Oilers plan to grow own success

Tyler Pitlick struggled early this season with the Oklahoma City Barons but was given a chance to...

Tyler Pitlick struggled early this season with the Oklahoma City Barons but was given a chance to develop, and is starting to see his ice time grow. (Steven Christy/OKC Barons)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:36 AM ET

OKLAHOMA CITY - Anybody can take Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with a No. 1 pick in the draft.

The trick is to produce quality NHLers with the subsequent selections. And the trick to that is not only for Stu MacGregor and his team of amateur scouts to draft well, but for the organization to develop well, too.

The early Edmonton Oilers drafted unbelievably well, leading to five Stanley Cups, picking future Hall of Famers who bypassed the minors entirely. But the team has never excelled at development in all its years since in the NHL.

Now they're diving head-first into farming and growing their own.

So how is it working out so far?

Great, if you look at the standings, with the Oklahoma City Barons going into the weekend at 59 points, sitting first overall.

So-so if you dig a little deeper.

"As far as I'm concerned, we've done nothing yet," said senior director of development Billy Moores.

"But I'm hopeful. Very hopeful."

You could look at second-round draft choices and first-year pros Tyler Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton, and come to the quick conclusion that so-so is sugar-coating it.

Last year, it looked like head scout MacGregor may have hit home runs with those two as well as second-round pick Martin Marincin and Ryan Martindale, first pick of the third round.

First, let's deal with Pitlick and Hamilton.

Pitlick was the next best thing to a first-round draft pick, first in the second round in 2010 after Taylor Hall was selected first overall.

He has a mere four goals and nine points with a minus-seven on a first-place team of mostly plus players.

Hamilton was also selected in the second round of 2010, with the 48th pick. He has exactly the same stat line Ñ 34 games, four goals, five assists and nine points. Only difference is that he's a plus-one.

TRACKED WELL

These are two players who both were tracking very well in their final year of junior before making the jump to pro.

Pitlick, the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder produced 27 goals and 62 points in 56 games with the Medicine Hat Tigers last year. Hamilton finished fifth in the WHL in plus-minus with plus-48 and ranked tied for eighth in assists with 56 in a season that also produced 26 goals.

Both started slowly as pros, finding themselves as healthy scratches on occasion. But there is some evidence they're just now starting to make the adjustment to the AHL, with increased ice time lately.

" 'Push Up' is our organizational philosophy now," said Barons GM Bill Scott. "No one is getting ice time because they were picked in the first round or the second round. There's no entitlement.

"They both started with eight to 10 minutes a game and have been healthy scratches for games. Now they're up to 10 or 12."

Coach Todd Nelson believes they'll get there. And when they do, he hopes they'll be ready to stick and click.

"The Detroit Red Wings keep players in the AHL for two or three years. They let them mature here, so when they get them up there they stay there.

"These are two players projected to help the Oilers in the future. It might take them two or three years. They're making a lot of adjustments to a lot of things. They're living together, doing their own cooking, doing their own laundry for the first time in their lives."

They don't lack in skill.

"Pitlick, he's so fast. The way he can skate ...

"He's had his ups and downs. But the last game he did a very good job supporting the puck.

"Hamilton is still a young player trying to figure out the league. He's our youngest player. He just turned 20.

"He's very intelligent and has a big body. He's starting to win battles on the walls. Before he was not," said Nelson.

"My perception is that they're making good progress now, earning their ice time, learning to train off the ice like pros and being away from their junior billets looking after themselves,” said Moores.

“It’s been tough,” said Pitlick. “It’s a difficult adjustment, playing against better players. It’s definitely a change from junior, where every chance they had, they’d get you out there. You expected to score and get points every night. Now it’s more that you’re hoping …

“But now it’s starting to go pretty well. Now I’m starting to have fun and enjoying the game. And the coaches have been awesome. They’re really good working with you. They’re really hands-on, more than in junior.”

Hamilton said it’s definitely an awakening.

“When you come out of junior, you’re a high-point guy. All of a sudden you’re not getting points. But it’s good for you. At the start of the year it was tough. Now I understand how hard this league is. I’ve learned a lot. And I’m in the lineup a lot more now.”

Marincin isn’t here. He’s still in junior, his point production having tailed off somewhat from a 14-goal, 56-point season last year to six goals and 22 points.

“Marincin is a very good example of discovering what we needed to get better at,” said Moores.

MORE RESOURCES

The Slovakia world junior defenceman who seemed to be regressing from his start to the season last year after he’d been drafted, was not only in a new country, he couldn’t speak English and was getting no help.

“We found two ladies in Prince George, Teresa and Linda, and they made some real good gains. We went to his billet with a nutritional program we felt he needed. They were wonderful. We met with his junior coach and set up a strength and conditioning program he needed,” said Moores of the player recently traded to Regina.

“He’s 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds. He needs to get stronger. He needs an off-season conditioning program. He’s an example of needing more resources.”

Then there’s Martindale, the 6-foot-3, 207-pound centre picked first in the third round who had 83 points including 34 goals and a plus-38 last year in junior. He should be here but is down in Stockton, with five goals and 14 assists, a definite disappointment. The Oilers are waiting to see him show them he’s hungry and that he wants it.

Philippe Cornet is the example of working for it.

Picked 133rd, the 21-year-old fifth-rounder found out Wednesday he’s been named a starter for Monday’s AHL All-Star game in Atlantic City.

“He wasn’t a big part of the team at the start of last year, But this is a guy who put in the work,” said Scott.

“His speed is at a much different level than last year. He didn’t have the speed to get there last year. Now he has another gear to his game. And he’s going to the tough areas of the ice,” added the Barons GM.

“He was in and out of the lineup a lot last year. But he grew as a player in February and March,” said Nelson.

“At the end of the season, we sat him down and talked to him about what he had to do in the summer, that he had to get an extra step and an extra gear. He worked hard to get that extra step. To get to the NHL he needs another step.”

Cornet said while they didn’t dress him for the first game this year, a 7-0 loss, they’ve kept their word about earning ice time and opportunity since.

“Since that first one, I haven’t missed a game,” said the team’s leading scorer with 20 goals.

“The ice time is good. I’m getting power-play time.

“This year I’ve improved a lot. It’s a huge improvement from where I was last year. I’m not at the level I want yet, but they can see I want to get better.”

He’s not likely to be Nugent-Hopkins or Taylor Hall. But he might get to play with them.


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