What’s Up (Not Down) With Philippe Cornet?

Philippe Cornet Third Jersey Swing
What’s up with Philippe? He’s up! (not down) Photo by Steven Christy.

In October of 2011, I anxiously entered the Cox Center for two days of Oklahoma City Barons training camp. Digging through the team-provisioned guide of players I began furiously making notes. After I’d scribbled enough on both sides of the paper, I briskly walked the one hundred steps to my parked car. I fired up the car, fumbled for my phone, and unbeknownst to me, I dropped my notes between the seats. Later that day I retraced my footsteps from the house to the car frantically searching for those notes I so diligently scrawled for later use. I wouldn’t find the paper until the end of January when Cornet was called up to the Oilers.

In between the time that I lost those notes and January 31st, Philippe Cornet went on a scoring spree of amazing proportions. Twenty goals, seven assists, a league-leading six game-winning goals, and a shooting percentage above 30% – who was this Cornet? The Oilers would be equally as impressed, and send him for his first games in the NHL. He recorded an assist on his second NHL shift, then the honeymoon ended quickly.

He’d round out the 2011-12 regular season by coming back to earth and only scoring four more goals and six assists. But he’d prove his value once again netting a 1/2 point per game in the fourteen games in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He started to fall back into the Philippe we knew he likely would be.

Fast forward to the beginning of the 2012-13 season. It seemed that the Edmonton Oilers organization had seen enough. The remainder of his ELC would likely be spent in Stockton as the benches got crowded in OKC during the lockout. But the funny thing is that he again proved his worth.

While in Stockton, getting top line minutes, he’d snatch nine goals and fourteen assists in only eighteen games. That’s 23 points that no one dreamed would come even at the ECHL level. The lockout ended, the Barons flipped, floundered, and flattered their way into a niche lineup that somehow now featured the demoted Cornet at the top line alongside Mark Arcobello and Jonathan Cheechoo. What’s happening? This weekend he scored two goals and three assists in two games. Again, what’s happening?

When I eventually found that crumpled up piece of paper from October 2011 stuck between my seats, it was warmly attached to a french fry and a straw wrapper. Before promptly discarding it, I read my notes. At the top, first line, in underlined words it read,

Philippe Cornet has added bulk. He’s found another gear that no one knew even existed. It may just be my weary minor league eyeballs, but he’s the guy to watch this season. He’ll surprise all of us. Bank on it.

I’m a genius! No, not really. But what I was seeing was also being seen by the OKC coaching staff that really accelerated his abilities by placing him near the top half of the lineup. It worked well.

I’ve loved Philippe in the minors. His rookie season was rough, but towards the back 1/3 of it he went hard. The coaching staff respected this, gave him a boost, and he’d play very well. Then his sophomore season rolled around, and it would be begin with a fiery pace. Then he’s demoted the season of the NHL half-lockout, but earn his way back to the top line in the AHL. What’s up with Philippe? What do you do with a player like that?

This is a tough one. When he signed his contract the expectations were middle of the pack. He had one of those contracts that got smaller in the “A” as time wore on, but bigger in the big leagues towards the end. I, for one, thought fighting for a bit more in the minors might been slightly more suitable, but that wasn’t the case. But given what he’s done in the minors, and how well he’s overachieved do we all get tangled in the love net on his behalf? I do, at times. So you have to carefully navigate the possibilities of the future while understanding more than anything else…where does he fit in as an Oiler? He’s a young guy, and if the Oilers pass on him, the Barons could entertain a minor league only contract, but would Philippe go for that? I wouldn’t. He might be one of these players who doesn’t immediately fit the bill in his current organization within the next year, he moves on, signs elsewhere, and wiggles his way into a 3rd/4th line role. But, again, with the Paajarvi’s and Hartikainen’s of the world, do you really dive the Cornet’s into the shallow fish pond, and assume that it works? Especially when those two specifically do sooo many things right? I think not.

Selfishly, I say sign the kid to another year, an extension if you will. Like Plante (who’s struggled) and Chris VandeVelde (NHL time; solid on the farm) did in the off season and see where he settles in with a fourth year of Oilers minor league time. But remember, Kristians Pelss will be a year older, so will Toni Rajala. And Tyler Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton will be playing in their final entry contract days, and will hopefully find another gear. With those guys, and likely a few more as rookies, the team gets crowded. And that’s not a good sign for Philippe. Thus, I don’t see how the Oilers keep him another season. Then again, they’ve surprised me (daily) before.