One of the worst decisions in the history of minor league management has finally been reversed. With the Tampa Bay Lightning's farm down to little more than a stable, and Falcons management fed up with sub-par prospects, the Edmonton Oilers have finally found a home for their cacophony of kids. So what does this move mean for prospects on both sides? And how does it impact your keeper league?
If you've owned any Oilers prospects- especially goalies- over the last couple seasons, you'll know the frustration GM Kevin Lowe endured most nights. Burgeoning youngsters like 2002 second-rounder Jeff Deslauriers were relegated to the bench or ECHL in favor of talent belonging to the NHL team that was kind enough to loan a roster spot or five. Things have been much better this season, with Deslauriers taking the reigns as starter in Wilkes-Barre and forwards Marc Pouliot, Rob Schremp, Kyle Brodziak and JF Jacques being given top-six minutes.
But there were still victims this season. Devan Dubnyk, a controversial selection at 14th overall in 2004, has faced more rubber than Jenna Jameson as the No.1 for the East Coast cellar-dwelling Stockton Thunder. While the ECHL is pro experience, it's been the wrong kind, especially for any longer than one season. The same for Stephane Goulet, a seventh rounder in '04 that scored 51 goals in his final season of QMJHL hockey. Instead of playing on the top two lines and top powerplay unit in Stockton, it's been a game of 'any lines goes' for the 6'3 power winger as that club also struggles to fit in Oilers youngsters. Brock Radunske, a dominant forward in the E with 12 points in seven games, is playing on the fourth line most nights in Grand Rapids after being loaned out when Wilkes-Barre ran out of room for Oiler property. A third round selection in 2002, the 6'4, 200 lbs right wing has scored just two goals in limited AHL minutes.
But that's all behind us now. Here are the players who look to benefit most from the affiliate change:
1. Devan Dubnyk
As mentioned above, Edmonton's hope in goal for the future currently has no hope in goal as he tends the twine for Stockton. Facing an average of 32 shots on net a night, the 6'5 behemoth has managed to kick out 91.5 percent of them. Only 21 in May, a rapid ascent in the pro ranks is required to keep the keeper from going stagnant. With a reborn Jeff Deslauriers providing a solid starting presence, Dubnyk will have the backup job out of the gate. And with the Oilers controlling affairs, a hot streak could mean a temporary handing over of the reigns when Dubnyk proves worthy. The move to a team-owned affiliate shaves at least two years off the big goalie's development time.
NHL Potential: Average starter/1A goalie
2. Dragan Umicevic
The coolest-named player in all of sports, Dragan Umicevic has fallen off since almost feverish hype during the lockout. Spurned on by comments made by then-teammate Olli Jokinen that the Bosnian native could be a big-time NHLer, the sniping winger entered 2005-06 with high expectations. A disappointing six goals and 22 points last season caused the Hype-O-Meter to spin in the direction. And predictably, Umicevic has sent it the other way again with a superb 2006-07. Starring for a new squad in Djurgardens, the 22 year-old ripped off a career-high 13 goals and 28 points during the regular season. On the outside of the playoffs and thus relegated to the golf course or wherever non-playoff Elitserien players go, Umicevic will be looking to North America with renewed optimism thanks to the opportunity created by Edmonton's AHL affiliate. A potential surprise, keep an eye on Dragan.
NHL Potential: 20-20-40
3. Colin McDonald
One of numerous college-committed experiments by the Oil, winger Colin McDonald joined the organization in 2003 as the team's 51st overall selection. Deemed a natural goal scorer with a power game by none other than, well, himself, the winger struggled with serious injury problems through almost every year of his college career. 2006-07 saw him turn it around. Through 36 games, the 6'2 right wing poached a team-leading 13 goals for the notoriously stingy Providence Friars. In a similar situation to current Oiler Brad Winchester, a highly defensive scheme has not allowed McDonald to develop during his Hockey East career as one would like. And much like Winchester, McDonald will finally be given the room, ice-time and linemates to do what he does best. At worst, the Connecticut native will turn into the type of player 'Winny' is now- a bottom-six winger who can hit, provide energy and score. But with a better overall skillset, the potential is there for McDonald to be so much more.
NHL Potential: He says Bill Guerin, I say Brian Willsie.
4. Glenn Fisher
Forgotten by many NHL fans, let alone Oilers fans, Denver goaltender Glenn Fisher will indirectly benefit from the addition of an AHL team as he enters the pro ranks. A superb stopper through 2006-07 thanks to new-found consistency, the 23 year-old will likely jump to the ECHL when his college career comes to an end. Such a move would have been near detrimental under last year's state of affairs, as finding starting work for Devan Dubnyk was difficult enough. Convincing a second team to loan a roster spot and a loose leash at hockey's most important position would have been next to impossible. Now, with Dubnyk going to the AHL in 2007-08, Fisher will have the ability to vie for the open spot in Stockton. After that, an NHL career as a backup is where it should be- up to him.
NHL Potential: Ty Conklin, without the gut-wrenching Cup Finals trip around the net.
5. Ryan O'Marra
While first round prospects rarely need much more to get an extended look in the AHL, team-owned affiliate or not, Ryan O'Marra stands to benefit thanks to Edmonton's player development philosophy. An extremely mature two-way centreman, O'Marra will likely garner the favour of Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, Director of Player Development Kelly Buchberger and Kevin Lowe, a powerful trifecta who were also known for their work away from the puck. That trio will have the ability to indirectly- or directly, if Buchberger earns AHL head coach duties- influence O'Marra playing time and situation, impossible with a coach not on the same payroll.
NHL Potential: Michael Peca-esque centreman, 45-50 points.
Now, who stands to suffer? Take your pick when it comes to the Lightning. The arrangement with Springfield was rare- AHL owners, despite their league, want to win. While the Lightning originally pledged to make Springfield into a winner, and despite a plethora of trust thrown their way, a top team never materialized. A new affiliate will give Tampa Bay considerably less leash, expecting results instead of a throw-it-at-the-all approach that has allowed the Lightning to develop their few gems. Stanislav Lascek and Radek Smolenak, already borderline AHL players, will likely see their hopes of an A job disappear as more veterans are signed to create a winning environment. The same goes for any longshot prospects in the Tampa system.
And before Bugg Bytes is over for another week, a quick congratulations to DobberHockey regular Steffen. For correctly answering last week's question (Q: What do all the section headings have in common? A: Martin Scorsese), Steffen receives a Paul Stastny Ovation RC. What else is a column about prospects going to give out? Keep an eye on Bugg Bytes for future contests.