Bunz and Rimmer Sent Away, Roy Remains in OKC; Klefbom Hurt in Practice

News came out today regarding the Oklahoma City Barons goaltending situation. With four bodies on the roster and opening day fast approaching, decisions were needing to be made. With the surprise of Ty Rimmer being signed to an AHL deal with the Barons, there was some debate on whether the draft picks of Tyler Bunz and Olivier Roy were seeing their time in the Oilers organization coming to an end.

For Roy, he’s on the final year of his entry level deal and has fallen a bit short of expectations on where he was going to be at this point of his career. Many had pegged him as taking over the reigns for the Barons this season, but hasn’t quite shown the ability to do so just yet. Bunz began his professional career last season with the Stockton Thunder and had an extreme roller coaster of a season – seemingly unbeatable at one point, right to an extremely rough stretch that had many people wondering. Add in Rimmer, and there was sure to be a goaltending battle during training camp.

Today, we find out that Bunz is on his way to Bakersfield, California and will be with the Condors of the ECHL in the first year of a new affiliation agreement with the winged team. While Ty Rimmer will head to Illinois and join the Quad City Mallards of the Central Hockey League, in a bit of a puzzling move, with Quad City signed on this season to be the CHL affiliate of the Minnesota and Iowa Wild. Whether or not that agreement included a goalie however (as they’re still affiliated with the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears as well), is debatable.

This gives the backup AHL spot to Olivier Roy, which is where he began last season as well, but later lost it to Niko Hovinen. Once Roy returned to the ECHL for the latter half of the season, he out-performed Bunz, and certainly made a case for himself to get one more chance – one he’ll need to seize in his final contract year. The debate now turns to how much time Roy will see in net, with starter Richard Bachman taking the starting goaltending reigns in Oklahoma City in this new “development over winning” mantra of the Oilers farm system.

During practice today, the team was focusing on power play and penalty kill through most of the session. During one of the reps, defenseman Oscar Klefbom took a shot right to the ankle, and landed in a heap on the ice in extreme pain. Luckily following practice, he was walking around with just tape around the ankle, and putting weight on it as well. Plagued by injuries the last two seasons, it would be tough for him to lose another big chunk of a season but I don’t imagine this will cause any long period of absence.

 

Oklahoma City Barons AHL Season Preview: “We’ve Got Our Problems, Don’t We All”

Author Note: In an attempt to not reinvent the wheel, I thought I’d share an Oklahoma City Barons preview that I wrote last week for the Hockey Writers. Huge thanks to Ross Bonander for the opportunity. You can read it at its original landing spot, or continue reading below. 

A wise old man once said, “It’s not that I’m smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” That smart man was Al Einstein, an Oilers fan 30 years too soon. If you’ve followed Edmonton Oilers hockey over the last four years you understand this quote, and the subtle jab it provides. As the team embarks on a voyage in the post-Steve Tambellini world, we are graced with the presence of Craig MacTavish, who himself has stuck with the problem far longer than most. His tour of duty replacing a sullied GM began with a broad statement that was played out over the summer months – “…we have to do some bold things”. So far they’ve not been entirely bold, but they’ve not been tepid either. He’s been assessing NHL needs, saying the right things, moving the right assets, and being open and honest with the masses along the way. Yet there are some bold things happening at the minor league level where the prospect becomes the focus of the organization rather than wins, losses, Calder Cup appearances, and “good” AHL teams.

“It’s incumbent on everyone in that locker room to provide the kind of working environment we want … a productive, hard-working, non-complaining culture,” MacTavish said in a recent interview at the team website, “I’m going to be diligent in my decision-making in terms of weeding out the complainers. We want guys who want to be here, who want to come to work every day. The competitive environment that is going to be created in training camp is going to have a real residual effect on the rest of our year.”

“It’s really up to leadership to provide that framework of what the expectation is of our hockey team. I know, as a player, that’s the type of environment I wanted to work under. I wanted to play with guys who came in and went to work every day.”

Strong words from the new GM, and that same sentiment will be handed down to the Oklahoma City Barons when they begin their fourth training camp in late September. Along with the new push for leadership, hard work, and no complaining, the prospects will become an integral part of the equation of success. Gone are the days of “will they pan out or won’t they” instead replace that feeling with “let’s make them or else”. Propsects currently in the pipe will be asked to step up. Newly drafted prospects, and first year pros will be asked to be ready to fight for spots. That’s a good thing for the Oilers, and likely an interesting thing for fans of Barons hockey in OKC.

In the wake of a GM moving forward, key Barons have left the organization for various reasons, but on their own terms. Finnish winger, Teemu Hartikainen, has joined Ufa of the KHL after receiving a a two-way offer, but even more likely additional time in the AHL in his fourth year. He chose better money, and a chance to work on the things Barons/Oilers coaching staffers think he needs to work on. Likewise, Toni Rajala, another Finnish forward with better than AHL skill was placed on unconditional waivers as he’s chosen to play in Europe in the coming years. Rajala, too, chose a path outside of the blue and copper for better pro playing time, and maybe a bit more cash. The sad narrative here is that both Finns have NHL qualities that teams desperately seek, and perhaps they’ll be back, but for now they’ll move out of the organization that drafted them after seeing things quickly favor other types of players.

The Barons have not been without their signings in the offseason both in the AHL-only category, and NHL two-ways.

We start where teams start when they build “from the net out”.

Young Olivier Roy will play back up to newly signed, and former Dallas Stars prospect, Richard Bachman. Blessed with two great goaltenders in the previous three seasons in Martin Gerber and Yann Danis, the Oilers again want some protection for their prospect in Roy as they sign Bachman as the likely candidate for #1 AHL tender.

Nestled below Roy in the depth chart is Tyler Bunz. The Medicine Hat alum has a vastly different approach to goaltending than Roy, and that’s not an entirely bad thing. Bunz is laid back, more loose, less strategic. Look for him to play early season minutes with the newly connected ECHL team, the Bakersfield Condors.

On defense, youth continues to rule the day. Alex Plante and Colten Teubert, two not-so-sturdy towers of the blue line have parted ways with the Oilers, and instead they’ll be replaced by recent draft picks, most who’ve not played more than one full season.

The group includes the Slovakian string bean, Martin Marincin, who moves the puck very well, and benefited from a half-season paired with Justin Schultz a year ago.

Brandon Davidson, whose remarkable story of overcoming testicular cancer will forever be etched into our minds, will take on a heavy role in OKC as he continues to leapfrog his way up the depth ladder.

Another kid making huge paces in the right direction whom also has battled good health is Taylor Fedun. You’ll recall a femur break in the 2011-12 preseason shut him down for an entire calendar year. His time with the Barons in 2012-13 saw the skater we all hoped he would be. NHL scouts noticed his progress as well.

Then there’s Oscar Klefbom, the prospect drafted in 2011, is a Swedish dream for Oilers fans. But is he ready to take on NHL minutes? He’s the clear front runner to snatch an early career NHL spot, but his game has some rough edges. Stints in Oklahoma City will be forthcoming.

Philip Larsen, acquired from Dallas in a deal that sent Shawn Horcoff to the Stars, is a player most AHL Barons fans are familiar with. He might surprise most, and start the season in the NHL. However, Corey Potter might have a thing or two to say about that if/when he can stay healthy long enough to prove his value.

The depth of defense is good. It’s young, feisty, and ready to grab attention from the start of the season. This is a group worth watching.

Offensively it’s a season of questions for OKC, and maybe wild expectations for Edmonton. Ryan Martindale, Tyler Pitlick, Curtis Hamilton, and Cameron Abney are all playing in their final entry level contracted seasons. Each forward has had subpar beginnings to their pro careers, and some have been sidelined with brutal injuries. With the bulk of this group healthy (minus Hamilton; who’s still recovering from ACL surgery), it’s time to put up or shut up, or so they say.

Dallas Eakins was plucked from the Toronto Marlies as the Edmonton Oilers new coach, and with him came Will Acton and Ryan Hamilton, two guys that he is really quite fond of. Both provide somewhat of skilled positions for the Oilers whether it’s penalty killing or team leadership, but both are above-AHL type players, but certainly not huge NHL minute guys.

Likewise, Andrew Miller, a recent Yale graduate, has entered the good graces of Oil Country, and who knows, he might pan out to be the next Mark Arcobello. The Barons offensive juggernaut of Arcobello remains at somewhat of a dividing line in his career. While Eakins and MacTavish are fond of his skills, he’s struggled to put together the magical pieces that he’s discovered at the AHL level.

In a twist of fate, the Barons might retain one of the most gifted prospects they have ever farmed in Linus Omark. Seemingly banished to Switzerland by the previous Oilers GM, Omark is back, and has signed a one-year deal, but of the two-way variety. The majority of main stream writers believe Omark plays in Oklahoma City to start the season, but there are still a few, like myself, who finds Linus’ game to be the cure that ails the third line of the Oilers. This is a guy that scored five goals plus another in the shootout against a team coached by Dallas Eakins while he was with Toronto, so don’t discount his potential. If he finds minutes in the AHL look for him to be on a top scoring line, and produce in bulk. He’s heavily motivated, a few years wiser, and willing to drink the MacTavish kool aid.

Behind the benches the coaching staff remains the same. Todd Nelson, who has had three consecutive post season appearances, with back-to-back Western Conference Final appearances, was seemingly passed over for the Oilers head coaching position. He made peace with that, but remained consistent in his claim that he was disappointed to not be given the opportunity. So Nelson himself will have to surrender a bit of control over his own squad in OKC simply to appease the organizational focus on prospects. This might mean fewer wins.

And so fans in Oklahoma will make the attempt to be perfectly fine with losing more if it means prospects get a good, hard, long look. Which is tough to swallow when the attendance marker keeps falling towards devestating depths. Three seasons in the books, and attendance numbers have plummeted. A sign of the times in OKC? Yes. Competition with relatively new NBA team in tow? Yes. And if you think casual sports fans want to watch a minor league hockey team lose more than it wins, I’ve got that ocean front property that everyone raves about.

So the outlook and mantra for the season, at least from a follower of the team, simply becomes hopeful optimism. Which really is two words that should be written as one. But as Albert Einstein reminds us, even if the Barons have their problems, it is our duty to stick with them. Which, believe you me, is easier said than done. Godspeed Barons fans.

For more on the Barons check out Tend The Farm:

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Oilers Waive Ryan Hamilton & Philip Larsen, Claim Luke Gazdic

Photo by Steven Christy. 

In what is shaping up to be a busy hockey morning, the Edmonton Oilers have put Ryan Hamilton and Philip Larsen on waivers. If they clear, they will report to OKC.

A short time later the Edmonton Oilers claimed Luke Gazdic off waivers from the Dallas Stars. He is no doubt a healthy replacement for injured Steve MacIntyre — the Oilers new “muscle” who was injured in Friday’s preseason game in Oklahoma City:

And before all of this happened, Dallas Eakins named Andrew Ference as the 14th Captain of the Edmonton Oilers. Well done!

https://twitter.com/dallaseakins/status/384317819334033408

BBG&CS: Tributes to Kristians Pelss (1992-2013)

(Photo courtesy Steven Christy. All Rights Reserved.)

| This weekend the Edmonton Oil Kings paid tribute to their former teammate and friend Kristiāns Pelšs who died tragically in Latvia this summer following his return from Oklahoma City. The Oil Kings coaches, trainers and teammates remember him fondly and talk about his time with the team and what impact he made upon their lives and team. The entire team wore Pelss’ number 26 jersey for warm-ups. What a lovely, magnificent sight — an entire team of number 26, viewed through tear-filled eyes.

“On a night when they honoured the life of teammate and friend Kristians Pelss, it was only fitting the Edmonton Oil Kings pull off a victory. […] The game began with an emotional pregame ceremony honouring Pelss, the former Oil King and Edmonton Oilers draft pick who died tragically in his home country of Latvia this summer. Oil Kings players wore Pelss’ number 26 jersey for warm-ups, with those jerseys being auctioned off in support of the Oil Kings Education Association.” — via Edmonton Oil Kings

Pelss, also an Edmonton Oilers draft pick, passed away this summer in his home country of Latvia at the age of 20. Over two seasons with the Oil Kings from 2009-2011, Pelss played 126 games and scored 42 goals and 83 points with the team. He also played in 21 career playoff games, racking up 12 points, including 10 in 17 games en route to the 2011-12 WHL Championship. In 2012-13, Pelss played in the Oilers farm system for the Oklahoma City Barons and Stockton Thunder.

The Oil Kings have dedicated the season to Pelss’ memory, adopting the motto “Play for Pelssy.” A patch worn inside their jerseys displays the credo, and Pelss is also honoured with a helmet sticker featuring his number and initials and the Latvian flag.

The Oil Kings will all don Pelss’ number 26 jersey for warm-ups against the Tigers, and those jerseys will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the Edmonton Oil Kings Education Fund. There will be a pregame tribute to some of the highlights of Pelss’ time in Edmonton and a moment of silence.” — via Edmonton Oil Kings

Pelss Tribute Video via the Edmonton Oil Kings

Memories of Pelssy via the Edmonton Oil Kings

Play for Pelssy via the Edmonton Oil Kings

Remembering Pelssy via the Edmonton Oil Kings

I have thought often of Kristiāns over this summer. In Oklahoma City we knew him only a short portion of a season but even in that time he found a place in all of our hearts. At OKC Barons training camp this week a sticker appeared on the Barons helmet with Pelss’ initials “KP” — a remembrance of a special teammate and friend.

(Photo courtesy Steven Christy. All Rights Reserved.)

On Friday at the Edmonton Oilers NHL preseason game in Oklahoma City, the OKC Hockey Booster Club offered Pelss buttons and wristbands for donations to be made in his name to Special Olympics of Oklahoma. (Contact Josie Newton on twitter at @Jo_Jo1_ for more information.)


Dec. 29 Barons Outdoor Skate with Fans. (Photo courtesy Steven Christy. All Rights Reserved.)

 

Edmonton Oilers Soundly Defeated By Dallas Stars In Final Preseason Game

Photo by Steven Christy. Check out the full gallery here.

The Edmonton Oilers, having a pretty fancy run through the NHL preseason, embarked on a journey to Oklahoma City to hopefully solidify themselves as a preseason hopeful for the postseason. The “visiting” Dallas Stars, having just played the night before, iced a potentially AHL heavy team that gave many prospects one more big league looksee. In the end it was the Stars JV squad that out-hustled, out-manned, and out-scored the Oilers opening night roster. The 4-0 defeat propels the Oilers towards the beginning of the NHL season on Tuesday.

Normally, in minor league game recaps, I breakdown the period highlights, lowlights, and notable moments. Instead, I’ll speak in broad, full game terms here. In all, it was quite the night despite the final score.

Mark Arcobello

Mark’s return to Oklahoma City, and the Cox Center, was a very special moment. Listed in the starting lineup, number 62 made Barons fans proud. He continues to become a more well-rounded hockey player, and it appears that his hard work in the minors and subsequent off-seasons has paid off. He is likely making the Oilers opening night roster.

The big question mark has always been his size. Many quickly point out that there are players of his girth that have had famous careers in the NHL, some within the last two or three years. True. Then again, players of smallish statue are a minority. Tonight it was evident to me that Arcobello, while an exceptional player, struggles to win puck battles simply because he is much smaller. Some things you just can’t correct, and this is one of them. Compensating with speed helps, passing well does too, but he continues to have a propensity to lose a puck battle. Not good.

He also lacks something that I call, for lack of a better term, vision. He can laser a pass from stick to stick nearly 30 feet across the ice, and through traffic. Then, under little direst, he will miss on a ten foot simpleton shuffle. It’s bizarre. I wholly understand that I’m catching the entire Oilers squad on a really bad night, but this has been a subtle hiccup in his previous preseason starts.

I’m cheering for Markobello to land a permanent NHL spot, but the rough edges are still there.

Mike Brown and Steve MacIntyre

Both guys got their shifts tonight, one early on, another later. Brown clearly is the better skater, while MacIntyre still lumbers across the ice almost in slow motion. Neither played a ton of minutes, and both were injured towards the back half of the game.

Steve, in an attempt to rough a smaller Texas player up against the boards, somehow rammed his knee into the board. Immediately couldn’t put pressure on the skate, and hobbled toward the bench. A knee injury was what the Oilers tweeted in-game.

Mike Brown’s injury came near the player benches as his own player sorta toppled him over. Brown, going full speed at a Stars player in neutral ice, somehow got tangled in a mess of players along the boards, and injured his lower body. No specific injury has been cited at this time.

On a night where the Stars played, well, very few sStars, the rough stuff was pretty minor. Perhaps the absence of Brown and MacIntyre late in the game prevented any fisticuffs. Or maybe Eakins knew better.

The Stars

What can I say about a group of players expected to be out-manned? Wow. Roussel was speedy. Fiddler was Johnny on the spot. Gazdic wasn’t spastic. Eakin was solid up the middle. Oleksiak was bulky. Regardless of who hit the Stars roster, they were simply a group of highly motivated players. They were a 1/2 step quicker to the puck at every turn. They struggled early on with making crisp passes, but they were able to disrupt every single passing lane that Edmonton attempted to ease in to. It was a David and Goliath situation for sure, and bravo Dallas, you had a group ready to play good hockey.

As a Dallas Stars fan I loved it. I mean Vernon Fiddler?!? Sunshine and lollipops my friends.

Let me also give a hardy “Well done!” to the Stars fans that turned out in droves. In section 326, the group was 2 to 1 Stars vs. Oilers/Barons fans. That was a really neat thing to behold. 

This was pegged as an NHL Showcase, and after seeing the rosters it felt more like an Oilers showcase. My concern was that there was going to be a complete betrayal of a Stars fanbase that has resided in Oklahoma since the team moved to Dallas. Claiming OKC as “Oilers Territory” felt awkward, and always has. It indeed was prepared to be a celebration of Oilers, but the play on the ice dictated otherwise. So maybe this was indeed an NHL Showcase – gutsy hockey included – and in the end, we all win.

Belov vs. Larsen

I have been suspect of Phil Larsen for quite some time. We watched him play quite a bit as a Texas Star, and probably just as much as a Dallas Star. He has the potential to be a quality defender, but the decision making is just not there yet. Case in point. A three on one was coming his way, and instead of attacking the puck mover, and relying on Devan Dubnyk to make the save, he does nothing. In the end he impeded the vision of his own goaltender, and under -committed to stopping the puck. Ugly.

By comparison, Anton Belov looks like a legit NHL player. Having watched way too much AHL hockey live, it is pretty clear that he is higher on the depth chart than most Barons, and perhaps even a few Oilers. Tonight, most certainly, it was Belov > Larsen.

Dallas Eakins

Coach Eakins is an intense guy, and that was no more evident than in Thursday’s practice where he never even cracked a smile. The Oilers were loose and jovial while Eakins was all business. He was visually frustrated on Friday night at the little things. A missed pass, an inopportune mishandling of the puck, or a underachieving power play shot – he doesn’t miss much.

He basically rolled lines nearly identical to the previous Oilers preseason game (Perron, where are you?), and never did he consider wavering. What I like about Dallas Eakins is probably the thing I also despise the most. Sometimes he seems to be lost in a sea of his own thoughts. Like perhaps the game is consuming him. Perhaps all the great coaches behave this way, but he certainly has the overachiever lean. In conclusion, I like what he brings.

Oilers Travelling Road Show

One thing about Barons hockey that has always been so attractive is its low-key nature. It is AHL hockey in a town where people don’t follow a lot of hockey to begin with, let along triple A games. If you were around these parts during the lockout you will appreciate this statement, but when the Oilers come to town they COME TO TOWN. Radio guys. Writers. Girlfriends. Trainers. Extra luggage. More cameras. Expensive things. Strange accents. The whole nine yards. I call this the travelling road show.

It is kind of interesting to see how Oklahoma City adapts to this, and mainly the Barons office staff. They do a great job despite it likely being a pretty big stress on their normal routine. I can appreciate their willingness to please.

Yet this is NHL hockey, and there will always be an entourage attached to its nomenclature. The circus leaves in the morning. Back to business as usual.

The Night

I’ve not heard the official attendance on the night, but it is far and away one of the best attended hockey events in Oklahoma City since the Blazers played in the Ford Center. There were indeed empty spots in the arena, but the numbers were far far greater than nearly every Barons game we have seen in three years. The one exception? The inaugural game three years ago.

This was a night for the ages if you are a hockey fan. Chances are that it was a night for general sports fans as well. The game was faster, far less messy, much more heated, and incredibly potent. Despite the Oilers loss, and their misadventures offensively, this was a really good night for my city. I hope we do this again real soon.

Hall. Ebs. Yak.

The squad lost, but it is 100% accurate to state, “These are higher caliber” players. They are. Watching Taylor Hall play NHL minutes on TV is one thing, watching him live is another. Against AHL competition he looked incredible, as he should, but here, surrounded by other NHL players, he’s equally incredible.

Eberle continues to impress me even when I think he is going to take a nap offensively. Left, right, center – he doesn’t care, he will take an offensive position from nearly every spot on the ice. I thought tonight he was a bit passive, but then again, the whole team was.

Yakupov is an All-Star in the making. From the smile that never leaves his face to the hammys-parallel-to-the-ice skating, he is something to behold. That shot. Wow. I’ve never seen a player with my own two eyes whistle pucks at the net quite as quickly. In practice. In games. It is truly a remarkable gift that this kid possesses.

Thank You

The Oklahoma City Barons, and Prodigal, have lobbied for an NHL game in Oklahoma City for three seasons. They finally got one, and boy was it fantastic. We, as fans, are grateful. It was an incredible opportunity to watch and hear what went down at the Cox Center tonight, so thank you. Let’s do it again soon.

 

OKC Barons In Cedar Park, Edmonton Oilers In OKC, Dallas Stars Play “B” Squad

It is a wonderful day to be a hockey fan in Oklahoma City. I haven’t always been able to say that, but without hesitation, there are few cities in the US where you will get a better hockey experience than the one about to be bestowed upon us.

The Edmonton Oilers, who practiced yesterday in the Cox Center, have arrived and are ready to take on the Dallas Stars in the NHL Showcase tonight at 7:00pm. Dallas, having just lambasted the Colorado Avalanche 5-1, will head to Oklahoma this morning. What lineup we will see, we just don’t know yet. Last night it was Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Erik Cole on the top line.

Via Mike Heika at the Dallas Morning News:

Dallas plays against Edmonton at Oklahoma City Friday. Dan Ellis will likely get the entire game in net, while you will likely see players like Colton Sceviour, Kevin Connauton, Jyrki Jokipakka, Patrik Nemeth, Chris Mueller, Travis Morin, Matej Stransky and some holdover veterans from Thursday’s game.

So you are paying $45 to see a good NHL Oilers team play in preseason, but a really shmugly NHL Stars team. Okay then.

This was going to be a weird event regardless of who played, and here is why. You have to assume that there is a pretty good group of Dallas Stars fans living in Oklahoma City because, like me, as a youngster it was the closest team in proximity to the state. They were the team you followed. Seeing the “B” team is kind of a bummer, but this is intended to be an organizational showcase for Oklahoma City – thus the Oilers reign supreme. I can live with that.

**I have no idea what the proper etiquette for cheering will be. Can I cheer when both score, and boo when MacIntyre punches out Roussel? What a conundrum.

The arena will likely contain a big crowd. The tarp has been removed from the 400 level seats in the nearly 15,000 capacity arena in downtown Oklahoma City. Between you and me, less than 4,000 would be a disappointment. C’mon OKC, surprise me.

Down I-35, and towards Austin, Texas, the Barons travel to take on the minor league stars in Cedar Park. The round robin tournament, of sorts, features Oklahoma City, Texas, and San Antonio in a weekend schedule that will be very entertaining to follow. Linus Omark leads the charge for the Barons as very few roster cuts have been made in OKC training camp. Announcements forthcoming, I’m sure.

For great information on the Stars, the Barons, and this weekend’s action at Cedar Park, read 100 Degree Hockey. Great stuff.

I fancied it strange when the Barons agreed to a weekend preseason series when the Oilers were playing in Oklahoma City for a showcase event. I still find it strange. But we, the fans in OKC, will enjoy the rare top-notch hockey experience. It really will be a treat.

 

Oklahoma City Barons Training Camp Day Three

All photos by Steven Christy. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday’s Oklahoma City Barons training camp looked absolutely identical to the one the day before. 10:00am drills followed by an 11:00 am, two period scrimmage. The compete level was still high, especially for this only being day number three of camp, but with the Oilers nearing a fully realized NHL roster (or something close to it), the number of warm bodies in minor league camp continues to grow. As the number grows, it becomes even more pertinent for players to begin separating themselves from the rest of the pack.

Today, the scrimmage in particular, was very much an orchestrated dance of defensive pairs and offensive lines. There are, however, a few constants worth noting.

The only legit line, one that we have now seen three straight days play together, is Austin Fyten, C.J. Stretch, and Derek Nesbitt. All AHL contracted, all looking like the only scoring threat the Barons have — for now. They are quick. They are strong. They are unafraid to be confident with the puck. In summation, they are the best offensive weapons with the most consistent talent that the Barons currently have in the confines of the Cox Center.

In spurts, players like Ryan Martindale look good. Martindale struggled a bit in camp today, including a pretty bad whiff on a puck that could have scored a goal. Yet following the scrimmage he stayed put, took nearly 30 shots on net from the same spot on the ice where his bad whiff took place. Practice makes perfect.

The separation of players offensively is not all that great, but remember, this team is a sum of few goal-scoring parts. Instead, the pack is broken down into two groups on the defensive side of the puck where the clear stand-outs are those most familiar to Oil Country.

Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, David Musil, Brandon Davidson, and in a much more minor way, Joey Leach – all feel like the All-Star’s of camp, and deservedly so. The Oilers have been super rotten in previous years when it came to farming solid defensemen. We have finally hit a spot in the draft cycle where some really good prospects are now developing professionaly, and right before our eyes.

Oscar Klefbom, the shiniest piece of defending in three days of camp, has been asked to shoulder the load in the split squad scrimmages. Team Navy only features one other Oilers defensive prospect, and that is Brandon Davidson. The others are a mishmash of CHL, ECHL, and collegiate players – who when paired next to Klefbom seem a smidge smurfy. Good, but smurfy.

For obvious reasons, Davidson and Klefbom look solid playing alongside each other. However, we often got Klefbom and Davidson playing away from each other, and it was interesting to watch the gap in talent between themselves and their odd partner.

On the other side, Team White had the other Oilers prospects. Marincin is your top guy with a “floating” pairing with either Martin Gernat or David Musil. Gernat-Marincin is probably one we will see quite a bit during the regular AHL season. The same build, same style of play, consistently strong – they are going to be fun to watch. Brad Hunt, who had a healthy stay in the Oilers preseason, was paired with an oft-forgotten defensive prospect in Joey Leach. Both drive the puck well, but Leach has separated himself as more of a physical defender. Perhaps by accident, but certainly worth noting.

For the first time we see the four-headed goaltending monster of Richard Bachman, Olivier Roy, Tyler Bunz, and Ty Rimmer. After working out with a net specialist for much of the drill portion of practice, Bachman and Roy duked it out in the first 25 minutes of the scrimmage. Both were sharp, but Bachman is clearly the more predestined to be great goaltender. He moves better. Sees the puck better. Even handles the puck better. Roy was efficient, but continues to need a full head of steam to really feel confident. The players in front of him certainly didn’t help despite being a good group of defenders. We then got Bunz and Rimmer, the contest really worth watching. Both were prepared, and both again showed they have promise. The fact that both seem neck and neck should bother some, especially if you are a fan of Bunz. With no visible difference between the two in terms of betterment, you have to think that a coin toss will be made IF no one separates from the pack. Not good for Mr. Bunz, but really good for Mr. Rimmer. Number three goaltender is going to be a hotly contested battle.

In all, the team looked poised in practice, and highly energetic in the scrimmage. They’ll pack up, ship out, and head towards Texas for a weekend preseason sked all while the Edmonton Oilers arrive in OKC for their own preseason tilt against the Dallas Stars.

More camp feedback to come as well as announcements concerning re-assignments and cuts. Stay tuned.

Three Reassigned To Oklahoma City – Lander, Pitlick, Fedun

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved. 

After another Edmonton Oilers victory in preseason last night, we awaken to another round of training camp cuts, and reassignments to Oklahoma City. The bunch sent south this go-round included two forwards, and one defender. The three cuts (along with a placement of Darnell Nurse in juniors) now brings the Oilers towards a nearly complete NHL roster. There is just one more cut to make.

Last night’s victory over the New York Rangers probably wasn’t much more than a send off for the three assigned to the Barons.

Anton Lander, the centerman with callup potential, played just over 13:00 but was well below 50% in his face off wins (closer to 30%). His offensive inabilities seemingly continue to haunt him, and perhaps he is becoming the new Ryan O’Marra – so much potential, not enough meat and potatoes.

Tyler Pitlick, arguably the most impressive prospect in Oilers camp, played under 10:00 last night, and for all practical purposes was nearly invisible. He contributed in small ways, but on a night where Perron scores a pair, Eberle and Hall score one a piece, you are just going to be forgotten. What is not forgotten is how well he has stabilized himself at camp. I’ve said this before in the last week, but it needs to be mentioned again. This version of Tyler Pitlick is one we have not seen before, and I really want to see more. Instead of stringing together one or two good games, we need to see weeks of solid hockey. Those weeks then need to turn into months. Months into seasons. It boils down to roster placement as well, even on the farm team. Look for him to crack the top two lines in Oklahoma City.

Taylor Fedun continues to make headway quietly with the Oilers. Perhaps they have a soft spot for the kid, but the truth is that he has turned in to a decent puck mover with increasingly fewer defensive indiscretions. That’s good. With the loaded D core now hanging around in Oklahoma City (Klefbom, Marincin, Davidson, Gernat, etc. etc.) he will have to begin to pull away from the pack of slightly younger players. I think he can do it, and I think that Todd Nelson will favor him just a bit in the upcoming OKC season.

This leaves the Oilers with probably one more cut in camp to get to season “fighting weight”. Injuries excluded, the roster now stands at fifteen (healthy) forwards and seven (healthy) defenders. Many have suggested that Ryan Jones has been placed on waivers, and that might be the case.

Friday, the NHL Oilers will play in Oklahoma City in their final preseason tilt before the regular season begins. We will no doubt see a full, respectable roster. That will be fun. Likewise, it appears that Dallas will shed enough of their skin to be at the perfect NHL number. Two full NHL teams playing preseason in OKC sounds perfect to me. Let’s go!

Oklahoma City Barons Training Camp Day Two

Sylvain Rodrigue with Tyler Bunz. Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All Rights Reserved.

The Oklahoma City Barons hit the ice this morning for day number two of training camp inside the confines of the Cox Convention Center. Gone were the green, red and powder blue jerseys. Instead they would be replaced by white and navy with each color determining the “team” you would play for in the scrimmage that arrived in the last 45 minutes of Tuesday’s camp.

Sweaters were not the only thing that changed on day two. A few new faces hit the ice, including the additional personnel sent from Edmonton on Sunday.

Likewise, day two brought a tweaked format to camp including 10:00am drills followed by the instrasquad scrimmages at 11:00am. This switch is common in minor league hockey towns where the hurry up of camp becomes imminent with each passing day. The season it only ten days away, after all.

Here is how the teams were broken down in day two.

[one_half]

Team White

Defense

Brad Hunt
Joey Leach
David Musil
Martin Marincin
Martin Gernat

Forwards

Joel Broda
Alex Lavoie
Austin Fyten
C.J. Stretch
Erick Lizon
Preston Shupe
Kale Kerbashian[/one_half] [one_half_last]

Team Navy

Defense

Andrew Himelson
Wes Cunningham
Matt Krug
Oscar Klefbom
Brandon Davidson

Forwards

Nicholas Tremblay
Ryan Barlock
Chase Schaber
Cameron Abney
Kale Kessy
Ryan Martindale
Matthew Ford[/one_half_last]

 

Giving us a bit more detailed report of today’s session is Patricia Teter. Here is what she took away from today’s events while watching from ice level.

PT: Prior to the team taking the ice at 10:00am the four goaltenders — Roy, Bunz, Rimmer and Madolora — spent time with goaltender consultant Sylvain Rodrigue (see above in photo with Tyler Bunz) working on movement and pivots. At 10:00am the drills began followed by a scrimmage at 11:00am. As always with a new group of players — and this season contains a LOT of new players — it is difficult to identify them quickly, especially when all you have to ID them is a small number on the back of a helmet. Today however, the team was wearing scrimmage blues and whites with numbers — but no, not the same as their helmet numbers. If you head to the rink tomorrow, print out your rosters for ease of identification: Camp Roster and Scrimmage Roster. Highly recommended.

It was fairly impossible to keep track of lines during the scrimmage since there were only about 2 1/2 lines of forwards per team. They were continually double shifting and rotating, filling in where needed. Repeating from yesterday was the Nesbitt-Stretch-Fyten line, and C.J. Stretch continues to impress me. Two defensive pairings caught my eye during scrimmage. The first pairing was Martin Marincin and Martin Gernat, our two Martys — they are like two peas in a pod — tall, thin and very similar. Jim Byers called them “Slovakian doppelgangers” today — which is an accurate term for these two — and boy, oh, boy are they fun to watch. The second pairing is Brandon Davidson and Oscar Klefbom —  I’m very familiar with Davidson from last season and spent far more time watching Klefbom who is a very impressive defenseman. He’s a tall, rangy d-man who does a lot of things very well.

At the end, yesterday’s first star of practice Erick Lizon was replaced with today’s star, Matthew Ford.