Every year for many, I like to look back on the past season and compare it to Brian Conacher’s brilliant book and his description of minor league rosters 50 years ago.
- Brian Conacher: As in other areas of modern society, hockeys teams too have their generation gaps. This situation stood out on the Rochester team in 1965 which consisted of three groups: the veterans (had all resigned themselves to making the best of their minor league hockey careers), the young ones (who have stars in their eyes and are in the AHL for just a little time, or so they think) and the group somewhere in between (these players kept hoping that a break would come their way and they might get their chance in the “big tent”).
Last year’s look is here, and let’s get going.
- Men who are over 30 and come out of the minors to establish (0r re-establish) themselves are pretty much a thing of the past. You’ll find the odd goalie or defenseman but unlike the orginal 6 era very few teams have enough depth and free agency makes it impossible to keep them on the farm. Which is a good thing. BARONS 14-15: Steve Pinizzotto got into 18 games and honestly looked good doing it. Jason Williams earned—but did not receive—a call-up based on a terrific season, age 34. Ryan Hamilton is 29 and got a 16-game look, and another two-way contract. None of these men is close to establishing themselves as an NHL player at this time.
- Pretty much everyone who is in the AHL past (say) 21 has some issues and is going to do some meandering (this is universal from 1965 through 2009). BARONS 14-15: True story again this year. Martin Marincin, Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlick and others had things they needed to work on and spent extended time in the minors, Lander even getting a waiver sleep before being sent to OKC. Roman Horak bolted from this position a year ago, it’ll be interesting to see if any Oilers RFA’s, like Marincin, take this opportunity to leave the organization’s North American roster.
- We shouldn’t expect Rob Schremp to play more career games than Sam Gagner or Andrew Cogliano. Whatever that line in the sand is, that line sticks. BARONS 14-15: Yes, indeed. Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano may have issues, but there’s no way in hell they’ll be caught by someone like Martin Marincin or Anton Lander UNLESS Gagner washes out and he’s already at 562 games, an incredible total considering Gags is only 25.
- No minor league regular is likely to do anything incredible like play in 1,000 NHL games. It is a rare thing for a player to spend a couple of seasons in the minors and then go on to a 1,000 NHL game calibre career. BARONS 14-15: Klefbom spent only 57 games in the AHL and is unlikely to return, so he doesn’t qualify for this conversation (and he could very well end up playing 1,000 NHL games). Among the rest, I do think Anton Lander and Martin Marincin have a chance, but we’ll have to wait and see. Marincin played 127 AHL games during his entry level deal, 85 in the AHL, suspect he could have a long career and make it. Lander looks like a good bet despite an absolutely stupid entry-level contract (plus one year) spent at the mercy of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
- If you haven’t established yourself as a prospect of interest by 22 you are in trouble. The players who have graduated to useful NHL careers have at least played some NHL games by the end of their entry level deals. BARONS 14-15: Anton Lander is 23, but I think a normal organization would have graduated him in due time. Marincin and Klefbom both made it and Pitlick, Hamilton et al did not. There’s a line there. Brossoit is still on the right side of the line and of course guys like Yakimov and Dillon Simpson have plenty of time.
- Exceptions are college men. Playing 4 NCAA seasons means turning pro at 22, meaning a “late start” for some quality prospects. BARONS 14-15. Too true. Mark Arcobello, Justin Schultz, Andrew Miller, Jordan Oesterle on it goes. Signing college players has all kinds of value and the Oilers need to do more of it.
- A large group of players on the current team could be described in the “tweener” division. History tells us we’ll have our answers on men like Schremp, Spurgeon, Roy and Reddox very soon. It also tells us we already have our answer on Colin McDonald. BARONS 14-15: As with the McDonald example, there are exceptions. Brandon Davidson looks like a tweener, right? Kale Kessy too, but what if things work out just right? I’d include Martin Gernat, Travis Ewanyk, Jujhar Khaira and others on that list, but one of them could be an exception.
- If we make a list of the minor league RFA’s each summer, we can probably as a group pick the cuts and be fairly close. That 50 man list gets a haircut every summer. BARONS 14-15: No doubt in my mind we see some clearance Clarence this summer. Candidates to go include Matt Fraser, Tyler Pitlick, Curtis Hamilton, Martin Marincin, Keith Aulie, Justin Schultz, Tyler Bunz, Brandon Davidson, Brad Hunt, Kellen Lain, Andrew Miller, Frans Tuohimaa. I think we could see several return—Pitlick, Marincin, Schultz, Davidson, Miller—but five or more are likely to go. That’s 10% of the 50-man list.
- Daniel Cleary, Fernando Pisani and Jason Chimera became productive players in the toughest league on the planet. THEY are the stars in this study. BARONS 14-15: Ladies and gentlemen, ANTON LANDER!!! He is the star of the minor leagues, folks. This is the reason you have a developmental league, so kids can learn how to play the game in a support role, or managers can get the hell out of their own damn way. Anton Lander is exactly why you have the AHL. Full stop. Got one! Music!
- For Rob Schremp fans, there’s exactly ONE pure offensive player who made it: Mike Walton. BARONS 14-15: There are no players of this type on the farm, last one was Linus Omark and he came through the organization when the management was wet-noodling.
- The future NHLERS are……..If I’m a betting man, these are the winners from the current group to be the new Cleary and Chimera. Here are the names I’ve mentioned over the years (a sample):
- 2008: Theo Peckham and Gilbert Brule. Both were lost along the way.
- 2011: Theo Peckham and Devan Dubnyk. Well, DD made it, lost it, made it again. Peckham had a great chance but blew it.
- 2012: Linus Omark, Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander, Teemu Hartikainen and Tyler Pitlick. Lander punched his ticket.
- 2013: Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander, Teemu Hartikainen and Martin Marincin. Lander made it, Marincin can see light.
- 2014: Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom and Mark Arcobello. Could be three for three by the time it’s over.
- This season, I’ll choose (from the AHL group, and I’ll exclude Lander, Marincin and Klefbom) Iiro Pakarinen. I’d choose Tyler Pitlick but it’s not clear he’ll ever be able to stay healthy. I also believe Bogdan Yakimov and Jordan Oesterle will have careers but we need to see more.
The Edmonton Oilers have to draft players who they can grind into useful NHL men, and then hold on to them. The Daniel Cleary’s and Jason Chimera’s are on the way, with Anton Lander perhaps the first of several to support the gifted jacks and kings. I know many of you blame the scouts, but for me the lesson of this season—the lesson of Anton Lander and Todd Nelson—is the players are fine, but the organization doesn’t believe in them and doesn’t develop them using established good practices.
We can only hope Peter Chiarelli builds on what is there and doesn’t flush useful prospects for sins real or imagined. We wait.