The Edmonton Oilers have owned a table in the front row of the draft every year of this decade, and still they need a giant helping hand from their AHL team. Consider Oscar Klefbom: Before he arrived as an NHL regular, he honed his skills and learned more consistency on the farm. For 57 wild Oklahoma nights, Oscar Klefbom roamed the mountains and the prairies, and endured the violent weather—plus learned to play NA pro defense.
How many current Oilers have played more than 50 games in the minors? Let’s make a list:
- Patrick Maroon 353
- Matt Hendricks 247
- Mark Letestu 191
- David Desharnais 183
- Eric Gryba 183
- Benoit Pouliot 146
- Jujhar Khaira 130
- Cam Talbot 116
- Andrej Sekera 94
- Adam Larsson 67
- Zack Kassian 66
- Anton Slepyshev 58
- Oscar Klefbom 57
- Jordan Eberle 54*
- Iiro Pakarinen 43
- Jesse Puljujarvi 33
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 19*
- Kris Russell 14
- Darnell Nurse 13
- Leon Draisaitl 6
- Matt Benning 2
- Connor McDavid 0
- Milan Lucic 0
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 0
- Drake Caggiula 0
*Both men played AHL hockey during the lockout, and Eberle spent some time in the minors during his junior career (after the completion of the Regina Pats schedule).
I don’t think there’s a surprise name here, if anything one might be a little surprised that so many high picks have played a few games in the AHL. Either way, this little exercise drives home my overall point: NHL teams need the minor leagues, because those games in the AHL refine play, and iron out the errors of youth.
Every April, I 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”).
Here is last year’s look and here we go.
- 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. Condors 2016-17: Bakersfield has employed three men 30 or over (Jonas Gustavsson, Ryan Hamilton, Kris Newbury) this season, and four players who are 29 (Mark Fayne, Mark Fraser, Brodie Dupont, Joel Reichlicz). Mark Fayne is a player who might be able to find a fit with an NHL team, and that’s partly because of the coming expansion. That said, this rule applies in my opinion.
- Pretty much everyone who is in the AHL past (say) 21 has some issues and is going to do some meandering. Condors 2016-17: There are great examples on the list above. Whereas men like Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and Jesse Puljujarvi are going to spend very little time in the minors, Patrick Maroon and Benoit Pouliot took some time to find their way. These men can still be productive, but it’s going to take time. The 21 group is small this year, Greg Chase and Kyle Platzer are the most prominent names. The 22 group has some players who should have solid NHL careers but aren’t yet established: Anton Slepyshev, Jujhar Khaira and Griffin Reinhart are the names who come to mind. I think it’s fair to say all three are likely to have some success, but that doesn’t mean it will be Edmonton and it doesn’t mean it will be next season. The 23 group (Dillon Simpson, Laurent Brossoit, David Musil) and older (Jordan Oesterle) are more likely to be in a new town each fall, as they go from prospect to suspect and are replaced by new troops turning pro. Benoit Pouliot spent at least some time in the AHL in each of his first four pro seasons. It takes time for some players to refine their games, and for these men, finding a second NHL team that can use their skills is key. A good agent is a major element in finding that good fit, I would bet.
- 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 2016-17: Khaira, Slepyshev and Reinhart qualify as prospects of interest, and may be playing their final AHL games this season (until the later years of their respective careers). Greg Chase and Kyle Platzer are in real danger of failing this grade, and for a guy like Platzer (early fourth round) that’s a reasonably valuable pick that didn’t work out. Important to note that there is no pressure point until the end of the entry-level deal, so there is time for Platzer and Chase.
- Exceptions are college men. Playing 4 NCAA seasons means turning pro at 22, meaning a “late start” for some quality prospects. Condors 2016-17: Yeah, this remains for sure. Drake Caggiula skipped the AHL so far, and Matt Benning played just two AHL games. Nick Ellis is also in this conversation, and I think Jordan Oesterle will have an NHL career, although I doubt it will with the Oilers. Joey Laleggia is also in this category, with the added delay of playing a different position.
- A large group of players on the current team could be described in the “tweener” division. Condors 2016-17: History tells us we’ll have our answers on men like Jujhar Khaira and Anton Slepyshev soon. The issue (imo) is about offense, and that’s why the scoring of Joey Laleggia as a forward is so interesting. If you take a long look at the resumes of the most promising current Condors (I will list Puljujarvi, Khaira, Slepyshev, Reinhart), the major issue is offense. Laleggia? He has scored 33, 16-10-26 since January 1 (as a comparison, Jesse Puljujarvi is 33, 11-14-25 in the AHL this year) and I that should earn him another pro contract and a long look in the fall. Offense is going to be the denver boot for some careers among current Condors, pretty sure.
- 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. A major haircut is coming this summer. Two RFA’s (Tyler Pitlick and Jordan Oesterle) turn into UFA’s because of NHL GP totals, and I bet Oesterle gets a Vegas contract or similar. I am hopeful about Pitlick, but he could go the same way. As for RFA’s we can be fairly certain about, expect new cities for Anton Lander, Henrik Samuelsson, Bogdan Yakimov, Jere Sallinen, David Musil (who is already gone but still on the 50-man), Zach Pochiro and Eetu Laurikanen. That’s seven RFA’s plus (I believe) Oesterle. Keepers? Jujhar Khaira, Iiro Pakarinen, Joey Laleggia, Griffin Reinhart, Dillon Simpson. That’s five keepers, and you might see the team cut bait on Pakarinen (but I doubt it).
- Daniel Cleary, Fernando Pisani and Jason Chimera became productive players in the toughest league on the planet. THEY are the stars in this study. I remember each of these men in the minors, and the one thing they did was improve offensively. Pisani arrived from college with a fairly complete toolkit, but didn’t score a bunch until year two AHL. Same with Chimera, and the ‘Hawks had confused Clearly so he needed a full AHL season after coming over. Current Condors who spiked offensively in year two? Joey Laleggia, Anton Slepyshev and Jujhar Khaira. That’s your list.
- For Rob Schremp fans, there’s exactly ONE pure offensive player who made it: Mike Walton. Condors 16-17: If Leon had stayed a whole season on the farm, we could claim him as an example, but offense is too valuable. Chiarelli kept David Krejci on the farm for a time, he would be an example.
- The future NHLERS are……..Last year I named Griffin Reinhart, Jordan Oesterle, Jujhar Khaira and Anton Slepyshev. This year’s list is pretty close to the same, in order: Jesse Puljujarvi, Anton Slepyshev, Jujhar Khaira and Griffin Reinhart. Joey Laleggia should be mentioned here, Oilers have some interesting prospects now. Laurent Brossoit has made it, although it’s uncertain at what level.
SCORING LAST 10 GAMES
- Patrick Maroon (10, 6-4-10); Connor McDavid (10, 6-13-19); Leon Draisaitl (10, 5-13-18)
- Milan Lucic (10, 4-2-6); Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (10, 3-4-7); Jordan Eberle (10, 2-4-6)
- Benoit Pouliot (10, 3-1-4); David Desharnais (10, 1-1-2); Zack Kassian (10, 1-3-4)
- Drake Caggiula (9, 2-4-6); Mark Letestu (10, 2-1-3); Anton Slepyshev (6, 1-1-2)
Secondary scoring has improved over the last 10 games, that Nuge line is getting some good work done. It’ll take time for the verbal to match results, but encouraging all the same. Desharnais has only two points, but his linemates have improved offensively, so maybe we give him some credit for work in the offensive zone. Caggiula and Slepyshev should be playing ahead of other available options on 4line, if only because Jujhar Khaira’s injury has left him behind (a conditioning stint might be in order).
In speaking to Frank Seravalli and others, I’m comfortable implying Peter Chiarelli tried to get a goalie and aimed higher for his center, too. It sounds like the goalie was Jaroslav Halak, and that Garth Snow either upped the price late or pulled the chute altogether. Either way, no goalie.
I have no real evidence of this, but would guess the general manager knocked on doors and asked after Martin Hanzal and Brian Boyle. You read a lot of things leading up to the deadline, and I think both men were connected at one time or another (but I’m not going to sift through 10 miles of Al Gore to find it).
At some level, Peter Chiarelli must have felt (and he told Terry Jones as much) he had seen enough positives to let bet on this wild horse without too much tinkering. Balance is close, but he also has to be mindful that building a system needs a lot of assets.
I’ve been receiving some dm’s and emails about consternation over lack of deadline activity. Idea being (I think) Edmonton would be in a better position had PC aimed higher. I think it’s a difficult argument to make, because the team he left alone has done extremely well. Maybe some credit is due here. Thoughts?
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A big morning, we are live at Northlands for the World Curling Championships all week. Make sure to tune in and hear me pronounce Gushue! 10 this morning, TSN1260, scheduled to appear:
- Scott Burnside, ESPN. The race is coming down the stretch in the Pacific Division, who is going to win it? Plus McDavid clear Hart favorite?
- Jason Gregor, TSN1260. Oilers rolling, what areas do they have to shore up, improve or tweak?
- Sunil Agnihotri, Copper & Blue/The SuperFan. After a 25-game run of dwindling Corsi, the Oilers post a 60 percent possession game against the Anaheim Ducks. Fluke? Or something else?
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!