Ben Ondrus, captain of the Barons and abuser of Canucks.
At two points in this AHL season, I've taken a spin through the AHL gamesheets in order to get an idea of (a) which players were scoring (and out-scoring) at even strength, and (b) which players were taking on the tougher minutes in Oklahoma. We've all been spoiled by Vic Ferrari and Gabe Desjardins at the NHL level - that kind of information is now at our fingertips, and consequently, our understanding of the game and of individual players has improved greatly. But for AHL players, that "contextual" information, which is essential to our evaluation of big league players, isn't readily available. As such, I decided to use a modified version of the quality of competition formula that Jonathan has used in the past in order to track the quality of competition and quality of teammates for the Oklahoma City Barons. The last time I updated this data, I got really lucky. My analysis happened to fall just after the twenty-sixth game of the season, which was the last game the Barons played with a full complement of players. After that game, the Oilers called up a couple of players, and the shuttling back and forth hasn't stopped since. Thus, many of the players left in Oklahoma were thrust into new roles. After the jump, we'll take a look at the even strength numbers for the Barons in the twenty-four games since the call-ups began, and compare that data to the first twenty-six games of the year.
The method I'll be using is very similar to the one I used to track quality of competition for the Regina Pats last year (so that we might better understand the context of Jordan Eberle's and Brandon Davidson's ice time). To measure quality of competition, I simply looked through the boxscores and identified all of the opposition forwards on the ice for every goal scored both for and against while a player was on the ice at even strength (excluding empty net situations). For quality of teammates, it's the same process, but I'm identifying the forwards on the player's team rather than his opponents. The final "quality of competition" number is the average points per game of the opposing forwards when a given player is on the ice, and the final "quality of teammates" number is the average points per game of that player's forward teammates. For example, a player with a "quality of competition" score of 0.500 would be facing forwards who, on average, have scored 0.500 points per game in the AHL during the 2010-11 season. I like the method because the final number should be pretty understandable. I hope that's pretty straightforward, but if you've got any questions, please feel free to ask.
Here are the results for the defenders over the last twenty-four games (organized by QC with a minimum of ten goal events; EN totals are not included in the EV point categories):
This result surprised me a lot. I didn't expect to see Alex Plante at the bottom of the QC list, and I most definitely didn't expect to see Johan Motin at the top. The Motin thing I think is a bit of a mirage. The Barons played teams with more high quality forwards at the front end of this sample, and that's when Motin was getting into the lineup, so I don't think we should look at this and think of Motin as OKC's shut-down defender (or into Bryan Helmer's placement at the bottom since he played all of his games at the back end of the sample). That said, Motin's -5 doesn't look quite as bad when you realize that he was playing against much more offensively talented forwards than he was playing with.
That explanation doesn't really work for Plante though. He played in almost all of the games (the two he did miss were as a healthy scratch), and yet still ended up near the bottom of the table. I was pretty bullish on Plante in the Top 25 Under 25, but these numbers don't exactly back me up. The two things to hold onto in Plante's numbers are that he's a plus player and that he has the most events of any defender, which suggests to me that he's getting quite a lot of ice time.
Now let's compare what we've seen above to the results in the first twenty-six games:
A few things stand out to me. First of all, either the AHL is getting worse as the season goes on, or the Barons have had an easier schedule. In the first twenty-six games, every defender who qualified had a QC rating higher than 0.5, but in the last twenty-four games, only two guys clear that hurdle - the Barons just aren't facing as many offensive weapons as they were earlier in the year.
In terms of specific players, Taylor Chorney stands out as being near the top of the list in QC both times, and as has been mentioned before, his +/- has taken a real step forward this year. He even looked pretty decent in his NHL stint. The other guy that stands out to me is Richard Petiot who is now +6 on the year and second on the team in EV points with eight. It doesn't seem like he's in the conversation for a call-up at this time, which is too bad given what looks like a strong AHL performance after a strong showing in training camp.
Next up, let's look at the forwards, and this time I'll put both charts up back to back (starting with the most recent twenty-four games) because the comparisons are really interesting.
Check out those splits for Teemu Hartikainen! -9 and only 6 EV points in his first twenty-six games, followed by +10 and 15 EV points - which leads the team handily - in his next 24. Now, he does have points on 15 of the 16 goals scored, which likely won't hold, but that's still a remarkable turnaround. And you know what? A lot of it has to do with opportunity. With Ryan O'Marra and Linus Omark elevated to the big club, Hartikainen spent quite a bit of time playing decent competition alongside Liam Reddox. Once O'Marra came back down (and Reddox went up), Hartikainen was moved onto a sheltered line with Milan Kytnar and Philippe Cornet, and those three buggers are just killing the softs. I knew that they were doing well offensively, but more EV points than the top line? Wowzers.
Part of that, obviously, is the fact that the top line has been taking what looks like a power-v-power role for most of the season, and as a group, they've pretty much broken even and then made considerable hay on the power play. You do kind of wish that they were outscorers, but breaking even against the best sure ain't bad, particularly if you've got strong special teams and a soft minutes line that can light things up.
Between those two groups is where things get really interesting. In order to provide shelter for some of his other players, it seems that Todd Nelson has created a checking line. In the first half of this segment (i.e. O'Marra with the Oilers), that line consisted of Chris Vande Velde, Ben Ondrus, and Greg Stewart (I would not have bet that this guy would have as many EV points as Brad Moran and Colin McDonald in this stretch), while Milan Kytnar toiled with the other dregs on the fourth line. Thing is, Vande Velde's line got crushed. When O'Marra returned, Nelson moved him into Vande Velde's spot, elevated Kytnar to the "Kid Line" and put Vande Velde on the fourth line with the dregs. As we've seen, the "Kid Line" took off, O'Marra stabilized the second line and... Vande Velde's line got crushed. I realize that the poor guy has been fighting an uphill battle here, and things might be very different had he and Kytnar flipped roles (just look at what Kytnar's numbers looked like in the first twenty-six games to see the importance of context), but that -14 sticks out in a bad way. It's not exactly news, but Vande Velde is in some trouble as a prospect, particularly because of his age; it's one thing to struggle out of the gate at 20, and another thing entirely to struggle at 23.
So that's what stands out for me, but there's lots here, so feel free to let me know all the things I've missed, and if you're an avid fan of the Barons (i.e. you watch the games), I'd be pretty interested in hearing if any of these numbers come as a big surprise.