Photo by Rob Ferguson, OKC Hockey, with permission.
Chris Vande Velde has one of those unique opportunities a fourth round pick dreams about. His pro team is in desperate need of a large center capable of stout own-zone play who possesses superior faceoff ability. Lucky for him, Vande Velde has size, defensive ability and superior faceoff ability. Since the day Jarrett Stoll and Marty Reasoner left town, the Oilers have needed a center. When they sent Kyle Brodziak away for non-magic beans, the Oilers added one more center to the needs list.
With Tyler Pitlick finding more and more comfort in the goal-scoring forward role, and Andrew Cogliano spinning his wheels, Vande Velde's only competition for the bottom-of-the-roster center role is everyone's favorite Oilers player not yet in the organization - Anton Lander. Lander isn't as big as Vande Velde, but he has a better reputation of own-zone play and similar skills in the faceoff circle, plus more leadership than even Mark Messier can shake a stick at.
Vande Velde slipped as much as anyone in these rankings, in fact, Jonathan dropped him a full twelve places, and the emergence of Lander, and Pitlick, as well as underwhelming boxcars in Oklahoma City likely contributed to that slide.
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Vande Velde's path to the NHL remains, and at this point it's on him to deliver. He's got to figure out how Kyle Brodziak made it to the NHL and became and effective role-playing center and replicate it. If he does, he'll have a job for a long time.
Neal Livingston volunteered to give us a bit of insight into the young center's game.
Copper & Blue: What role is Vande Velde currently playing for the Barons? Has he been successful in that role? How much time is he spending on the Penalty Kill?
Neal Livingston: Vande Velde exemplifies for me what a diligent, collegiate player can do for a young team upon graduation. He is rarely out of position, makes wise decisions in pressing situations, and consistently makes his teammates better. He doesn't always look to score, but his stay-at-home positioning makes him admirable on the penalty kill. Within the call ups of several key penalty killers, Vande Velde has kept the Barons PK within the tops in the league. His +/- is atrocious when compared to Ryan O'Marra whose is a polar opposite, but in his first professional season he's doing many things right. It's no wonder that Oilers management kept him deep into training camp, he shows great promise.
C&B: He was known for his faceoff proficiency in college. Has that translated to the AHL?
Livingston: Indeed, his faceoff proficiency has carried over into the AHL. The AHL doesn't keep tabs on faceoffs won or lost, but I attempted tracking two games against the Texas Stars earlier this season, and he easily won 70% off his faceoffs on back-to-back nights. CVV and Ben Ondrus seem to be the go-to guys for winning important faceoffs, and this is a valuable asset to any team.
C&B: He's 6'2" 204 pounds - sizable for an NHL forward. Does he use that size well?
Livingston: A center with his size, and knowledge of the game is quite nice. However, his physical game needs much improvement, and his shot accuracy tends to be way off. I continue to be impressed by his speed, and agility minus his tendencies to be over cautious. Overall, it appears that Vande Velde is a work in progress, but continues to be a promising prospect.