Oklahoma City Barons defenseman Taylor Fedun's professional career was in jeopardy before it even started.
An undrafted rookie free agent out of Princeton, Fedun pushed for a roster spot two years ago with the Edmonton Oilers.
But in the Oilers' final preseason game two years ago, Fedun suffered one of the most horrific injuries in NHL history. His right leg shattered when he crashed into the end boards chasing a puck in an attempt to get an icing call. There were no guarantees he'd ever play again.
Fedun, though, proved last season with the Barons he's nearly all the way back. Last month, Fedun was one of the Oilers' final cuts. He's back in OKC but has a viable shot to make his NHL debut at some point this season.
“He had a slow start last year, but I think that's more than fair considering he was learning how to walk all over again the year before,” said Barons general manager Bill Scott. “Boy, did he ever come on strong the second half of the year. He was a huge part of our success in the playoffs.”
It was a remarkable comeback for a player who had a titanium rod and four screws placed in his femur, the largest bone in the body.
“Now that he's had a full offseason it's paying dividends for him,” Scott said. “He had a great training camp. It was a tough call for Edmonton to send him down here.”
Fedun, 6-foot, 190, is average size. He's not an enforcer. But he handles the puck well, has a rocket wrist shot and that Princeton education shows on the ice.
“After New Year's he got to that tempo you could see his game elevated,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “He's a smart player. He has good hockey sense. He's able to spring guys loose with pinpoint passes. That's where he excels. He knows when to join the offensive rush to create offense.”
Fedun last season finished third among Barons defensemen in scoring (27 points).
Was he satisfied considering he couldn't lace up skates for six months, much less play hockey?
“What I was happy with was a steady progression,” Fedun said. “There were times I didn't play as consistently as I'd like to, but looking back on the season as a whole I was playing my best hockey at the end of the season. That's what I had hoped for after missing a whole season.”
The advantage heading into his second pro season is Fedun used the offseason to fine tune aspects of his game instead of spending hours upon hours rehabbing.
“Last season, I was still able to think the game the way I did before. That was very important to me,” Fedun said. “As long as the mental side was there I knew the physical side would come back if I kept working at it.”
Because he played four years at Princeton, Fedun, 25, is older than three talented 20-year-old Oilers prospects making their AHL debuts this season, plus teammate Brandon Davidson, who Edmonton recalled on Sunday. Fedun, though, has made an impression on Edmonton executives.
“Me being new to the organization, I really never got to see him play last year,” said Oilers coach Dallas Eakins. “You would never know anything had ever been wrong with this kid unless they told you. He outplayed a number of guys who never had an injury. He's way past it. He played well in camp.”
Fedun was disappointed he didn't make the Oilers opening day roster but knew the situation before camp started.
“With all their offseason acquisitions, I knew going in it would be really tough to stick from the get-go,” Fedun said. “I was trying to make it as difficult on them as possible for them to send me down. I think I accomplished that.
“I just need to keep doing what I was doing down and hope for that phone call to come. When it does I'll be ready for it.”