This is Caleb Jones. His performance in Penticton and main training camp has Oilers fans and observers wondering about time lines and expectations. Is he that rare two-way defender who can bring something that resembles a complete skill set? Wildly unfair question of course, but Jones’ story is one of the marquee items on this winter’s Bakersfield watch.
Each year, I do a plodding post (it may have value only to me) about the AHL and how it compares to the 1966 edition of the league. The last edition of the post is here, from the spring. Today, on the occasion of the opening game for the Bakersfield club, thought it might be useful to set the stage for the coming year through the lens of the 10 questions asked every spring.
- Men who are over 30 and come out of the minors to establish (or re-establish) themselves are pretty much a thing of the past. The Condors have only Ryan Hamilton and Mark Fayne born 1987 or earlier and two or three players in this age range has been fairly typical in recent seasons. Fayne is the most likely to receive a recall to the NHL, I believe he is qualified for the job.
- Pretty much everyone who is in the AHL past (say) 21 has some issues and is going to do some meandering. A fantastic recent example of this came two years ago when Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse made the opening night roster. Not for long of course and I think that’s absolutely the rule. Miro Satan spent some time in the AHL but not a long time, Ryan Smyth, too. I think we will look back and put Jesse Puljujarvi in this Smyth-Satan category. The young man is not yet 20.
- 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. Jujhar Khaira and Anton Slepyshev are good recent examples of players who had been able to hurdle this bar by 22, Greg Chase and Kyle Platzer were unable. It will be fascinating to discuss the four new blue two years down the line.
- Exceptions are college men. Playing 4 NCAA seasons means turning pro at 22, meaning a “late start” for some quality prospects. We’ve seen all manner of examples recently, Matt Benning and Drake Caggiula a year ago and I think Nick Ellis belongs in this class as well. He hasn’t emerged as an NHL option yet but there’s a nice resume building.
- A large group of players on the current team could be described in the “tweener” division. Yep. Every year. I used to list the tweeners on this blog and we’d get into arguments about specific players. Seems the separation has been clearer in recent years, perhaps we’ve informed ourselves better over the years. Anton Lander was a tweener, due to foot speed. He had many other elements to his game that were bona fide in my opinion but the boots the boots the boots.
- 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. The 50-man list gets a haircut every year and it will again. I will guess the keeper list at the minor league level next summer to be: Nick Ellis, Anton Slepyshev, Joey Laleggia, Dillon Simpson, Keegan Lowe and Ty Rattie. I’ll guess the Oilers pass on Kyle Platzer, Greg Chase, Braden Christoffer, Ben Betker. Patrick Russell and Grayson Downing are less certain, we’ll see.
- Daniel Cleary, Fernando Pisani and Jason Chimera became productive players in the toughest league on the planet. THEY are the stars in this study. This is my favorite part of this post because it reminds us about the true value of the AHL. Miro Satan, Ryan Smyth, Jesse Puljujarvi, they played in the AHL but don’t really belong, not really. The value of the AHL is to turn a fractured first-round pick like Daniel Cleary into an NHL player at age 22, to give a Jason Chimera a chance to prove himself NHL-ready at 23, to allow management to discover the unique skills of a Fernando Pisani. You can call them role players, complementary players, but these men can help a team win. Is Jujhar Khaira such a player?
- Pure offensive players can succeed after prolonged AHL time but it’s rarely with their drafting team. Martin St. Louis is the poster boy for this category, Mike Walton was too from the Brian Conacher era (Conacher’s book is the inspiration for this post). Rob Schremp is a recent Oilers example, although he fell short of an NHL career.
- The future NHL players on tonight’s roster are: I’ll say Jesse Puljujarvi, Anton Slepyshev, Caleb Jones, Nick Ellis. There may be more and that’s a reflection of an improved procurement staff.