If there is one thing that concerns me about the Oklahoma City Barons this season, it’s the defense. I use the word type loosely because every season is vastly different, but Coach Todd Nelson is a defensive type hockey coach. His teams aren’t lulling you to sleep nor are they overtly brawny. Actually sometimes deception kicks in, and it appears that offense is the key. He’s been gifted some of the most talented forwards in the AHL the last two seasons. As the Barons coach, his teams have been highly entertaining to watch from the stands. But his motto will always be defense first.
It starts in net. Goaltenders need to be consistent and able to steal games at times. Then it moves to the left and right defensemen. They need to handle the puck quickly, efficiently, and with very little error. Time wasted in the defensive zone, moving back to the offensive side, is something that the Barons have always tried to hone. The defensive core in Oklahoma City doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be quietly well-organized and disciplined.
There is no reason to believe that a Nelson coached team in 2012-13 will be any different.
With the oldest defenseman turning 26 this summer (Dan Ringwald), and the youngest not turning 21 until February (Martin Marincin), the blue liners are young. And it’s not necessarily all about age. Colten Teubert and Alex Plante are “works in progress”, but rapidly approaching that moment where work can no longer be progressed. Taylor Fedun, after what could have been a career ending injury, looks to bounce back with a full season in the minors. Davidson, a former teammate of Teubert’s, looks to prove that he’s the better Regina Pat alum. While Teigan Zahn and Dan Ringwald take their AHL contracts to the max with full force. The one sure thing on defense is Justin Schultz. He’s a naturally gifted player. He knows the ice well. Plays the angles beautifully. And is a heads-up puck placer. And this will be his first pro season.
So without further ado, I give you the predicted defensive pairs. (Again, subject and guaranteed to change. Commitmentphobia)
D1 Alex Plante – Colten Teubert
The two defenders that seem the sturdiest of the bunch are the two that have seen the most action with the Barons. Bryan Helmer is gone. So is Taylor Chorney. That leaves a new brand of leaders at the top of the defending heap. To keep Alex Plante seemed like an okay move in the offseason. He was a quality blue liner in Oklahoma City last season, as well as an AHL All-Star. Hopefully he can keep the pace. Teubert, on the other hand, will have a similar situation ahead of him following this season. And the weight of the Dustin Penner trade seems to continue to hover over this prospects head. Oilers nation wants so desperately for him to be good. Maybe this is happening because deep down we all want validation – moving an important offensive component actually was a smart move. And with those days well in the past, Colten Teubert needs to become an elite minor league defenseman if he plans on surviving in this organization.
D2 Martin Marincin – Justin Schultz
The pair with the most attention will no doubt be Marincin and Schultz. This is the only twosome that Todd Nelson has nailed down in his mind (or at least shared publicly). In the thin-wiry-but-solid category, these two take the blue ribbon. And although Justin Schultz is the prize pony, Martin Marincin isn’t too far behind in terms of skill set progression. Placing them together might be somewhat of a risk, but that’s the Nelson way. Throw them into the fire, if they get burned, they get burned. And they’ll also compliment each other. Marincin’s weaknesses (in his brief stints in Barons postseason history) have seemingly been good old fashioned decision making. Hesitation in the defensive end never looks good on the resume, and as time glided by he got better. Imagine what a full pro season with Schultz as your wingman could do for the blooming rookie season for Martin. So what would we consider successful for these two on ice? If they can defend their net well, and consistently move the puck up ice with ease, there is a chance that these two become the best pair in the league.
D3 Brandon Davidson – Taylor Fedun
There have been murmurs over the last two years concerning Brandon Davidson vs. Colten Teubert. The two get mentioned in the same groan simply because they overlapped seasons in Regina during their WHL days. Teubert, the elder statesman, and Davidson, the next in line to fill his spot. But there seems to be some disagreement on whom the better prospect might be. Both Brandon and Colten are cut from the same cloth. Heavy shot, point gobblers, zone responsible, sturdy, good net protection, and quality leaders. I’m most anxious to see Davidson play this season if only to get yet another heavy comparison between he and his buddy, Teubert. Part of his success might be tied to how well Taylor Fedun can play. After what should have been a career ending injury in 2011, Fedun has made a much anticipated return to the game. The undrafted, free agent signee needs to prove his Princeton numbers weren’t a fluke. Injury or not, Taylor is looking to make a splash, and stay healthy in the process.
Teigan Zahn and Dan Ringwald – The arrival of Schultz drops at least two names off the starting six defenders. Both are AHL-only contracted, but both can ease in from top to bottom. Zahn is a heavy ladden defender. Big, brawny, and buggy, he’s the new Kirill Tulupov who has a hammer fisted bend to his game. He may be needed more than we think. Same goes for Dan Ringwald. After a healthy upgrade out of Stockton and onto the Barons, Dan is a really good puck mover. Much like we saw in quick spurts with Taylor Chorney, Ringwald is what every franchise is looking for in a moveable blue liner. He lacks a first step that keeps him deeper in the depth chart, but he’ll get well north of 30 games.