Future NHL skill forwards don’t spend much time in the AHL, unless they have some specific malady (Edward Purcell: foot speed) to overcome in the eyes of the high foreheads, or they’re 18 and the NHL coach isn’t sure about his overall game (Jesse Puljujarvi). (Photo by Rob Ferguson)
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- New Lowetide: Oilers badly need a boring but effective summer
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Note: I wrote at length on the subject of farm development in a November article for The Athletic. It is here.
Future NHL two-way forwards and checkers also begin life as skilled forwards, in junior hockey. Example: Daniel Cleary. He scored 115 points for the Belleville Bulls at age 16 (1995-96) but he was unable to establish himself as an NHL player with his first team (Chicago Blackhawks). By the time Cleary became a productive NHLer, he was a hard-working winger, a man who accepted a role, worked hard to play in a tight-checking system, and used his God given talent to score 20 goals a season in aid of his team. That is a very useful player, but he had to adjust and become something other than the kid who ran circles around other teenagers at age 16.
The NHL is populated by men who were dominant at 16 in their various junior leagues, owning the puck for shifts at a time. But at 22 or 25, in the NHL, the player database (save a precious few) is filled with men who pressure and cut off lanes and force opposition from possession—without ever having the puck and controlling it as they did long ago. Learning that trade, and then learning to post some offense while being so disciplined, is the key to NHL success for AHL players.
Did we know the useful NHL players back in 2015-16 OKC were named Jujhar Khaira and Tyler Pitlick? No, we did not, but we knew they were trending in a good direction. Here are forward prospects (my definition is arbitrary) who scored .5-per-game or more, beginning in 2010.
2010-11 Oklahoma City Barons
- Linus Omark 28gp, 14-17-31 1.11
- Liam Reddox 37gp, 18-15-33 .892
- Mark Arcobello 26gp, 11-11-22 .846
- Colin McDonald 80gp, 42-16-58 .725
- Teemu Hartikainen 66gp, 17-25-42 .636
Remember: Skill doesn’t spend much time in the AHL, because if the offense is that good the NHL beckons. One dimensional players like Linus Omark have only one way to make it. Great bat, no glove.
Omark was a flat out ridiculous prospect whose biggest crime was arriving at the same time as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi. He (like Paajarvi) got lost in the flood. Reddox played 100 games as a checker, Arcobello was a dandy center who worked like a bugger and willed himself into a utility role, McDonald took forever to find his way but carved out a reasonable NHL career (148 games). Teemu Hartikainen needed better boots, I liked him.
2011-12 Oklahoma City Barons
- Linus Omark 18gp, 6-10-16 .889
- Magnus Paajarvi 34gp, 7-18-25 .735
- Teemu Hartikainen 51gp, 14-18-32 .627
- Mark Arcobello 73gp, 17-26-43 .589
- Phil Cornet 67gp, 24-13-37 .552
Same group as a year before, the Oilers had hell popping up above with the parade of No. 1 overalls arriving every fall. Cornet was a tweener but the young man could score at the AHL level. Paajarvi lost his bat along the way, or that’s the story we tell each other. Truth is, MPS spent a helluva lot of his rookie season with Sam Gagner and Linus Omark, and those two guys created offense at both ends. The next year he played with a flagging Eric Belanger and he’s still looking for an exit ramp back to offense.
2012-13 Oklahoma City Barons
- Toni Rajala 46gp, 17-28-45 .978
- Mark Arcobello 74gp, 22-46-68 .919
- Teemu Hartikainen 47gp, 14-23-37 .787
- Phil Cornet 46gp, 15-18-33 .717
- Magnus Paajarvi 36gp, 4-16-20 .526
Rajala was really small and MacT sent him away 10 minutes after taking over. I don’t know if he was a player, but lordy the Oilers made decisions quickly in these years on their skilled men. The rest of the list remains the same (this was the lockout year).
2013-14 Oklahoma City Barons
- Mark Arcobello 15gp, 10-18-28 1.87
- Anton Lander 46gp, 18-34-52 1.13
- Linus Omark 29gp, 14-15-29 1.00
- Roman Horak 53gp, 21-27-48 .906
- Andrew Miller 52gp, 8-26-34 .654
- Tyler Pitlick 39gp, 8-14-22 .564
Anton Lander had a bit of Hartikainen’s issue (slow boots) but he was a fine AHL center. I liked Roman Horak but he bolted before you could say Podolsk Vityaz. Tyler Pitlick finally overcame injury and began to push toward the NHL job that would eventually arrive.
2014-15 Oklahoma City Barons
- Anton Lander 29gp, 9-22-31 1.07
- Andrew Miller 63gp, 27-33-60 .952
- Iiro Pakarinen 39gp, 17-11-28 .718
- Curtis Hamilton 63gp, 12-20-32 .508
Lander would have had a more substantial career if Todd Nelson had stayed, pretty sure we can agree on that one. Andrew Miller probably would have been better off staying in the organization but made the move to Charlotte. Iiro Pakarinen was a product of European scouting and he’s hanging in, maybe he has another 200 games in him. Curtis Hamilton played one NHL game and damned near got thrown out of the game in his first shift. Incredible.
2015-16 Bakersfield Condors
- Tyler Pitlick 37gp, 7-13-21 .568
- Jujhar Khaira 49gp, 10-17-27 .551
I don’t know that any of us saw it at the time, but these two gents look like the winners of the ‘forwards of Bakersfield’ sweepstakes. Both had issues offensively early days, and that might be a reflection of the team’s slow playing entry-level playing time. These two are what NHL teams need from their AHL clubs.
2016-17 Bakersfield Condors
- Anton Slepyshev 9gp, 3-7-10 1.11
- Jujhar Khaira 27gp, 8-12-20 .741
- Jesse Puljujarv 39gp, 12-16-28 .718
- Joey Laleggia 67gp, 20-18-38 .567
Jesse Puljujarvi is a teenager, so his numbers have to be viewed through a different lens. He’s going to have a long career. Slepyshev looks less likely to join him than I thought he would, maybe he’s the new Omark, although for me the big Russian winger has more range. Laleggia is from the one dimensional tree and doesn’t provide enough offense to get a real look.
2017-18 Bakersfield Condors
- Ty Rattie 43gp, 16-14-30 .698
- Joey Laleggia 43gp, 7-19-26 .605
- Jesse Puljujarvi 10gp, 1-4-5 .500
The problem with this year’s list is that Rattie and Laleggia are one dimensional (Omark class) without being dynamic enough to force a NHL audition. Puljujarvi is unique to this list, he’s not coming back to Bakersfield and hopefully he’ll score 25-30 a year in the NHL until 2040. He might end up being a two-way player but there’s absolutely no way to compare him to any other forward (lockout excluded) on this list who has played 49 AHL games.
Among this year’s prospects in Bakersfield, Patrick Russell (42, 8-8-16, .381) is probably closest to qualifying for the two-way prospect list.
1G 4A for Kailer Yamamoto.
9P in his last 2 games. 27P in his last 11 games.
— EDM Prospect Watch (@EDProspectWatch) February 3, 2018
The next Khaira?
I think it’s probably Tyler Benson. The other three junior forwards (below) are in the range offensively where they should project as legit skill prospects in the AHL and beyond. Yamamoto finally caught fire and he’s going to run his totals close to 2.00/game (is my guess), that will put him in Alex DeBrincat territory. The two guys at 18 are showing well, especially Maksimov who is absolutely emerging this year (I’ll be talking to Brock Otten from OHL Prospects about him today at 2:20). Safin has cooled off, mostly because his skill linemates have disappeared. It’s a nice group of four, if you’re the Oilers eight would be better.