Harski is making people take notice. It was an important stretch for the man who should have a good shot at a bottom six role with the NHL club next year, and he is making the most of it.
After being used sparingly in the first half of the regular season, Pitlick saw his role increase in the second half, and was more of a central player for the Barons on their playoff run. His seven points in 13 games are solid, but his increased physicality and impact on the game has been noticeable. Another player who is realistically in the mix for a bottom six NHL role next season, Pitlick seems to have made the adjustment to pro hockey as his rookie season has worn on.
Vande Velde has provided excellent two-way play, a physical element, as well as six goals in 14 games including a couple overtime winners. With a big, pro-sized frame and the ability to win draws, kill penalties, and accept a lesser role if needed, this playoff run has put him on the radar for the big club as a potential 4th line center next season.
The Edmonton Oil Kings capped off an impressive season with a WHL title and an appearance at the Memorial Cup. With Travis Ewanyk, Kristians Pelss, and Martin Gernat all on the club, the Oilers are well represented, with Pelss and Gernat playing particularly significant roles in the team's success.
The gritty, feisty, always pesky Kristians Pelss has been a sparkplug and catalyst throughout the playoffs, notching 10 points in 17 games in the WHL playoffs while also scoring a goal in each of the Oil Kings first two games at the Memorial Cup. Pelss' season has been a pleasant development for both the Oil Kings and the Oilers and was enough to earn him an entry-level contract, never a sure thing for a late-round draft pick.
After an astonishingly strong offensive campaign as a WHL rookie, Martin Gernat maintained his impressive play in the post-season, putting up 13 points in 20 games as a blueliner which led the Oil Kings' defenseman in that category and placed him third among league defensemen. The lanky Slovak also managed a goal in four games at the Memorial Cup. He'll be back with the Oil Kings next season, but has surprised and shone as an offensive leader for the WHL Champions.
There hasn't been much on the prospect signing front from the Oilers thus far, and there are still a number of players from the 2010 draft needing contracts. While Jeremie Blain, Brandon Davidson, and Drew Czerwonka remain unsigned, it is telling that 7th rounder Kristians Pelss has an entry-level deal. That is unlikely to have a huge bearing on the decision making process on Blain or Davidson (both of whom are expected to be signed), but could be an indication that the club could opt to let Czerwonka walk. Pelss projects as a bottom six agitator with penalty killing ability, and when a team is looking to manage a 50-contract limit, having both Pelss and Czerwonka taking up spots seems an unlikely proposition.