ST. LOUIS MO - FEBRUARY 4: Ales Hemsky #83 of the Edmonton Oilers shoots the puck against the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center on February 4 2011 in St. Louis Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
I've said it before, but its accuracy makes it worthy of repeating - trade rumors are the hockey fan's equivalent of pornography. Edmonton is alive with "sourced" rumors and crazy proposals, most of which involve Dustin Penner or Ales Hemsky. Aside from Penner's ties to Los Angeles rumors, Sportsnet's John Shannon has made the insane suggestion that Penner is headed to Ottawa for unrestricted free agent Chris Phillips. 'Sphere regular RossCreek Nation started an Ales Hemsky for Zach Bogosian rumor that lit up Twitter this week and was repeated so many times that it's now considered "legitimate". Nice work by the way, RC. The injury to Evgeni Malkin has some believing the Penguins are the perfect dancing partner for the Oilers with the over-valued Alex Goligoski and underwhelming Eric Tangradi coming back.
The line of thinking in all of these trades seems to be: It's a rebuild, the more young players the better. With that mindset, nearly any trade for prospects makes sense and mediums like Facebook and Twitter are the ideal petri dish for cultivating these rumors.
In the midst of all of this comes some interesting news from Oklahoma City, news that likely establishes the Oilers' potential trading partners for the next month.
Rick Kehoe, New York Rangers pro scout, made an appearance on the Oklahoma City Barons' radio broadcast this weekend, where he sat for a short Q&A session with Barons' play-by-play man Jim Byers. Byers, a Copper & Blue favorite, talked with Kehoe about his responsibilities and noted "we've seen you a lot at the Cox Center, hope to see you again." A source in Oklahoma City told us Kehoe wasn't alone in watching the Barons this weekend. The Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks and Atlanta Thrashers all had members, including some very recognizable faces, of their pro scouting staff take in a couple of games this weekend.
Each of these four teams has suffered through a swoon recently with the Rangers falling back to 7th in the East in points earned / game, now on pace for 91. The Thrashers have fallen to 10th (behind the Sabres!) and are now on pace for 85 points. The Blackhawks are down to 11th in the West, on pace for 90 points and no team has fallen harder or faster than the Avs, who are now 14th in the West, on pace for 87 points. The thin margins between a playoff spot and the lottery will keep these teams in the hunt, and each one may try to use a trade to vault up the standings.
It's not uncommon for pro scouts to taken in AHL games - it comes with the territory, especially as the trade deadline approaches. Four scouts taking in multiple games, however, is noteworthy, especially when the AHL team's professional affiliate is in a perpetual rebuild.
Let's make some assumptions for the purposes of discussion:
1. The Oilers are going to move one or both of Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner
2. The Oilers are going to ask for legitimate young NHL talent on an entry-level contract in return
3. The Oilers will be required to add a decent non-NHL talent to the deal to make it work.
These assumptions may be very far off, but I think they are a legitimate starting point. With talented callups already in Edmonton (Jeff Petry and Linus Omark), narrowing the list targets in Oklahoma City is relatively easy. Though the Oilers' system has been restocked, the number of prospects in Oklahoma City who are closing in on the NHL is a very short list: defensemen Taylor Chorney and Alex Plante.
Taylor Chorney's career in Edmonton has been rather inglorious. Chorney spent his rookie season paired with Jason Strudwick getting Pat Quinn's rookie initiation treatment. It was as close to a wasted season as a player could have in the NHL. But with a new coach and a new system in Oklahoma, Chorney has started to turn it around as Scott noted in Chorney's Top 25 Under 25 entry:
This season, Chorney has taken a step forward at the AHL level. Chorney's +/- has moved up from the basement to middle of the pack in Oklahoma City, a solid "even" behind his name, and it's not as though he's being sheltered to get there. When I last looked at Quality of Competition for Oklahoma City, Chorney's name was up near the top of the list
Chorney is turning the corner, but Martin Marincin is hot on his heels and will likely be a Baron out of training camp next season. Add Brandon Davidson and Jeremie Blain to the trail pack and Chorney is expendable, especially if the return for Hemsky or Penner is a defenseman.
Kevin Durand starred as Tree Lane in the movie "Mystery, Alaska", a movie about pond hockey on the tundra. He was a hulking, in Mystery at least, defenseman tasked with knocking heads on the ice. He wasn't extremely agile or mobile, but it was enough to get by. Every time I watch Alex Plante play, I'm reminded of Tree Lane. Scott describes him in his Top 25 Under 25 entry:
The same attractive package is there for Plante as has been there all along. He's a huge (the Oilers have him listed at 6'4'' and 230 lbs.) right-handed defender who can move the puck reasonably well, and isn't afraid to play a physical game.
Plante has struggled with injuries, including a bad back, in his early career but it hasn't affected him. Again, from Scott's article:
Although Plante's offense is basically the same as a year ago (2-7-9 in 49 GP last season, and 1-8-9 in 43 GP so far this season), his +/- has improved substantially (-11, tied for 5th of 9 regular defenders last season, and +5, 3rd of 8 regular defenders this season). It's also been good to see that the injuries haven't prevented him from playing a physical style of hockey, which is exactly what the Oilers need in their lineup. In fact, Plante leads the Barons in penalty minutes with 94, but fully 50 of those have come by way of dropping the mitts.
He's a huge right-handed defenseman, but he's been passed on the depth chart by the out-of-nowhere performance of Jeff Petry. His size makes him desirable to NHL teams and might be the perfect addition to a trade to bring in up-and-coming young talent.
Four scouts from four teams in a late-season swoon taking in a couple of games might not mean much, but when the team being scouted is selling like Louis and Billy Ray before the crop report was released, four scouts hanging around an AHL team for a weekend is enough to draw conclusions about the players those teams are interested in.