The Bakersfield Condors won the Pacific Division finals last night against the Henderson Silver Knights. Tyler Benson scored the winner, finishing the playoffs 3-2-5 in six games. Raphael Lavoie also had a nice run (1-3-4 in six games). The Condors season has run out, we’ll examine it further in the coming days. It was a successful year and several prospects took a step forward and should graduate to the NHL in coming years. Shout out to veterans like Brad Malone, Seth Griffith and Adam Cracknell, who had huge roles in the team’s success, and Stuart Skinner, who delivered a strong season and playoff for a team that badly needed a saviour in net.
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’s the latest!
- New Lowetide: It won’t be easy, but the Oilers need to re-sign Darnell Nurse soon
- DNB: Ideal Oilers free-agent targets
- New Lowetide: An early look at the Oilers’ options for the 2021 draft
- New DNB: The pressure is on Oilers GM Ken Holland
- New Lowetide: What now for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?
- New DNB: Connor McDavid shows his frustration as another year of his prime is lost: ‘We’re a group that expects more’
- New Jonathan Willis: The NHL gifted the Oilers Connor McDavid; six years later, they have yet to adequately support him
- New DNB: The Oilers’ 10 biggest offseason priorities after a disastrous first-round playoff loss to the Jets
- Lowetide: The 5 biggest stories from the Bakersfield Condors’ 2020-21 season
- DNB: How Jesse Puljujarvi’s return to Finland primed him for Oilers success
- DNB: Darnell Nurse is on ‘another level’
- Lowetide: Jesse Puljujarvi has arrived for the Oilers — again
- Lowetide: Oilers final 2020-21 report cards: A regular season to remember
- DNB:What are the Oilers’ pressing questions ahead of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft?
- Lowetide: An early look at ideal Oilers’ free-agent targets for the offseason
The Oilers pipeline is pumping like clockwork in recent years (2019-20 grads: Ethan Bear, Kailer Yamamoto, Caleb Jones, Patrick Russell) and this season was no exception. Games played were low (56-game season), but there was quality:
- RD Evan Bouchard: 14 games, 2-3-5
- LD William Lagesson: 19 games, 0-2-2
- LC Ryan McLeod: 10 games, 0-1-1
Bouchard is likely to play much of his Oilers career as a top-4 defenseman and McLeod has a clean look at No. 3 center as soon as this coming season. Two players who can fill prominent spots in one year is impressive, similar to 2019-20 with Bear and Yamamoto (and possibly Jones).
THE AIR THAT I BREATHE
I believe Todd Nelson should have been an NHL coach long ago. I believe he coached men (Teemu Hartikainen, Linus Omark, Brandon Davidson) who should have had longer NHL careers, but there were roadblocks. Constant GM and coach shuffling was part of it, but there were other factors in blocking the farm workers.
Ryan McLeod being recalled and inserted directly into the lineup in an important role just didn’t happen in this era. Why? The pipeline didn’t go through Oklahoma City in those days, as the high draft picks (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nuge, Nail Yakupov) jumped right to the NHL without spending time on the farm.
Those young phenoms needed support and mentoring. That meant NHL free agents, and Edmonton could attract fading veterans like Eric Belanger, Ben Eager and Cam Barker. All of them blocked a young player, who could have solved a roster problem for longer and at less cost.
During Nelson’s time with the Oklahoma City Barons, kids from the farm also lost playing time to fringe players from other organizations. Luke Gazdic, Iiro Pakarinen, Will Acton, Andrew Miller and Colten Teubert all received the call over farmhands like Omark.
The Oilers signed Euro free agents to derail prospects progress, too. Jesse Joensuu to replace Teemu Hartikanen and brought in Lennart Petrell so Anton Lander and Chris VandeVelde could get the full farm experience.
So, we have the Oilers lottery picks, NHL free agents to add experience around them, Euro free agents of varying abilities and then (as if more was needed) the fringe talents from other organizations.
That’s a lot to overcome, and the Oilers kids didn’t do it. I think some of those men would have enjoyed NHL careers if they arrived in this organization as rookie pros this fall. Here’s a list of players who played for Nelson, were blocked by outside player procurement (or money), and went on to find at least some NHL success elsewhere: Jeff Petry, Tyler Pitlick, Brad Hunt, Jordan Oesterle, Chris VandeVelde, Colin McDonald, Taylor Fedun, Martin Marincin and Brandon Davidson. That’s a lot of talent to bleed for five years work, especially when the reasons are Nikita Nikitin and others like him.
It’s been a fun ride over many years, watching minor-league players find their way to the NHL. Over the last 10 years, here are the GP totals for qualified rookies who played in the minors for Edmonton
- 2011-12: Colten Teubert (24); Teemu Hartikainen (17); Ryan O’Marra (7); Chris VandeVelde (5); Alex Plante (3); Phil Cornet (2); Milan Kytnar (1).
- 2012-13: Chris VandeVelde (11); Mark Arcobello (1).
- 2013-14: Martin Marincin (44); Mark Arcobello (41); Oscar Klefbom (17); Tyler Pitlick (10); Taylor Fedun (4); Brad Hunt (3).
- 2014-15: Oscar Klefbom (60); Tyler Pitlick (17); Iiro Pakarinen (17); Brandon Davidson (12); Andrew Miller (9); Jordan Oesterle (6); David Musil (4); Bogdan Yakimov (1); Curtis Hamilton (1); Laurent Brossoit (1); Tyler Bunz (1).
- 2015-16: Iiro Pakarinen (63); Brandon Davidson (51); Jordan Oesterle (17); Jujhar Khaira (15); Anton Slepyshev (11); Laurent Brossoit (5).
- 2016-17: Anton Slepyshev (41); Jesse Puljujarvi (28), Jujhar Khaira (10); Laurent Brossoit (8); Dillon Simpson (3).
- 2017-18: Ethan Bear (18); Keegan Lowe (2).
- 2018-19: Josh Currie (21); Kailer Yamamoto (17); Caleb Jones (17); Joe Gambardella (15); Cooper Marody (6); Patrick Russell (6).
- 2019-20: Ethan Bear (71); Caleb Jones (43); William Lagesson (8); Tyler Benson (7).
- 2020-21: William Lagesson (19); Evan Bouchard (14); Ryan McLeod (10); Stuart Skinner (1).
If a prospect can establish himself as an AHL regular at 20, it bodes well for an NHL career, but does not guarantee it.
There are 15 players since 2010 who played successfully as AHL regulars age 20. They are: Teemu Hartikainen, Tyler Pitlick, Magnus Paajarvi, Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, Bogdan Yakimov, Jujhar Khaira, Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, Ryan McLeod, Kailer Yamamoto, Dmitri Samorukov, Raphael Lavoie, Mike Kesselring.
The shocking number: six of the 15 came in the last two seasons. That’s Holland at work. We’re going to have to split Farm Workers into two segments: before and after Holland.
Pretty much everyone who is in the AHL past 21 is having some issues and may spend time meandering.
We may have to alter this a little, as Holland views the entry deal as both development time and an opportunity to slow down the pay scale. It’s effective in suppressing cap totals on the second contract and that will benefit as time goes on. Maybe not Bouchard, who I expect will post outstanding numbers, but others as they matriculate through the early portions of their NHL careers.
If you haven’t established yourself as a prospect by age 22, you’re in trouble. The players who will be successful have played at least some games in the NHL during entry deals.
Benson and Marody established themselves by age 22, now it’s Ostap Safin’s turn, Kirill Maksimov’s turn, Olivier Rodrigue’s turn. It’s an important line in the sand, and of course has a real impact on all prospects coming up to their second contract.
Exceptions are college men, who often turn pro at 22.
Marody arrived ready, and I have been impressed by Mike Kesselring and Phil Kemp. I believe college players are the route to go, but have always suspected the Oilers have issues with college defensemen. Call it the Jeff Petry syndrome. Hopefully the organization has matured in this area.
No matter what you and I think about a specific AHL player, the largest category of player in the minors is ‘tweener’.
Rob Schremp was a tweener. Anton Lander too. Linus Omark’s career is judged as a tweener despite my misgivings. Kirill Maksimov, Ostap Safin, Dylan Wells all qualify. I don’t believe Benson will land here, but this is the point where he’ll need to push through and win NHL work. Window closes quickly.
If we make a list of rfa’s each summer, we can probably pick the cuts and be pretty close.
A year ago, Ryan Mantha, Ryan Kuffner, Nolan Vesey, Cam Hebig, Logan Day, William Lagesson and Angus Redmond were all minor-league RFA’s. I picked Kuffner, Day and Lagesson as the keepers. Ken Holland surprised me, retaining only Lagesson.
This year’s RFA’s are Cooper Marody, Tyler Benson, Theodor Lennstrom, Stuart Skinner and Dylan Wells.
Sticky wicket here, as Lennstrom is the only player Holland brought into the organization. I will pick Marody, Benson, Lennstrom and Skinner as keepers, with only Wells exiting. We wait.
Dan Cleary, Fernando Pisani and Jason Chimera are the success stories in this study.
This, I think, is the key point in all of this ramble. Players who land in the AHL are working on something, grinding the edges off a game that is close but not quite NHL-ready. It’s usually defensive work that needs to be done, but maturation is also part of the deal.
Tyler Benson could be the next success story here. I mean it. He has flaws in his game and has worked on them. He needs to add as much speed as possible, and that might include training like Ethan Bear in the summer of 2019, and blowing the doors off previous fitness levels. That’s how Kyle Brodziak did it 14 years ago.
That’s Farm Workers for another year, thanks for reading.