Alex Plante was one of the more inconsistent players for the Barons last season. When he was hot, he did his job well, made big hits, and kept the puck out of the net. When he was cold, he was out of position, took bad penalties as he tried to catch up to his assignment, and had trouble moving the puck. With 138 penalty minutes, Plante finished the season as the Barons' leader. Ranked 25th in the latest edition of the Top 25 Under 25, Plante has some tough competition as he works his way up the depth chart.
After showing pretty well in the preseason, Plante looked to be one of the top defenders for the Barons last season. With the early injuries to Richard Petiot and Jake Taylor however, Plante was used in a floating defense position. Rarely used in a shut-down pair, early in the season Plante shuffled between pairings with Jeff Petry, Taylor Chorney, and Shawn Belle as Todd Nelson tried to find the best chemistry among the defense. Petry and Belle were a solid aggressive pair, leaving Plante to pair with Chorney.
During the rough start to the season for the Barons, Plante posted a -5 through the first nine games of the season. He fought four times in those nine games, and established himself as a physical presence on the ice. Over the next five games, Plante hit his stride, scoring a goal, two assists, and posted a +5 rating to get back to even.
Plante went cold over the next three games, turning in a -1. On Nov. 16th, the Barons watched as Belle was called up to the Oilers due to injuries on the big club. To fill the hole left in the roster, the Barons recalled Jordan Bendfeld, and signed Bakersfield Condors defenseman Joey Ryan to a Professional Try-Out. Both found themselves in the line-up, as Plante was a healthy scratch for the Nov. 19th game. Plante used that as a wake-up call, adding three assists and a +3 rating over the next five games to close out the month of November.
December was a quiet month for Plante. Tagged for just 14 penalty minutes, Plante went scoreless and posted a +1 rating, including a healthy scratch on Dec. 18. Plante saw Petry get called up to the Oilers for the first time, and Belle for the second. Plante tallied two assists in the first three games of the New Year. The Barons acquired veteran defenseman Bryan Helmer, and the defensive pairings shuffled around even more. January 8th against Peoria was a tough game for Plante -- he posted a -2 and was whistled for a holding penalty that resulted in a power play goal. As a result, Barons' coach Todd Nelson scratched for the January 9th game. The Oilers called up Taylor Chorney the next day and Plante returned to the lineup. In the last 9 games of January following his scratch, Plante posted two assists and a +4 rating.
As February rolled on, Plante hit another cold streak. In 10 games that month, Plante was even, with one assist, but was sitting in the penalty box for goals against in three of those games. The trade deadline brought about some big changes to the Barons' lineup, as the Oilers made trades for two new defenders. Shawn Belle, a victim of the AHL's veteran limit, was sent to Ohio to join the Lake Erie Monsters in exchange for Kevin Montgomery, while Colten Teubert came to Oklahoma from the Manchester Monarchs as part of the Dustin Penner trade.
March 4th, following a quick call-up for Richard Petiot, Plante finally got the call to Edmonton. In three games with the Oilers, Plante posted -2 rating with 11 penalty minutes in what was an underwhelming cameo in the big leagues. The Oilers sent Plante back to Oklahoma City where he found himself paired with Helmer until March 18th, when Coach Nelson paired him with Teubert. In that game, Plante notched two assists, with Teubert adding an assist of his own. The Barons hit a losing skid towards the end of March, and Plante finished with a -2 that month.
With five games to go in the season, the Barons kicked into overdrive as they made a push for the playoffs, and Plante thrived under pressure. He scored a goal and added an assist, posting a +7 in those 5 games, finishing at +11 for the season.
The Oilers season ended without a playoff appearance and Jeff Petry was sent back to Oklahoma City in time for the Barons' playoff series against Hamilton. In Game 1 Todd Nelson decided to split the pair of Teubert and Plante, and move Petry into Teubert's spot. That would ultimately fail, as Plante struggled and Petry had trouble adjusting to Plante's play. Plante was scratched from Game 2, with Teubert taking his place alongside Petry. Plante was back in the lineup for games 3 and 4 alongside Helmer for both games. He was +2 in Games 3 and 4, and a -1 in Game 6 as the Barons were eliminated from the playoffs.
With the departure of Richard Petiot, and most likely Jake Taylor, the pair of Teubert and Plante could prove to be the key shut-down pair for the Barons this season. Plante will have had to work hard over the summer though, as I'd put Teubert ahead of him on the depth chart. With Petry and Chorney possibly battling for a spot with the Oilers, the competition between Plante, Teubert, and possibly one of Chorney and Petry will be a tight battle for call-ups.