Edmonton Oilers reaping benefits of deep, talented group of pro prospects

By Kady Hobbins

Mark Arcobello - Edmonton Oilers

Photo: Mark Arcobello, among Oklahoma City’s leaders on and off the ice this season, made his NHL debut with the Oilers on February 6th. (courtesy of Chris Austin/Icon SMI)

The 2012-13 season has been a roller coaster ride for the Edmonton Oilers’ minor league affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons. The lockout at the beginning of the season brought them a host of talent with the likes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, to name a few. However, once the lockout ended, the Oilers quickly found themselves in injury trouble and the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons were not only without the benefit of some added offense, but missing some of their key centermen as well. Despite this, the Barons have managed to soldier on and are currently vying for a playoff spot in the Western Conference of the AHL.

The ECHL’s Stockton Thunder are currently fourth in their conference, also trying to secure a playoff berth. They have been looking poised to do so, winning four of their last five games and are only two wins away from clinching a spot.

NHL

Nail Yakupov, RW, 19

After being drafted first overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Nail Yakupov garnered the attention of many Edmontonians. Unfortunately, the lockout delayed his NHL debut and the fans were forced to wait a bit longer to see the Russian star suit up as an Oiler. Yakupov played 22 games with Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the Kontinental Hockey League while waiting for the lockout to end, logging 10 goals and eight assists for 18 points in 22 games.

His NHL debut finally came against the Vancouver Canucks on January 20th. He scored his first goal in the Oilers’ home-opener, a game that was an otherwise dismal performance by the Oilers, who allowed six goals in the first period alone. He has since chalked up six goals and five assists for 11 points in 18 games and has bounced around between line combinations with coach Ralph Krueger trying to find where the 19-year-old’s talent will be best used. His offensive brilliance is very evident, but his inexperience shows in his own end at times, reflected by his current minus-nine rating.

Justin Schultz, D, 22

Justin Schultz was originally drafted in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks. After playing three seasons with the University of Wisconsin, Schultz was unable to come to a contractual agreement with the Ducks, eventually becoming an unrestricted free agent. He was signed by the Oilers in June 2012. Like Yakupov, his first ever NHL game came against the Canucks on January 20th, and again like Yakupov, he scored the only other goal of a 6-2 blowout by the San Jose Sharks in the Oilers’ home opener.

Schultz is the definition of an offensive defenseman. While playing for the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL during the lockout, Schultz was a machine, racking up 18 goals and 30 assists for 48 points in 34 games. He has remained strong for the Oilers, logging four goals and six assists in 18 games. He is paired with stay-at-home defenseman Nick Schultz (no relation) and together they are a strong pairing for the Oilers on the blue line.

Teemu Hartikainen, LW, 22

After a few call-up appearances for the Oilers in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Hartikainen seems to have solidified a regular spot on the second line in the shortened 2012-13 season. In 16 games thus far he has only logged a goal and two assists, but he is checking well and does not look out of place on a talented line with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky. He has been strong in the defensive end and has brought the gritty physical presence that he is known for. He suffered a minor shoulder injury in February, but is now back in the lineup with the Oilers to continue his NHL-level development.

As long as Hartikainen keeps showing up to the games with the work ethic and consistency that he is currently bringing, he should see his ice times steadily increase. It would be great to see some increased offensive numbers from him, but he is generating some great scoring chances and is an exciting player to watch.

Chris Vande Velde, C, 25

Chris Vande Velde played four years for the University of North Dakota before signing a two-year entry level contract with the Oilers in 2009-10 and then re-signing for another year in July 2012. Since then, he has played a handful of games in a call-up position for the Oilers as a centerman. As a hard working two-way player who is reliable in the faceoff circle, Vande Velde does well when asked to step up to the NHL level.

He has not registered any points with the Oilers in the seven games that he has played so far and has 10 points in 38 games with the OKC Barons in the AHL. Although he is not posting impressive offensive numbers, he is valuable in the defensive zone both as a faceoff man and a physical presence. He may not possess the high level of skill to earn him a regular spot on the Oilers’ blue line, but is gaining valuable experience and providing the support that is needed in his numerous trips up to the big club.

Anton Lander, C, 21

After playing 56 games for the Oilers in the 2011-12 season in a lower line centerman role, Anton Lander was back for the 2012-13 season, poised to continue his development at the NHL level. Due to the lockout, he began his season with Oklahoma City and logged 10 points in 39 games. He was called back up to the big club after Shawn Horcoff sustained a broken knuckle. Unfortunately, Lander suffered a broken foot early into the already-shortened lockout season and was knocked out of the lineup for a minimum of four weeks. At the time, he had one assist in four games with the Oilers.

Once he returns from injury, it is likely that Lander will still have a real shot at a regular role on the Oilers squad as a centerman on the third or fourth line, especially with the Oilers lacking depth at center and having a tendency to run into injury trouble.

AHL

Olivier Roy, G, 21

Olivier Roy is coming off a respectable 2011-12 pro debut that saw him spend most of his time with the ECHL Stockton Thunder. He finished the season with a 0.925 save percentage with a 2.49 goals against average. He also made his AHL debut with the OKC Barons, playing in three games with one start, where he made 35 saves for a 5-2 win.

The 2012-13 lockout combined with an injury to Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has resulted in a lot of movement for the Oilers’ minor league prospects. After Yann Danis was called up to the big club to back up Devan Dubnyk, Roy assumed the role of starting goaltender in Oklahoma City. Khabibulin has since returned and Roy has been reassigned to Stockton, edging out Tyler Bunz. He has been solid for the ECHL team since, allowing only five goals total in the last four games with a .962 save percentage. Goaltenders’ long-term performance can be hard to determine and Roy’s career is still in the early stages. His time in net in Stockton will be invaluable for his progress.

Niko Hovinen, G, 24

The Oilers added another goaltender to their prospect system when they picked up Niko Hovinen off of waivers from the Flyers on January 25th, 2013. He had been playing for the Flyers’ ECHL team, the Trenton Titans and put up a 3.14 goals against average with a 0.889 save percentage over 16 games. His stats have remained close to the same over the four games that he has played with Oklahoma City thus far, logging a 3.18 goals against average and a 0.890 save percentage.

Although the acquisition of Hovinen sent Olivier Roy back down to Stockton, Hovinen’s numbers in the AHL have been less than impressive compared to the stats that he was posting in Finland. At this point, the race for the number one goaltending prospect position seems to be headed by Roy, with Hovinen and Bunz battling out their mediocrity for second place.

Kristians Pelss, LW, 20

After a successful junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings, Kristians Pelss went on to make his pro debut with the ECHL Stockton Thunder. He was off to a good start in his professional career, but on December 5th, 2012, he was handed a 21-game suspension for delivering a nasty two-handed slash on Bakersfield’s Olivier Dame-Malka. During his suspension, he was called up to play with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, with his first eligible play date set for January 11th.

Thus far, he has logged one goal and seven assists for eight points in 17 games with the Barons. While he is not exactly lighting it up in terms of numbers, he is playing a consistent game and generating some good chances for a team that has not quite found its scoring stride since the departure of Eberle, Hall, Schultz, and Nugent-Hopkins.

Tyler Pitlick, C, 21

To say that Tyler Pitlick’s 2012-13 season has been a blunder would be an understatement. After a lackluster rookie season in the AHL in 2011-12, he looked to improve upon his offensive numbers in his sophomore effort. The beginning of his season was overshadowed by the lockout additions and an untimely concussion in November set him back even further. Just when Pitlick appeared to be turning a corner in his game, he suffered a knee injury in January that has sidelined him for a minimum of six weeks and depending on the severity, could end his season.

Pitlick has the size and skillset to carve out a career on the third or fourth line, but every setback he incurs is pushing the NHL farther from his reach. The potential loss of his sophomore year in the AHL will be a crushing blow to his development and Pitlick’s luck will have to take a turn for the better if he wants to retain any chance of an NHL career.

Antti Tyrvainen, RW, 23

After losing two months of his second season with the Oklahoma City Barons to injury, Antti Tyrvainen is looking to get back on track and continue where he left off. Tyrvainen is the classic agitator type and is known for being hard-hitting, physical, and unrelenting. At 5’11 and 196 pounds, he seems an unlikely man for the job but he uses his size well and brings some offensive talent with him, something that is becoming a more valued trait in an NHL enforcer as of late.

He has logged three goals and one assist thus far in 19 games, which puts him a bit behind his pace from last season, but coming off of an injury makes things harder to judge. He has almost doubled his shot percentage from seven percent last season to 12 percent this year and is keeping his penalty minutes in check while still delivering some big hits. As long as he can stay injury free, Tyrvainen is a good candidate for a lower-line enforcer role and could bring some physicality to the Oilers’ young team.

Toni Rajala, RW, 21

After playing two seasons in Finland’s SM-liiga, Toni Rajala has split his time in his North American debut between the Thunder and the Barons. He was a strong offensive force for Stockton, racking up 18 goals and 20 assists for 38 points in 29 games. Even at the AHL level his offense has not faltered much; he has logged seven goals and 10 assists in 22 games with the Barons. He is not afraid to shoot the puck and was averaging nearly five shots per game with the Stockton Thunder.

His main obstacle in his development is his size; at only 5'10 and 163 pounds, he is one of the smallest prospects in the Oilers system. Since the Oilers have no shortage of smallish skill players on the wing at the NHL level, a permanent spot on the Oilers roster might be a difficult path to carve out. However, if he continues to put up big offensive numbers, he will gain recognition and will continue to be a valuable asset at least at the AHL level.

Mark Arcobello, C/RW, 24

As a third-year veteran of the Oklahoma City Barons, Mark Arcobello has stepped up his game both offensively and in a leadership role for the team. Although not a captain on paper, Arcobello has maintained offensive strength and consistency on a team whose roster has been anything but consistent in the 2012-13 season.

Arcobello finished off the 2011-12 season with 43 points in 73 games. This season, he has surpassed that total with 45 points in only 50 games. After an untimely hand injury to Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff and an injury to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Arcobello was called up to the big club and made his NHL debut with the Oilers. He did not register any points but played a respectable first NHL game, especially in a crucial role for a team that was without their best faceoff man. He went 3-for-10 in the circle and played a good defensive game against some veteran players on the Dallas Stars lineup.

Nugent-Hopkins made a quick return and Arcobello was reassigned to the AHL Barons, but his performance in his NHL debut showed that he is fully capable of making the step up to provide support for the Oilers when needed. As a small centerman that took the longer NCAA route to professional hockey, his success is a testament to his perseverance and hard work. As another small prospect, his size may deter him from finding a permanent role in the NHL, but attitude and offensive production will make him a valuable asset wherever he ends up.

Curtis Hamilton, LW, 21

Curtis Hamilton is in his second season with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons. He has seen a bit more ice time this year, but seems to be struggling this season, most specifically in his own end, chalking up a minus-11 rating. His offensive numbers are not much better, logging only 17 points in 83 games over the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.

He brings a big physical presence to the ice and excels as a power forward, but Hamilton needs to increase his offensive production and play the defensive game that he showed he was capable of in the WHL if he wants to increase his value beyond an AHL player.

Philippe Cornet, LW, 22

Philippe Cornet is coming off a strong sophomore effort with the Barons where he logged 24 goals and 13 assists for 37 points in 67 games. While not a pure goal scorer, he is a hard worker that is not afraid to get into tough battles. His efforts were rewarded with two calls-ups to the Edmonton Oilers during the 2011-12 season.

This year, he has split his time between the Barons and the Thunder, playing 22 and 18 games with each, respectively. He has chalked up 36 points in 40 games thus far, although the bulk of those points came from his time with the Thunder. After a bit of a slow finish to 2011-12 combined with the lockout's additions to the lineup, he was assigned to the ECHL team in September 2012. His strong offensive production earned him a trip back up to the AHL ranks in November 2012, and while he is not quite registering the same numbers that he was before his NHL call-ups last year, he is playing a consistent game and continuing to work hard.

Ryan Martindale, C, 21

The 2012-13 season marks Ryan Martindale’s second season in the pro ranks and after an underwhelming season in 2011-12, he is looking to improve upon his offensive production. In 2011-12, he registered just two points in 16 games with the Barons and was relegated to the Stockton Thunder. There, he logged 15 points in 34 games, but his plus-minus rating was a dismal minus-13.

He is steadily climbing back but is still nowhere near the 83 points in 65 games that he racked up in his final OHL junior season. Thus far, he has 11 points in 21 games with OKC and two points in five games with Stockton. It is undeniable that he has the skill to be a top point-getter, but his work ethic and consistency at the pro level need to improve drastically in order for him to make a move beyond the AHL level.

Tanner House, C, 26

As an undrafted free agent signing out of the University of Maine, Tanner House entered the Oilers prospect system as a virtual unknown. House is a solid two-way contributor to the Barons, but at 26 he is one of the oldest Oilers prospects in the system and his chances of an NHL career seem to be steadily declining. He chips in on some good scoring chances and is a good defensive forward, but he lacks the high level skill that some of the younger prospects coming down the pipe have. He was placed on waivers by the Oilers and cleared in September 2012, making it seem more likely that he will play out his career at the AHL level or lower.

Martin Marincin, D, 21

Martin Marincin was drafted 46th overall by the Oilers in 2010 and made his minor league debut late in the 2010-11 season with the Barons. Since then, he has played a few games with the Barons in 2011-12 while spending most of the season with the WHL’s Regina Pats. In the 2012-13 season, he is playing his first full season with the Barons and has logged 18 points in 47 games thus far. Of those 17 points, 14 are assists, which attests to Marincin’s ability to generate scoring chances, which is something that he has done exceptionally well for an AHL rookie.

His defensive awareness is not always up-to-par and his greenness shows sometimes when he gets caught out of position in his own end. Still, his hard-working attitude and strong stickhandling skills show a promising young defenseman that can progress with more ice time at the AHL level.

Alex Plante, D, 23

At 6’4, 230 pounds, Alex Plante is a monster on the blue line. He was drafted in the first round for the Oilers in 2007 as a bit of a project, but with high hopes for his success as an NHL defenseman. He has played in a handful of games with the Oilers as a call-up, but has been plagued by injuries, namely concussions since his pro debut in 2009-10. Plante had a respectable season in 2011-12, finishing the year with three NHL games with one point, as well as 14 points in 41 games for the Barons with a plus-16 rating. In what was supposed to be an improvement upon last season, 2012-13 has instead been nothing short of dismal for Plante. With only two points in 31 games and a rating of minus-four, Plante has found himself on the healthy scratch list on a number of occasions with the Barons.

Although he plays with the grit and physicality that is required of a rearguard of his size, he is too often caught out of position and makes some costly mistakes in his own end. His injuries have no doubt played a role in his stalled development and a high number of concussions in a short time frame can be troubling for any athlete’s long-term sustainability. He cleared waivers in September 2012, which is never a good sign for a prospect that was at one point highly sought-after and went 15th overall in the 2007 NHL draft. While many are hoping that Plante will find his way out of this slump, the clock is winding down for this defenseman’s NHL chances.

Colten Teubert, D, 22

Colten Teubert is coming off of a strong 2011-12 season, having played in 24 NHL games for the Oilers while spending the remainder of his time with the Barons. Teubert doubles as both a shutdown defenseman and an enforcer and is a brick wall in his own end. His time spent as an Oilers call-up has helped his positioning and on-ice perspective.

His offensive production is not outstanding, with only 24 points in 115 games with the OKC Barons over three seasons, but his strength and size and dependability to exact revenge with a big hit help to offset his offensive weaknesses. He would increase his value by improving upon the number of scoring chances he contributes to, but he shows potential for a team that needs some depth on its NHL blue line.

Taylor Fedun, D, 24

Taylor Fedun is another promising defenseman in the Oilers system that was making great strides in his development before being sidelined with a complex femur fracture for the entire 2011-12 season and what was supposed to be his rookie debut with the Barons. He is now back on the Barons’ roster for the 2012-13 season and thus far has logged 15 points in 47 games, 13 of which were assists. For a player that missed what was supposed to be one of the most important seasons of his developing career, he seems to have bounced back pretty well and is back on track to being one of the top defensive prospects for the Oilers.

Fedun is generating a solid number of scoring chances for the Barons and has remained consistent in his ability to move the puck and make sound defensive plays. His skating ability does not seem to have been hindered much by his leg injury. Fedun’s size is one of his only weaknesses when it comes to NHL readiness; he could stand to add some weight to his 6’0 frame to hold his own in the NHL arena.

ECHL

Tyler Bunz, G, 21

Tyler Bunz was named WHL Goaltender of the Year in his final junior season in 2011-12, a season that also included a try out for Team Canada’s World Junior squad, although he narrowly missed the cut. Unfortunately, his performance in the pro ranks has been underwhelming thus far. He was assigned to the ECHL Stockton Thunder as the starting netminder to get some games under his belt, but struggled and has been outperformed by his undrafted counterpart, Cody Reichard. Bunz has a 13-13-4 record, 0.887 save percentage, and 3.24 goals against average in the ECHL.

He played one game for the Oklahoma City Barons, but allowed 5 goals on 15 shots. As with all goalies, development can be a long process and the final outcome for a young goaltender is pretty unpredictable. Bunz has shown in his time spent in the Juniors that he has the skill and consistency to be a number one goaltender, but it may take some time for him to regain that level of confidence in his ability at the next level.

Brandon Davidson, D, 21

After being diagnosed with testicular cancer in November 2012, Brandon Davidson’s hockey career was hanging in a delicate balance. He took an indefinite leave from the Barons’ lineup to receive treatment. Although not completely in the clear as of yet, Davidson made his return to hockey in February and was assigned to the Stockton Thunder to start the rebuilding process and get back on track with his development. His hair has not even grown back yet from his cancer treatments, but he managed to score two goals in his debut with the Thunder. Whether or not the NHL is in his future, everyone involved is thankful to see Davidson make a return to the game.

Cameron Abney, RW, 21

With seven points and seven ECHL fights in 27 games thus far with the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder, it is clear that scoring goals is not number one on Cameron Abney’s list of things to do. His game is purely physical and when he hits the ice, his only job is to rough people up. He does not bring much else to the table, defensively or offensively.

With Darcy Hordichuk, Edmonton’s current tough guy being placed on waivers, it raises some questions about the importance of the enforcer role in today’s game. The Oilers also have a number of skilled power forwards and agitators that can fill the same role as Abney, but also possess a more fine-tuned level of hockey sense. At this point, Abney is a long shot for an NHL career and will likely top out in the AHL or ECHL.

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