OKLAHOMA CITY - The future at forward has already come into crystal clear focus.
And, while it's still a bit fuzzy yet, you can finally start to see the future on defence.
But what about in goal? Are the Edmonton Oilers on their way to putting the pieces together there now, too?
With Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and others in Oklahoma until the lockout ends, Nail Yakupov playing on his hometown team in the KHL and those already on the Edmonton Oilers NHL roster either playing in Europe or waiting in limbo as the work stoppage drags on, the future is almost blindingly brilliant.
And you can now start to see it on defence with the Paul Coffey-like debut of free agent Justin Schultz, the continued development of Oscar Klefbom in Sweden and the NHL development of Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid.
But in goal, is Devan Dubnyk going to prove to be a consistent NHL starter? Do the Oilers have one on his way in either Olivier Roy in the AHL or Tyler Bunz in the ECHL in Stockton?
Or is goaltending the one position where next year or the year after the Oilers are going to have to package some players from their significant stockpile of young talent to make a deal for somebody like Jonathan Bernier who currently sits second banana to Jonathan Quick of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings?
“When you are gathering all these assets, you know you are not going to keep everybody,” said Oilers GM Steve Tambellini.
“But the idea is to use them to make a deal to fill needs with the NHL team. We don’t know what those needs will be right now.”
At this time last year, you would have said it was defencemen.
Last night we got a look at Roy, the 21-year-old fifth-round draft choice who imploded as No. 1 for Canada at the World Junior in Buffalo two years ago and began his pro career with the Stockton Thunder (16-18-5, .925, 2.46).
Roy was in net for the 5-3 loss to the Lake Erie Monsters Saturday night in which he made three breakaway saves but gave up two deflections and a pair of power-play goals, including a 5-on-3 situation. The final goal was into an empty net.
Roy also started against the Monsters last Saturday on the road, making a five-bell save with 20 seconds left to preserve the win. Roy was 1-0 in a callup to the Barons last year.
Bunz, 20, the St. Albert product named WHL goaltender of the year last season with the Medicine Hat Tigers, is 1-1-1 with a .925 save percentage and .167 goals against average to begin his career in Double A Stockton.
No. 1 in Oklahoma is 31-year-old Yann Denis, the AHL first team all-star goalie last year, who is more a career minor leaguer than NHL prospect but would be the guy to bring up right now to replace Devan Dubnyk or Nicolai Khabibulin in the event of injury. But the year after, when Khabibulin’s contract expires ...
“We think we have two good prospects in Tyler and Olivier. I think Tyler has the potential to be No. 1. They both do. I really liked what Tyler did in Medicine Hat. And Olivier had a good year in Stockton last year,” said Tambellini.
“The plan is to give Denis two of every three starts,” said Oilers goaltender coach Fred Chabot. “At the same time the plan in Stockton is to give Tyler 40, 50 or 60 games. We don’t want a 20-year-old on the bench.”
One of the big questions with Roy is that by today’s standards, the thin five-foot-11 netminder is small.
“There are five NHL starting goalies under six foot who are doing really well,” said Chabot. “So it’s still possible. But the average goalie in the NHL is now six-foot-two. It’s like it is with players. You have a better chance with size.”
Roy said guys like Jonathan Quick have proved the value of climbing the ladder from ECHL to AHL to NHL.
“I had a great experience in the ECHL last year,” said Roy. “The successful ones seem to be the ones who take a little longer. The main thing is getting there and having confidence when you do. I just want to keep working really hard and playing well.”