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How helpful are really good AHL players, anyways?

As of this moment, we are 6 points out of the 2nd wildcard spot. We’re also about 100 points out of 3rd in our division.

I thought I’d write an article on our prospects and what I think we need to do between now and the draft. Here is our CAP. Here is the AHL team stats. If you didn’t know, our AHL team has won 12 straight and are on fire!

To save you some reading. This is based on me thinking that the playoffs are not happening (which I’ve been steadfast about since July). I think we need to sell and clear the books as much as possible for the new GM. I think we need to clear house before hiring a GM because the water is bad and Nicholson, Lowe, MacT and Howson need to be fired. I’m basing this all on Sekera being on the team in a few weeks and in October’s starting lineup. Lastly, I realize we have a LOT of problems but all I care about is getting a 4th legit Top 4 Dman via trade or free agency. If we don’t do that, we won’t make the playoffs next year either.

The pipeline is indeed better than it’s been. However, that is a low bar as the pipeline has traditionally been a 1st overall pick and 5 busts. Even one of our 1st overall picks ended up being a bust. It’s amazing when you consider how many elite teams in the NHL have never even had a 1st overall pick. Khaira remains an outlier as he is a quality bottom 6 NHL player on a reasonable contract that we actually drafted and developed all by ourselves.

My first big concern is Ostap Safin who has basically missed a full season of development and he was a ‘dark horse’ pick. I’ve always had his ceiling as Anton Shlepyshev (low end) or Dimitri Jaskin (high end). This was the season where he was supposed to be a mainstay for a very strong Halifax Mooseheads and a Top 6 forward on a strong Czech Junior team with Necas, Kaut and Zadina. Instead he’s played 10 games and has been injured. We’ll see how this affects his performance down the road but he has some big hurdles to overcome.

The AHL team is flying and look great. I do have concerns though. They are led by players like Gambradelli (who did very little in the NHL), Malone (who did very little in the NHL), Marody (who did very little in the NHL) and Russel (who did very little in the NHL). There is a big gap between very good AHL players and very good NHL ones. Zykov anyone?

Bensen is my pick to make the Top 6 next season after spending a full season in AHL. I’d like to see him get a small cup of coffee in garbage time this season before being returned to the AHL for a playoff run. Ideally, not missing any AHL games at all but sneaking in 1 or 2 NHL games. It’d be even more amazing if the coaching staff then gave him pointers on what to work on in offseason. You know, treat our prospects like assets and work with them.

Yamamoto is not doing well at all IMO. 10pts in 16 games is pretty low for a guy most fans think should be in the NHL Top 6 along Drai or McDavid. In this case he’s a premier prospect on a top echelon team and still not setting the world on fire. He’s also young. However, he was more productive in the NHL last year than this one. I never mention his size when evaluating him, but I am concerned about his consistency.

I do have a crazy dream that they keep Hebig/Yamamoto/Bensen together in the AHL for the rest of the season. Let them develop chemisty, give them lots of opportunity. Then, this would be our starting third line next season in the NHL. A full ‘kid line’ at less then 3 million. Make the 4th line our plumbers.

I was a huge supporter of sending Jesse back in his first 2 seasons. At this point, I’m not sure what AHL time would do? I feel like the AHL is great for development but there is such a thing as too much AHL. I don’t think the NHL has too many guys dominating that have played over 200 AHL games? It’s a weird curve. I do think he should’ve been sent down during the All Star Break (this happend to both Pastrnak and Hertl and it didn’t hurt them). I do think he should be loaned to the Condor’s for the playoff run as well after the NHL season is over. I’d also love to see him develop chemistry with guys like Bensen, Marody, Yamamoto, Bear and Jones. However, it’s NHL or bust at this point. He’s being solidly lapped by his contemporaries like Rantanen, Kontkiniemi, Tkachuk, Luc Dubois and Laine. I look forward to being told he’s a ‘young 21’ at the start of training camp. I would trade him straight up for Pavel Zacha in a your bust for our bust scenario. Otherwise, resign!

Starrett looks like he might be a good cheap backup next season for Koskinen. When garbage time comes and we trade Talbot, I’d like to see Starrett called up and given a few NHL games to give him a taste of NHL action for next season. Then I’d like him returned for an AHL playoff run. I’d make Montoya the backup for Koskinen for the rest of the season and ride Koskinen like we’ve ridden Talbot.

Jones has been doing real well since going back. Once we get Sekera sorted out, I’d take him over Benning, Petrovic, Manning and Gravel (I would resign Gravel). Costs less than 3 of those guys too. My only caution is that everyone thought Benning would be Top 4 by now. He’s miles away from doing that for us. Everyone thought Bear would light it up as well. I hope Jones is able to find more traction than those 2. Or that one of those 2 gains traction. It’s worth repeating, looking good in the 5/6 slot and doing well in Top 4 are two very different animals.

Since I’m on Bear. Why is Logan Day outscoring Ethan Bear (who is supposed to be an offensive Dman)? Bear is 3rd in team scoring for D and not in Top 10 on our AHL team. Day has played more games but also has a higher .ppg average. Jones has played less games and just passed him as well.

This will upset everyone but I’d like to see Bouchard and McLeod spend the full season in the AHL next season. Only way I bring up either guy would be after Xmas and only if they are destroying the AHL. What I don’t want to see is these guys ‘pencilled in’ for starting spots in October and then our management team not find adequate NHL players.

Having said that. If we sign/trade for a legit Top 4 NHL dman and Bouchard clearly outplays him then of course I want him to have the job! What I don’t want to see is that our Top 4 is the same 3 guys (Klef, Nurse and Larsson) and the job is not filled. This happens a lot in Oil country. We don’t have the spot filled and then a rookie ‘earns it’. A good comparable for Bouchard is Filip Hronek who is almost at a .ppg pace in the AHL. They’re giving him a lot of exposure in all situations and taking their time developing him. No need to rush D into the NHL with incomplete games. I’d like to see Bouchard on the PK, PP and playing 20 to 25 minutes a night in the AHL. Another thought would be to give him a few games in the NHL and then send him down to the AHL with things to work on (noticing a trend here?).

My other big concern is that I feel like we’re lining up next year to have a LOT of rookies. I love rookies and hope they all succeed but how many can you have before it becomes a problem? Jesse, Kailer, Bouchard, Marody, Bensen, Bear, Jones, Persson, Starrett and McLeod could make up half our roster. Can an NHL team be successful with that many inexperienced players?

Keep these guys and do not trade them:

Connor, Leon, RNH, Larsson, Klefbom, Nurse, Jesse, Jujhar, Sekera and Russel (yes, Kris Russel).

Of the UFA’s. I want Rattie, Gravel and Chiasson back for similar contracts and 1 year terms as this year. I would be okay with trading them at deadline and then resigning them in offseason. I’m not a huge fan of any of them but they’ve done a good job and at 700K they are great values. I would be fine with paying 3 million for these 3 players (or whatever the amount is that can be buried in the AHL without a cap hit).

I am very torn on Kassian. He’s not my kind of player but he is blazing fast and we are turtle slow. He is in great shape and seems to be liked by his teamates. I also have no idea who replaces him if he leaves. I would keep him until the trade deadline next year when he’s becoming a UFA. I would not consider resigning him at all after next season.

I think we should try and trade Rieder (UFA), Brodziak (1 year left) and Spooner (1 year left) for anything we can get. I think the 5 mill could help us elsewhere and that they could be replaced internally. 2 of them were healthy scratches this week. Spooner has been a .ppg player in the AHL and is not far removed from being a decent forward in the NHL. Maybe he rebounds? Maybe he’s increasing his value as well?

We try to trade Petrovic for anything. If not, let him walk. Do not resign him.

I don’t think Manning can be traded at all. However, if you can find a way to get him off the books then do so. If not, AHL next year and bury him. Literally one of the worst things Chia did.

I cannot see a Lucic trade that we win. Keep him on the team, pump his tires and keep him in the bottom 6. Do not gift him Top 6 in training camp or Powerplay time until he starts scoring again.

We need to trade Talbot for anything. Amazing when you consider that 2 years ago he would’ve got a good return. Koskinen is our starter next year for better or worse. That ship has sailed. For the record, I wanted Khudobin as a UFA. His performance and contract are beautiful. My second choice was Mrazek who hasn’t been as good but is currently an NHL starter at 1.5 million per. Instead we have Koskinen for 3 years at 12 million. I’m not sure Koskinen or Talbot have been better than Mrazek this season but I am sure they’ve cost a lot more money than he has. I’m positive Khudobin has been better than all of them.

Nurse is now Top 30 in the NHL in scoring and in very elite company. He’s on a good contract for 2 years and exactly who you build around. He is an Oiler’s draft success story. It hasn’t been pretty by any means but he has made a legit jump from 5/6 to Top 4. I’m not saying he’s a great Top 4 but he is a legit player. If you trade him, you need something back on D and still don’t have 4 Top 4 D. I’m positive if we got another legit Top 4 D then he’d be much more loved than he currently seems to be. I would only trade him for Provorov. Neat fact, he is on pace to get more points than Klefbom ever has. Also, he hasn’t missed many games at all due to injury. Durable and gets points. Part of the solution, not the problem.

I would keep Benning. Not because I’m a fan but because he’d be great in the 5/6/7 role and still has upside. I don’t see him blossoming into Top 4 but am happy to be proven wrong. The thought of Jones/Sekera/Persson/Gravel/Benning/Russel battling for 3 spots is very good.

Jesse is another issue. Most here feel that he is not getting a fair chance! He needs to be in Top 6 and the coaches (every single one) are unfair to him. Great, but Jesse is not even elite at playing less than 12 minutes. Here is a list of all the guys that play less than 12 minutes a night (Jesse averages 11:59). You’ll note that none of these guys get prime PP time or get to play with the teams star players. Jesse ranks 35 in this group. I know people don’t like plus/minus but I feel it important to point out that Jesse also has the second worst plus/minus in the Top 35. Do NOT trade him because the return will be a loss. Resign him, keep him in the NHL and give him a lot more responsibility in garbage time. Give him PP time, PK time and coach the kid. We did a lot more in developing Ty Rattie last year then we did Jesse.

So, in summary of this long winded piece:

Do NOT trade: Connor, Drai, RNH, Nurse, Larsson and Klefbom

Resign: Gravel, Chiasson, Poolparty and Rattie to similar contracts. I would trade Gravel/Chiasson/Rattie for anything and then try to resign in offseason.

Keep Sekera, Benning, Kassian, Russel, Koskinen and Lucic because we lose all those trades (or can’t trade them at all).

Trade Talbot, Petrovic, Manning, Spooner, Reider and Brodziak for whatever you can get. Most those spots can be filled internally.

Most importantly we need to get a 4th Top 4 Dman. I’ll take anything from OEL to Gudas. I just want a 4th legitimate Dman. Once we sort our D out the offence will improve, so will the goalie stats. This is a decade long gaping hole. You can do whatever you want but if you have Russel/Bouchard/Jones/Bear in your Top 4 in October then we’re not making the playoffs next year either.