The Oklahoma City Barons have entertained a sudden onslaught of ATO’s for the better part of the final two weeks of the AHL regular season. Now that the postseason spot has been secured, and the first round dance begins on Wednesday, the team has some decisions to make when it comes to playing time.
In the finale of the regular season we saw a whole bunch of these guys play against the Iowa Wild, and although they looked as green as a clover on St. Patrick’s Day, they showed some pizzazz, some razzle dazzle if you will. There weren’t enough glowing reviews individually to warrant a WE NEED THE KIDS IN THE PLAYOFFS banner, but the sum of their parts was rather enticing.
Todd Nelson has no qualms, none whatsoever, when it comes to playing kids in high-intensity situations. By kids, I mean, forwards Josh Winquist (born in ’93), Jujhar Khaira (born in ’94), Greg Chase (born in ’95), and the Jones twins (old men, born in ’90). Defensively, the team has been super young, but Darnell Nurse is a baby at just barely 19. We’ll throw him in the mix too alongside Jordan Oesterle (’92) and Graeme Craig (’93).
Let’s talk about each player, and the likelihood that they’ll play.
(Has played mostly right wing, on 3rd/4th wings)
Chase is a challenging forward to defend at 6 foot, 205 lbs, but it isn’t all about size. He’s small for a heavy-footed forward, but he really likes to attack defenders when he has the puck. Run over you, rather than run around you is his mantra. That’s good news since Tyler Pitlick, a similar type of player albeit more naturally gifted, is out with an injured kneecap. Chase might be a good option on the 3rd/4th line wing spot in a pinch, and against a team like Texas attack mode is an interesting proposition to thrown on the ice.
(3rd/ 4th line center)
Like Chase, Khaira is a gutty player. Lost in the Lander and Arcobello talk for the Oilers at center is the prospect Jujhar Khaira who is coming off a so-so WHL season in terms of where he projects. Khaira is a tough skater, tough in front of the net, and tough to defend. He’s like Teemu Hartikainen lite at this point, and although prone to minor mistakes, is every bit a dandy of a prospect as you’d want him to be. In a matchup with the Stars you need muscle, and this type of center would be a good addition. Nelson probably likes Ewanyk a bit more, but simply because he’s been around longer. I’d flip the coin again, Coach.
(One game on left wing, centered by Khaira, Chase on right)
This guy is green, but a goodie. Surprisingly strong handling skills, Winquist is a speedy fella. I like the skill that he brings, that quite frankly the Barons have lacked all season. Unlikely to play, perhaps in a pinch.
Kellen and Connor Jones
(Consistently playing together, left wing and center)
The Jones twins played one game apart in OKC, then promptly went back to being line mates. Smart. You quickly see why they were successful in the collegiate ranks, what with their fluidity and all. Masterful on the forecheck, these two might be a dark horse to crack the lineup if Ben Eager doesn’t jump into the lineup before game two. I like the hands and wheels of both, and I think the Oilers were wise to snatch both.
(Top pairing, alongside Fedun)
He’s in, as long as he conquers this illness he supposedly is battling. Gernat has really been timid lately, and that’s cost him a starting spot. Nurse has been more of a liability, but gives you so much to watch / dissect / discover that he’s hard not to place in the lineup. He fumbles enough and Gernat is back in.
Jordan Oesterle / Graeme Craig
(Craig left, Oesterle right)
Good to have these guys in the quiver if a defender goes down, and that’s likely the only way they consider trotting them on the ice. Oesterle is clearly the better of the two, but still a professional work in progress.
Jujhar Khaira, Greg Chase, Darnell Nurse
Playing these guys isn’t about TOI for prospects, well not entirely. Chase and Khaira give you skill and oomph that you need desperately. They’ve gotten enough brief reps over the last couple of weeks that I’m confident they can be helpful. If Nurse can lock down on the giveaways, he can make a difference. Go kids!