Photo by Candace Riley, © 2011, All Rights Reserved.
As free agency wore on, and the Barons free agents moved on to other teams, one stat surprised me a little bit - Milan Kytnar may well be the top returning scorer next season. The top scorer, Teemu Hartikainen, could have his return to the Barons considered as fairly certain, but he could still very well challenge for a spot in training camp. The second leading scorer, Linus Omark, on the other hand, I'd give a 99.9% chance of not returning to the Barons to start the season. So that leaves Kytnar, who comes in third with 29 points last season. A player who saw just about every role in his first professional season, Kytnar's going to need to use this season to prove he deserves a qualifying offer next season.
"I hate to be hard on one player in particular, but it has to be said that Milan Kytnar continually underwhelmed in all aspects of his game. At center he appeared to be too reserved, especially for a guy that is trying to make the team. He'll probably get the opportunity to play with the Barons, but has proven his prospect sheet doesn't lie. He doesn't score, he plays defensively most of the time, and he lacks the aggressiveness to go further in his career. You can't help but root for the Slovak, but he sure didn't win any supporters on this opening day of camp."
In the first weekend of the season, Kytnar found himself on a line centering Ben Ondrus and Hartikainen. After an injury kept him out of the Oct. 15th game, Kytnar found himself swapped with Chris VandeVelde as Todd Nelson started switching up the lines to find some sort of synergy. As the month of October wore on, Kytnar found himself back on a line with Ondrus and Hartikainen, and scored his first career AHL goal on Oct. 29th against Grand Rapids in a game where he also had a -2 rating.
Kytnar started the month of November off well, scoring two assists in the first two games, but saw tough sledding throughout the rest of the month. While playing alongside JF Jacques during Jacques' conditioning stint, Kytnar posted a -5. After the departure of Jacques, Kytnar centered Philippe Cornet and Hartikainen until an injury to Ryan O'Marra would force more line changes. Todd Nelson began using VandeVelde as O'Marra's fill-in between Omark and Liam Reddox. Shortly after that Nelson moved Hartikainen up to join Omark and Reddox, leaving Kytnar to center Cornet and Matt Marquardt. Kytnar finished November with a -5 rating, totaling a -7 through two months of the season.
December brought about the call-ups of Omark and O'Marra, and an increase in ice time for Kytnar. The extra ice time began a turn around for Kytnar, as he had an Even rating for that month and added a goal and two assists. Following the brief return of Omark, and the call-up of Reddox, Kytnar was placed back between Cornet and Hartikainen - who had begun his mid-season surge. With the help of Hartikainen, Kytnar scored four goals and four assists, with a +9 rating.
February and March saw Kytnar take a sharp fall. His line with Hartikainen and Cornet hit a wall, coupled with the additions of Zack Stortini and Mark Arcobello, and the multiple call-ups of many of the Barons scorers, Kytnar struggled to find any consistency. Scoring only one point in nine games in February, he was a healthy scratch for the first time on February 27th. Kytnar tallied only two more assists over the next 13 games.
The end of the season proved to be a positive for Kytnar though. Over the last seven games of the season, Kytnar was playing on a line with Ondrus and newcomer Tanner House. Kytnar potted six goals and added four assists as the Barons made their push to securing a playoff spot. Kytnar's last game was be in Game 1 on the Barons playoff series against the Hamilton Bulldogs. Coach Nelson had four forwards returned from Edmonton, and was forced to make some tough decisions. After a scoreless Game 1, Kytnar was scratched from the rest of the playoffs.
Kytnar had plenty of time on the penalty kill, and did well when paired with Ondrus and Colin McDonald. Without having faceoff numbers readily available from the AHL, it's hard to say how good his numbers were in that respect, but he held his own in the circle. Kytnar's play has really depended on whom he's been paired with. He's shown that he can score, but he hasn't been consistently on scoring lines. With House showing good promise, the likelihood of Anton Lander being on the team, and depending on VandeVelde's offseason, there's going to be some strong competition among the centermen. If Kytnar's able to come close to continuing the pace he set at the end of last season, and if he's given the chance to continue the pace, he'll make a strong case for a call-up next season.