In the two seasons since Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli arrived in Edmonton, the AHL affiliate has played a prominent role in the big league team’s success. In 2015-16, the Condors and Oilers employed names like Anton Slepyshev, Jujhar Khaira, Jordan Oesterle, Griffin Reinhart, Laurent Brossoit and Bakersfield saw Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse for a brief period before both men elevated to the NHL to stay. This past season’s names included Jesse Puljujarvi, Dillon Simpson, Matt Benning, Slepyshev & Khaira again, Brossoit again, Anton Lander. That’s a lot of talent spending time on an airplane between Edmonton and California.
We may see even more movement this season. Anton Slepyshev is likely to play opening night (this evening) for the Condors, before coming back to the city and taking his place among the 23-man roster the Oilers will go to war with this season. Leaving Slepyshev aside, there are a baker’s dozen worth of talents we might see flying north this winter.
CONDORS BAKER’S DOZEN, 2017-18
The Bakersfield Condors begin their 68-game schedule this evening. This year’s minor league team carries a lot of hope and some real talent in very important places. There are 13 men I judge worthy of prospect status and maybe a few stragglers who can get back into the game this winter. Here are the 13 players I think we may eventually see in Oilers uniforms, either this season or in the coming years. They are listed in order of potential.
- R Jesse Puljujarvi. The big man had a good camp with the Oilers but didn’t make the grade. I think Todd McLellan probably wants to see more attention to detail and we’d all like to see the young man fill the net. He remains the best prospect in the system despite landing in Bakersfield.
- LD Caleb Jones. I’m pumped to see him play in Bakersfield and to hear progress reports along the way. There’s no hurry for him to get here but a strong rookie performance at the AHL level would give us some indication about his NHL-readiness.
- RD Ethan Bear. He’ll have some competition for playing time on RHD this season, with Mark Fayne and Ryan Mantha joining lefties who play RH side like Dillon Simpson. Bear has a nice range of skills and should be able to push his minutes up in all three categories.
- LD Ziyat Paigin. My sense is that he’s more likely to be a third pairing defender based on his resume (shutdown D with massive wingspan and matching shot) but that’s a guess and we’ll know more a year from now.
- RD Ryan Mantha. He was very impressive in training camp and may get a push ahead of Bear and others this season (he’s a year older). The four blue who begin their AHL careers (basically) together may change spots and I don’t think there’s a Cody Wild in the group. The question is this: Is there more than one Jeff Petry?
- G Nick Ellis. He looks like a bona fide prospect and is entering his second pro season. Ellis is No. 3 in the system and that should mean an NHL recall through injuries or slumps. I don’t know that he’s a better prospect than Laurent Brossoit, but I don’t know that he isn’t either.
- C Joe Gambardella. A slight disappointment in training camp, that shouldn’t impact his usage in Bakersfield. A late-season audition with the Condors should help him get a head start this season. The Condors play only 68 games, important their top prospects get in as many as possible. Gambardella will need to push through past Kyle Platzer and others if he’s to get that precious playing tie.
- R Ty Rattie. Although he washed out of one organization and spent a cup of coffee in a second one, there is a reasonable resume here. Rattie can score goals and that means more chances than your average prospect. Edmonton has several kids in front of him but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he sees some NHL time this winter. Maybe he grabs a job.
- L Joey Laleggia. A little like Rattie in that the goal-scoring ability makes Laleggia a larger factor in the prospect story. Inexpensive scorers are going to be vital in Edmonton in the coming years. Important for JL to get off to a fast start in order to build on his fantastic finish of one year ago.
- LD Dillon Simpson. One of the final players sent out from training camp this fall, Simpson plays a quiet and effective game. He could grab a depth NHL job and hold on to it for some time, but you can say that about a few players on this list.
- LD Keegan Lowe. Played well enough to put himself in the mix for recall this season, brings a gritty style and that might give him an edge over some others.
- R Patrick Russell. He was a late cut from training camp after making an impression on management. Peter Chiarelli likes these heavy players for his fourth line and Russell’s appeal came into view in the first 10 days of this fall’s camp. He has a chance.
- F Mitch Callahan. I would have had him higher before training camp, but Callahan seemed a step behind the rest of the AHL group during training camp. His bio suggests he might be able to fill the 4line role that involves penalty killing and making sure nothing awful happens when that unit is on the ice.
ODDS AND SODS
- Oscar Klefbom’s nine shots on goal are the most by an Oilers defenseman I can recall, but NHL records are sporadic on single game items. I can tell you the record I found was Raymond Bourque with 19 shots against the Quebec Nordiques in March of 1991. Ron Tugnutt stopped all but one on the way to the unlikeliest 3-3 tie in the game’s history. Jim Wiemer had seven shots in the same game, never gets a mention.
- Of the 19 men who played for Edmonton opening night, seven were Oilers draft selections. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Jujhar Khaira and Kailer Yamamoto represent the future of this organization. Only Khaira was chosen outside the first round, although he’ll have company when Anton Slepyshev returns.
JESSE IN CALIFORNIA
- Peter Chiarelli: “It’s about development with Jesse. What I told Jesse is look what happened with Darnell (Nurse), look what happened with Leon (Draisaitl). They were a year ahead of Jesse. He was upset. We had a long meeting.” via Mike Griffith, Bakersfield.com.
I don’t know if JP was as angry as Leon Draisaitl when he was sent back to Kelowna, but it’s always a good sign when a young man is mad enough to care about something (I am speaking as a parent here). Puljujarvi had a better camp based on all verbal, probably spends enough time in Bakersfield to have those bonus worries burn off. I expect we’ll see him at some point this season.
I spent the summer looking for Connor McDavid’s shooter, blissfully unaware the young man decided to solve the problem in house. In Game One of the season, he had seven shots. What’s more, Leon Draisaitl had five and Patrick Maroon three—for a total of 15 on the night. If they could manage that for an entire year, McDavid would have 574 shots and the line over 1200. The record for shots in a single season by one player is Phil Esposito, 550 in 1970-71. Phil played three minute shifts and I’m not lying. McDavid won’t break the record but it’s a cool thing to contemplate.
Todd McLellan likes to get his entire team into the swing of things, so that may mean we see Iiro Pakarinen and Yohann Auvitu sooner than later. We’ll get a good look at what the coach is thinking today based on lines and pairings. As a reminder, here’s what we saw in Game One:
- Patrick Maroon—Connor McDavid—Leon Draisaitl
- Milan Lucic—Ryan Nugent-Hopkins—Kailer Yamamoto
- Drake Caggiula—Ryan Strome—Jussi Jokinen
- Jujhar Khaira—Mark Letestu—Zack Kassian
- Oscar Klefbom—Adam Larsson
- Kris Russell—Matt Benning
- Darnell Nurse—Eric Gryba
- Cam Talbot (Laurent Brossoit)
Zack Kassian moved into the Yamamoto slot for a few shifts against Calgary, perhaps we see it again in practice today. The Canucks are not (were not) a particularly fast team, so Gryba may stay in the lineup this weekend.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A fun Friday as we head to the long weekend. It all starts at 10 on TSN1260. Scheduled to appear:
- Steve Lansky, BigMouthSports. Promising starts for the Oilers and Leafs, are they on a collision course? Plus mlb playoffs.
- Frank Seravalli, TSN. Frank was in Edmonton for the opener and got some insight into McDavid’s plan for the season (here). We will discuss.
- Matt Iwanyk, TSN1260. A look at the busiest weekend on the sports calendar and what Matt deems most important (I have no idea what his answer will be!). Oil, Esks.
- Paul Almedia, SSE. Oilers gave the fans a great show opening night, should we expect more on the coast tomorrow night?
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!