Edmonton Oilers AHL affiliate boasts numerous NHL ready prospects

By Lawrence Bailey
Photo: In his first season of North American play, Linus Omark has shown great skill and panache, often to the chagrin of opposing teams. (Photo courtesy of www.luleahockey.se.)

After years wandering in the wilderness with split AHL affiliations, and then dreadful seasons in the AHL basement, the Edmonton Oilers organization has made a commitment to winning hockey on the farm-and the early results are excellent. The Oklahoma City Barons are at 36 points through 30 games so far, and a record of 16-10-1-3. That winning atmosphere is wonderful for the fans in OKC and it’s also incredibly beneficial for the dozen Oilers prospects playing and contributing on the farm.

Jordan Bendfeld, 22, D

After a WHL career and a pair of seasons with the ECHL‘s Stockton Thunder, Bendfeld is playing sparingly for the Barons this season. An ECHL/AHL tweener, Bendfeld has little to no upside and is purely organizational depth at this point.

Taylor Chorney, 23, D

Chorney learned he couldn’t swim last season after the Oilers threw him into the deep end. His first NHL stretch was a dismal one, so a season where he has rebuilt his confidence and had time to adjust to the pro game is just what the doctor ordered. He isn’t looking like he’ll deliver a lot of offense, something that looked promising during his college career; however he has found consistency in his game and is playing well in the AHL. Continued development may allow him to carve out a career as a two-way blueliner who can be a second or third pairing defenseman on an NHL roster.

Philippe Cornet
, 20, LW

It’s a tougher adjustment for some players jumping from junior to the AHL and Cornet seems to be falling into that category. As a player who doesn’t shy away from the dirty areas and is willing to pay the price to make a play, his lackluster production (three points in 19 games) won’t bury him, however there’s a lot of young talent that will be coming in over the next year or two, so he’ll need to have a strong second half to solidify a role in the future.

Teemu Hartikainen, 20, LW

Often compared to Red Wings stalwart Tomas Holmstrom for a similar playing style and limited foot speed, Hartikainen is showing the comparison may be quite apt through 30 AHL games. He’s not lighting the world on fire offensively (nine goals and seven assists through 30 games) and sports a team worst minus-eight rating, however he’s been effective in front on the power play, brings a lot of grit and hard work, and has been improving as the season wears on. He’s a classic bottom six style player, and with continued development may get a shot with the big club in the next 12-24 months

Milan Kytnar
, 21, C

His 2009-10 WHL season was a disappointment to many Oilers fans, as Milan Kytnar didn’t develop offensively the way many hoped. That said he plays a solid two way game and has been asked to play some tough minutes for the Barons this season. His minus-six is among the worst on the club, and he’s only scoring at a .25 point per game clip, however if he can continue to carve out a role as a penalty-killing specialist, he’ll be around for a while.

Matt Marquardt, 23, LW

Much like Bendfeld, Matt Marquardt is organizational depth more than anything else. The player who came the other way when Cody Wild (BOS) was sent out of town last year, Marquardt is in the final year of his entry-level deal. It would be surprising to see him back next season based on the players currently on the Barons roster and those junior and collegiate prospects likely to make the jump to the AHL for 2011-12.

Johan Motin, 21, D

Not the flashiest or most highly touted among the blue line prospects in Oklahoma City, Motin is still quite young and is a classic developmental defenseman. Sound positionally and a player who thinks the game well, Johan continues to make steady improvement. He has good size at 6-2, 202 lbs. and plays an economical and simple game. Given a couple more years seasoning at the AHL level he could very well become a useful bottom pairing NHL rearguard.

Linus Omark, 23, LW/RW

By far the most famous and electrifying of the Barons players, Linus is plying his trade for the big club currently following injuries to veterans Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff. He made a big impression in his first NHL game, however it remains to be seen if he stays in Edmonton once the team gets healthier. The speedy skilled winger was a dominating presence in the AHL with 26 points in 26 games before his call up, and plays with an edge as well, having added 28 penalty minutes. His star is definitely ascending, and many OKC fans are crossing their fingers that they haven’t seen the last of him.

Ryan O’Marra
, 23, C

Written off by many following a career that seemingly bottomed out in the 2007-08 season where he couldn’t muster a point per game in the ECHL, the Oilers showed faith in O’Marra and he has rewarded their faith and developed into a relevant two-way threat. The former 15th overall pick (NYI 2005), Canadian World Junior team star, and a key piece of the Ryan Smyth trade, O’Marra was called up to the show alongside Omark a week ago and has performed admirably in that time. He was a shining light in the AHL, boasting the second best plus/minus on the Barons roster at plus-11 (trailing only Liam Reddox) and brings size, grit and both faceoff and penalty-killing ability to the table. That skill set is one that could easily see him stick with the Oilers, as they address areas the big club has been lacking in all year.

Jeff Petry, 23, D

Jeff Petry is the brightest light amongst the Oilers AHL blue line prospects. He has size, skating ability, and an offensive flair that make him very appealing to fans and management alike. More impres
sive is the fact he really seems to have made significant strides since the start of the season. At one point sporting a minus-11 rating, Petry has resuscitated it to a minus-four and is trending in the right direction. He has also put together 20 points in 30 games, good for fourth among all AHL defensemen. There were some who felt he played well enough in camp that he should have made the Oilers, but using the Chorney example from last season, the powers that be opted to start him in the AHL. With his development moving along quickly, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he spent a solid chunk of the season’s second half in Edmonton, especially in the event of an injury or trade on the back end.

Alex Plante, 21, D

Although their playing styles contrast greatly, Alex Plante has had a similar start to the 2010-11 season as teammate Jeff Petry. The WHL product is big (6-3, 225), mean (64 penalty minutes in 29 games), and not the least bit flashy. He is the quintessential stay-at-home defenseman and is showing this season that the "developmental" tag he was labeled with following being chosen 15th overall by the Oilers in 2007 was apt.

Much like Theo Peckham, Plante is at his based playing a simple game with a physical edge. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he also spent some time in the NHL this season for the same reason as Petry-injury or trade-although it depends on the player going down or going out as to which defenseman would be called up.

Chris Vande Velde, 23, C

Perhaps one of the more disappointing seasons from a Barons player belongs thus far to Chris Vande Velde. Touted as a complete two way forward with tremendous grit, faceoff and penalty killing ability, the University of North Dakota product has struggled in his adjustment to the pro game. A late cut from training camp, many felt he was physically and mentally prepared to excel at the AHL level, but it hasn’t panned out that way. The role many felt he was pegged to play has been taken and owned by Ryan O’Marra, though perhaps he will get a shot at redemption with O’Marra’s recall.

Either way, Vande Velde will need to show something sooner than later, because at 23 there’s not as much time for him as there would be for a 20-year-old straight out of junior.