The Springfield Falcons won their opener last night, a dandy according to those who watched it (HF has an excellent Falcons thread with a few observers per game). Among the stars were Devan Dubnyk (started slow, but his SP this morning is a crisp .919 this morning), Gilbert Brule (a goal and an assist during an uneven and eventful effort for him), Taylor Chorney (hockey fans love the skaters, we just do) and Theo Peckham (+2 and a fight).
The AHL is a very, very good hockey league. I’d bet that if they moved the whole damn thing to Europe fans in most countries would consider it “on par” with their elite leagues (bias aside). If you can survive the AHL and get a break, the NHL awaits and that’s the best league on planet earth.
Ryan Potulny scored a couple of goals and I think he’s a guy who could have a career if he gets a break but the guy is a perfect example of what lies in the AHL: Solid professionals who are as good as many current NHLers but are waiting for their chance. I don’t know the actual number of players in the AHL who could step in and do a credible job but suspect it’s north of 50. If you added a 31st NHL team with only AHL players (and picked veterans) my bet is the team would finish well out of the playoffs, wouldn’t score much, but would not be close to the worst expansion team in history.
The Springfield Falcons have some nice things. Below I outline the roster, a little about the player and what we might be able to expect from them this season. Much of this was written this summer but still applies and since the season is underway is perhaps more timely than it was when originally posted.
- Devan Dubnyk (22): Watching goalies develop is like watching the America’s Cup yacht race: you can’t really tell who’s ahead and it’s very, very boring. Unless you’re actually in the race, of course. Dubnyk’s SP scorecard is all over the place (he was .700 one night and .966 the next). Reasonable expectations: More than 40 games in the AHL and a more consistent record. This is a big year for the big man. Won last night, SP is .919 and we’re looking for something north of .915 for the year.
- Glenn Fisher (25). Fisher did not have a terrific season in 07-08. You never know with goaltenders. He posted a .919SP his final college season so there’s talent here. Reasonable Expectations: Survival in pro hockey. He may spend the entire season as backup to Dubnyk in Springfield or he might be back in the ECHL helping out Pitton plus there’s Perugini in the mix. Either way, he needs to show something this season.
- Jake Taylor (25). Taylor signed a two-year AHL contract with Springfield, and their GM Bruce Landon said “Jake is a big, strong, physical defenseman who has the reputation of being tough to play against.” I assume he’s an AHL only option but Taylor does have over 200 games of AHL experience at a fairly young age. 6-4, 225. If you’re not terribly familiar with the AHL guys like Taylor do the “heavy lifting” in the minors while the organization brings along the kids at their own pace. As a for instance, for all the glowing reports we’ll read about Taylor Chorney this season, he won’t play the minutes Jake Taylor will. Reasonable expectations: Solid season in Springfield, perhaps a call if the injuries hit like they did a year ago. David Staples would love this guy.
- Mathieu Roy (25). His recent comments about hoping another team would pick him up should come as no surprise. In fact, I can’t imagine a pro hockey player not being upset by the current waiver rules. I think the NHL needs to go back to the olden days when non playoff teams could have two “extra” players on their rosters. It made poaching good players easier. Reasonable Expectations: Roy will be back in the NHL this season if you believe injuries will be a factor. In a bit of irony, he might just get taken by another team on his way back through waivers. Injuries will also be a factor for Roy.
- Theo Peckham (20). Played well and received rave reviews one year ago, but there’s room for improvement and certainly development time in the minors will make him a better player when he finally arrives. The HFboard Falcons reports last night had him making some mistakes but he ended +2. If he plays the easy minutes (the Falcons site had him paired with Chorney last night) Peckham should have a very good statistical season. Reasonable Expectations: A more prominent role in the AHL with a better plus minus number and perhaps some powerplay time.
- Taylor Chorney (21). The Oilers have force fed young defensemen (Greene, Smid) since the break for cap purposes. The big league roster sets up now in a way guys like Chorney can be brought along at a more reasonable pace. Brian Lee was a teammate of Chorney’s at North Dakota and is probably a nice comparable since they’re the same age. Offense may come slowly since the Falcons will have other powerplay options and Chorney’s learning curve away from the puck is going to be fairly steep. Reasonable Expectations: A full, healthy season in the AHL, with a plus minus in the middle of the D pack and enough offense to justify his draft number. By the way, the kid did get an assist last night, was +1 and observers said he played well. Good signs all.
- Bryan Young (22). Stay-at-home type wasn’t consistent a year ago and will probably be asked to take on a larger role this season (he’s now played in over 100 AHL games). He sticks out like a sore thumb in this group, as Young is the only member of this defense who might not see center ice. Reasonable Expectations: Top 4D in Springfield and perhaps a cup of coffee in the NHL.
- Cody Wild (21). One of the things we can probably predict right now is that one of these offensive defensemen is going to end up with disappointing offensive totals. Not everyone can be on the powerplay and someone has to play defense. Wild has a dozen games AHL experience but Chorney has the organizational push behind him so this season may be a struggle for him. Reasonable Expectations: A healthy season (that goes for all these rookies) and learning how to make defensive decisions at a higher speed. Wild had a goal last night but was -1. He was paired with Taylor though and that’s a positive.
- Sebastian Bisaillon (21). This guy has all kinds of positive arrows if he can stay healthy. I don’t know what’s more impressive, his PP totals in 21 AHL games (2-4-6) or his EV totals is 21 AHL games (1-5-6). Either way, we should brace ourselves because at least offensively this fellow may be better than the college trio (Chorney, Wild and Petry) and he’s pretty much the same age. Bisaillon played last night, +1 and a fight. Watch this guy. Reasonable Expectations: Healthy season, please. He has a wicked shot from the point and is RH (along with Bina, Taylor and Roy) so he should get PP time. If he stays healthy he could post 40+ points in the AHL which would make him the next Marc-Andre Bergeron. Some NHL time is also possible.
- Mike Gabinet (27). No matter how much development the Oilers want to accomplish in a single AHL season they need veterans who can compete in a very tough league. Although Gabinet lacks a lot of AHL experience he’s played in Finland and the ECHL. He was a HS last night, which may give us a clue about where he ranks on the depth chart. Reasonable Expectations: Crash Davis.
- Robbie Bina, (25). Rather famous college career gets him a pro contract. Very small puck moving defender who should be a lot of fun to watch play. The things he probably does well (powerplay QB, moving the puck) are duplicated all over this roster and his size (Bina is 5.08, 180) will be an incredible hurdle. Reasonable expectations: A healthy season and over 35 games. Bina was a HS last night and that is likely to happen a bunch this year.
- Josef Hrabel (23). Injured at the beginning of TC and we didn’t get a real good look at him. Oilers had suggested he could be a top pairing D in the AHL as soon as this season (before the injury) but everything is in a holding pattern now. Reasonable Expectations: Defensemen get hurt. It’s a tough position. I have not read a specific timeline for his return.
- Ryan Potulny (24). A proven, established AHL scorer. He had 201 shots on goal in 07-08 (in 58 games) and that alone makes him an interesting player for the Oilers. Reasonable Expectations: If he plays in the AHL all season he could score 30 goals. He popped two last night alone.
- Tyler Spurgeon (22). No one did more to get their name back in the conversation during TC than this guy. Pro sports and injuries don’t mix and entering camp Spurgeon was a huge question mark. Now he’s in the conversation. Reasonable Expectations: A healthy AHL season and based on a tremendous TC he may get a cup of coffee in the NHL.
- Tim Sestito (24). I have a friend who played pro hockey a long time ago. Whenever we talk about hockey he makes me feel like I’ve never seen the game the way it actually plays out. He loves guys like Sestito even though the math says throw them in the ditch. It may have to do with role players, penalty killing, macho crap or barking at windmills but either way the Oilers have the same mindset. They even made him captain this time. Reasonable Expectations: Continuing his move up the organization’s depth chart and waiting for his chance. A little more offense would help.
- Ryan O’Marra (21). At the beginning of the summer I posted some things about O’Marra that implied he had no chance to make the big team. It was met by some as being well off the mark and there were posts talking about his “lost season” being no big deal and about O’Marra being groomed as a shutdown center for 3line duty. He started his second pro season at center on the 4th line in the AHL. THAT’S a good, solid step from where he was a year ago. Reasonable Expectations: Playing well in that 4line role and then showing enough to move up the depth chart when injuries and callups begin. This is an excellent slot for him, here’s hoping he takes advantage.
- Geoff Paukovich (22). Now that Troy Bodie is gone he’ll be a top option for Coke Machine. He was -21 in Stockton on a team that looked to be about 25 goals in the red at EVs so he wasn’t alone but he wasn’t helping one year ago. Reasonable Expectations: A full AHL season, 10 goals, 100 pims and anything close to middle of the pack in the plus minus column. He looks to be in competition for playing time with O’Marra at center, a race O’Marra should win easily.
- Rob Schremp (22). First things first: Rob Schremp is not Superman. He is not the most talented player in the history of the game to play his career in the minor leagues (that honor belongs to Guyle Fielder). Second, he needed to be better in training camp in order for the Oilers to risk waivers on guys like Pouliot. Finally, he’s still a prospect and could get a call at any time. Reasonable Expectations: I think it’s completely reasonable to suggest Rob Schremp will lead the AHL in scoring this season.
- Liam Reddox (22). It’s tempting to suggest he’ll fall back a little but often when the light goes on it stays on. Draft pedigree isn’t as important when you’re 22 and this guy has a chance to make it although a quiet TC allowed people like Trukhno back into the conversation. Reasonable Expectations: If he is on the farm I’d expect he’s a feature player on the top line and delivering on all cylinders. He played with Potulny and McDonald last night and had an assist.
- Slava Trukhno (21). More of a powerplay specialist than we thought he was based on scouting reports, Trukhno seemed to find his way as he moved up the depth chart. He was especially impressive when Pouliot was called up and he received more special teams time. He had a very good training camp and that should give him sustain in the AHL This will be a huge season for him. Reasonable Expectations: He should be able to establish himself on the top 2lines and as a viable option on the 1st powerplay.
- Bryan Lerg (22). Pure scorer in college, Lerg is so unique among the Oilers grinders and playmakers he’ll no doubt get somet powerplay time as a rookie pro. We have no idea about how he’ll handle the rough going but if he can take punishment without getting hurt (and make plays, obviously) the Oilers may have something here. Reasonable Expectations: A 20-goal season in the AHL.
- Adam Huxley (24). Huxley hung in there against Flinn at TC last fall and may well have gotten a pro contract because Flinn was injured in that fight. Played for Stockton in 07-08, posting 200 pims. Reasonable Expectations: An entire season in the AHL would be the outer marker, so reasonable should be about 40 games.
- Guillaume Lefebvre (27). Enforcer from the Quebec penal league who impressed the hell out of everyone with his fists in camp and then was promptly released. I read somewhere it was a contract thing but either way he’s signed now and much bloodshed shall follow. Reasonable expectations: You never know. He might find a role. Nick Fotiu did.
- Colin McDonald (24). He didn’t show enough this past season to suggest he’s a player of special interest. He played a lot, took a lot of shots, spent some significant time of the powerplay and still didn’t deliver runs. The Oilers appear to have reacted to this by giving him all kinds of opportunity, both in training camp, pre-season and now in Springfield where he played on the top line last night (1 assist, 2 shots). Reasonable Expectations: If he gets to play with skilled men all season and a lot of PP time then 15-20 goals is reasonable. This is his time, though. If he struggles the Oilers have all kinds of options available.
- Gilbert Brule (21). He’s got a huge advantage over most of the other Falcons: he’s a MacT type player. I define a MacT type as being a player who cheats a little on leather over wood but can still deliver enough to make a difference. In money terms, his gross dollars may not be as high as Schremp’s but his bottom line kicks ass. Oilers need to be patient with this player, as Doug MacLean is an idiot. Reasonable Expectations: A full AHL season in multiple roles, perhaps 10 games in the NHL.
- Carl Corazzini (29). He finished last AHL season with 80gp, 24-36-60 totals and in a tie for 34th overall in league scoring. I think the Oilers got him so that Springfield would be more competitive and it should be mentioned he was an Oilers signing rather than a Falcons pickup. I don’t know that it makes a difference but wanted to note it. Reasonable Expectations: A quality season in the AHL.
- Hans Benson (25). 6-0, 215 and a PIM magnet from the Dave Schultz family. Played 44 AHL games last season and managed 265PIMS. He’s from California and is the brother of NFL player Cedric Benson. It is interesting that Benson got the call in G1 among the Coke Machines (along with Lefebvre) and Paukovich was on the outside. Reasonable expectations: All these guys who put fists first are going to duke it out this year and who knows which one will emerge.
- Stephane Goulet (22). He’s got some unique qualities (didn’t get a lot of PP time but scored pretty well at EVs based on suspected playing time) including scoring one fewer EV goals than Colin McDonald in half the games played. Interesting prospect, he’ll need to show quite a bit to earn a contract beyond next season. Reasonable Expectations: Unlike some of the other prospects in the system, Goulet’s performance suggest the talent is there but he needs the at-bats to prove it.
- Derek Bekar (33). A depth player who may or may not play a lot this season. It depends on the kids.