Barons coach Todd Nelson has been known to tinker with his forward lines. This year will be no different even though the roster is more stable during the NHL lockout than previous seasons when players shuttled back and forth between Edmonton and Oklahoma City.
The most noticeable change Friday night when the Barons play their home opener against San Antonio is Nelson has moved 34-year-old team captain Josh Green to the No. 1 line alongside the Oilers’ young stars Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
“We have a lot of different combinations,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t matter what line we have there’s always something a bit special on each line. It’s a good problem to have. We can change the lines up a little bit to see what the chemistry will be.”
In Friday’s home opener, Magnus Paajarvi, who opened the season on the No. 1 line, will play on a line with Teemu Hartikainen and Chris VandeVelde.
“That was our top line in the playoffs last year when Josh Green was hurt,” Nelson said. “They’re pretty familiar with each other.”
Antti Tyrvainen missed the first two games with a minor back injury. Tyrvainen will return Friday night and be on a line with Mark Arcobello and Tyler Pitlick.
Center Antti Tyrvainen, who missed the season opening two-game series at Lake Erie, is expected to return to the lineup Friday night when the Barons play their home opener against San Antonio.
Tyrvainen, from Finland, played in 55 games with the Barons last season.
“He gets underneath other team’s skin,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “That’s what we’re looking for from him… But he also has pretty good hands and shoots the puck quickly. But his game is playing gritty, finishing his checks, going out there being a pest.”
Tyrvainen, 24, scored 19 points, including six goals, last season. Scoring is a bonus. Tyrvainen realizes his role is to play physical.
“This is my second year,” Tyrvainen said. “I’m feeling good. I had a good summer. I’m excited. I hope to get more ice time and play my own game which is why they signed me here.”
Nelson said he plans to put Tyrvainen on a line with Mark Arcobello and Tyler Pitlick but Nelson will constantly mix lines.
Forward Taylor Hall, a No.1 overall pick with NHL experience, was expected to arrive in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. He will join the Barons even though it probably will be another two weeks before Hall plays in a game.
“I don’t know what the time table is but that’s what everybody is hoping,” said coach Todd Nelson. “At this time he’s scheduled to continue with his rehab.”
Hall, rehabilitating a left shoulder injury, hasn’t played since March. The first pick in the 2010 NHL draft, Hall hasn’t been cleared to resume full contact.
The Barons will have two No. 1 overall picks when Hall plays. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, Hall the No. 1 overall pick in 2010.
In Edmonton last season, Nugent-Hopkins and Hall were on the same line as Jordan Eberle, the Oilers top scorer last season, who also is playing in Oklahoma City during the NHL lockout.
Hall has scored 95 points, including 49 goals, in 126 games with the Oilers the past two seasons.
The Oklahoma City Barons program called “Barons Buddies” begins its second season Tuesday at the Cox Convention Center. The event will take place in the Exhibit Halls E & 3 near the southwest corner of the Cox Convention Center from 6–8:30 p.m.
The Barons Buddies program allows a family involved with Special Olympics Oklahoma to be “adopted” by a player on the Barons roster. The team hosts a series of events during the season that brings the families together for a fun night with their adopted player. In addition to participating in the three events, the families are invited to the Barons home game Feb. 1 against Charlotte.
Last season, the Barons and Special Olympics created memories for 20 athletes and their families and raised over $25,000 in the process via the team wearing and auctioning one-of-a-kind jerseys.
The first of the series of events is Tuesday night. The families have the opportunity to meet the players at the Cox Convention Center for a night of games. The second night in January is a bowling outing and the third night is an off-site pizza party near the end of the Barons regular season.
Bolstered some young NHL battled tested stars playing in Oklahoma City during the NHL lockout, the Barons arguably have the deepest, most talented roster in the American Hockey League.
“All the guys are ready, excited to get started,” said coach Todd Nelson. “Our last exhibition game (a loss to Houston last weekend) kind of straightened us out. It was a humbling experience. It’s not a bad thing going into the season, knowing if we don’t put a good 60 minutes together we can get beat.
“Now it’s time to start the regular season. Hopefully we can get off to a great start. In this league and the NHL you need to start well. If you don’t you have to end up clawing your way back into a playoff spot. We have to make sure we’re ready to go.”
OKC probably is the favorite in the Western Conference. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, was a viable candidate for NHL Rookie of the Year last season with the Edmonton Oilers. Jordan Eberle has led the Oilers in goals the past two seasons and played in last year’s NHL All-Star Game.
“We have a good team,” Eberle said. “With the success they had last year and the additions this year we’ll have some pressure on us. That’s good. Sometimes you need to go into games expected to win. We definitely have that mentality.”
Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle didn’t play in the two preseason games but will be on the No. 1 forward line along with Magnus Paajarvi, who split time between Edmonton and OKC last season and helped the Barons reach the Western Conference finals.
“(Watching preseason games) was a good opportunity for me to see how the league is,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It’s fast paced. It’s not much of a step down (from the NHL). You definitely have to prepare for the best. It’s been a long (summer) break. I’m ready to get back to playing.”
The Oklahoma City Barons have 26 players on the roster but only 20 can dress for games.
Only the top four forward lines are expected to play in the season opener Friday night at Lake Erie. The fifth line might play in the second game Saturday afternoon.
“We’ll try to get fresh guys in there Saturday,” said coach Todd Nelson. “We have a quick turnaround. We’re going to try to manage the best way we can. Sometimes they’re easy decisions to make because of the play of the player. Other times it will be very difficult if you have all guys playing good. It’s hard to take guys out.
“It’s healthy competition. Once you’re in the lineup you have to make sure you stay there and you work hard and you produce.”
During the lockout some players will be auditioning for NHL jobs, players like left winger Teemu Hartikainen, who split time between OKC and Edmonton last season. With a solid showing Hartikainen has a good chance to join the Oilers after the lockout.
“This is a good chance for us all to play with good players,” Hartikainen said. “There will be a lot of scouts, coaches, GMs in the stands every night we play.”
Center Antti Tyrvainen is nicked up and might not travel with the team to Cleveland.
“I know in his mind he wants to play but we’re at the point with the start of the season we have to make sure guys are 100 percent ready to come back before we insert them,” Nelson said. “This is not playoff time where you want a certain player in the lineup and has to play hurt, play through it. We have the luxury of having healthy bodies in there.”
The Oklahoma City Barons unveiled a third jersey they will wear at a dozen games this season at their annual Open House for season ticket holders Tuesday night at the Cox Convention Center.
The new jersey is the same color combination worn by the Edmonton Oilers, the Barons’ parent club. The royal jersey has OKC on the chest with an oil drop below the middle of the logo. Orange and white combinations feature the Oilers logo on the right shoulder, the Barons logo on the left.
“We got so much feedback after the Oilers transitioned back to their old colors we thought it would be a good idea to put something different out there,” said Bob Funk Jr., president of Prodigal LLC, which operates the Barons. “This ties directly back to what they look like but still retains some of the Oklahoma identity.”
The Barons will still wear the navy, white and copper OKC and oil derrick themed jerseys they used last season.
Magnus Paajarvi will play on the Oklahoma City Barons’ top line to start the season alongside young Edmonton Oilers’ stars Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
“I think this is something everyone wanted to see last year (in Edmonton),” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “The left wing is interchangeable. If teams are taking liberties on Jordan or Ryan I can throw Dane Byers in the left side. We have combinations.
“But this is a good opportunity for Magnus to play with those guys. He has speed. He creates scoring chances as it is. But playing alongside them he’s going to get more opportunities. Nothing is set in stone with our lines but he’s going to get an opportunity to play there.”
Paajarvi (pronounced pie-are-vee) has scored 42 points in 121 games with Edmonton. He spent all of the 2010-11 season in the NHL but played half of last season in Oklahoma City. This is an opportunity to prove he no longer needs additional minor league seasoning.
“I’m going to go out and play my game,” Paajarvi said. “I know everybody talks about scoring, goals and assists. Of course I want to do that. If I play with Nuge and Ebs I will get my opportunities and they will get their opportunities. It’s going to happen.
“But I’m not too focused on being the scoring leader. I want to be a leader on the team defensively, too, and on the other hand obviously be a threat offensively with the line I’m playing on.”
This essentially is Nugent-Hopkins’ first opportunity to play with Paajarvi, who played in 48 games with the Barons last season when he was an integral part of the run to the Western Conference finals, scoring 11 points in 14 playoff games.
“Obviously (Paajarvi) is such a fast player who will open things up for us,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “He’s a smart guy. Hopefully it will click.”
Eberle said: “I played with Nuge last year and Mags the year before. Mags brings an added dimension with his speed. He’s tough for defenders to keep up with. He’ll be able to push guys back and hopefully we can get some chemistry going early.”
Nelson said Paajarvi, 21, has matured some since last season.
“He seems more professional,” Nelson said. “He’s still a happy go-lucky guy. He’s always fun to be around. He has a great attitude. But he seems more business-like right now.”
Nelson stressed he won’t split up the line if it’s productive but he has other options.
“If we want more power we can put (Teemu) Hartikainen there,” Nelson said. “We have the luxury of a bunch of different combinations to see what works and what doesn’t work. But they look pretty good together right now, like there’s good chemistry. We’ll have to see if it translates into games.”
Here are the Barons’ forward lines heading into the season opener Friday night at Lake Erie. The No. 5 line probably won’t be active for the opener but might play in a Saturday matinee:
No. 2 line: Josh Green, Ryan Martindale, Tyler Pitlick
No. 3 line: Teemu Hartikainen, Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello.
No. 4 line: Dane Byers, Chris VandeVelde, Curtis Hamilton.
No. 5 line: Cameron Abney, Tanner House, Kristians Pelss.
Veteran Josh Green has been named captain of the Oklahoma City Barons. Wearing the C on the jersey is the ultimate compliment.
“It’s a big honor, for sure,” Green said. “Anytime you can put the C on and lead a team it’s a special feeling. But I don’t think anything is going to change for me. Whether I have a letter on or not I’m still going to be me and try to lead by example, try to let these kids run with it and try to not get in their way.”
Green, 34, has played in 341 NHL games for eight different organizations. He’s also played for seven different AHL teams. Green scored 37 points, including 16 goals, in 51 games last season with the Barons.
“It was a no brainer,” said left winger Magnus Paajarvi, in his third season with the Barons. “Josh was the obvious choice for everybody. I don’t feel there was another candidate that strong.
“He can tell anyone criticism bad or good. And that makes for a good leader. He’ll take a fight on if you have to. He’s tough. He can score. He has pretty much everything as a leader and a hockey player. It was obvious.”
Green is more than a decade older than most players on the Barons roster, including some young Edmonton stars playing in Oklahoma City during the NHL lockout.
“It’s a unique situation with these guys coming down from the NHL and some guys trying to get to the NHL,” Green said. “It’s a nice mix. It should breed some good competition from within. Hopefully we can put a good effort on the ice, win some games and have some fun.”
The Oklahoma City Barons, in conjunction with the Oklahoma City Police Athletic League are hosting the first ever floor hockey session finals on Thursday, October 11 in the park located on the southwest corner of Reno and Hudson. The game begins at 11 a.m.
The finals pit Stanely Hupfield Academy against Van Buren Elementary. This game is the culmination of a five-week program orchestrated by the Oklahoma City Barons hockey team and P.A.L.S program. Each school has worked on the basics of the sport of hockey including positioning, how to pass and shoot and most importantly, teamwork.
Floor Hockey is newest P.A.L.S certified sport. Using equipment and time donated by the Oklahoma City Barons, the program continues to provide the instructors knowledge about hockey so they can introduce participating schools to the sport. This fall, the program is expanding to include two additional schools.