When we talk about young players arriving in the future, there’s a tendency to pile them all together. For instance, the current Oilers depth chart invites us to place Dmitri Samorukov, Philip Broberg and Markus Niemelainen in a “bin” for conversation. We can talk about their individual skill sets, imply one is more talented offensively, discuss Samorukov’s impressive even strength goal differential in the KHL, but it’s all different shades of grey.
The math of hockey is such that we don’t really know if any of these players can make a difference in the NHL as defenders until they arrive. Once we have a chance to observe them, collect information and tabulate the numbers, we can make statements based in fact. If one of those blue ticketed for the streets of Bakersfield can contribute to NHL outscoring, and sustain it? While remaining healthy? Music!
Defense is a damnable position. That’s why the good defensemen are so valuable.
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: What are reasonable expectations for the 2021-22 Oilers?
- Lowetide: What are the Oilers’ ‘perfect lines’ for next season?
- Lowetide: The Oilers and value contracts. Three now, two later
- Jonathan Willis: A resurgent Zack Kassian could be an important part of the Oilers’ scoring
- Lowetide: Oilers sign Darnell Nurse to a massive 8-year contract extension
- Lowetide: How many goals will Jesse Puljujarvi score for the Oilers next season?
- Lowetide: 8 unsigned free agents who could help the Oilers
- DNB: Rating the Oilers’ offseason
- Lowetide: What are Oilers’ ideal defence pairings for 2021-22?
- Lowetide: The future may come early for three Oilers prospect defencemen
- DNB: What I’m hearing about the Oilers offseason, 4.0
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers 2021-22 depth chart
- Lowetide: Warren Foegele acquisition possible key to improving the Oilers third line
- DNB: Ethan Bear on being traded, his time with the Oilers
- DNB: Ethan Bear out, Cody Ceci in, Tyson Barrie stays
- DNB: ‘Ultimate competitor’ Zach Hyman signs with Oilers
- Lowetide: Oilers top 20 prospects, summer 2021
- DNB: Oilers draft day notebook
- Jonathan Willis: Zach Hyman, by the numbers
- Lowetide: 5 players outside the NHL who could help the Oilers
- Lowetide: Why Oilers defenceman Evan Bouchard is poised to exceed expectations
Do you know about Brandon Davidson? He was a deep pick in the 2010 draft, and became an instant favourite because he missed a year of youth hockey early on. The Oilers kept him in junior age 20, so Davidson arrived in pro hockey at 21. One of the things Oilers fans have been gifted with over the years is Eric Rodgers wonderful work. I value all of it, and for defensemen pay special attention to even strength on ice goal differential.
In 2014-15, Rodgers’ numbers offered strong clues about Davidson’s ability and confirmed Klefbom’s brilliance in nine impressive AHL games.
CONDORS 2014-15 BLUE
As it turned out, Bakersfield sent Klefbom, Davidson, Hunt, Marincin and Oesterle to the NHL, that’s a monster graduating class.
Davidson’s +10 goal differential at even strength (in 55 games) signaled he was perhaps more capable than his draft pedigree (sixth round). Puck IQ tracks him early as a quality player versus elites beginning in 2015-16 and his trajectory could have been exceptional save injuries at the hands of men like Matt Tkachuk and Dustin Byfuglien. There was a time when Davidson looked like a real top-four defenseman who could win the possession battle against elites. It didn’t last long, but it was there. Rodgers’ numbers foretold Davidson’s success.
CONDORS 2015-16 BLUE
Hunt had a fine season on offense and defense, parlayed it into a fringe role in the NHL that has seen him play 177 games in the world’s best league since. There was more bad than good from this season. Nikitin good lord, Oesterle, Musil and Reinhart were all taking on water.
Best player in this group (Nurse) spent nine games in Bakersfield before getting called to Edmonton. Both Laleggia and Simpson had good seasons, Simpson caught three NHL games the following year but Laleggia has yet to play a game in the bigs. He is 29. Fantastic skater, great playmaker.
CONDORS 2016-17 BLUE
Simpson has his best season in Bakersfield, Reinhart too but he should have been in the NHL by this time (five years after he was drafted No. 4 overall). I haven’t mentioned Musil much, he arrived in pro hockey during a time when his player-type (physical, shutdown defender) wasn’t in vogue. I wonder how far he would get if Musil was 20 years old this fall. Seems there’s been another change in the weather.
The Achilles for this group was foot speed, and the only one who has enjoyed an NHL career (252 games) is the speedy Oesterle, signed by MacT as a free agent.
CONDORS 2017-18 BLUE
Lowe had a fine year, but by this time he was an AHL veteran assigned to develop his defensive partner. Mantha had an eye injury, ended his playing career, absolute shame as he had real talent.
Bear struggled defensively, but flourished offensively and showed he was a genuine NHL talent from the word go. Jones had a tough year that involved injury and ineffective play. He would improve a great deal in his sophomore season. I know things happen in a hurry and who has time to observe a minor league hockey team, but two legit NHL defensemen (Bear and Jones) arrived in Bakersfield and began a pro journey that could last 500 or 1,000 games for both men. That’s worth noting. That’s the goal. Not possible every year but getting two NHL defensemen out of the farm system in one year is a massive boost.
CONDORS 2018-19 BLUE
Bear and Jones are more established in year two, the coaching staff (Jay Woodcroft, Dave Manson, J-F Houle) making a difference and doing the fine work of preparing young men for an NHL career. Lagesson arrives and plays very well, his impressive goal differential despite being chosen from the depths of the draft recalling Davidson from four years previously. The NHL results for Lagesson have not, as yet, matched Davidson.
The Oilers current group (Samorukov, Broberg, Niemelainen, Kesselring, Kemp) will draw comparisons to this Jones, Bear and Lagesson trio if things go well next season in California.
CONDORS 2019-20 BLUE
This was a tough season to evaluate, an injury to goaltender Shane Starrett meant the club wasn’t dealing with the same kind of dynamic as in previous seasons. Lagesson played well, Jones struggled but was recalled to Edmonton where he played strong hockey for the Oilers down the stretch.
Samorukov had a tough time early in the year, then settled in, perhaps foreshadowing his KHL campaign in 2020-21. Bouchard struggled badly in the first 27 games of the season (18-29 even strength goals) but rebounded in a prominent role (23-22) in the final 27 games. That story, the Bouchard recovery, was an underreported story from Edmonton’s farm system in 2019-20.
CONDORS 2020-21 BLUE
Another strange year, the Condors lacked the dynamic prospects (Samorukov, Broberg) that should have been there. One of the things I’m most looking forward to in 2021-22 is seeing the progress of a large group of young blue who will be developing under Manson in the AHL.
Niemelainen is the defenseman I was most impressed with in Bakersfield last season, he is big and mobile with more puck-moving ability than once thought. Kemp and Kesselring got playing time and showed flashes, but we’ll need to see them over an entire season before making any major statements on their trajectory. Samorukov and Broberg are slated to play in Bakersfield during 2021-22, that’s going to be a big story.
I just wanted to say thanks to Eric Rodgers. This is a lot of work over a lot of years, I appreciate it and I know you do, too. If you’re on twitter, maybe drop him a tweet of thanks if you get a chance.
Oilers rookie invites are trickling in, Rybinski is an interesting player who is a couple of years older than the other two men. As I mentioned many times this summer, Edmonton has massive room on the 50-man and will be looking for talent who can be added to the group. You never know.