With 21 draft picks in the last two seasons, Edmonton Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini had and still has his work cut out for him when it comes to developing prospects. At the start of offseason camps, it was very apparent that depth of talent was no issue in the Oilers' system.
|Tyler Pitlick had a solid game in front of the GM on Saturday night
(photo by Steven Christy / OKC Barons)
With the amount of talent comes the task of building on it, turning prospects into pros and creating a winning culture. That’s where Oklahoma City comes in.
At the beginning of the season, when it came time to make cuts and send players to the OKC Barons of the American Hockey League, Tambellini knew he had tough decisions to make.
"Extremely difficult," Tambellini said. "That's kind of the good news, bad news. The bad news is you're probably sending a player to the American Hockey League when you know he has the ability, on most nights, to play in the NHL.
"The good news is that we know we have people here that maybe aren't ready today in some aspects, but you know that they're going to play in the NHL and that's a very comforting position to be in. Just the fact that you know you're growing your depth chart and we don't need to rush people. We just want them to progress through this part of their career so that when they come to Edmonton, we know they're ready to stay. That's what a player wants. Basically, is that he wants to know he's ready and he wants a chance to be able to stay.
With the wealth of young talent that has NHL potential in Oklahoma City, the American Hockey League affiliate of Edmonton has become an integral part of re-building the Oilers. Tambellini decided to take a trip to OKC himself on Saturday to see the Barons take on Charlotte. OKC lost the game 3-2 that night, but the Oilers' GM says it was valuable to see the players with his own eyes.
|Steve Tambellini (left) looks on from the press box during an Oklahoma City Barons game last year in Calgary. |
"It's great to see in person. We've been hearing so many good things that have happened from the start of the season. All these players worked extremely hard at (Oilers) training camp. Most of them in exhibition season, some of them in rookie camp... They've obviously continued their ways of what they've demonstrated.
"They came in great shape and (OKC head coach) Todd Nelson and his coaching staff... You could see that even though tonight they didn't win, but they were close in coming back and I know overall the coaching staff is pretty happy the way the guys responded up to this point."
Edmonton, since forming an affiliation with Oklahoma City, has always wanted to induce a winning atmosphere while developing their young talent. This season, more than last, the bulk of talent has made competition at the AHL level very important to the NHL club's plan.
"There's a lot of things that come into play there... Expectations and clarity of really what you want from each of your players... But I think that maybe more importantly is the fact that the organization now has a lot more depth, not only at the National Hockey League level but at the American Hockey League level and there's competition for jobs.
"I truly believe that in order to get better, you need the competition within your organization to push people and to see who really wants to become a better player and that's what we want. We need every single player that's playing in Oklahoma City to get better and obviously they're working hard, and as a team right now they are getting better."