As fans of specific American Hockey League teams await a full schedule from the league’s front offices, it’s that mid-August point of the off-season where you can indeed begin to size up your opponent — despite knowing when or where or how often you’ll be seeing them. Over the last two seasons of farming history in Oklahoma, the Barons have seen their share of Texas teams. It’s not uncommon, mainly for travel purposes, for the schedule to have a heavy emphasis on neighboring teams. And, rightly so, neighboring teams in the same division of the league. Even with a new simplified conference realignment this summer, the Oklahoma City Barons still find themselves shrouded by teams from down south. San Antonio, Texas, and Houston will all be familiar foes in the 2012-13 season (add Charlotte for good measure). So familiarize yourself right now with these teams, their players, and their futures — we’ll see them a lot.
Take the Texas Stars, for instance. A down year last season doesn’t equal the talent they have at various positions. Much has been debated on the goaltending load that the Stars organization has shouldered in the offseason, and it’s definitely interesting to watch. However, there are a few names that come to mind offensively-speaking when talking about the Texas Stars. One of those being young Matt Fraser.
At 22 years old, the Red Deer native has made his prescence felt as a goal scorer in the American League. A dangerous weapon with a left handed shot who can just about out johnny-on-the-spot other forwards his age in the minors. Previously a WHLer with the Kootenay Ice, there’s no denying that Fraser can score. But he’s a goal scorer with a lot of penalty minutes, and an up-down type of +/-. Those two coupled together seem to point to the lack of well-rounded intangibles that future NHL players should likely posses if they except any type of career outside of a cup of coffee. And his AHL 11-12 AHL campaign proved just that.
But in lies the beauty of a player like Fraser. He’s a smash and grabby goal scorer. Rarely do those things go together to create a symphonic tone of punishment. Fraser is that guy, maybe to a fault.
37 goals in 73 games was second best in the league last season, and the kid is only 22 years old. He oozes both talent and muzzled tenacity when needed. But it’s in the little things that weigh Fraser down. Mike Heika, who covers the Dallas Stars for the Dallas Morning News had this to say,
I really like Matt Fraser and I think he will deserve a chance at some point. The problem is that his strength is as a top-six forward and a power play specialist, and I just wonder if the Stars have the guts to call a younger player up and put him in that role.
The people inside the Stars say that he needs to work on his overall game, and I get that. But I sometimes wonder if a guy simply knows how to score goals. Maybe he’s not great defensively, maybe he doesn’t always dig the puck or block a shot, but there is something to be said for a player who can score. I would love to see him at some point this year, but the guess is his chance will come next season after he improves his overall game.
And a chance is exactly what he got, albeit a quick one. In January, with Jamie Benn on the IR, Fraser received the quick replacement callup. At the time, he had registered 21 goals in 40 games with the Texas Stars and indeed was turning some heads.
Perhaps the odds are stacked against Fraser, who is still viewed as a one-trick-pony within the Stars org. A great example of this is in Alex Chiasson, whom many favor ahead of several key Stars prospects — including Matt Fraser. Brandon Worley at Defending Big D state it best,
Right or wrong, Chiasson hasn’t received as much praise as he perhaps deserves as one of the top prospects in the system. He’s not a flashy player but he is easily the most well-rounded forward currently in the system — better even than Matt Fraser, Reilly Smith and Scott Glennie. Chiasson is a capable defender in his own zone and great in transition and has proven to be a dynamic forward with more than just one trick up his sleeve.
The well rounded individual is something that the NHL has prominently regarded in recent memory. Gone is the goon. Gone is the goal magician. Instead there’s an expectation that players need to be an all-around, swiss army style mover and shaker. The Barons know a thing or two about that. Whether people are complaining about Teemu Hartikainen not scoring or skating well or Magnus Paajarvi being timid in front of the net — they do so many things well, but are passed over quickly because they can’t do them all. But such is life.
Fraser will likely start in the AHL this coming season. He’ll likely face the Barons at least a dozen times, maybe more. If and when that happens, the defense and goaltending will need to be particularly good for OKC. Because when Matt Fraser is on, he’s really on. He could potentially cause some heartburn for Oklahoma City. Be prepared. You’ve now been warned.