Predicting Barons Forward Groups

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.

Another day, another dose of reality. The influx of Oilers-bred players is prepped to descend on the great state of Oklahoma. For how long, one can only guess (I’m predicting Thanksgiving). But in the short run, it’s going to be entertaining to watch the demigod transcend the AHL ranks.

Many writers/bloggers/non-pants-wearers have bludgeoned the world with predictions on where this guy will play and that guy will play. Most have been consistent in the belief that Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle will roll together with a solid prospect filling in the final 1/3 gap – most commonly Hartikainen and Paajarvi. Barons Coach, Todd Nelson, has mentioned this on at least two occasions via Edmonton radio spiel.

So that leaves a lot of  jockeying for position amongst the remaining Barons. So without further hesitation, I give you the forward line predictions (subject to change because these things are inevitable; and…I’m sleepy).

L1 Teemu Hartikainen – Ryan Nugent Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
The prospect watchers have always been concerned about Teemu’s skating. They know he can play gritty. They know he can handle the puck. They know he’s unafraid to surge toward the net. Yet they still insist that his skating keeps him from a permanent NHL roster at this point. I couldn’t disagree more. With Nuge in the middle and Eberle on the right, that leaves a Taylor Hall-shaped hole on the left. The world will likely champion Magnus Paajarvi in this position because of his speed, but Teemu plays a better compared full-throttle game around the goal mouth to that of Hall. Paajarvi’s knock in the postseason, from me at least, was that there were times he was unafraid to park his can near the net. Most of his shot attempts were taken a half-step inside the scoring chance zone. Teemu was the complete opposite.

These three will be 50 shades of yea on the farm in OKC, and they likely make those around them better if they can keep up.

L2 Tyler Pitlick – Josh Green – Magnus Paajarvi
The comedy of contracts for the Barons/Oilers in the offseason is now Dane Byers. Anticipated to be a heavy vet presence in OKC with a slight callup value, Byers likely never dreamed that he’d be a tad more unimportant come the middle of October. So instead of Byers squeezing into the top two lines, he’s sent lower. In comes a Paajarvi and Pitlick winger situation.

Tyler Pitlick was somewhat of a missed opportunity for the Barons through the first three months of last season. The coaching staff didn’t know how or where to plug him in. He had flashes of brilliance as a rookie, but was a healthy scratch at times, and it appeared that he’d get the silent treatment for much of the season. Instead he blossomed. Todd Nelson gave the kid a chance, and he instantly was reminiscient of a Teemu Hartikainen but with a more gifted scoring presence. It didn’t equal a ton of goals, but you could see the potential. Then the postseason rolled around and he was magical through the early rounds.

Green gets moved to the second line with RNH at the top. And suddenly the second scoring line is pretty solid. Pitlick and Paajarvi are almost interchangeable on the wings – left or right, it doesn’t matter – but with Josh in the middle they’ll be good. Green was definitely the Barons top centerman for the entire season run beginning a year ago. If he can stay healthy, and keep up, he’ll get the job done nicely for the youngsters to his left and right.

L3 Dane Byers – Anton Lander – Mark Arcobello
Interesting third line. Lander gets two very capable linemates to his left and right. Arcobello, who can easily play center role as well, is a whale of a minor league face-0ff winner which lends itself helpful on the third line where historically speaking things go feast or famine quickly. Lander is in a make or break situation to some extent. He’s played well, but not well enough. The undersized Arcobello is sneaky quicky, and Byers is a feisty forward who plays on the edge. This could be a problematic third line for most AHL teams. Just too much dangerous potential.

L4 Philippe Cornet – Chris Vande Velde – Antti Tyrvainen
It’s simply a matter of placement for the guys on the fourth line. One would think Cornet deserves more ice time (and he’ll likely get fewer on the fourth line), after having a lights-out start to the previous season. His knack for goal scoring was reminiscent of a lucky incarnation of Linus Omark, but with a less visible skill set. But he calmed down. His shot totals decreased. As did his scoring. But in his third year of play, he’ll be forced to play deeper in the lineup.

This is a fourth line that might see more minutes than we think. It’s also a line that will be interchangeable with second and third lines based on matchup, injury, and overall performance. That’s the luxury that Todd Nelson will have in 2012-13.

CVV is the setup guy that is a small breath away from an NHL roster. The Oilers were convinced he was worth keeping this summer, and he’ll play an integral role on the farm in a few months. Tyrvainen and Cornet seem to find more success when they have a decent center. They need that solid faceoff winner, and handsy middle play to aid their performance. Chris is up to the task. This is a line that can close out the heavies of opponents as well. They are also a fourth line that will be better than most third or second lines on other AHL clubs this season. Stacked indeed.

Who’s out?

Tanner House – I love Tanner House. He’s a center with a pension for wing play. He’s a mucker when needed. He’s a quality fighter. He’s a go hard individual. The worth ethic of this kid is astounding, and he overcomes a lot of his misgivings because he plays so hard. But he’ll exist in a depth role this season. That’s not because he’s not capable. As a matter of fact, he’ll probably get a 50/50 split start with Lander/CVV or even a wing position.

Ryan Martindale – Again, because of the NHL contingency playing in OKC, Martindale takes a backseat again. Not as far as Stockton, but behind other players like House. He’ll get some time. Is 25+ a good prediction? Maybe.

Curtis Hamilton – Another player that doesn’t seem to have a place. Might he blossom a bit later? Hard to tell. He’ll stay a Baron, but what role could he play?

Cameron Abney – The other Stockton exile a year a go, will get placement as a heavy in the deeper pairings. The problem for Abney is that there’s a player on this team that’s of the same mold, but with a vet/up side – Dane Byers. I think it’s safe to say that CamAb gets as many games as Martindale, but not necessarily at the same time.

Kristians Pelss & Tony Rajala – The lack of AHL-only signings by the Barons in the offseason might have been smart now that a lockout has begun. And that likely gives Pelss and Rajala a tad more AHL time out of the gate, but we might see a  re-assignment to Stockton if the team moves players like they have the last two seasons. Rookie wingers have typically been successful with the Barons, but most were of a higher draft pedigree or simply more promise. We’ll see them in OKC, no doubt. But not much.