“It's very exciting to have the opportunity to work with young guys that have so much talent,” Nelson said. “It's my job to mold these guys into excellent professional hockey players so when the lockout ends they can go up and help the big club.”
If there wasn't a lockout, AHL teams would have to wait for NHL teams to make final cuts to formulate their final rosters. But this year, the Barons open camp with the same group that will open the season Oct. 12 on the road. The home opener is Oct. 19.
Returning 16 players that played in OKC a year ago, the Barons have 34 players in camp, 26 assigned by the Oilers. The Barons probably will cut to 23, with a few players sent to Stockton, Calif., in the East Coast Hockey League. Twenty can dress out for games.
“What we did last year was rotate guys in and out,” Nelson said. “I'm not going to have a guy here for three weeks and not play him. We want to keep everyone fresh. But sometimes it's tough to find ice time for everybody. That's the hardest part but seems to work itself out in the end.”
The process starts Sunday. Nelson has scheduled midweek scrimmages. The Barons host Houston for two preseason games Friday and Saturday.
AHL teams' primary responsibility is to develop players, but Nelson believes winning at the minor league level is part of the process.
“Talking to some of our guys, we feel we have some unfinished business this year,” Nelson said. “Our goal is to win the Calder Cup. If players have success in the playoffs, I believe they carry that with them in the NHL, and that's with them for life.
“We've created a winning culture here and want to build on what we did last year. We feel we have a pretty strong team and will be very competitive. I feel it's going to be a very exciting year.”