We've all seen the clear day roster. We understand how the Oklahoma City minor league team shakes up for the final month of the regular season and postseason. We see Omark play deep in the NHL Oilers roster. We imagine fiery thought bubbles of confusion over his head. We watch as the Swedish Shift has come together on the farm. We anxiously await to see how the Calder Cup run plays out as Oilers fans cling to a bright spot within the organization.
As the Oilers try to play spoiler for other teams while they themselves have no postseason aspirations, I assume it's okay to begin to cheer for its American League counterpart. I realize that my excitement is immediate and personal. For living in Oklahoma City, cheering on a winning hockey club, and eye-balling the Calder Cup playoffs - this is a good time of the year. A time where, even as fans, we also begin to dissect what the team looks like in its current state.
One of the most interesting things to discover is where your future Oilers and potential prospects are cracking the lineup. It speaks to who they are as up and coming players, how they are contributing, and what role they might play someday in a bigger league. Yet future casting these players remains wildly unpredictable. At a minor league level advanced stats are a dirty word. No time on ice, inaccurate shot totals, and not even the hint of a solitary face-off stat are just a few of the maddening things that we American Hockey fans daily endure. It's for another post and another hill to die on, but those things would be super helpful to have. In case you wanted my two-cents, Mr. AHL front office worker.
Nonetheless, our good friend Scott here at Copper & Blue digs deep into the roles of players on the farm like very few blogs do these days. His information is helpful and often surprising. For this I'm grateful. In that same vein, today I'd like to point out a few commonalities of the Oklahoma City lineup over the last ten games. A lot has happened in that nearly 25 day span. Omark, Paajarvi, Lander played a few games together, and even one apart. Injuries got the best of some key players in the rotation. And a punishing defender was forced to play right wing. Just another day on the farm where there is never a dull moment.
Without further fanfare, I give you some commentary on the Oklahoma City Barons lineup over the last ten games. I find this to be important on a number of levels. First being that we have traveled through enough of the season that we can understand who gets top line treatments, who gets bottoms, and who gets mangled in between. The second level being that we now see how the Barons look as postseason play rapidly approaches.
This discussion must first start with the top forward lines, where you'll see a bit of a pattern developing within. Last season there was no doubt that McDonald-Moran-Giroux were the top dwellers offensively. And for the right reasons. This year we see a similar trend of consistency at the top, but with a few minor ear marks. Most nights your Oklahoma City first line is Philippe Cornet - Mark Arcobello - Ryan Keller. These guys are quick, sharp, and able to crash the net with some ferocity. Cornet began the season with a bang, Arcobello continues to win important face-offs, and Keller is the fast-paced knifing forward who's willing to pounce the crease. Even when not scoring, they are potentially dangerous. That's huge for this team; to have threats with such bursts of speed and quickness. I mentioned there were a few earmarks. Coach Nelson will tell you that he doesn't "play to his opponent", but he really does. Case in point. Green replaced Arcobello on that top center role when some defense is needed. Need some aggression and strength on the boards? No problem. Place Pitlick on the RW and Hunter Tremblay on the LW with Arcobello down the middle. The system of rotating top forwards at times seems odd (House as top line center? Wack), but it works. It also further explains the committee scoring tendencies of Todd Nelson teams. Although this team has superstars with NHL potential, this is very much a team type team even on offense.
And that brings us to those "NHL potential" superstars. We first saw Lander and Omark, two-thirds of the Swedish Shift, playing together a few days ago. However, Green was to Lander's left on the top line. Strange considering that Josh Green hadn't played much wing all season. It was probably an attempt to give Lander some time to adjust to a heavy scoring line, which he hadn't been given at the NHL level. It didn't look too bad. Then we saw the Swedish Shift load up for two straight games. Linus Omark - Anton Lander - Magnus Paajarvi seems like a dominating trifecta, and it really wasn't all that bad until it was. The three corporately tried to do too much offensively instead of being patient. But who can blame them when the Barons defenders played so poorly on the two nights these three were placed together. Two-some games is not enough to judge that line and I do think we see them again for the remaining month of play. However, I think the timidity of the Swedes directly in front of the net might greatly improve if you stick Omark with Keller or Paajarvi with Cornet. Again, too early to consider a drastic change to the Swedish Shift.
The trade of Ryan O'Marra for Bryan Rodney was a difficult one on paper for me to swallow (There's a Terry Jones joke in there somewhere). For the pertinence of this post, I'll not dive too deeply into the Rodney dislike pool. What I will do however is highlight the loss of a centerman who was a dynamic part of the Barons penalty kill. He was great, and he is being missed. We also have a tendency to overlook O'Marra's important role at even strength. He was a strong shutdown man at least with OKC. Further adding to the loss of Ryan O'Marra is Hunter Tremblay who's been out for a few games with concussion symptoms (hoping to suit up tonight). The Barons have created a grinder line to fill that void. Heavy on the Triston Grant and Antti Tyrvainen this line is all kinds of feisty. Relentless and punishing, these two, with Tanner House or Chris VandeVelde down the middle, go against the strongest opposing forward lines, and can forecheck really well when called upon. They've even begun to find chances on the offensive end as a result of jarring forwards off the puck. Curtis Hamilton, Tyler Pitlick, and even Ryan Martindale have attempted to play these roles from time to time, but not with nearly as much aggression.
The most consistent individual line placement of any player on the OKC roster, continues to be Teemu Hartikainen. He's almost exclusively on the left or right wing of the third line. Equal parts scoring threat and puck protector, this has been a nice home for Teemu. We know his greatness isn't in his goal scoring, but in how he gets the puck to and from places. And don't get me wrong, he can score, but sometimes he creates plays that begin at the other end of the ice nearly 25 feet from the scoring net. And that third line changes in dynamic almost nightly as well. It will at times be heavy (adding Pitlick or Tyrvainen) or it can be finesse (adding Paajarvi or Cornet), and this once again, speaks to how versatile a player Teemu continues to be, even in his sophomore AHL season.
Moving forward here is how I predict the Barons line will look over the next month (assuming those on the clear day roster are all intact):
Philippe Cornet - Mark Arcobello - Ryan Keller
Linus Omark - Anton Lander - Magnus Paajarvi
Teemu Hartikainen - Josh Green - Tyler Pitlick/Hunter Tremblay
Triston Grant - Chris VandeVelde - Antti Tyrvainen
The Barons look to bounce back from a dreadful weekend which began in Peoria on Friday by returning to the scene of the incident...Peoria. In Omark's absence (still with the Oilers) we'll see a few shakeups when compared to the clear day roster. Hunter Tremblay most likely will fill the void as he returns from a trip down concussion avenue. Tune in tonight at 7pm CST via AHLLive.com ($$) or via iheartradio.com 96.1 KXY.