Farm Workers

The Edmonton Oilers rebuild includes a complete overhaul of the minor league system. The Oilers have been spending time and money scouting colleges on both sides of the border in acquiring men like Taylor Fedun, Tanner House, Hunter Tremblay and Mark Arcobello.

What should we expect these players to turn into? What types of players do NHL teams normally develop via their minor league system? Are they skilled men or role players? Both?

I looked at these questions in December 2008 (item is here) and thought it might be time to revisit the conclusions and see if they remain reasonable arguments.

  1. 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. This remains true despite quality performances in OKC from goalie Martin Gerber (35 years old) and defenseman Bryan Helmer (38). Along with Brad Moran (31) these players are among the most valuable Barons but are miles from regular duty in the NHL. Hell, Gerber has been insane when recalled to the show this year and yet he’s toiling away in the minors (well, he’s hurt right now but you get the point). This may be a function of playing for a team devoted to development, as Gerber’s NHL numbers would have been enough to allow an extended stay in other NHL cities.
  2. 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). I’d say this remains true. Oilers prospects–even the first rounders–who spend extended time in the AHL are working on something. Consistency is an issue with men like Alex Plante, and despite a legion of callups most of the kids who played for OKC this past season will be right back there in October. It’s a process, refining a skill set that included powerplay time and top line minutes into a role player’s future.
  3. 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. As of today, Cogliano (324 NHL games) and Sam Gagner (291) are well ahead of Rob Schremp (111 games and with his 3rd NHL team). Whatever happens to Gagner or Cogliano in Edmonton, their next stop includes a major league roster spot. Hockey Jesus is running out of cities.
  4. No one on the 2008-09 AHL team is likely to do anything incredible like play in 1,000 NHL games. Gilbert Brule (263), Ryan Potulny (126) Schremp (111), Theo Peckham (98), Liam Reddox 96), Mathieu Roy (65), Taylor Chorney (54), Devan Dubnyk (52), Tim Sestito (46), Ryan O’Marra (20) and Colin McDonald (2) are the candidates, with a few like JDD in there too. I think it’s still entirely reasonable to suggest that none of these players will have 1,000 game NHL careers.
  5. If you haven’t established yourself as a prospect of interest by 22 you are in trouble. Exceptions are college men. We saw an excellent example of that in Slava Trukhno, who never did deliver the kind of offense implied by his junior numbers. Current Oiler farmhands who would fall into this category include Bryan Pitton and Jordan Bendfeld.
  6. The few college men on this list show very well. NHL teams should treat the college signing season as extremely important. The Oilers have just now started to devote time and dollars to college kids and frankly it’s long overdue. The 08-09 team featured Bryan Lerg, who was sent away but is recovering his status as a prospect (at least a little) in the Penguins system. It took Colin McDonald until he was 25 to find the offensive range, but at that age he’s more likely to score a big KHL contract than a ticket to the NHL. This item is something we can follow in the future, as the recent signings of Fedun, House and Tremblay allow us to track their progress. I have not included men like Petry and Chorney on this point as they were draft selections.
  7. 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. I think we know. Schremp could have a career as a minstrel gypsy, Reddox has a good glove man but can’t hit above the Mendoza line (his Mom and I are still holding out hope) and the other two have toddled along their merry way (Roy is 27 but has played 4 NHL games this season).
  8. If we make a list of the minor league RFA’s this summer (Brule, Schremp, Dubnyk, Trukhno, Colin McDonald, David Rohlfs, Bryan Lerg, Stephane Goulet, Bryan Young, Sebastien Bisaillon, Mathieu Roy, Tyler Spurgeon, Ryan Potulny, Carl Corazzini-I believe this list is correct–SOURCE: Oilfans) we can probably as a group pick the cuts and be fairly close. That 50 man list is going to get a trim. It certainly did: Schremp was claimed on waivers,  Rohlfs caught on with Muskegon of the IHL, Goulet and Spurgeon became ECHL regulars, Bisaillon and Corazzini checked out the situation in Europe. Young signed an AHL contract with Springfield, Roy got a contract from Columbus and Ryan Potulny won NHL employment with the Oilers. The club also kept Brule, Dubnyk, McDonald (for one more year), Trukhno and Lerg. This spring, only Brule and Dubnyk remain on the Oilers 50 Man List.
  9. As much as we talk about men like Dan Lacouture and Brad Winchester as disappointing, they were able to find a role and survive. I think this is an important point, because AHL development is all about being able to fill a need on the big league roster. Winchester isn’t going to outscore a lot of people, but he’s a big body and has learned the job of role player. Is he more valuable to his team than someone like Liam Reddox? History tells us many coaches believe so, which is good news for forwards with some size like Chris Vande Velde.
  10. Daniel Cleary and Jason Chimera became productive players in the toughest league on the planet. THEY are the stars in this study. Remains true, and before you suggest that isn’t a lot of return for all the procurement dollars, let’s take a minute and think about how useful those two men would be on the current Oiler roster. We could add Kyle Brodziak to that list as well, although he wasn’t a member of the 08-09 AHL squad.
  11. For Rob Schremp fans, there’s exactly ONE pure offensive player who made it: Mike Walton. It’s a really difficult transition for a guy like Schremp because there’s always another candidate to take his job. He caught a huge break (imo) when Atlanta grabbed him because Craig Ramsay is an excellent teacher.
  12. If I’m a betting man, Theo Peckham and Gilbert Brule from the current group would be my picks to be the new Cleary and Chimera.Well I’d change my bet now. Peckham looks like a guy who is going to have a career, but Brule appears to be having a tough time with the rigors of an NHL season. On the plus side, a legit prospect has emerged in the person of Devan Dubnyk.

Theo Peckham and Devan Dubnyk. If that’s the return on the 2009-10 season (and they work out) the Oilers should consider themselves paid in full. Quality role players have always had terrific value.

NHL games played 2009-11 by the 08-09 Springfield Falcons
  1. Gilbert Brule 117 
  2. Rob Schremp 104
  3. Liam Reddox 95
  4. Theo Peckham 83
  5. Ryan Potulny 74
  6. Devan Dubnyk 52
  7. Taylor Chorney 52
  8. Jeff Deslauriers 48
  9. Tim Sestito 45
  10. Mathieu Roy 35
  11. Ryan Stone 27
  12. Ryan O’Marra 20
  13. Colin McDonald 2
  14. Guillaume Lefebvre 1

I did not include JF Jacques (injury rehab) and Jordan Eberle (signed after his junior season) in the group.

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