Nugent-Hopkins To World Juniors With Shoulder Twinge (?)

The rumblings of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leaving the AHL Oklahoma City Barons to join a roster where he’d be the elder statesman have been occurring for some time. This week, confirmation was made by several reliable sources, and eventually by RNH’s agent, that the “kid” would indeed lace up for Team Canada.

I’ve believed all along that the decision on should he or shouldn’t he go has always been about The Nuge himself. Remove the Oilers from the equation, remove the Barons, remove the thought of leaving your team, because this is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often for Canadian players, and it’s the last chance for Nugent-Hopkins to partake in the World Junior Hockey Championships.

The odd wrinkle to this story has nothing to do with his decision, but rather a shoulder checkup in Edmonton before making the announcement absolutely concrete.

Nugent-Hopkins agent, Rick Valette, had this to say:

“It’s just precautionary, they’re just having a look,” said Nugent-Hopkins’ agent Rick Valette. “He had an AC separation last winter and we just want to make sure that everything is exactly where we need it to be. With our young athletes it’s the right thing to do and it’s the right thing to do for the Oilers too.”

That’s fine, but TSN’s Bob McKenzie digs a bit deeper:

Now that’s a certainly odd statement given the fact that Nugent-Hopkins has played full time in Oklahoma City this season. Why risk another shoulder injury if it hasn’t “felt quite right”? Why rush it? Why risk it even if in a locked out NHL season? I really have no explanation for this one. It’s border line absurd assuming both agent comments and those filtered through the media are the same.

And then the team chimed in on the shoulder situation via Coach Nelson & the subsequent video posted here. The comments get a little bit more specific in that they mention both “rehab” and “treatment” of a shoulder injury:

RNH will play in the World Junior tourney IF he’s healthy enough to play. But the surprise of a twinge of a shoulder injury is not good.

Schultz Good. Eberle Better. AHL Awards Abound For November.

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

For Jordan Eberle, it was a fantastic month of November in the American Hockey League. A dominate goal scorer, a prolific play maker, and the Barons consistent offensive hired gun, his 13 games were highlighted by 10 goals and 11 assists. Absolutely amazing for a single month of games.

Not too far behind that pace, was Oklahoma City defenseman, Justin Schultz. In that same 13 game arc he’d post 4 goals and a whopping 14 assists. There is no runner up in the player of the month category, so Schultz would be named the Rookie of the Month. Remember, he won the player of the month award for the opening month of October.

The Barons have now won back-to-back Player of the Month awards after never having a Baron earn that title in the previous two seasons of existence. Remarkable as well is that the team isn’t in the top spot in the Western Conference, and they are just barely clinging to second place in the five team South Division. Truly remarkable, and truly dominate on an individual level.

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Toni Rajala On The Move Again, Back To Stockton

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

Usually we get a swap between Oklahoma City and Stockton that is position for position. Instead, today we get a defensive player up and an offensive player down. This morning the Barons welcomed Nathan Deck via a PTO to likely cover as the seventh defender (Dan Ringwald in cast and sling this morning at practice). But the Barons make another move, in the form of Toni Rajala heading back to Stockton.

Rajala has been entertaining to watch while in Oklahoma City, but he’ll return to a Stockton team where he was the bees knees. He’s also on an ECHL scoring streak that continues when he returns to the team. In five games with OKC he’s netted a goal and earned an assist. But even more importantly, he’s emerged as a really creative forward. Not quite as mesmerizing as Linus Omark, but headed that direction. Coaching staff, fans, and media members have welcomed his artistic flaunts. I know that I’ll miss him.

He’ll be back, so keep an eye on him in the ECHL. Meanwhile, one third of the “Stockton Strong” line stays put in Oklahoma City. Philippe Cornet remains, while Eric Hunter and Toni Rajala reunite in Stockton.

Official Release:

The Edmonton Oilers assigned forward Toni Rajala to the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL, General Manager Bill Scott announced today.

Rajala, a 5-9, 170-pounder from Tampere, Finland was assigned to Oklahoma City on November 20. He appeared in five games with the Barons, scoring a goal and an assist.

He has played the majority of the season in Stockton. He leads Stockton in scoring with 23 points (11-12-23), while his goal, assist and point totals put him in the top 5 in each category in the ECHL among first-year players. Rajala was the Oilers 4th round selection (101st overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Oklahoma City Calls Upon Defenseman Nathan Deck

Who or should I say what is a Nathan Deck? That’s easy. He’s a scoring type defenseman most recently playing for the Stockton Thunder. He’s also a former Prince Albert Raider with a ton of WHL points (and one season with a positive +/-). 5 goals and 12 assists in 19 games is not bad for a defender in his second year pro. He’s also the team’s leading point snatcher among defenders, which is also not bad.

What’s not easy to answer is the where of the situation. Where do the Barons feel they need to plug in a newcomer on the blue line?

The small, 22 year old defender is in the same mode as another oft Thunder player and callup, Dan Ringwald. Another puck mover is never a bad thing, but you have to wonder if Deck will find himself a bit over his head in the AHL. I’d imagine he’ll swap in with either Plante or Teubert, and give some depth to the team in the wake of Ringwald’s upper body injury. And this is merely speculation, that Ringwald is out and Deck is in. Nonetheless, this will be an interesting call up. The Barons have struck gold before on lower league call ups (Dylan Yeo, Dan Ringwald, to name two), and here’s hoping the best for Deck.

Nonetheless, he’ll play for OKC this weekend against San Antonio, and it gives us another glimpse at how well the Thunder have nurtured so many young guys needing a big time shot. It’s also a chance for a guy to get some higher league love.

Huge thanks to Oil Field Hockey!

Official Release:

The Oklahoma City Barons have signed defenseman Nathan Deck to a PTO, General Manager Bill Scott announced today.

Deck, 22, has played his entire professional career with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL. The 5-11, 185-pounder from Sedley, Saskatchewan has amassed 43 points (12-31-43) in 79 games with the Thunder over two seasons.

Prior to turning pro, Deck played four full seasons with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League. In 272 games over those four seasons, he scored 118 points (22-96-118).

The AHL and OKC Barons Perfect Storm Season?

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

At the beginning of each hockey season you are seduced into thinking this season will be the winning season. And, to be honest, the NHL lockout has provided more justification for falling into this line of thought. Before the season started the OKC Barons was the team predicted to win it all – all the way to the top, the Calder Cup; and on paper OKC is still the perfect storm scenario, just waiting to come together. With the Oilers top line of young players – “the kid line” or “young guns” – how could it not happen?

Currently at the end of November, 20 games in, the OKC Barons are at 11-6-1-2. Not exactly burning up the league, but they are beginning to warm it up. Why is that? How are they not in the top AHL spot with NHL players such as Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and the newly signed defenseman, just out of NCAA Wisconsin Badger hockey, Justin Schultz – who by the way is a +14 and at the top of the AHL points stats?

Anyone watching this team play has to be asking themselves that question, and after talking to professional players, writers and fans, there seems to be some consensus. The AHL is tough – and what works in the NHL does not necessarily translate into the AHL – and this is not just about OKC, but rather the entire AHL league. There is an interesting phenomenon afoot right now at the AHL level and team dynamics have been skewed and disturbed. Sports are always unpredictable, that’s why they are exciting to watch and follow. The predicted winners can and do lose, and the underdogs make astonishing comebacks which go down in history.

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Eric Hunter Returned To Stockton, Green Likely Back In

Eric Hunter was used this weekend against the Houston Aeros. His role was simply to fill in for some ailing Barons, and also give some wings to a line that we’d already seen in Stockton soaring so high. As a centerman for Philippe Cornet and Toni Rajala, he wasn’t terrible, but certainly not fantastic. Given the lighter minutes in the AHL, and possibly a downgraded role, Hunter wasn’t given much to work with. In the end, it was a matter of fill-in for Eric. He’ll likely return to Oklahoma City in the near future, but his departure also means that another is clearly ready to come back to the Barons roster – captain Josh Green.

Mentioned by Coach Todd Nelson this week, Josh Green is nearing a full recovery from a rib injury he sustained earlier this season. He also would go on to hint that Green would play in the San Antonio series in December. That time has come, and it looks like they are creating some room for Mr. Green. That’s a good thing.

Where will Green fit back in the lineup, you say?

Assuming no one else is ready to return to the lineup (Pitlick, House, Martindale, etc. etc.) I’d place Green on the third line between Byers and Hamilton, with Arcobello playing the center between Cornet and Rajala. Green at center? I think that’s a smart move. He’s a big bodied play maker, and that seems to fit the Barons need right now. You could also keep Arcobello at center, welcome CVV back into the fold, and use Green in the third line winger role. It’s harder for me to justify moving Arcobello OUT of center than moving Green IN. We’ll see. Practice this week will dictate these lines pretty quickly.

Too Much Aeroing Not Enough Baroning, Houston Wins 4-3

Another night against the Houston Aeros, another irreversible set of circumstances leading to a loss. The team was rightfully concerned about their play in the first period. Thursday night, they took entirely too much time to out-hustle the Aeros. By the time they set their minds towards high scoring chances, the Aeros had the Barons on their heels. Thus the second and third periods were full of bumbly Barons, thankfully good goaltending, and eventually a shootout win by Houston. The Barons knew what needed to be done 24 hours later, and they did it, just in reverse. The Aeros would defeat the Barons 4-3, and lock down some important standing points in the Western Conference race to Christmas victor.

The first period alone was vastly different from the one we saw the night before. Or at least for the first 6 minutes of the game. As Taylor Hall gave a cross-check to a Houston Aeros player (and Nugent-Hopkins gave a rough), the Aeros would head to the power play. They’d not connect immediately on the man advantage, but would score as soon as the Barons killed the penalty. Justin Fontaine would score his eighth of the year. After game misconducts were given to Colten Teubert and Jarrod Palmer (plus some extras to the Aeros), the Barons would tie the game off a Jordan Eberle power play goal. A great screen in front by Dane Byers caught my attention, and he indeed would have a solid first period all together. Houston would capitalize to take the lead again as the Barons found themselves over-committing on the power play. Jason Zucker, with his tenth of the year, placed the Aeros in the lead. But Mark Arcobello would net the second power play goal of the evening thirty seconds later. The period would end with high shot totals, decent goaltending, but two really key power play goals for Oklahoma City. 2-2 was your score after the first 20.

The second period things slowed considerably offensively while some ugliness reared its head. Right winger Johan Larsson would score the go-ahead goal for Houston a midst some strange unsportsmanlike conduct between Dane Byers and Drew Bagnall. When the dust settled, thirty penalty minutes were given to both teams collectively, but it was OKC that would take a dip in shot totals, and be out chanced heavily. Olivier Roy would keep things close for the Barons, but the penalties and malcontent would prove to be too much. The Aeros take the second period with a lead of 3-2.

Sparked by a need to score, Oklahoma City showed some life, but again were stung by penalties and an inability to stop the power play. Jason Zuckers scored his second of the night, unassisted, and the Aeros would extend the lead to 4-2 mid-way through the third. Taylor Hall, with a dandy of a dangle, would make things interesting about twenty seconds later, but the Aeros got solid goaltending from Matt Hackett.

The Aeros would finish off the two-game series with the Barons by defeating them in back-to-back nights. They’d also tie the Barons in the conference standings.

The Barons will get a full week off before facing another South Division rival in San Antonio. The Rampage, who hit the skids in November, look to bounce back against an OKC club looking to revive their respectability.