Minutes after his team skated off the ice for the first time this season, Oklahoma City Barons coach Todd Nelson received some good news.
Edmonton, the parent club of the second-year American Hockey League team, had just announced that it had assigned 11 players to OKC.
The news didn't necessarily change the coach's outlook. It just added even more optimism to a season that's already beginning with a great deal of expectations.
“Last year, we took a step in the right direction by making the playoffs,” Nelson said. “But with our early exit, that's unacceptable. Our expectation is to make the playoffs and go after the Calder Cup.”
Welcoming in additional bodies now is a luxury that improves a camp roster that Nelson believes is more talented than last year's squad that eventually finished 40-29. It also adds experience to a group that will be extremely young.
Most importantly, six of the 11 players finished last season on the Barons roster: forwards Chris VandeVelde, Tanner House, Philippe Cornet, Milan Kytnar and Curtis Hamilton, as well as defenseman Alex Plante. The Oilers also assigned defensemen Ryan Lowery and Kirill Tulupov, forwards Tyler Pitlick and Ryan Martindale and goaltender Olivier Roy.
“Last year, we didn't have all those guys in for quite awhile,” Nelson said. “So getting these guys in here, getting them settled, getting them ready for that first game is very important.”
The return of some familiar faces is expected to speed the learning curve of this year's squad, while also offsetting some challenges the Barons were expected to face in essentially having to start from scratch with an overhauled roster. When the Barons opened camp Monday, they saw only four players who had worn an Oklahoma City uniform last season: forwards Andrew Lord, Mark Arcobello, Hunter Tremblay and defenseman Bryan Helmer.