There were attractive coaching options on the market this summer and the Edmonton Oilers could have shopped for an alternative head coach in Bakersfield. The fact Peter Chiarelli stayed the course is a positive for Gerry Fleming and his future in the organization. (Born on the Bayou).
Gerry Fleming has been the coach of Edmonton’s top farm club for three seasons, one in Oklahoma City and the last two years in Bakersfield. His Barons lost in the second round in 2015, and the Condors have yet to make the AHL playoffs.
With due respect to Bakersfield fans, that isn’t the top priority for a minor league team. Fleming’s job is to develop prospects for the NHL team and through three seasons the list of graduates is impressive. In giving credit to the AHL coaching staff, it’s important to be realistic in evaluating how much influence they have on a specific prospect. We can’t give Fleming credit for Leon Draisiatl (six games) or Darnell Nurse (nine games), but we should be able to establish a reasonable measure of influence. Here are the men who played at least 50 games under Fleming in the AHL and have played at least 25 (10 for goalies) games in the NHL at this time:
- Anton Slepyshev: 58 AHL games, 52 NHL games
- Tyler Pitlick: 51 AHL games, 48 NHL games
- Brad Hunt: 142 AHL games, 30 NHL games
- Griffin Reinhart: 84 AHL games, 29 NHL games
- Jordan Oesterle: 153 AHL games, 25 NHL games
- Jujhar Khaira: 127 AHL games, 25 NHL games
- Laurent Brossoit: 105 AHL games, 14 NHL games
- Brandon Davidson played a large number of AHL games before Fleming emerged as the AHL coach, so I have credited Todd Nelson solely for his progress. Others above are clearly shared, your mileage may vary.
- I am crediting Fleming with all of the 2014-15 Condors games, including the Todd Nelson games before he moved up to the Oilers.
- Jesse Puljujarvi played his NHL games before his AHL games, but, as was the case with Magnus Paajarvi, JP’s AHL games mean the minor league coach is part of the record. I did not list Puljujarvi (or Iiro Pakarinen) above, both men played a little shy of 50 games.
- Which prospect improved most in Fleming’s three seasons? I think Jujhar Khaira and Anton Slepyshev both stepped forward nicely, although in the case of Slepyshev his progress didn’t show up in the numbers 2015-16.
- Which prospect disappointed in Fleming’s three seasons? I’ll list two: Bogdan Yakimov, because he looked like a player; Griffin Reinhart, because he has not developed as hoped. I’m not sure we can blame the coach for either issue.
- What is the best thing you can say about Fleming? His players seem to arrive from the minors ready to roll. That has not always been the case in past seasons, but even depth players like Khaira have some jump upon arrival. Perhaps Todd McLellan should get some credit for putting these men right into their roles and playing them, Craig MacTavish was reluctant to do so when he was Oilers’ coach.
- How many legit NHL prospects played in Bakersfield a year ago? I will list Jesse Puljujarvi, Jordan Oesterle, Griffin Reinhart, Jujhar Khaira, Joey Laleggia, Matt Benning, Anton Slepyshev, Laurent Brossoit, Dillon Simpson. That’s nine.
- How many of those will make it? That number is always less than hoped for, bet the under. Fleming was an assistant coach for the 2008-09 Springfield Falcons. That team featured prospects Devan Dubnyk, Rob Schremp, Ryan Potulny, Ryan Stone, Slava Trukhno, J-F Jacques, Gilbert Brule, Colin McDonald, Taylor Chorney, Theo Peckham, Ryan O’Marra, Liam Reddox. That is 12, only Devan Dubnyk is an NHL regular.
- How many of those men played 100 NHL games? Nine. Only Dubnyk had a significant career, though.
- Why do you use 100 NHL games? That’s a significant total, represents a full year and a little , or several auditions. We all want a home run but that doesn’t mean 100 games has no value.
- How many of the names above (2008-09 Falcons) spent at least one season in a feature role with an NHL team? Dubnyk, plus Ryan Potulny played regularly under Pat Quinn 2009-10; J-F Jacques had a couple of years of semi-regular duty for Quinn and Tom Renney; Gilbert Brule was a regular before he got to Edmonton and was a regular with the Oilers for about a year and a half; Colin McDonald got about 1.5 seasons in as a regular for the NY Islanders; Taylor Chorney had a season with the Capitals in 2014-15 as a depth defender; Theo Peckham had a couple of years as a regular with the Oilers 2010-12.
- Are you generally satisfied with prospect progress in the last two seasons in Bakersfield? I think there are good arrows (Joey Laleggia, Jujhar Khaira, Anton Slepyshev) and we’ll see. Remember, Fleming doesn’t get the Oilers first-round picks, and last year he didn’t get half of the college signings, either.
- Who is the best prospect in the system? Jesse Puljujarvi.
- Will he play in the AHL this coming year? He might, although I think the Oilers will start with him in Edmonton and plan to deploy him in a feature role.
- What do you think an ideal organization looks like? Great question. An ideal organization is drafting talent that has a chance to fulfill a role at the NHL level eventually. Travis Ewanyk delivered 12 points as an AHL rookie in 2013-14, Jujhar Khaira had 10 points in 51 games as an AHL rookie in 2014-15, Kyle Platzer had 17 points in 48 games as an AHL rookie in 2015-16. Edmonton still needs a two-way center who can help, but none of these men bring enough offense for the role. That isn’t on Gerry Fleming, that’s on procurement.
- What do you think an ideal organization looks like? An ideal organization produces multiple AHL rookies each winter who can be reasonably projected into a future NHL role based on performance in that first season. Basically, they establish themselves in the AHL and also show what kind of NHL player they could become.
- Who are the recent sure things to have played for Gerry Fleming? Jesse Puljujarvi, Anton Slepyshev. Slepyshev may not emerge on a skill line, but that big frame married to the skating are going to find a good place to land in the NHL.
- Is there a prospect Fleming should get substantial credit for? I don’t know who to credit (player aside), but Joey Laleggia’s move to wing was under Fleming’s watch, so credit is due in this situation.
- Do you really think Laleggia gets a shot? In training camp? Sure. Late developing goal-scorers are manna from heaven. Long road of course.
- How much patience should an organization have with a player who shows offensive promise (like Laleggia)? Patrick Maroon played his first full season in the AHL at age 20, scoring 54 points in 80 games. He became an NHL regular at age 25, and those AHL seasons before that year were all solid to excellent.
- How many Condors show offensive promise? Great question. Jesse Puljujarvi was at .72 points-per-game age 18, that’s a great number (tied for No. 15 among AHL rookies). As a comparable, William Nylander was .86, David Pastrnak 1.12, Mikko Rantanen 1.15 and Kevin Fiala 0.61.
- Any other Condors? Anton Slepyshev had 10 points in nine games, Jujhar Khaira emerged as an interesting option (20 points in 27 games) and Joe Gambardella showed well in six games. Oilers need to send more skill to Bakersfield, and I do think that was reflected in this year’s draft. The two years before these 2017 draft kids get here is going to be interesting, although Tyler Benson could be a bona fide player at this level if healthy.
- Why this song? Bakersfield is about four hours from Berkeley, California. That’s the birthplace of John Fogerty, who wrote this song. Lodi is also four hours away, in case you’re interested.