Earlier today, the Oklahoma City Barons announced that they've signed defenseman Joey Leach to an AHL contract. Leach was originally drafted 73rd overall by the Calgary Flames in 2010 because of his size and rugged style, but they chose not to sign him after the 2011-12 season, and Leach passed through the 2012 draft without being selected. Before the draft, Mike Remmerde identified skating and offensive upside as Leach's weaknesses and those things just haven't improved enough for him to get a three-year commitment from an NHL team.
But his play was good enough to earn a try-out contract from the Barons in April after the WHL season ended. Leach played in one regular season game, and showed enough in practice to earn a one-year contract from the Barons for 2013-14.
I find this signing a little bit surprising from Leach's perspective because the Barons seem like a very difficult team to crack for a young defenseman without an NHL contract. Even if we assume that the Oilers don't give qualifying offers to either Colten Teubert or Alex Plante and that they decide not to sign Kyle Bigos to an entry-level deal, there are still six defensemen likely ahead of Leach on next year's depth chart at the start of the season in Oscar Klefbom, Taylor Fedun, Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, Brandon Davidson, and David Musil. Given the team's past practice, it seems likely that at least one veteran defender will be added to that group as well. AHL groups do tend to carry at least eight defenders, but that's a lot of guys to jump over just to get regular playing time. Then again, it's possible that Leach feels he has a good chance in OKC because of his existing relationship with the coaching staff, or he's simply happy to take this contract to know that he'll have one.
For the Barons, this seems like a fine signing. It's encouraging that they're making the decision after a long look, and Leach was certainly a quality junior, serving as Kootenay's captain for the last half of the 2012-13 season. They'll only be counting on him to provide the team with quality depth if there are issues with injuries or underperformance, and since he's likely to start the year in Stockton, the Barons should be able to evaluate whether or not that'll be possible before he ever plays a game.