When Oilers prospect Taylor Fedun made his professional debut earlier this season, not even he could predict how the year would unfold.
Due in large part to the NHL work stoppage, the Oklahoma City Barons came into the 2012-13 campaign boasting big talent. That also means they were arguably hit hardest when the League and its Players' Association came to an agreement in early January.
As a result, the Barons' leading scorers, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz, along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, Teemu Hartikainen and Yann Danis were all promoted to the NHL.
A difficult circumstance, no doubt, but one Fedun has enjoyed to the fullest.
"I think I've come a long way since October," said Fedun. "Just getting back into the swing of things was a bit of a feeling out process. It was nice to have the opportunity to play with so many great hockey players during the lockout and, as a result, I've gotten more and more comfortable out there. I've been able to settle into playing an effective game."
For Fedun, "effective" can mean a lot of things. The 24-year-old graduate of Princeton University -- where he emerged as an offensive star after scoring 10 goals and 22 points in 29 games with the ECAC's Tigers in 2010-11 -- has a lot to offer.
His skating, coupled with his shot, offensive instincts and puck-moving ability, makes him dangerous at both ends of the ice. Fedun is quick to credit the Barons coaching staff for helping him refine those skills and develop others as a rookie.
"They're very, very committed and are willing to spend a lot of extra time on days off or after practice to ensure all the finer points of the game and the details are taken care of," he said, noting the strong relationship he's built with Todd Nelson, Gerry Fleming and Rocky Thompson.
"They're constantly coaching. I'll come off from a shift and they always have some things to tell me about the little things that are important in the game. When you're able to have that attention to detail, that's something that I think is really important when you get to the next level."
Especially considering Fedun was within arm's reach of it just a year-and-a-half ago.
The Edmonton product impressed at training camp 2011 and looked to be on the cusp of a roster spot before his progress (and his career) was derailed. During a Sept. 30, 2011 pre-season game at the Xcel Energy Center, then-Minnesota Wild forward Eric Nystrom upended Fedun into the end-boards behind Devan Dubnyk.
The defenceman had to undergo emergency surgery to repair a complex fracture in his right femur. By season's end and after a miraculous six-month recovery, Fedun was back practicing with the Oilers in Edmonton.
Fedun's story came full circle when he scored his first professional goal on Nov. 16, 2012 in a win over the Milwaukee Admirals.
"It was an incredible feeling," said Fedun. "I'd been getting some chances up until then, but to actually put one in, finally, was -- it had felt like it was such a long-time coming, especially after having a full year off. I almost forgot what it was like to score a goal, so experiencing it all over again was pretty awesome."
Fedun has scored two goals and 15 points in 47 games this season. He was also given a shot to strut his stuff at Oilers training camp with Barons teammates Chris VandeVelde (who's since become a full-timer) and Colten Teubert a little more than a month ago.
"That was a really good experience," said Fedun. "Even though I was only there for a couple days, it was really nice to be there and to be a part of some of the team building activities we did. Just to be a part of camp and know I'm not too far away from hopefully getting some playing time up there was awesome. It was really big for me to be able to do that and I think moving forward it's really going to help."
Fedun has also been helped by the free-agent additions of longtime veterans Randy Jones and Brett Clark on the blue line.
"It's really good to have that veteran presence both on the ice and in the locker room," said Fedun. "They've both come in and have logged significant minutes for us. It's been good for the young guys to watch how those guys play the game and how they go about their business in general since they've both been around the game in the professional ranks for so long."
Once a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached in the NHL, the Barons went 2-5-1-1 in their next nine games until the end of January. But once February rolled around, the veterans had been brought in, others stepped up and the team galvanized once again, the ‘Greasy Barons' made a triumphant return.
The Barons strung together a 5-3-0-0 record in February, which has vaulted them right back into contention. They're tied with the Rochester Americans with 57 points, two back of the Chicago Wolves for the eighth and final playoff spot in the AHL's Western Conference with 24 games to play.
"We're a completely different team now than we were at the beginning of the year," laughed Fedun. "We've had so many different faces injected into the lineup and there have been times where that's caused us to stray away from our game plan and struggle a little bit, but I think we now have the personnel in place to make a good push.
"We're not quite where we'd like to be in the standings, but the expectations are still very high in our dressing room. We know full well that if we stick to the plan that the coaches have drawn out for us, we'll be a playoff contender -- and hopefully shake things up a little bit once we get there."
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