The 2013-14 season reminded Oilers fans about the importance of a strong minor-league team. When the starting six on blue were found wanting, Martin Marincin was recalled and delivered impressively during the last half of the season. These Barons teams have miles to go, and we don’t know the entire success story of each season in Oklahoma. What we can do is begin comparing Todd Nelson’s Barons to the best Edmonton minor league teams of the past.
BEST TEAM EVER: WICHITA WIND
I count the Oilers best all-time farm team as the 81-82 Wichita WInd. They didn’t win the Calder Cup (the 92-93 Cape Breton Oilers won the Calder) but it was a fine team and delivered a bounty to the NHL team. Here’s a list of NHLers the Wichita Wind 81-82 team graduted to the world’s best hockey league:
- Andy Moog, who had a couple of cups of coffee before and during 81-82 but established himself as a quality NHL prospect during this season. The Oilers would eventually deal Moog, but he was certainly one of the finest goaltenders of his era.
- Charlie Huddy, who would be a strong contributor to the best Oiler teams in history and play in over 1,000 NHL games. Huddy was not drafted, rather he was signed by the Oilers and spent parts of three seasons in the minors before graduating to the show. His development should serve as a strong reminder that good defensemen often take some time to develop. A splendid player.
- Walt Poddubny, who would flourish in the NHL. He played 468 games and scored 184 goals, 116 of those in a stunning three season run from 86-89.
- John Blum, who would play 250 NHL games (most with Boston) was signed by the organization from Michigan (NCAA) after his graduation from college.
- Don Jackson, who rescued his career in Wichita and performed well for the Oilers during the first portion of the Stanley runs (dealt Oct 86). He was a solid role player for the Oilers during those years.
- Tom Roulston, who played 195 NHL games (and 47 goals) for the Oilers just before they started bagging Stanley’s every spring.
And there were a few cups of coffee, including Ray Cote who old timers like me will remember. That’s an outstanding return from your farm team. Lordy. I don’t think we can expect that kind of graduation from the current Barons, the two best players in that group (Moog and Huddy) are stunning representations of players who began their careers in the minors. Expecting one of those is a bad idea, two (in Oilers’ history) isn’t reasonable.
BEST TEAM OF THE CENTURY
The 2001-02 Hamilton Bulldogs are long forgotten, but they graduated a ton of talent to the big leagues and much of the talent produced came well below the first round picks.
- Coach Claude Julien guided the team to a 37-30-13 record and a deep playoff run. He would get his NHL chance and has delivered.
- Leading scorer Jason Chimera (5th rd pick) has cleared 792 NHL games and 136 goals.
- Fernando Pisani (8th rd pick) scored 102 NHL goals–regular season and playoffs combined–and one of them is an all-time goal deep in the heart of the Stanley cup finals.
- Marc-Andre Bergeron (undrafted) was a minor league free agent signing who made all the experts look foolish by enjoying a solid NHL career. He is still active (in Europe) and played 490 NHL games between 2002-2013.
- Ty Conklin (undrafted) was a much sought after free agent and has had an NHL career of note (215 games).
- Jussi Markkanen (5th rd pick) was a Finn Oiler, the absolute top drawer. He also played in net for the most important game since 1990, and performed in 102 NHL games.
That’s a pretty nice haul for one minor league club. The fun part is looking at the failures. I’ve always stopped short of saying “if your first round pick has to play in the AHL for a year that probably means he’s not good enough” but logic and common sense suggest otherwise. It might be a rule that works for the Oilers, however. Consider the failures–1st rounders Michael Henrich (1998) and Jani Rita (1999), along with Chris Hajt (2nd rd pick, 1996), Alex Henry (3rd rd pick, 1998), and Alexei Semenov (2nd rd pick, 1999). That’s a lot of fail.
I should note here that the lockout teams (2004-05, 2012-13) were excluded for obvious reasons, and I also excluded the ‘shared’ teams with Montreal. The 2002-03 Hamilton Bulldogs housed Jarret Stoll and most of the players above, and were clearly an incredibly AHL team.
THE BEST BARONS TEAM
I’m going to pick last year’s team, with respect to Jeff Petry and the group who played for the first Barons team. Among the players who I believe should or could have NHL careers of 200 games or more:
- Martin Marincin, now at 44 NHL games and seemingly secure for NHL employment in the coming season.
- Oscar Klefbom, a rare first-round selection the Oilers placed in the AHL who should deliver a quality NHL career. May spend another year in the minors. Klefbom photo by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved.
- Anton Lander, whose entry-level deal was a mess because the organization refused to get out of its own way. Lander earned a one-way contract and could find an NHL career from here. It should be noted that false-start careers do happen, Daniel Cleary being an Oilers example from late last century.
- Roman Horak, who looked like a really nice prospect before bolting, one hopes he returns.
- Tyler Pitlick, who played his first NHL games in 2013-14 and may find a career in Edmonton.
- Martin Gernat, who had a nice season in OKC and has some miles to go.
- David Musil, who delivered an impressive first pro season and helped his career doing it.
- Brandon Davidson, who had a very nice second half and has an outside shot at a career.
There are others too (I’m not including Mark Arcobello, he played fewer than 20 games), and for me the combination of Marincin and Klefbom makes this the best candidate (so far) for best Barons team (in terms of development). The forwards in 2014-15—including Yakimov, Khaira and Pakarinen—may emerge as a better candidate, especially if Klefbom spends substantial time in the AHL.
That’s how I see it, how about you?
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
FRIDAY! 10 this morning, TSN 1260. Steve Lansky gets things rolling at 10:05, and will be followed by Kent Ridley from Ridley Scouting to discuss the CFL weekend. Rob Soria from Oil Drop will discuss tennis and the Oilers at 11, and then Corey Graham gives us an Oil King update as well.
Weekend!!! @Lowetide_ or 10-1260 via text. Talk soon.