The Bakersfield Condors won again last night, the team is on a fantastic run and several prospects are running hot. Cooper Marody leads the AHL in points, Tyler Benson is in second place. Stuart Skinner owns a .916 save percentage and a 10-2-1 record.
The numbers tell me the Bakersfield Condors forward to bet on having an NHL career is Ryan McLeod. Here’s why.
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here is our recent work.
- New Lowetide: Every major transaction Ken Holland has made as Oilers GM
- Jonathan Willis: Five questions the Oilers need to answer by the NHL trade deadline
- Lowetide: Carter Savoie’s college season suggests Oilers could have a real goal scoring prospect
- Lowetide: Has Oilers goalie prospect Stuart Skinner turned a corner?
- Lowetide: Where does Zack Kassian fit on the Oilers, now and in the future?
- Lowetide: Oilers’ midseason depth chart informs their needs for trade deadline and beyond
- Jonathan Willis: A position-by-position look at the Oilers after 30 games
- Lowetide: How will Oilers GM Ken Holland make room in the lineup for Evan Bouchard?
- Lowetide: Are the Oilers and Elvis Merzlikins a trade match?
- Lowetide: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Dominik Kahun, Dylan Holloway and a perfect storm on the Oilers’ left side
- Lowetide: Why Oilers GM Ken Holland shouldn’t wait for the deadline to make a trade
- Lowetide: Three Oilers prospects form hottest line in the AHL
- Lowetide: Oilers’ top 20 prospects, trade deadline edition
- Lowetide: Why are some Oilers fans hesitant to give Darnell Nurse his due?
- Jonathan Willis: Can Oilers improve enough to beat TML it in May?
- Lowetide: Top trade targets for the Oilers at the 2021 deadline
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers 2021 trade value rankings
- Lowetide: Is this peak Connor McDavid?
OILERS AHL PROSPECTS 18-23
NHL teams graduate their skill forwards straight to the NHL. Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto are currently establishing themselves as big-league players after very little time in the AHL after age 20. JP was in the AHL for four games after he turned 20, Yamamoto 50 games.
One of the bullet points in my annual “Farm Workers” series is “pretty much everyone who is in the AHL past 21 is having some issues and may spend time meandering.“
If you look at the players at 20 column, logic dictates that Tyler Benson would have gone directly into the NHL. He did not. Why? Despite delivering the second best ‘age 20’ pts-game on the list, head coach Todd McLellan (and then Ken Hitchcock) ran Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Tobias Rieder, Drake Caggiula, Ryan Spooner, Joe Gambardella and Valentin Zykov instead.
The staff judged Benson not ready, and leaving him on the farm made sense for an organization that fast-tracked prospects far too much.
Cooper Marody was 21 and more dominant offensively than Benson, but received just a 6-game audition over two coaches. He arrived in a crazy moment, McLellan fired, Hitchcock hired and then working 24-7 right afterward convincing Peter Chiarelli he could save Jesse Puljujarvi. Apart from proving Hitch is a compelling personality and ensuring the Finn would bolt (they handled him so badly), it turned Marody’s only NHL audition into a tertiary event.
A real shame, because Marody was injured in the playoffs the following spring and (as you can see) is just now returning to previous levels.
This season, Marody and Benson are tearing the cover off the ball, albeit in a watered down AHL. Lots of talk about a recall, but I am doubtful the No. 2 LW job awaits Benson in Edmonton. In fact, I expect there is more work for Benson before he gets an NHL job. Increasing foot speed is a part of it, but the job he’s applying for now (bottom-six winger) is different than the skill winger gig Kailer Yamamoto is trying to win long term.
What does that mean? Well, over the weekend on a Condors broadcast, play-by-play announcer Ryan Holt (who is outstanding) and Condors captain Brad Malone were discussing Benson. It was mentioned that Benson is adding PK work to his resume in Bakersfield, and that’s a possible tell we will see Benson as No. 3 or No. 4 LW next season in the role currently occupied by James Neal/Joakim Nygard.
Ideally, you’d see a LW depth chart of Leon Draisaitl, Blake Coleman, Dominik Kahun and then Benson among the options to slide in on the No. 4 line or as an extra forward. Holloway could eat his lunch, though. I’m pulling for Benson, would buy a round to find out what Dave Tippett really thinks of him. The fact the coach chose Nygard’s speed and Patrick Russell’s physical presence over him is a possible tell, but it’s such a weird year who the hell knows.
That brings us to McLeod. He is coming at a bottom-six job from the opposite direction. McLeod’s positives include great speed and utility (center or wing, penalty kill) and his weaknesses (offense, playing in the high traffic areas to score) is more typical for a prospect in the AHL.
So his scoring spike, even in a year where the AHL isn’t at its peak, represents a strong step in an area McLeod needed to excel in. He is not a rugged player, but has done a good job at forcing his way into scoring areas.
So. McLeod, despite being the younger prospect, is delivering in the areas he needed to work on. His brother Michael, two years older, finally appears to be gaining traction with the New Jersey Devils this season.
Benson remains on the outside, needing to improve speed and add useful tools to his arsenal.
I say both Benson and McLeod make it, possibly on the same line. Value contracts will be dear in the fall. This will be a fascinating area of the 2021-22 Oilers to follow.
I wondered if anything had changed in the Hall arena, so reached out yesterday on twitter. I would say it remains deadlocked, but was surprised to see ‘bringing him back’ win the day, if only be a slim margin.
Jason Gregor has a ton of information on Edmonton’s prospects who will be coming over now or later, it is here. I won’t spoil the fun beyond noting that it’ll be quite crowded in Bakersfield soon, specifically on defense where some of the no-name blue are playing quite well for the Condors. Jason also has the organization’s view of Ilya Konovalov.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A busy morning, TSN1260 beginning at 10. We should find out when those three canceled Habs games will be played today. We’ll also talk about the NBA trade deadline and Frank Seravalli from TSN will update trade rumours and we’ll talk about the big week for the Oilers, as the team edges closer to a playoff spot due to teams behind them losing games. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Pull up a chair and grab a coffee. The show starts soon!