BENTON’S BLOG: Answering the Bell

Tuesday, 11.20.12 / 1:00 PM
By Mike Benton

What, you thought he would stay the whole season?

Toni Rajala’s gone (at least for now), on a well deserved call-up to the Oklahoma City Barons. It’s his first AHL trip – and you’d have to be insane to insist 11 goals through 14 games (tied for tops in the league) isn’t deserving of a promotion.

He nearly drove ECHL goaltenders insane when it came to his combination of speed, hands, offensive awareness and shot.

That shot could be described as a rocket, missile, bazooka, bullet or any other word to perfectly characterize an offensive weapon designed to elude a goaltender’s blocker and glove. After Sunday’s 4-3 Thunder win, head coach Matt Thomas was asked if Rajala’s breakaway hat trick bid – ruled off the crossbar – actually ricocheted off the inside bar of the net and popped back out.

“I asked him if it was in,” said Thomas. “And he said ‘I don’t know. I shoot the puck too hard. I couldn’t tell.’ He had a little fun with that on the bench with the guys.”

Even Rajala knows that he’s got something there.

With the Oklahoma City Barons nursing a rash of injuries (Josh Green, Ryan Martindale, Antti Tyrvainen, Tanner House and Tyler Pitlick have been categorized among the walking wounded), there are holes to fill on their top six corps led by the familiar names of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. Thus it’s understandable why Rajala was recalled.

Additionally, if an Edmonton Oilers prospect is developing and moving up, the purpose of an affiliation is fulfilled.

The Thunder must now search for answers to fill the void, but there’s good news in that respect because there’s plenty of depth this season. Philippe Cornet is still here and he has 19 points in 14 games – numbers that demonstrate how much he’s tattooed the opposition this season.

Additionally, there are several Thunder players producing around point per game numbers:

Harrison Reed – 14 points, 14 games
Justin Maylan – 13 points, 12 games
Nathan Deck – 13 points, 14 games
Yannick Riendeau – 7 points, 8 games
Dan Ringwald – 2 points, 3 games
Jesse Fratkin – 1 assist, 2 games

Don’t forget about Gabriel Levesque as well. Despite just 4 points in 9 games so far, we all saw what he could do in limited action last season.

There’s also this thing called a “plus-minus” statistic – measuring effectiveness on the ice (you get a +1 rating if on the ice for your team’s even strength or shorthanded goal, or -1 to your rating if on the ice for an opposition even strength or a shorthanded goal).

Thunder players have combined for an astonishing +71 rating – that’s tied for the ECHL lead.

The point? Taking Rajala out of the equation for now doesn’t mean cutting the head off a monster. With a team ranking second in the ECHL with 4.2 goals per game, we weren’t exactly seeing “Toni Rajala and the 15 backup singers” through 14 games.

We now get to see others flex their offensive muscle.

Have fun watching this weekend.

Mike Benton has served the Thunder as television and radio play-by-play announcer since the team’s inception. Got a question or comment? Follow Mike on twitter at twitter.com/Benton_mike