This is Bruce Boudreau as an Oiler farmhand 25 years ago. He led the Oilers AHL team in points twice (’85-’86 and ’86-’87) and is one of those players who probably had NHL ability without ever getting the chance to play a full season in the show.
I’m a big believer in the wisdom of sending 20-year olds to the AHL. The league takes talented kids and grinds them into useful hockey players. It’s an assembly line as efficient as anything Detroit has ever invented and relies heavily on men like Bruce Boudreau: former prospects who have learned to flourish in that league and who are willing to endure the bus rides that come with it.
I think the Oilers have probably lost a legit prospect or two over the last few seasons because they didn’t have a Boudreau (and a defensive player and goalie of equal experience and value). This season, the club has invested in men like Alex Giroux, Shawn Belle and Martin Gerber. It forces the kids down the depth chart and allows them to get used to the speed of the game and the step up in size and strength in terms of opposition.
One way we can measure the importance of a more experienced and capable AHL team on the Oilers prospects is to follow the progress of the players who’ve been in the system for awhile. Here’s a look:
- Colin McDonald (10gp, 4-2-6 -1) His career highs in goals (12) and points (23) would seem to be in some danger. McDonald had been serving in a checker’s role during previous seasons but is getting some time on the top skill line and on the PP this year.
- Liam Reddox (10gp, 5-2-6 E) The Ginger isn’t getting as much PP time but is still posting offensive numbers. His penalty killing should have gotten some notice from the big club and he certainly has taken enough shots on goal (46). Every year he gets forgotten and every year he moves up the depth chart and sees NHL time. I bet he does it again this season.
- Linus Omark (10gp, 3-5-8 -1) He’s an AHL rookie but has been playing in high Euro leagues for years. Omark’s a skilled player with some gumption, but appears to be a bit of a cherry picker. Still, I bet he sees the NHL sometime this year.
It also impacts the young blue. With the puck staying in the other end longer, there’s fewer sorties heading the other way. The young defensemen get an opportunity to learn on the job at a more reasonable speed and their confidence grows:
- Jeff Petry 10gp, 2-4-6 -6
- Taylor Chorney 10gp, 0-3-3 E
- Alex Plante 10gp, 0-1-1 -3
- Johan Motin 6gp, 0-0-0 -1
Chorney was -12 after 10 games a year ago. With Belle and Petiot (and Plante and Chorney a year older) there’s enough depth to have the prospects ease into the tougher minutes. It’s a better plan.
Another way to look at things is to list the leading scorer in the minor league system by year. Notice how the 00′s feature a leading scorer with an extremely low total:
- 79-80 Mike Toal 76gp, 31-45-76
- 80-81 Tom Roulston 69gp, 63-44-107
- 81-82 Walt Poddubny 60gp, 35-46-81
- 82-83 Ray Cote 80gp, 28-63-91
- 83-84 Ray Cote 66gp, 26-36-62
- 84-85 Ray Cote 79gp, 36-43-79
- 85-86 Bruce Boudreau 65gp, 30-36-66
- 86-87 Bruce Boudreau 78gp, 35-47-82
- 87-88 Mark Lamb 69gp, 27-61-88
- 88-89 Mark Lamb 54gp, 33-49-82
- 89-90 John Leblanc 77gp, 54-34-88
- 90-91 Shaun Van Allen 76gp, 25-75-100
- 91-92 Shaun Van Allen 77gp, 29-84-113
- 92-93 Dan Currie 75gp, 57-41-98
- 93-94 Peter White 45gp, 21-49-70
- 94-95 Peter White 65gp, 36-69-105
- 95-96 Rem Murray 79gp, 31-59-90
- 96-97 Ralph Intranuovo 68gp, 36-40-76
- 97-98 Jeff Daw 79gp, 28-35-63
- 98-99 Chris Ferraro 72gp, 35-41-76
- 99-00 Daniel Cleary 58gp, 22-52-74
- 00-01 Paul Healey 79gp, 39-32-71
- 01-02 Jason Chimera 77gp, 26-51-77
- 02-03 Jarret Stoll 76gp, 21-33-54
- 03-04 Jamie Wright 78gp, 25-30-55
- 04-05 Tony Salmelainen 76gp, 22-24-46
- 05-06 Marc Pouliot 65gp, 15-30-45
- 06-07 Kyle Brodziak 62gp, 24-32-56
- 07-08 Rob Schremp 78gp, 23-53-76
- 08-09 Ryan Potulny 70gp, 38-24-62
- 09-10 Charles Linglet 75gp, 19-55-74
- 10-11 Alex Giroux 10gp, 6-5-11 (on pace for 88 points)
If Giroux ended the season with 88 points, that would be the highest total since 95-96. Those AHL veterans are key elements for a team interested in developing NHL players from their 20+ year old prospects. The OKC Barons have only one pure rookie on defense (Petry) and their 4 rookies up front (Vande Velde, Kytnar, Cornet and Hartikainen) feature an older college man, a 21-year old coming from the WHL and a man-at-20 in Hartikainen.
They’re deeper, more experienced, cost more. I think they’re worth it. Hats off to those AHL veterans working their tails off in the minor leagues. The Edmonton Oilers will benefit from their hard work.