Much of what I write here and at The Athletic is seasonal. I learned early on that if you’re going to chronicle a team, and play along at home, there’s a need to address things in a timely way. We’ll talk about the draft and the 50-man leading up to summer, and of course reasonable expectations arrive in August-September. October through April is the season, games and the morning after games. I learned this on the fly, when starting the blog and trying to stay topical.
Farm Workers, a look at the minor league and the players housed there, came from a different place. Brian Conacher, former NHL player, wrote a fantastic book called Hockey in Canada: The Way it Is. Conacher was a very smart fellow and he saw things in a unique way. Brilliant book and a brilliant description of the minor leagues of the 1960’s. Anyway. What you read today is a direct result of the Conacher book.
The Athletic Edmonton features a fabulous cluster of stories (some linked below, some on the site). Great perspective from a ridiculous group of writers and analysts. Proud to be part of The Athletic, less than two coffees a month offer here.
- New Lowetide: Central Scouting’s midseason list offers Oilers some strong draft options
- New Jonathan Willis: The Oilers’ road forward — and perhaps to a Stanley Cup — requires trusting the kids on defence
- New Jonathan Willis: Oilers make a smart two-year bet on Caleb Jones, who has done nothing but improve
- New Daniel Nugent-Bowman: 3 things from the latest Oilers win: A lacrosse goal, Mike Smith’s resurgence and Connor McDavid’s new linemate
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: A defiant Zack Kassian issues his latest salvo against Matthew Tkachuk: ‘He messed with the wrong guy’
- Lowetide: Dave Tippett’s deployment of Oilers defencemen indicates Kris Russell is vulnerable to trade
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers Notebook: Jujhar Khaira’s future, Caleb Jones’ adaptation to NHL speed
- Lowetide: Oilers prospect pipeline could deliver below-average group in 2020-21
- Jonathan Willis: Several factors led to Oilers’ Zack Kassian’s inevitable hearing with NHL Player Safety
- Jonathan Willis: Zack Kassian calls Matthew Tkachuk a ‘p****,’ says he’d go after him again despite Oilers’ loss
- Lowetide: Projecting William Lagesson’s future with the Edmonton Oilers
- Jonathan Willis: Kailer Yamamoto has impressed the Oilers and especially star linemate Leon Draisaitl
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: 10 bold predictions for the Edmonton Oilers in 2020
- Jonathan Willis: Mike Smith stars in Oilers victory, but others’ struggles could prompt changes
- Jonathan Willis: Inside a coach’s impact: How Dave Tippett gets the most out of the Oilers’ players
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Deciding what to do with Darnell Nurse, Mike Smith, Tyler Benson and Evan Bouchard
- Lowetide: Ken Holland’s targets for his first trade deadline with the Oilers.
- Minnia Feng: Zamboni Ursula: What if Oilers fans could change something in the team’s past?
- Lowetide: Ken Holland’s trade deadline options for the Oilers
- Jonathan Willis: ‘That’s the nicest goal I’ve ever seen’: Connor McDavid’s teammates amazed by his latest effort
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers notebook: James Neal’s resurgence, Matt Benning’s injury and the Tyler Benson recall temptation
- Lowetide: Oilers farmhands are pushing hard for NHL jobs
- Jonathan Willis: Zack Kassian’s breakout performance presents Oilers GM Ken Holland with a familiar dilemma
- Lowetide: Ken Holland, the Oilers amateur procurement department and the 2020 draft
- Lowetide: Complete Oilers top 20 prospects list, winter 2019
FUTURE NHLERS (FARM WORKERS PREDICTION
It’s been a fun ride over many years, choosing ‘farm workers’ to emerge as NHL players and play 100 or more NHL games. Here are my picks by season, and NHL games played (players listed only once, in the first season I named them).
- 2009-10: Devan Dubnyk (513).
- 2010-11: Jeff Petry (656), Linus Omark (79), and Teemu Hartikainen (52).
- 2011-12: Magnus Paajarvi (467) and Tyler Pitlick (225).
- 2012-13: Anton Lander (215) and Martin Marincin (216).
- 2013-14: Oscar Klefbom (364) and Mark Arcobello (139).
- 2014-15: Iiro Pakarinen (134), Jordan Oesterle (191).
- 2015-16: Griffin Reinhart (37), Jujhar Khaira (196) and Anton Slepyshev (102).
- 2016-17: Jesse Puljujarvi (139) and Laurent Brossoit (62).
- 2017-18: Ethan Bear (66), Ty Rattie (99)
- 2018-19: Caleb Jones (40), Kailer Yamamoto (33), Cooper Marody (6), Tyler Benson.
Men who are over 30 who come out of the minors to establish (or re-establish) themselves as NHL players is a thing of the past.
Hello, Sam Gagner! He turned 30 in August, started the season in Bakersfield (four games) and is 23, 1-7-8. Gagner clearly loves playing in the big leagues, he has made about $35 million in his career (PuckPedia) so this is about passion. He’s unusual in that he’s now a role player and willing to play that part despite having earned independence long ago. Brad Malone and Anthony Peluso are also 30 in Bakersfield. Gagner is highly unusual in today’s game.
If a prospect can establish himself as an AHL regular at age 20, it bodes well for an NHL career but does not guarantee it.
A strong group this year, Evan Bouchard (who was 19 when the season started) is finding his way and enjoying a successful (36, 7-16-23) minor league campaign. Ryan McLeod (36, 3-10-13) is a burner who could be more than a year away but his offense is better than I estimated for the rookie campaign. Kirill Maksimov (33, 3-7-10) and Dmitri Samorukov (29, 1-5-6) are also established regulars at the midway point of their rookie seasons. That’s four legit prospects in the AHL at 20.
Pretty much everyone in the AHL past 21 has some issues.
Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Benson lead the way here, along with young defenseman William Lagesson. All three look bona fide and NHL-ready, but the rule applies. Each man has issues: Yamamoto (injury worries), Benson (speed) and Lagesson (skills duplicated by men with wider range of skills) will need to overcome at least one more hurdle. Stuart Skinner and Dylan Wells are also in this area, but goalies take longer (usually) so no surprise. Cooper Marody seems to have stepped back from his impressive 2018-19 season due to injury, and Cam Hebig is off the pace.
If you haven’t established yourself as a prospect of interest by age 22, you are in trouble. The players who will graduate to useful NHL careers have at least played some NHL games by the end of their entry deal.
This is an important category because there are still good players here but not everyone makes it. Players who were in this spot recently: Jujhar Khaira, Anton Slepyshev, Griffin Reinhart, Jordan Oesterle, Iiro Pakarinen, Laurent Brossoit, Josh Currie, Joe Gambardella and Patrick Russell.
Caleb Jones is 22, but he’s in the NHL and has signed a new (very friendly) contract, so I think it’s fair to say he was never in this category. William Lagesson also qualifies for this category, but part of his problem is not of his making: The depth chart is conspiring against him. Cooper Marody is losing this season to injury and this should be the year where he’s establishing himself as an NHL option. Josh Currie and Joel Persson are at the older end of this list.
Exceptions are college men. Playing four college seasons means turning pro at 22, or later.
This is an important category because a player who arrives in pro out of college has a smaller window of opportunity. Cooper Marody was an AHL rookie at 21 and performed admirably, that’s the kind of player who usually fast tracks. The current injury issues leave his career a little uneasy. Shane Starrett is in almost exactly the same spot, I think he might have seen NHL action this year if he’d been healthy. Starrett’s strong performance a year ago was key to Bakersfield’s success. Joe Gambardella is in the window right now but Patrick Russell (another college man) ate his lunch. Logan Day is a fine prospect, but is blocked by men like Evan Bouchard and Joel Persson.
A large group of players on the current Bakersfield Condors could be described as ‘tweeners’.
This has always been the case, even when the numbers (Rob Schremp) imply otherwise. Rob Schremp was a tweener, he scored 53 points in 69 AHL games at age 20. Is Tyler Benson a tweener? I don’t believe he is, but will tell you I had the same opinion of Jani Rita, Marc Pouliot and Teemu Hartikainen. Sometimes a tweener makes it, but mostly they become Anton Lander or Ty Rattie.
If we make a list of minor league rfa’s each summer, we can probably pick the cuts and be fairly close.
This never changes. Last year I picked Gambardella, Russell and Starrett as keepers, and suggested Tyler Vesel, Colin Larkin and Robin Norell would be swept away. Players make themselves known during entry deals.
This year’s list is Nolan Vesey, Ryan Mantha, Cam Hebig, Joel Persson, Logan Day and Shane Starrett. Mantha is a heartbreaking case, looks like his career ended in what was a freak injury. Vesey and Hebig are also easy calls, neither man was able to establish himself as a strong option for the AHL coach. Joel Persson has shown enough to get a contract, the player may feel he’d like to move on. Same with Logan Day, although he’s even farther down the depth chart. Shane Starrett is a sticky wicket because of injury and Olivier Rodrigue about to turn pro. I’ll suggest Persson, Day and Starrett get new deals.
Daniel Cleary, Fernando Pisani and Jason Chimera used the AHL as a stepping stone to an NHL career. They are the stars in this study.
AHL grads don’t arrive in the NHL and apply for the scoring role on McDavid’s line (or Nuge, or Leon), but rather land on a support line and try to carve out a role. That’s the deal. That’s one reason why a player like Kailer Yamamoto was never destined (in my opinion) to play 100 AHL games (he has played in 50). I have the same opinion of Evan Bouchard.
The obvious Pisani on the current Condors is Tyler Benson, who is likely to fill a top-9 role on the Oilers should he make it with the big club. I would guess that process begins soon. I also think Ryan McLeod and Kirill Maksimov will be candidates.
Pure offensive players can succeed after prolonged AHL time but it’s rarely with their drafting team.
This is a rule I included specifically because of Marty Reasoner. A scorer in college, he transformed his game into a two-way role and served as mentor to a generation of Oilers wingers. Marc Pouliot had the same opportunity but did not do it. That might be Cooper Marody’s route to the NHL but we’re miles from knowing.
The future NHL players are
The rule is I can’t name a player once I’ve named him, so the group above from last year (Jones, Yamamoto, Marody and Benson) are unavailable to me. A reminder, I’m looking for players who will spend 100+ games in the NHL, that’s the line in the sand.
This year I’ll pick Evan Bouchard and William Lagesson. Bouchard is developing on the farm (I’ll be talking to Ryan Holt, Bakersfield’s PBP man, about him this morning) and already has NHL calibre offensive instincts. Lagesson is more of a shutdown type, but very valuable in his own way. I’m very satisfied with both selections.
Back to Conacher to close. He made many strong arguments in the book (and predicted much of what has happened since) but the one that has importance here is what he wrote about the Maple Leafs minor league team (Rochester Americans) of 65-66:
As in other areas of modern society, hockey 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”).
The Oilers have used a little from each category this season, from older player Sam Gagner to young players like Kailer Yamamoto, and the in betweens represented by Patrick Russell and Joel Persson. The Condors are flourishing, Jay Woodcroft is an outstanding development coach.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A busy show today, starting at 10 this morning TSN1260. Ryan Holt will talk Condors at 10:20, Frank Seravalli will discuss the strange Vegas happenings at 11, and we have some more irons in the fire as well. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!