Happy Thanksgiving! It’s holiday Monday morning, the house is quiet, everyone sleeping except for the dog and a rabbit in the backyard. We went for a walk last night (a little breezy, but I love the fall) and between rabbits and partridges I think St. Albert might be turning into some kind of petting zoo.
We are well. My two jobs (TSN and The Athletic) are going well and I’m thrilled to be working with such quality people at this point in my career. I began my radio career June 15, 1980 and that’s coming up on 40 years ago now. My writing career began right here really, about 2004, when my daughter asked me if she could start a blog and I said no without knowing what a blog was or what it meant. As you can see, I’m a visionary.
Mrs. Lowetide made turkey last night, she’s been either helping or making Thanksgiving turkey since she was 10—meaning over 20 years now! The kids are finding their way, young people today don’t have career paths the way we did when I was young, it’s been an adjustment for Dad finding out that business owners are less likely to commit long term compared to 1980. Both kids are receiving an education in various things and I believe are getting closer to their life’s work.
Ziggy’s work in life is to bite my socks, even when I’m in them, and to hide bones in spots I’ll trip on. Honestly, I love this blasted dog so much the kids tease me about her being the favourite child, but there’s simply no way they could know. I kid. Love them both to pieces.
I hope you are well, and in a good place with people you love. I know it’s been tough for many people this year, all I can offer you is a lifetime of country songs that suggest we make it through December, and we will together. Sometimes being away from family this time of year can be painful, hope you’re in a good place anyway even if it isn’t where you’ll be in a year. God bless you, be good to yourself, let’s hope for a finer day down the line.
The Athletic Edmonton is going to bring it all season long. Proud to be part of a lineup that is ready to cover the coming year. Outstanding coverage from a large group, including Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis, Lowetide, Minnia Feng and Pat McLean. If you haven’t subscribed yet, now’s your chance. Special offer is here, less than $3 a month!
- New Lowetide: Evan Bouchard survives first game.
- New Lowetide: Ryan McLeod takes demotion in stride, while a Condo of Condors impress on opening weekend.
- Jonathan Willis: On AHL opening night, Caleb Jones and friends make it clear they want NHL jobs.
- Lowetide: Orange, white and blue October: In 1979, the Oilers rocked the NHL.
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: After the death of his father, Sweden trip holds special significance for Adam Larsson, and one of his opponents.
- Scott Wheeler: How the eye test fails to properly evaluate Evan Bouchard.
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Why the Nuge-McDavid-Rattie line has been so successful.
- Lowetide: The 2018-19 Oilers are in a period of transition.
- Jonathan Willis: How worried should the Oilers be about the preseason struggles of Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl?
I was going to run this over at The Athletic, but it’s simply too meandering to make sense of as an article. About 50 years ago, Brian Conacher, a hockey player, wrote a book called The Way it Is. It was a book for the ages, examining an AHL team in a unique way (don’t think it’s ever been repeated). Here is a passage from the book:
- 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”).
I have taken those three areas and asked questions over about a decade to arrive at 10 different conclusions. Here they are, applied to the current Bakersfield Condors.
- 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. Al Montoya is 33, he could in fact return to the NHL after spending time in the minors. He didn’t play well for Edmonton and was poor in Montreal a year ago but he is certainly good and famous enough to have another life. That is an unusual result of this question in the time I’ve been examining the OKC Barons and Condors. Montoya is an outlier.
- If a prospect can establish himself as an AHL regular age 20, it bodes well for an NHL career but does not guarantee it. Tyler Benson is the only man who is 20 this fall, and he has an excellent chance to be an AHL regular. Since 2010, Oilers’ prospects who played as regulars age 20 in the AHL: Teemu Hartikainen, Tyler Pitlick, Magnus Paajarvi, Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, Bogdan Yakimov, Jujhar Khaira, Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones. I count four successes, three misses and two hopefuls (Bear and Jones). The three misses (Hartikainen, Gernat, Yakimov) were all European, not certain that speaks to their failure or the organization. The best AHL at 20 Oilers (Satan, Smyth) were a cut above these names but I think Bear and Jones are interesting prospects on the horizon.
- Pretty much everyone who is in the AHL past (say) 21 has some issues and is going to do some meandering. The 2018-19 Condors have several impressive prospects age 21, including Bear and Jones. William Lagesson is 22, he’s just starting his NA career, that’s another quality prospect at this level. It’s fair to say each man has areas to work on but this is a stronger group in this age bracket than most Oilers’ farm teams of recent years. A quick note: Ryan Mantha’s career path encountered a major injury but he was on track at the time it occurred. Hopefully he finds a way to resume his career.
- 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. Even a player like Jujhar Khaira or Ty Rattie played some NHL games during entry deals. Caleb Jones, who is 21, is a player to watch in this area (Ethan Bear has already played in NHL games).
- Exceptions are college men. Playing 4 NCAA seasons means turning pro at 22, meaning a “late start” for some quality prospects. There is much to discuss among the college men. I’ll begin by saying Cooper Marody is NHL-ready based on things we observed in preseason and are seeing in the AHL now. Although he did spend three years in college, he probably should have signed age 20 because his ability suggests it (NHLE: 38.54). Other college men who we can discuss are Patrick Russell (he is a PK savant with size), Joe Gambardella and Tyler Vesel. If you’re reading this 30 years from now and asking “why were these three even mentioned?” it’s because they bring specific skills to the rink. Gambardella can forecheck like a demon, Russell scores PK goals like ringing a bell, and Vesel appears to be a player with a range of skills. The Oilers are far more aggressive under Peter Chiarelli in this area and my bet is we see some NHL players come out of this pipeline.
- A large group of players on the current team could be described in the “tweener” division. This is always the case, although Ty Rattie qualifies and might break out and have a career. Pick an era and I can find you a tweener, the current Condors boast Josh Currie and Keegan Lowe. That’s progress actually, past seasons have featured a greater number in this category. Anton Lander was a tweener, although some people get angry when I say it.
- 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. Oilers have very few RFA’s for 2019 summer, but will have to make decisions on Tyler Vesel, Joe Gambardella, Patrick Russell, Colin Larkin and Shane Starrett. It’s a porridge group, from here I’d suggest Larkin and Starrett are probably on the outside through skill set or circumstance (lotta goalies).
- Daniel Cleary, Fernando Pisani and Jason Chimera became productive players in the toughest league on the planet. THEY are the stars in this study. It’s the key point to make in every one of these looks. Miro Satan in the minors was an anomaly, NHL teams pluck scoring stars from junior ranks and take them straightaway to the show. I think Cooper Marody may spend fewer than 40 games in the AHL, he is so skilled. Tyler Benson may be in the NHL for a time this winter, and I think Caleb Jones will see his first action in the show this winter as well. The Oilers want their farm hands to grind out their imperfections out of their game, and to emerge as trustworthy soldiers. That’s the goal.
- Pure offensive players can succeed after prolonged AHL time but it’s rarely with their drafting team. Mike Walton was the original inspiration for this point, but Martin St. Louis, Jonathan Marchessault and others have proven to be worthy despite needing two or even three opportunities before cashing. Bakersfield doesn’t have any of these player types now that Rattie is in the NHL, you could include Cooper Marody here but Philadelphia apparently tried to sign him so that would be unfair.
- The future NHL players on tonight’s roster are: I am convinced Cooper Marody will have an NHL career if he can stay healthy, his ability with the puck is exceptional. Tyler Benson is also a solid possibility, and there are two more reasonable bets (Caleb Jones, William Lagesson). If Ethan Bear spends time in Bakersfield, I would add him to this list.
The power play looked damned good in the first game of the season, in fact I’ve never seen the Condors look better. Game 2 of the season was a loss, rookie goalie Dylan Wells giving up five goals for the loss.
Gerry Fleming’s time in Bakersfield featured no playoffs but the prospect pipeline delivered several worthy prospects to the show (Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Jordan Oesterle, others), difficult to give credit for Pulju but it is part of his record.
I think Woodcroft has a better team overall, and more actual prospects than Fleming. That’s a guess, perhaps Marody and Benson disappoint and we’re back to doh! before you know it. Fleming’s players seemed to arrive in the NHL with an idea about what to do and when to do it, difficult to know how much credit to give the coach.
Finally, a note about how many prospects will make it. If I tell you Marody, Benson, Jones and Lagesson look promising, it’s a good idea to assume two of those names won’t play 100 games in the NHL, one will play a little more than 100 games, and one will “make it” as a legit NHL player. That isn’t a reflection of the individual players, merely history giving us an idea about expectations.