Bolstered by Mark Arcobello’s arrival a month ago, the Oklahoma City Barons have been the American Hockey League’s hottest team the past five weeks.
The good news for Barons fans is Arcobello and everyone else on the roster, for now, will remain in OKC even though the Edmonton Oilers, the Barons’ NHL affiliate, traded two veterans before Wednesday’s trade deadline.
“Obviously, Oilers management realized how close we are to (a playoff berth) and didn’t want to tinker with the chemistry we have right now,” said Barons general manager Bill Scott. “They also know we have a lot of capable players they can call on when needed.”
Going 10-2-2 since Jan. 30, the Barons are back in the Western Conference playoff chase. After Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout loss at Utica they were two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot with 18 games remaining.
After spending the first three months with Edmonton, Arcobello has been the AHL’s leading scorer (20 points in 10 games) the past month. For now he will remain with the Barons, who are gunning for their fourth consecutive playoff berth.
“When you’re fighting for the playoffs like we are, it’s always good to have a cohesive unit that’s played together several games after undergoing more than 100 roster transactions earlier this season,” Scott said.
On Wednesday, the Oilers traded Ales Hemsky to Ottawa and Nick Schultz to Columbus for draft picks, but Edmonton will go with a bare-bones roster to preserve three “free recalls,” hockey’s version of baseball roster expansion.
Edmonton won’t have any healthy scratches for any game, but if someone is injured, a call would be made to Oklahoma City.
Edmonton officials’ decision on Wednesday doesn’t mean the Barons roster will remain stable the final six weeks.
At some point the Oilers probably will want to evaluate players such as forwards Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander, Roman Horak and Arcobello or defensemen Oscar Kelbom and Taylor Fedun.
“(If that happens) we have to piece it together just like we did last year,” said Oklahoma City coach Todd Nelson. “The biggest thing is it’s up to us as a staff to get guys working together, find line combinations where players complement one another and maintain that winning feeling we have right now.
“(Call-ups) give players an opportunity to establish themselves at this level but also give guys opportunities to go up to the NHL and see if they’re ready for that league. From that standpoint, we just have to keep forging ahead.”
Fedun, 25, is only in his second pro season, but the former Princeton star is among a handful of veterans the Barons will rely on down the stretch. Fedun said the trade deadline is always in the back of Triple-A players’ minds.
“It’s almost a sense of relief,” Fedun said. “You know where you’re going to play so now you can really get buckled in.
“It’s sort of like comparing it to a college team. Once they start a season, they know what their roster will look like going forward. We don’t have to worry about trades or call-ups. The deadline gives you continuity, which can be really positive.”