Chris Vande Velde might be the wild card in the deck of Barons players heading to the Oilers, but he's proved his worth. Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson and OKCHockey.com
Fresh off a second consecutive shoot-out loss, this time to the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Barons now find themselves at the mercy of their parent club. The injury-riddled Oilers (see: ankles, shoulders, hands, knees, etc.) are ready to prune some ripe (and perhaps some not-quite-ripe) fruit from the Barons' luscious forward tree. But who might that be?
Oklahoma City is still hanging around for a playoff spot, but suddenly they too are feeling the weight of the Oilers' death march, as it has been so lovingly referred to. And so the Oilers watched, listened, learned, and discussed as the prospects battled last night, not just for a chance at the playoffs, but also for a chance to be one of the lucky three plucked out of Oklahoma to join the big team.
In anticipation of said call-ups, the Barons haven't wasted any time in digging into a development league of their own for new faces. Jesse Gimblett and Dusty Collins have been re-assigned and PTO'd respectively for the duration of the season. Gimblett, the U of A alum and more recently a Stockton Thunder left wing, has played a couple of rather forgettable games for the Barons this season, but his Stockton numbers are respectable enough (13-9-22) to garner him the Barons re-assignment. Dusty Collins, a 6'3" 200-pound Arizona-born centerman, has had a lengthy career at the AHL and ECHL levels. This season alone, Collins has played 49 games with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL where he notched 9 goals and 17 assists before taking a tour of the AHL with stops in San Antonio, Manitoba, Toronto, and Florida. His PTO could extend him through the end of the American League season. But the real question is, who are these players going to replace?
No stranger to the occasional call-up, O`Marra played 9 games in the bigs this year where he earned a goal and one assist. He's had a string of bad luck lately with the Barons, but he's a player that has a tendency to be a creature of habit who likes familiar line pairings. He also has taken a dive on the defensive side of his game, but then again, so has every other Baron. He suffered a nasty laceration on his face this weekend after a fight, but he seems ready to go. He indeed would be a nice fit down the middle, and he seems anxious to jump in.
Stortini is likely a candidate for several reasons. First, he's familiar with the team. Having played the majority of this season in Edmonton, and the better part of four seasons prior, he's the most Oiler-y player within the Barons dressing room. Second, he'll work hard, as he's always done, even with the Oilers far from the playoffs. He's a workhorse and that is what you need when everything else is "thumbs down". Third, and I'll need some help from Oilers fans to sell this one, but Stortini has a reputation of being a fan favorite. Will his blue collar work ethic translate to better attended Oilers games for the remainder of the season, or greater viewership for that matter? I'm not sure, but it certainly couldn't hurt.
Giroux, the Barons goal scoring machine, is probably the least likeliest candidate on this list. Sure he was just there, and sure he deserves time in the NHL, but he's also needed on the Barons swiss cheese-like roster. He plays on the only goal scoring threat of line that the Barons have remaining, and in his absence the team will probably cave even more so. But it's not all doom and gloom, and Giroux might indeed get the call maybe out of pity, but certainly could be out of necessity.
Chris Vande Velde
C to the Double V has found a new quickness to his game, one that we last saw during training camp the first quarter of the AHL season. His minutes are going up, mainly with the loss of Giroux to the Oilers, but his play has been inspired. Over his last eight games he's upped his shots on goal to 19, nestled into a +2, and scored three goals in three straight games. This is the Vande Velde that Oilers fans loved in the preseason. He may be a wild card when compared to the previous three choices, but he has played well enough to earn time in the NHL especially when the organization seems to be handing out "gift" call-ups to deserving folks.
The dark horse in the call-up chatter, Moran is 1/3 of the Barons top line, and a gifted passer. With an NHL contract in hand, he doesn't have the natural impediment that Colin McDonald does, and he'd be a different kind of forward for the Oilers than either Vande Velde or O`Marra. In that the Oilers are bringing up a few players, they might be interested in bringing in a couple of guys who have played together all year and had success - Moran and Giroux might fit the bill.
With even more of the best players leaving for Edmonton, and time running out on the Barons' season with the playoffs slipping away, the panic button has been hit in Oklahoma City. These guys all want to play in the NHL, so it's hard to be upset at them getting their chance, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that thoughts of what could have been are already creeping into everyone's mind.