When the NHL lockout ended, no team in the American Hockey League lost as much firepower as the Oklahoma City Barons.
Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combined for 55 of the team's 112 goals before rejoining the Edmonton Oilers earlier this week. That's nearly half of the Barons' production.
The Barons will be looking for other players to find the net when they open a three-game weekend series that begins at 7 Friday night against South Division-leading Charlotte.
“More than anything, we have to play as a team to be successful,” said team captain Josh Green. “We can't rely on three or four guys doing the bulk of scoring. We all have to chip in. And we'll have to play better defensively because we're not going to score as many goals.”
Losing the “Fab Four” was just the first wave of players headed to Edmonton.
After Friday's game, Teemu Hartikainen, Magnus Paajarvi, Chris VandeVelde and Colten Teubert are expected to join Edmonton's training camp, which starts Sunday. Hartikainen and Paajarvi are projected to stick with the Oilers when the NHL season opens.
“The biggest thing is that our team comes together like last year,” said coach Todd Nelson. “Now there is no uncertainty. Now everybody can move forward. We can tweak our lineup as we see fit. Right now, I like the chemistry I have here.”
Barons general manager Bill Scott might sign a free agent but could wait until NHL teams make roster cuts late next week. He won't be adding veteran defenseman Bryan Helmer, who signed with Springfield. Helmer spent the last two seasons in Oklahoma City.
The Barons have added forwards Toni Rajala, Ryan Martindale and Philippe Cornet, who were promoted from Stockton of the Double-A ECHL.
“Normally, midway through a season, you don't have seven or eight guys called up to your affiliate all at once,” Scott said. “The good thing is we had a lot of depth at Stockton. A lot of those guys would have been here but got caught up in a numbers game when the Oiler guys came down.”
The Barons' top scorer now is Mark Arcobello, who has 31 points, including nine goals. Arcobello excelled with Eberle and Hall after Nugent-Hopkins left before the holidays to play with Team Canada at the world junior tournament.
“It helps when you play with NHL guys,” Arcobello said. “But last year, I put up points, too. There's no reason I can't continue to put up points without them. Every other team is losing guys, too. It's sort of like a fresh start. We're ready to go.”
Oklahoma City is in seventh in the Western Conference, just five points from the top but also just five points ahead of 12th place Chicago. The top eight teams make the playoffs.
The Barons last year reached the Western Conference finals without a prolific scorer.
“We knew this was probably was going to come at some point,” Green said. “Those guys are back (in the NHL) where they should be. We essentially have the same team as we had last year, and we were pretty successful. We're not afraid of the challenge playing without those guys.”