Hunter Tremblay, the seasoned rookie. Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.
This season, here at Copper & Blue, we've taken a long look at prospects with Oilers ties in various leagues. More precisely we've begun to enunciate the good and bad that is the Barons rookie crop. The minor league farm squad for the Edmonton Oilers is full of highly anticipated players as well as some surprising newcomers. Today we'll look at one of the most surprising players that is indeed having a fabulous rookie season in his first year as a pro. That same player is also a key component to the success the team is currently having.
Hunter Tremblay comes to the Barons after spending four years at the CIS level, and five seasons in the Ontario league before that. As a left winger for the Barrie Colts, he increased his point total as each year wore on. At the University of New Brunswick the story is quite similar. Playing in less than thirty games in each of those collegiate seasons, he was nearly a two point a game player with a double digit +/- rating for four straight season. You can see why the Oilers kind of favored the kid from Timmins, Ontario.
At age 25, it's interesting to wonder how Hunter Trembplay hasn't seen professional action to this point (outside of three games in the Barons playoff run last season). He signed a one-year contract this summer that would guarantee him some ice time in Oklahoma City. It would also give him the chance to spend time with the Oilers. However, as Scott Reynolds mentioned this summer, it was hard to envision Tremblay finding long-lasting time in the NHL for the obvious reasons
At twenty-five, Tremblay is old enough to avoid the entry-level system altogether, the second free agent of that kind the Oilers have signed in the last couple of weeks (the first was Tanner House), which means that even though Tremblay has yet to play a professional game, he's already in what is traditionally the prime of a pro hockey player's career.
This should already be some cause for concern. Generally speaking, players who haven't seen the NHL by age twenty-five aren't going to make it. When the player is a little on the small side, that makes the odds even longer, and Tremblay is just 5'11'' (although at about 200 lbs. he must be pretty thick). Tremblay also hasn't played forty games in a season for four years, and a look back to Tremblay's draft year (2003-04) shows just 27 points in 67 games with the Barrie Colts of the OHL.
Tremblay began the season on the farm as a third line hustler and grinder. Coach Nelson polishes the lines in Oklahoma City into two groups. Top two scoring, last two closing. With Ryan O'Marra down the center, and Tanner House on the right, Tremblay was part of the feisty grinding line that began the impeccable penalty kill for the Barons. For a forward line that wasn't expected to score those three found ways to do it while simultaneously thwarting top scoring threats of opposing teams.
Fast forward a month and you'll find Hunter Tremblay in a completely different role.
In basketball terms, Tremblay would have what some might call a quick first step. We've seen some hot wheels from guys like Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark who have next-level speed. Hunter has that rare gift that is zero to 60 quickness that catches defenders off guard. From net to net, he may not win a team skate race, but he'd certainly be the first to the blue line. This caught the attention of fans and the Barons coaching staff. Tremblay would net four short-handed goals before the season hit its halfway mark (along with two short handed assists), and suddenly the light bulb moment occurred. Over the last eight games he continued to raise eyebrows by netting five goals.
Then the moment came in the last couple of weeks when Hunter was promoted to a heavy scoring line. And had immediate success in that role. In Abbotsford last weekend we caught a glimpse of Tremblay with Marc Arcobello at center and Philippe Cornet on the other wing. Arcobello is a solid face-off winner, and of course, we know about Cornet's sophomore season than is anything but slumping. Those two had been a top line scoring threat in the first three months of the season. Paajarvi came down, Omark got healthy, and some shifting occurred. Nonetheless the new fangled Tremblay-Arcobello-Cornet line is very potent. Lots of quickness, lots of youth, slightly under-sized, but exceptionally dangerous.
Twenty-two points in forty-eight games isn't the pace he set in previous non-pro leagues, but remember, that he's only recently been promoted to a full-time scoring line. I bet we see the pace quicken from this point forward.
The nitty gritty on Tremblay is that he is about as versatile of a rookie as a minor leaguer gets. To play two different types of hockey roles in your first pro ice time is just remarkable. At 5'11" he's a tad under-sized, but again he makes up for it with that quick start. He's smart with the puck, and even better away from it. Defensively speaking he has positional soundness that you almost assume is atypical of four year collegiate forwards that make the jump to full-time pro. Can you tell that I really like this player?
It's hard to find a level to Hunter Tremblay's game that isn't exciting. Maybe he could hit more and maybe he could finish a check more fully, but that's just nitpicking at this point. It's nice to know that the Oilers/Barons have struck gold with this kid. Hopefully they can concoct a remedy in the offseason that has Tremblay in the mix moving forward.
Buried deep in the promise of Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick is another rookie with a really solid game. The type of versatile player that you hope can continue the pace and velocity that is being produced in the here and now. With quiet consistency, Hunter Tremblay is becoming a very good hockey player. Young, but well worn. Skilled, but still learning. Keep your eyes on number 36 as the season winds down and the AHL playoffs begin. He's a rookie worth watching.