TULSA, Okla. – The Tulsa Oilers enter the 2019-20 season as the reigning Mountain Division champions, and now set their sights on defending the team’s first division crown in 43 years.
The Oilers qualified for the playoffs for the first time since their initial ECHL season in 2014-15 and advanced past the opening round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the first time in 2019. Tulsa outlasted a feisty Kansas City team in a thrilling seven-game series to open the postseason, then advanced to the Western Conference Final with a four-games-to-two victory over Idaho in the Mountain Final. The quest would fall short just before the final stage, however, as Toledo claimed a game seven victory inside the BOK Center to eliminate the home side and advance to the Kelly Cup Final.
With the majority of the cast returning, as well as a few key additions joining the fold, this Tulsa team looks ready to contend for even more.
Nuts and Bolts:
Record: 42-24-4-2, 90 Points
Division/Conference Finish: First in Mountain/Second in West
Playoff Finish: Lost in West Final to Toledo
Record vs. Division: 38-18-2-2
Record vs. Conference: 41-23-4-2
Goals For Per Game: (3.28, 9th)
Goals Against Per Game: (2.75, 3rd)
Power Play: 50/315, 15.9% efficiency — 19th in ECHL
Penalty Kill: 231/279, 82.8% — 15th in ECHL
“Overall we’re shaping up really well,” Murray began. “On paper, just need to combine that with good performance on the ice.”
“I think overall we are probably deeper, as far as our talent pool goes,” Murray continued. “You know, time will tell where some of the guys fit in. I’ve got a pretty good idea how everything is going to shape up, but sometimes different guys surprise you in different scenarios, right? I know what Pleskach can bring. I know what Ryan Tesink is going to bring. The guys like that, there is nothing that is going to surprise me. But some of the newer guys, you know, I know what they can do 5-on-5, but where do they fit into special teams or situations like that, faceoffs? I know Danny Moynihan is really good on draws, we’ll utilize him in those situations,” Murray concluded. “So, it’ll be, like I said, going into the first weekend everybody is just going to play, and we’re prepared to go and just see how it plays out.”
Oh, Captain My Captain – Adam Pleskach returns to Tulsa for his third season wearing the ‘C’, and his seventh with the squad overall. Pleskach spans the entirety of the Oilers ECHL existence, playing his rookie season in Central Hockey League’s final season of 2013-14. Friday’s season opener will mark his 400th regular-season game in a Tulsa sweater, the second-most in team history. Pleskach is coming off of a career-best 75-point campaign in 2018-19, including an ECHL leading 38 goals. He added another 23 points (12G, 11A) in 20 outings during the Oilers’ run to the West Final.
Struggling Special Teams – The one area the Oilers will need to improve upon if they want to reach their full potential this season is their performance on special teams. Tulsa finished the 2018-19 campaign with a power-play that clicked in with a 15.9% rate, placing the team firmly in the bottom half of the ECHL at 19th. The Oilers weren’t much better killing penalties, placing just 15th out of 27 teams with an 82.8% kill rate. Tulsa was able to overcome this much of the year thanks to its stellar play at even strength, but it’s the details like this that separates the good teams from the great teams over the long haul. The Oilers are too talented offensively and too cohesive defensively for this to continue, and must find the right groupings to channel their five-on-five success into a dominant special teams unit. If the Oilers gain the ability to snuff out momentum with the penalty kill and put teams away with their power play, the sky’s the limit.
Successful Sequel – 2018-19 was Rob Murray’s second season as Tulsa’s head coach, and he continued the upward momentum he sparked in year one. The Oilers’ 90-point campaign a season ago marked a 16-point improvement over the 74 accumulated in Murray’s first campaign, which was, in turn, a 12-point jump from the 62 points in Jason Christie’s final season with the club in 2016-17. Murray re-signed for two more seasons in Tulsa over the summer, and immediately set about getting the band back together for album three. He returns his top-three scorers from a year ago in Pleskach (38G, 37A = 75 pts.), Jared Thomas (21G, 44A = 65 pts), and Ryan Tesink (25G, 34A = 59 pts), his top defender in terms of plus/minus in the form of Steven Kaunisto (+23), as well as his starting netminder, Devin Williams (20-9-4, 2.12 GAA, .916 save%).
With the addition of exciting rookies such as Robby Jackson out of St. Cloud State and Jake Clifford of Arizona State, as well as third-year pro J.J. Piccinich who joins after lifting the Kelly Cup with Newfoundland last season, this group of Oilers could be Coach Murray’s best yet.
J.J. Piccinich – Piccinich brings championship experience to the Oilers, having finished the season on top in two of his last four seasons overall. Piccinich posted 138 points (56G, 82A) during his two-year stint the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, and helped them claim the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champs in 2015-16. He played his rookie season with the Orlando Solar Bears, before joining expansion Newfoundland prior to last season and helping the Growlers lift the Kelly Cup. He has yet to break out offensively as a pro, but look for him to potentially be a 20-goal scorer in this Oiler offense.
Danny Moynihan – Moynihan is another intriguing addition, as he joined his younger brother Connor Moynihan in signing with Tulsa this summer. Danny didn’t play last season after announcing his retirement due to a heart condition, but he is set to return to the ice for 2019-20. He brings 119 games of ECHL experience and 93 career points (36G, 57A) to Tulsa from a year each with the Alaska Aces and Kalamazoo Wings. He was a goal scorer in juniors, posting 69 goals over his final two years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He is an interesting wild card to watch coming into the season and could be a big part of the Tulsa offense once he finds his groove.
Robby Jackson – Jackson joins Tulsa for his first full season as a pro, after scoring a goal in three games for the San Antonio Rampage at the conclusion of his collegiate season in the spring. Jackson played his college hockey for national power St. Cloud State, helping the Huskies make the NCAA tournament in three-of-four seasons. He accumulated 121 points (52G, 69A) in four seasons at SCSU, including a career-high 19 goals as a senior. He isn’t just a one-way threat, however, as he posted a plus-22 as a senior and was plus-46 for his collegiate career. Look for him to make an impact on both sides of the ice during his rookie year, and don’t be surprised when he quickly becomes a fan favorite.
Gone but Not Forgotten:
Alex Kromm – The fans in Tulsa quickly grew to love Kromm during his lone season in T-Town thanks to his hard-nosed play on the ice and friendly demeanor off of it. Kromm was a plus-12 a year ago, posted 24 points (8G, 16A) and 90 penalty minutes in 62 games for the Oilers. He looked set to rejoin the squad once again for 2019-20, but that changed when he was dealt to Toledo for future considerations just two days before the season opener.
Roman Ammirato – Ammirato joined the Oilers for the final 12 games of the 2017-18 season and posted five goals and six assists for the squad. He followed that up with 32 points (14G, 18A) and a plus-9 rating in just 54 games this past season. His two-way play helped solidify the middle of the Tulsa lineup and provided depth scoring along with a tight defensive effort. He takes his style to the south, however, after signing with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits this summer.
Kyle Rhodes – Rhodes was the top goalscorer amongst Oiler defenseman a year ago, lighting the lamp eleven times while adding five assists. He was solid defensively as well, posting a plus-8 rating in 50 games during his rookie campaign. Rhodes looked to be an important piece going forward with Tulsa’s top d-man from a year ago, Dylan Bredo (5G, 43A, 48 pts., plus-19), likely to spend most if not all of this season in the AHL with San Antonio. That will not be the case, though, as Rhodes signed over the summer with last season’s Brabham Cup winners, the Cincinnati Cyclones.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
All the pieces are in place for a special year in Green Country. Coach Murray has a history of success, and he has an experienced and talented group of players at his disposal once again. Tulsa appears to be the cream of the crop in an always difficult Mountain Division, and with improved special teams, should raise another divisional banner in 2019-20. Once the playoffs start anything can happen, but this Oilers squad has the experience to make another deep run come the spring. A return to the West Final looks to be in the cards, and, with the assistance of lady luck that every title run needs, Tulsa could easily claim its first league title since taking home the revamped CHL’s Ray Miron Cup in 1992-93.