This is Chris VandeVelde. I think there’s a window of opportunity for him to establish himself as a useful NHL player. He’ll need to have a strong training camp and get some breaks (RNH being sent down after 9 games, Brule’s continuing issues, the organization probably wanting Lander to play an entire season in the AHL) but there’s a chance.
VandeVelde’s NHL audition was the best part of his 10-11 season, complete with a solid performance in the dot (52.8% in 159 sorties) and a solid zone start/finish (+5 %).
Oklahoma coach Todd Nelson tells the story about VandeVelde’s season with the Barons: “His adjustment was learning the pro game. Up until Christmas, he was okay for us. But after Christmas he took it upon himself to play well in his D zone. Along with that, with the more responsibility he got, he began to improve offensively. He’s been good for us, he’s been excellent in the faceoff circle. He’s 1-2 every night, it’s either him or O’Marra.”
When he got to the NHL, coach Renney put him in a position to succeed. The soft parade, linemates he knew from the minors (played mostly with Giroux and Hartikainen) and it wasn’t like the games were life and death. That’s not a bad way to introduce yourself.
Tom Renney: “He’s very reliable. To a point, you expect what he delivers and he does. He’s a little bit predictable in that way, which is a good thing. I’m just tying to give him an opportunity to play in a number of different circumstances and he’s done well.”
There’s a window.
OKC Prediction for 11-12: 60gp, 12-12-24 (.400)
NHL Prediction for 11-12: 14gp, 1-1-2 (.143)
- Do you really think he’ll play ahead of RNH and Lander? No, I think there’s a chance he’ll be the default position. RNH is sure to get his 9 games and that could shut off the valve, and Lander could make the point moot with a strong training camp and then a solid rookie season.
- Are there other candidates? Sure. O’Marra, Petrell and House are candidates and quite honestly there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of differnce in the whole damn crew. Some of these characters will show up during the RE series (I’m doing the OKC callups before getting into the regulars) but VandeVelde has a little head start with the coach and that might be enough.
- What does he offer? Well, he has size and brings a physical presence, plus his skill set makes him a candidate for the PK (and there’s the faceoffs–although in a very small sample).
- What is his weakness? Offense. He scored 12 goals last season, 16 points in 67 AHL games at the age of 23. That’s not good. The AHL doesn’t release TOI totals (can you imagine the chaos?) so we don’t know exactly what circumstances he played under, but it doesn’t look good. There are examples of college kids taking steps forward in year two pro (Brad Winchester, Fernando Pisani) so he’s certainly worth following. However, there’s every chance he won’t hit above the Mendoza line.
- Brad Winchester? Big whoop! Now hold on. If VandeVelde can prove himself useful the Oilers might be able to deal him for help elsewhere or he can help provide the depth this club never seems to enjoy from their AHL team. VandeVelde and Winchester aren’t similar player types, but both had some useful skills and NHL teams find room for players who can do things like penalty kill and win faceoffs consistently.
- Do you think he’ll make it to 200 NHL games? Probably not, the offense isn’t really there and he’s not a young prospect. However, it isn’t like VandeVelde has gone off the rails as a prospect since being drafted by the Oilers. His NHLE’s in college maxed out at 13-20-33 when he was the #1 C at UND. I think he’s probably a long shot to play 200 NHL games but there is that window of opportunity beginning this fall. He has a chance.
- He was -17 for the Barons. Are you sure he’s any good? VV had a weird year. After 4 regular season games in OKC he was -7, he was -9 after 10 games. Slow adjustment, but as coach Nelson said he improved as the season wore on.
- Where does he rank on the C depth chart? Gagner, RNH for the skill minutes, Horcoff and Belanger for the tough minutes. After that, Brule is in the mix and Lander trumps everyone when the organization says so; that’s 5 or 6. He would be hard pressed to make the big club out of camp (barring injury) but when they make the RNH decision he’s a candidate. Plus, VV can spend time in the pressbox if needed (it’s not like he’s 18) and he can play the wing too.
- Seriously, you think he’s an NHL player? Every team needs role players. VandeVelde can win faceoffs, provides a big body and should have little trouble ajusting to the role available (4-5C, PK, good citizen). Call it the Colin Fraser role; sure there are 20 guys in the AHL who could fill it at any given time but that’s always been true. VandeVelde has played a season with several guys who will eventually be a big part of the Oilers franchise.
- He seems an unlikely NHLer. Well I’m not saying he’s Gretzky, but NHL teams need role players and VandeVelde is a player they’ve invested in. Take the Oilers first ever farm team during their NHL time, the 1979-80 Houston Apollos. Sure that team produced Charlie Huddy and he played a long time in the NHL, but it also featured kids like Tom Roulston who found a way to make it to the NHL. That’s the kind of player we might be looking at, a guy who finds a role and fills it.
- Seems like a long shot. You know it’s weird, though. Remember 2000 fall, when an entire line (the Bulldog line) made it to the NHL when MacT was a rookie coach? Brian Swanson between Michel Riesen and Daniel Cleary. They didn’t last a dozen games and Riesen washed out right away, but Swanson had a bit of a run and Cleary established himself as an NHL player (although the struggles weren’t over).
- How long before he covers the bet? VV was selected 97th overall in 2005 and has played a dozen NHL games. 55% of the kids drafted never play an NHL games, 24% play less than 200 NHL games. At some level he’s already covered the bet, as he was taken outside the first two rounds. But I think there’s a chance he ends up with a more significant total and becomes a clear draft win.