The Barons Best – Through Six

Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved.

Through six games the Barons have gone through every facet of the emotional cycle. They began the season with a 7-0 beating by the Texas Stars, they fought the Houston Aeros in a classic nail-biter, they’ve delved out a return beating to the Texas Stars by besting them 10-1, and they’ve played from behind only to come back and push an OT and deep round shootout. This is the type of team, that albeit good, can wear the fragile nerves of fans. Yet to begin the season with a mark of 4-1-0-1 is quite impressive. Defensemen are gaining much needed ground, forward lines are molding into beautiful tapestries of offensive mastery, and both goaltenders are poised enough to give us a chance each and every night. The Barons, through six, are an impressive minor league hockey team.

The success of minor league teams such as the farm club in Oklahoma City is of a two-fold nature. The team is very talented and successful thus far, but are they aiding in the development of prospects? And are they doing so in the areas that the NHL counterpart is lacking? Great question.

Below you’ll find my personal ranking of the Barons positionally through six games. Keep in mind my criteria for the “best” positionally might differ from the stat sheet, although that weighs heavily in the process. Rather, I look for several factors that sweep across each category. Besides points and plus/minus I favor what my eyeballs see the majority of the time. So let the ribbon ceremony begin as I uncover the best of the Barons through six games.

Left Wing

  1. Philippe Cornet
  2. Teemu Hartikainen
  3. Antti Tyrvainen
  4. Hunter Tremblay
  5. Triston Grant
  6. Curtis Hamilton

Hands down, the most impressive player on the entire Barons roster thus far has been Philippe Cornet. I anticipated that Cornet would impress based on his Oilers camp showing, preseason play, and apparent healthy weight (muscle) gain. However, not even I suspected he’d spot 5 goals, one assist in only twelve shots. But more than that, his life on a top line has forced him to change the way he plays the game. Outside of Liam Reddox a year ago, very few are more eager to crash the crease than Cornet. He’s head and shoulders the best left winger on the team thus far, but keeping the pace for a sophomore will be the tell-tale reflection of where he’s at professionally.

With only two healthy and actual right wingers, it’s not uncommon for Triston Grant and Antti Tyrvainen to  play the sides (With centerman, Tanner House, playing right wing from time to time as well). Typically Grant falls to the right while Tyrvainen steers to the left. And there have been brief spurts where the two flip-flop. And Grant has been pretty solid despite the positional issues which are basically non-issues. Humter Tremblay has been splendid, but Tyrvainen’s angst and strength on the boards give him the edge.

Then there’s Teemu Hartikianen. The left winger that the Oilers are willing to be patient with, continues to be strong on the puck, strong on the skates, and strong against good defense. He moves the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone like no one else on this team, and like very few in the American League. His grooming continues.

Curtist Hamilton hits the bottom because he’s only seen three games and very little time on ice. The kid from Tacoma will get his chance, but with the heaviness on the left we’ll see where he lands.

Right Wing

  1. Ryan Keller
  2. Mark Arcobello
  3. Andrew Lord (concussion-like symptoms, O games)

And so the three “real” right wingers on this squad go one-two. The ECHL wonder who surprised us a year ago has been good out of the gate, and has amped his defensive game. Yet Ryan Keller, the recent Calder Cup winner with Binghamton, has been sporting a point a game and a very tenacious side to his play that edges Arcobello. Both are quality players, and both see lots of action. Andrew Lord is still recovering from an injury, and has yet to see regular season play.

Center

  1. Ryan O’Marra
  2. Tyler Pitlick
  3. Josh Green
  4. Chris VandeVelde
  5. Gilbert Brule
  6. Tanner House
  7. Milan Kytnar (upper body injury, O games)

The center position in OKC has been very entertaining to watch. I have no problem placing both O’Marra and Pitlick higher than Josh Green, who’s actually a higher scorer with one goal and five assists, because of their play creation away from the puck. For me, the best centermen create good puck play from one end to the other. O’Marra moves the puck very well which is a great improvement over last season. Pitlick is a dynamite bundle of excitement. The rookie was impressive in preseason and continues to pass and puck handle through traffic admirably. He’s caught the attention of the coaching staff who continually ooze affection for this kid. Rounding out the bottom three are VandeVelde who continues to find life as the shut down center, along with Brule who’s been solid, and more NHL-like through the three games he’s played after suffering an “upper body injury”.  Tanner House attempts to find his place with very limited ice time. Need proof? In the 10-1 slaying of the Texas Stars, Tanner House wasn’t on the ice for any of the Barons ten goals. He’s also been asked to play on the right wing which shows his adaptability, but the high learning curve exists.

Defense

  1. Jeff Petry
  2. Bryan Helmer
  3. Kevin Montgomery
  4. Colten Teubert
  5. Johan Motin
  6. Ryan Lowery
  7. Kirill Tulupov
  8. Alex Plante

The gap between Jeff Petry, who’s NHL ready, and Alex Plante, who has me thinking Cam Abney might be a better Baron at this point, is monumental. Petry heads down after starting the season in Edmonton, enters an already steady lineup, and immediately makes a difference. Mainly in his puck handling and distributions, Petry is a man among boys at this point (Helmer excluded). What can I say about him other than this; the longer he stays on the farm the more he peaks the interest of teams needing defensive puck movers (excluding Edmonton).

Helmer gets a nudge on this list for being the PP QB. Ironically, the Barons PP unit through six games ONLY scores when Helmer is, well, at the helm. I’ve started calling him Mr. Oklahoma City because he embraces both the team and the locale, but his role is very important on and off the ice.

Kevin Montgomery, nabbed from the ECHL Florida Everblades, continues to surge. How so? When paired with Alex Plante, Colten Teubert’s plus minus through two games was -1. When paired with Montgomery the next two games, he surged to a +3 (and eventually +4 through six games). He’s smart, conscientious of where his teammates are at, and indeed makes intelligent angled plays away from the puck. Teubert, by comparison, is still in the throws of deciding what type of defender he’ll be. The scorer or the chippy enforcer or both. Some are high on him, I’m still waiting and wanting more.

Johan Motin has emerged as a nasty, but patient defender. After being sent to Stockton, he’s back with a very sharp eye for squeezing into a roster spot where the Barons are lacking. He’s a very strong check-finisher, and is the smart agitator. This role fits him nicely on the farm. He’s in for a great season.

Lowery and Tulupov head near the bottom because of their lives on the PK unit which was abused in game one, but got a smidge better. Tulupov has been a healthy scratch four of the six games, so we’ll need more time to assess his game. Lowery, on the other hand, has played in all but one game and takes the brunt of the PK time. To go unscathed through six and claim a plus/minus of +1 is pretty sweet. For a rookie his game is centered and in recent interviews he seems poised to handle the “closer” role.

Alex Plante ends the list despite his heavy amount of ice time. 23 penalty minutes, 15 of them fights (and not very good ones), has me wondering how far his play will drop before he’s ushered off to greener pastures. Perhaps he can turn it around, but to date his time for greatness as an Oiler/Baron is quickly deteriorating.

Goaltenders

  1. Yann Danis
  2. David LeNeveu

The goalies remain in their preseason rankings with Danis ahead of LeNeveu. No surprise here as both have been pretty sharp through six games. Yann Danis is the third best goaltender in terms of GAA amongst AHL tenders with 4 games played. His SV% of .941 is near the top as well. Through six games, he’s the best goaltender we’ve seen play in Oklahoma City; including Martin Gerber. When injury bites an Oilers tender, Danis is your man.

LeNeveu, finally rid of the Bluejackets helmet, is a solid backup. The two will run tandem with Danis getting the majority of the work, but LeNeveu will certainly be ready, willing, and able to step in and start when needed. We’ve not seen Olivier Roy yet, but the inevitability of him playing in OKC is very much “on the radar”.