Progression?

As I often do, I'm about to take issue with something said in the Edmonton Sun. This particular statement comes from an article by Rob Tychkowski, who in my opinion is a competent journalist, and who also writes on the Oilers for The Hockey News. Today, however, he said this:

A lot of Edmonton's prospects took a big step forward in the last year, something Buchberger and his staff take satisfaction in.

"I think everybody in the organization is happy with the development of our young players," he said. "You take a little pride, but what it really comes down to is if the players really want it, they're going to make it by themselves.

When I first read that, I thought, 'absolutely, we have so many prospects improving'. Then I tried to name a bunch of them. Most of us have seen the top-20 prospects list over at Hockey's Future, which generally does a good job, although the exact order can sometimes be quibbled with.

The first two prospects, Petry and Chorney, both played in the NCAA, as did the 4th, 6th, and 8th ranked prospects (Nash, Vande Velde, Wild). Others played in junior or Europe. If we narrow down the list to just those who spent good chunks of last season in the AHL, we get the following:

3. Rob Schremp
5. Jeff Deslauriers
7. Theo Peckham
9. Devan Dubnyk
10. Ryan O'Marra
11. J.F. Jacques
14. Colin McDonald
15. Slava Trukhno
16. Liam Reddox
18. Sebastien Bisaillon

Let's also filter out the goaltenders, since I think we can all agree that it is rarely the head coach who is the major influence on goaltender progression. This leaves us Schremp, Peckham, O'Marra, Jacques, McDonald, Trukhno, Reddox and Bisaillon. Bisaillon and Jacques both missed large chunks of the season with injury, so let's remove them too (it works out to a wash anyways- Jacques is on the downward slope while Bisaillon is improving).

Not exactly a group of blue-chip prospects, but I guess the best jump directly into the NHL anyway. So let's examine them and see who took a big step forward.

Looking at Schremp's last two seasons, we see a big PPG jump, from .77 to .97. Filtering that through Desjardins' equivalency numbers (.44 AHL to NHL) and expanding it over the course of an 82 game season, it works out to a difference of seven points at the NHL level - significant. So Schremp is one prospect who has taken a step forward.

Theo Peckham made a seamless transition from the OHL to the AHL, although his offense took a slight hit. That isn't terribly surprising or particularly relevant, given that he's never been regarded as an offensive defenseman, and that he never showed any offense even at the OHL level until his final season. Scouting reports all agree that he excelled at the minor-pro level, and the fact that he has passed several more veteran prospects on the chart indicates his upward momentum. Score 2 for Buchberger.

Ryan O'Marra's season was an unmitigated disaster, for the second year in a row. In 2006-07 he suffered a serious knee injury that ended his season, after a year where his offense stagnated as a 19-yr old OHL player. In 2007-08 he spent a good portion of the year in the ECHL, performing well there, but he only scored two goals in thirty-one AHL games. At this point, he's become more suspect than prospect.

Colin McDonald has always been a bit of a question mark throughout his NCAA career, posting poor numbers, but playing for a Providence team that would have made Martin Brochu look like Martin Brodeur. Oilers' brass have always described him as a player who would be "better as a pro", so expectations were perhaps higher than they should have been for his first AHL season. After putting up 23 points and a brutal +/-, McDonald has virtually disappeared as a legitimate prospect.

Slava Trukhno entered 2007-08 as an extremely promising offensive prospect (Lowetide at one point had him ranked #2 on his list) who was described as gritty and unafraid to play in traffic. Over the last half of the AHL season he certainly improved, but 2007-08 must be considered disappointing for him, as his year end statistics show only 35 points in 64 games.

Liam Reddox is the final player we'll consider, and this was unquestionably his finest season. After posting 26 points in 70 ECHL games last year he put up 44 points in 65 AHL games this year. The progress season-to-season is exponential, and he's put himself back on track as a prospect.

To review, we see three players (Schremp, Peckham, Reddox) took steps forward under Buchberger, while three others (O'Marra, McDonald, Trukhno) struggled. I'm not making any definitive statements about Buchberger's abilities as a coach, but what I am saying is that no definitive statements can be made, if that makes sense. Buchberger had a middling record of progress in an extremely small sample size, with some players taking big steps and others falling flat on their faces.

The Oilers have already made their decision on Buchberger, and if I were guessing, I'd say his promotion indicates that they feel his talents will be better used in areas other than player development.

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