Every year for many, I like to look back on the past season and compare it to Brian Conacher’s brilliant book and his description of minor league rosters 50 years ago.
- Brian Conacher: As in other areas of modern society, hockeys teams too have their generation gaps. This situation stood out on the Rochester team in 1965 which consisted of three groups: the veterans (had all resigned themselves to making the best of their minor league hockey careers), the young ones (who have stars in their eyes and are in the AHL for just a little time, or so they think) and the group somewhere in between (these players kept hoping that a break would come their way and they might get their chance in the “big tent”).
Last year’s look is here, giddyup.
- Men who are over 30 and come out of the minors to establish (0r re-establish) themselves are pretty much a thing of the past. You’ll find the odd goalie or defenseman but unlike the orginal 6 era very few teams have enough depth and free agency makes it impossible to keep them on the farm. Which is a good thing. Condors 2015-16: No 30-year old farm workers this year, although Ryan Hamilton and Matt Ford played major roles in Bakersfield. Rob Klinkhammer is 29 and played 14 NHL games this season, but he did that at the NHL level before being demoted. Most of the men who would have played in the AHL 30+ are now either in Europe or getting out of the game.
- Pretty much everyone who is in the AHL past (say) 21 has some issues and is going to do some meandering (this is universal from 1965 through 2009). Condors 2015-16: Yep. Leon Draisiatl and Darnell Nurse scooted early (six games each) and they are 20. Among the 21 group, Griffin Reinhart, Bogdan Yakimov, Anton Slepyshev and Jujhar Khaira show promise but are likely to spend time in the AHL at 22. Past that, all players are working on something—and that includes prospects like Dillon Simpson, David Musil, Laurent Brossoit, Joey Laleggia and Jordan Oesterle. Honestly, if you took those five names and bet on all five equally, chances are one of those bets would work out (play 100 or more NHL games). The trick? Identifying the right guy, and honestly if the player plays his 100th game a decade later (hello Taylor Chorney) then we have to agree that is not success.
- We shouldn’t expect Rob Schremp to play more career games than Sam Gagner or Andrew Cogliano. Whatever that line in the sand is, that line sticks. Condors 2015-16: Making it to the NHL at age 18-20 means a long career is very likely—even if you encounter issues. Sam Gagner has had all kinds of trouble since being dealt by Edmonton, but he played in his 600th game this year.
- No minor league regular is likely to do anything incredible like play in 1,000 NHL games. It is a rare thing for a player to spend a couple of seasons in the minors and then go on to a 1,000 NHL game calibre career. Condors 2015-16: If a player spends most of their entry-level deal in the minors, as Jujhar Khaira is doing now, his NHL career starts at 23. With NHL teams so eager to dump veterans as soon as they begin to fade (30, for normal humans), playing 500 is probably Khaira’s outer marker (not saying he gets there, but that is the likely tally if he makes it).
- If you haven’t established yourself as a prospect of interest by 22 you are in trouble. The players who have graduated to useful NHL careers have at least played some NHL games by the end of their entry level deals. Condors 2015-16: I think this is a really important item. Of the group currently in their entry-level deal (who also played for the Condors this year) are Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, Jujhar Khaira, Anton Slepyshev, Griffin Reinhart, Jordan Oesterle, Iiro Pakarinen, Laurent Brossoit. That is basically the heart of the order in terms of Oilers prospects.
- Exceptions are college men. Playing 4 NCAA seasons means turning pro at 22, meaning a “late start” for some quality prospects. Condors 2015-16. Too true. Mark Arcobello, Justin Schultz, Andrew Miller and others show the rule to be true, and I think Jordan Oesterle may do it, too. Among the college men who fit this description for Bakersfield are Dillon Simpson and Joey Laleggia, plus this fellow they just signed (Joey Benik) is probably going to have a better pro career than most of the 2014 Oilers draft. Please, please, please sign the college men.
- A large group of players on the current team could be described in the “tweener” division. History tells us we’ll have our answers on men like Brandon Davidson and Tyler Pitlick very soon. Condors 2015-16: I identified Brandon Davidson as a guy who looks like a tweener, and he should be the poster man for ‘you never know’ for the next decade or more. Among the tweeners I see on the current Condors? Brossoit, Simpson, Kyle Platzer, the Russians, maybe Khaira although he has made nice progress in areas of concern (mostly offense).
- If we make a list of the minor league RFA’s each summer, we can probably as a group pick the cuts and be fairly close. That 50 man list gets a haircut every summer. Condors 2015-16: Edmonton will likely walk Tyler Pitlick, Adam Clendening and Niklas Lundstrom, and I imagine Kale Kessy and David Musil are probably looking at new towns. Jordan Oesterle will return, suspect that it is written in stone.
- Daniel Cleary, Fernando Pisani and Jason Chimera became productive players in the toughest league on the planet. THEY are the stars in this study. Condors 2015-16: This is the most important thing about looking at the minors. People rip on Anton Lander, but that is they kind of player the minor leagues produces. Among the younger set, I would identify Jujhar Khaira, Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev among forwards, and Jordan Oesterle, Dillon Simpson among defenders. It isn’t sexy like the lottery, but these are important pieces.
- For Rob Schremp fans, there’s exactly ONE pure offensive player who made it: Mike Walton. BARONS 14-15: They all go straight to the NHL if they can post numbers like Leon. And they don’t come back. So, if we are looking for Anton Slepyshev to be an NHL player, chances are he is going to need an extra gear or two to make it.
- The future NHLERS are……..If I’m a betting man, these are the winners from the current group to be the new Cleary and Chimera. Here are the names I’ve mentioned over the years (a sample):
- 2011: Theo Peckham and Devan Dubnyk. Well, DD made it, lost it, made it again.
- 2012: Linus Omark, Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander, Teemu Hartikainen and Tyler Pitlick. The Swedes are still hammering away.
- 2013: Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander, Teemu Hartikainen and Martin Marincin. I think Paajarvi, Lander and Marincin are all in there punching.
- 2014: Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom and Mark Arcobello. Klefbom looks like a lock for NHL employment if his health stays, and Marincin has played well enough to earn another year in the show.
This year, I will choose Griffin Reinhart, Jordan Oesterle, Jujhar Khaira and Anton Slepyshev. I could add Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse, but they didn’t spend much time in the minors this year. If Nurse returns to the AHL next year, we can discuss him in the No. 2 portion of the post. David Musil could be included, and maybe he finds another organization or the Oilers trade some lefties. The problem is that all NHL teams have these players types, and I am unsure that Musil offers the kind of game that stands out from the crowd.
The Edmonton Oilers have to draft players who they can grind into useful NHL men, and then hold on to them. The Daniel Cleary’s and Jason Chimera’s are on the way, with Brandon Davidson perhaps the first of several to support the gifted jacks and kings. I know many of you blame the scouts, but for me the lesson of this season—the lesson of Brandon Davidson—is the players are fine, but the organization doesn’t believe in them enough, and doesn’t develop them using established good practices.