Ironically, the young Oilers stars who left town after the NHL lockout ended will lack playoff experience when Edmonton eventually ends a lengthy postseason drought. The Oilers haven't made the playoffs since losing in the Stanley Cup Finals seven years ago.
In contrast, players such as Teemu Hartikainen have played on Barons teams that have played in 31 playoff games the past two years, having reached back-to-back Western Conference finals.
“All three years here helped me learn the North American game,” said Hartikainen, from Finland. “I played around 200 games under Nelly, which was huge for me. I got to play a lot of minutes in key situations.”
Hartikainen was one of several players who shuttled between Edmonton and Oklahoma City. Other players, such as rookie Toni Rajala, began the season in Double-A Stockton (Calif.) before earning a promotion to Oklahoma City.
“It was a long season,” Hartikainen said. “Sometimes I felt really tired traveling all of the USA. Still, it was one of those seasons you'll never forget. I wished it would have lasted a couple of weeks longer and we won the Calder Cup.”
Goaltender Yann Danis, 31, said the 2012-13 season will always rank among his favorites in pro hockey.
“Everybody was disappointed we got so close to the finals and didn't make it, but we showed a lot of character,” Danis said. “I'm really proud of the way we battled through a lot of things to be playing that well at the end of the season.”
When the season finally ended in early June, the Barons were one goal shy of advancing to the AHL finals.
“Our backs were against the wall the final two months,” Nelson said. “No one expected us to even make the playoffs. Considering everything that happened, we were only six minutes away from going to the AHL finals.”