Chances of Cracking the Oilers' Lineup, Part One: Ryan Potulny
Bleacher Report writers Nick Frost and Sean Lennie present "Chances of Cracking The Oilers Lineup," a six-week series dedicated to determining which players on the bubble have a shot at of making the Edmonton Oilers' 2009-10 roster. Each week, we will examine a different youngster's chances—this week, forward Ryan Potulny.
In only a few short years sniffing around for a spot in the NHL, Ryan Potulny has become the epitome of what it means to be a victim of the numbers game.
After being drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2003 and spending the better part of three seasons as one of the on-call players with their AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms, Potulny always ended up being one of the odd men out. Consequently, he was dealt to Edmonton in 2008.
From his few brief stints in an NHL uniform, there is little doubt that he can handle himself if given a chance with a big-boy club.
However, with a logjam of forwards vying for the Oilers' bottom six, Potulny finds himself in a familiar position: on the cusp of earning his break, with a demanding training camp staring him down.
Benefits: Offensive instinct is Potulny's main draw, as the 24-year-old possesses a stellar hockey IQ and an uncanny sense of getting to the front of the net. His shot allows him to score from just about anywhere in the offensive zone, but he's particularly dangerous in front when given a crack at a juicy rebound.
Potulny boasts success at the AHL level, leading the abysmal Springfield Falcons in scoring this past season with 62 points. Not bad, considering that the team finished with the second-lowest goals scored, and only three players yielded more than 40 points.
After a call-up by the Oilers in late January, he impressed in his brief stint, notching three assists in eight games.
Drawbacks: Because Potulny's game doesn't bear a great deal of physical quality, finding a suitable roster spot for him is indeed a tough task.
Though not particularly undersized—clocking in at a respectable 6'0" and 190 lbs—he's generally viewed as someone who doesn't carry enough bulk to handle the pressures of playing a checking-line role. And while his ability to backcheck isn't non-existent, it's not exactly something he's heralded for.
Considering that his name doesn't come up as often in conversation as some of the team's other prospects, the indication seems to be that Potulny just hasn't done enough to prove himself as a stand-out player.
Some believe him to be the Oilers' best kept secret, while others glaze over him like he's just another prospect in the kiddie pool.
Main Competition: Being a centreman, he will find himself competing against, at the very least, Gilbert Brule and Marc Pouliot for the third- and fourth-line spots. However, if head coach Pat Quinn decides to keep Andrew Cogliano at centre (naturally placing him on the third line), Potulny's outlook beyond training camp becomes that much more grim.
His main objectives going into training camp will be proving that he can provide steady secondary offence, while also demonstrating a proficient two-way awareness necessary for a bottom-six role.
Another niche that could also propel Potulny into a fourth-line job is the ability to win faceoffs—something the Oilers desperately need. If he can exhibit an ability to consistently win key defensive draws, he might just be viewed as a valuable asset.
So, what are his chances?: I'm ballparking it at 25 percent. A youngster brimming with checking-line potential (Brule) and a mediocre, yet seasoned bottom-six floater (Pouliot) are really all that stand in his way.
Due to reputation and previous NHL experience, Marc Pouliot likely has one of those spots wrapped up. So it's all going to hinge on Potulny turning heads at training camp.
Be sure to check out Part Two next week, when Sean Lennie takes an in-depth look at Gilbert Brule.
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