Oklahoma City tops AHL Power Rankings

Updated: October 11, 2012, 5:24 PM ET
By Craig Custance

Oklahoma City Barons coach Todd Nelson doesn't have to look far to make a comparison local sports fans in Oklahoma City immediately understand. During the lockout, he's the beneficiary of the young talent the Edmonton Oilers have accumulated, coaching Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. It shouldn't be long until he can add Taylor Hall to the list.

It's the American Hockey League version of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the young and talented NBA team the city has embraced, led by Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

"Those three guys are stars in the NBA. We envisioned these three guys coming to us as stars," Nelson said. "Once the word gets out here, people are probably going to be pretty curious."

Nelson has already noticed the attention being placed on the club when fans approach him in the street. Sure, sometimes people slip up and call them the Blazers, the old Oklahoma City CHL team, but that will change soon. There's too much star power playing in Oklahoma City right now for it not to.

The NHL regular season was supposed to start today, but the lockout scrapped that. Now, the AHL gets the opportunity to fill the void. The AHL regular season begins Friday, with the Barons the early-season favorite thanks to their infusion of NHL talent.

But they're far from the only team loaded with NHL talent thanks to the lockout.

"From a fan's perspective, how can it not be exciting?" said Syracuse coach Jon Cooper, whose team in Norfolk not only won the Calder Cup last season but set a North American professional hockey record with 28 consecutive regular-season wins on the way to a title. "To watch rookie of the year nominees and guys like that -- it's not just one or two teams. Every team is getting somebody."

For hockey fans starved for professional hockey in North America but a little light on AHL knowledge, here's a power poll breaking down the league (NHL affiliation in parenthesis):

1. Oklahoma City Barons (Oilers) -- This will be the professional hockey debut of Schultz, the talented college defenseman who was pursued heavily by nearly every NHL team this summer. "This is an excellent opportunity for him," Nelson said. "Even though he oozes talent, there's still an adjustment period. Coming to OKC will help him, he won't be under the spotlight as much as he will be in Edmonton." The challenge for Nelson will be finding the right amount of ice time for his talented group.

"We have so many prospects because Edmonton has had so many picks," he said. "Let's face it, you have to develop your players. Besides these three, we have to be concerned about the other players."

How loaded are the Barons? Earlier this week they sent Philippe Cornet to the ECHL. Last year he was an AHL All-Star, scoring 24 goals for the Barons.