Mood upbeat on Oilers farm team

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:00 PM ET

CALGARY — There are familiar faces everywhere in the Oklahoma City Barons dressing room.

Jeff Petry. Ryan O’Marra. Shawn Belle. Martin Gerber. Jeff Deslaurier. Zack Stortini.

The elevator up and down to the minor leagues has been busy with the rebuilding Oilers this year and the result has been a roster full of young prospects who believe there is opportunity in Edmonton. And that’s not always an easy state of mind to achieve in the American Hockey League.

“For a coach it’s very rewarding,” said Todd Nelson of the 28-19-2-5 team prior to last night’s game in the Saddleome against the Flames’ Abbotsford Heat farm team, to begin proceedings for the Heritage Classic weekend.

“It’s important for players to know that performance at this level will be rewarded with opportunity to take the next step in the NHL. And when a player does get the call, as a coach you feel like a proud parent. There’s satisfaction for doing your job in terms of development.

“At the same time, it helps to keep on pushing to developing a winning attitude here,” said the Prince Albert native, who coached Muskegon in the USL the last three seasons.

The Oilers finished dead last in both the NHL and AHL — as the Springfield Falcons — last year. The big-league club is still 30th but the farm team has 15 teams with fewer points in the league so far this season, as they find themselves in a division where six points separate first- and seventh-place teams.

“We’ve got a good positive situation in Oklahoma City with the atmosphere and the environment. The people in OKC are great to us. The people are awesome.”

Nobody is ever happy in the minor leagues. But there’s a room full of young players here who believe they can be part of the future the Oilers are building in Edmonton.

“I’m hungry to be part of it,” said Ryan O’Marra, who had a call up earlier this year,

“I’ve made that known,” said the player who believes the next time he gets the call he’ll go up and win faceoffs, an obvious weakness in the organization.

“It’s tough when you go 12 or 14 times against Manny Malhotra,” he said of his first trip up.

“Man, he’s just dominant. He’s hard to beat. He’s low, strong and quick. It’s a learning experience. I took a lot away from that.

“If you talk to my coaches they’ll tell you I’ve been exponentially better at faceoffs since I’ve come down.

“It’s a totally differnet beast up there. Guys are 100% focused on winning faceoffs. Every draw. It’s not necessarily that way down here.”

Jeff Petry is the most recent player to return to OKC from Edmonton, complete with the shaved head he obtained with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and three other Oilers before his departure.

Petry was looking like a stay-up-forever player prior to the All-Star break and then came back and couldn’t do anything right.

“I don’t know what happened,” said the defenceman. Oilers coach Tom Renney suggested he didn’t expect Petry to be down long.

“I’m here to get my confidence back. I’m here to play like I was before I was called up and then go back and play like I’d been playing.”

Every prospect, of course, has his own individual situation.

Like Teemu Hartikainen, who has 14 goals and 32 points so far in his first pro season.

“It’s not easy for me because I’m a sixth-round draft choice,” he said.

“But I believe I’ll earn the opportunity, that when I’m ready I’ll get a chance to play. I think that’s true. Many guys have jumped up. They played well and got the opportunity. Why not me?”

Alex Plante, the former Calgary Hitman defenceman back on Saddledome ice, was a first-round (15th overall) draft pick of the Oilers in 2007 and has seen only four games with the Oilers in the NHL.

“If you pay attention to who is going up and down it can drive you crazy,” said the six-foot-three, 225-pound player.

“I look at it like I’m here to round out my game to the point when I get to the NHL I’m going to stay in the NHL. That’s my goal.”

Different to discover a positive environment on an Edmonton Oilers farm team.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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