The American Hockey League season begins this week. None of the 30 teams are stocked with as much talent as the Oklahoma City Barons.
With 16 players returning from a team that was the No. 1 seed in last year's Western Conference playoffs, the Barons would be pegged as one of the top contenders.
Mix in three on-the-rise stars that will play in Oklahoma City during the NHL lockout, and the Edmonton Oilers' Triple-A affiliate is an AHL Dream Team.
When AHL coaches, players and general managers have been asked which team benefits most from the lockout, Oklahoma City usually is the first team mentioned.
“This is very special, a unique situation,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “It probably will never happen again to be quite honest. I'm very excited to have those players here. It's going to be a lot of fun.”
A handful of young NHL stars are sprinkled around the AHL during the lockout, but no team has a trio like the Barons, who have NHL No. 1-forward-line caliber players.
Jordan Eberle has scored 119 points, including 52 goals, the past two seasons with Edmonton. He played in last year's NHL All-Star Game.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, is coming off a showcase rookie season in which he scored 52 points in 62 games. He is a future All-Star with a high hockey IQ that will rack up a ton of assists.
Justin Schultz, a defenseman who was a two-time All-American at Wisconsin, makes his pro debut in Oklahoma City. Schultz can impact the offensive end, especially on power plays.
“I think there will be a lot of pressure on this team,” Eberle said. “Going into the season, we're probably ranked No. 1 or one of the top teams in the league because of the success they had last year and the players we've added.”
Once the lockout ends, others will follow Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Schultz to Edmonton. Some immediately. Some later in the season.
“It's a good chance to keep building our chemistry,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Obviously, there are quite a few guys coming down from Edmonton. We all get to kind of grow up together, come together as a team.”