Every once in awhile, I like to comb over the Bakersfield Condors website to see how our farm team is doing.
Like the Oilers, they started out their season slow, having a losing record and being mired in sixth place in the AHL’s Pacific division. Now to be fair, that’s not as big a deal in the AHL as it is in the NHL, because while the NHL is all about winning, the AHL is more about player development than winning. That being said, winning in the AHL does breed playoff spots which breeds experience the players can draw on which breeds winning habits and mentality which will only help the players who become full time NHLers.
As of late the Condors have been on a tear, going 9-1 in their past 10 games and those 9 wins were all in a row. That’s rocketed them up to 2nd place, behind only the Henderson Silver Knights, Vegas’s farm team.
If you’re feeling deja vu with that last sentence, it’s because before the division were realigned due to covid, the Golden Knights were the only team standing between the Oilers and 1st place in the division, and at the time the Oilers weren’t able to ascend past them. Hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself in the minors.
The biggest reasons for the Condor’s success as of late are – unlike past years – their dynamite 1st line and their goaltending. As anyone who isn’t new to Oilers fandom knows, for years the strength of the team’s prospect pool was their defensive corps. However, the cupboards have been raided in that department in recent years as Evan Bouchard, Caleb Jones, and Ethan Bear have all made it to the Oilers roster in the last 2 seasons with William Lagesson joining them this season. So, understandably, the Condors are lacking a bit in puck movers.
Theodor Lennstrom, European free agent signing extraordinaire, was the best of the bunch in the early going, going 2-1-3 in the 1st 7 games before the Oilers called him up to put him on the taxi squad, where he remains right now.
After Lennstrom the best defesemen is AHL veteran Ryan Stanton, with 6 assists in 15 games. Markus Niemelainen, in his 1st year in North America, is doing decently too, with 1-4-5 in 15 games. Drafted in the third round in 2016, Niemelainen spent three full years in the pro leagues of his native Finland before coming to Bakersfield this season. He’s not officially classified as a rookie, but he is new to the North American pro leagues. Rookie Yanni Kaldis, who at this point is on an AHL only contract, was signed as a college free agent and is putting up 0-5-5 in 14 games in the early going as a rookie. 2016 7th rounder Vincent Desharnais has the same boxcars and is a call up from ECHL Wichita.
That’s it for impact defensemen. None of these guys are making the NHL anytime soon. The pandemic also means a number of notable prospects on defense are also staying in Europe when normally they would be coming over to Bakersfield, like Dmitri Samorukov, for example.
The guys who are driving the bus for the team are their 1st line of Cooper Marody, Tyler Benson, and Ryan Mcleod. Marody right now is leading the AHL in scoring with 12 goals and 21 points in 15 games. In my opinion, that’s well worth the third rounder we sent to Philly in 2018 to get him. Good job, Peter Chiarelli’s pro scouts. Right behind him is left winger Tyler Benson, a second round pick in 2016. He’s currently in a three-way tie for 2nd in scoring in the AHL, with five goals and 17 points in 15 games. Completing the trifecta is 2018 second round pick center Ryan Mcleod, currently 13th in AHL scoring with 6 goals and 14 points in 15 games.
Marody and Benson have both had callups in recent years, and Mcleod has no doubt worked himself into the conversation more for the future. two players in the top 10 in scoring, and three in the top 20. That’s a pretty good first line if you ask me.
Apart from those two, AHL veterans Adam Cracknell and Luke Esposito are filling out the top six, with eight and seven points in 15 games, respectively. College free agent from 2017 Joe Gambardella also has seven points. Next up are two more AHL veterans Seth Griffith and Brad Malone, who both have six points – Griffith in 15 games and Malone in nine.
It’s unlikely that any of these guys make the NHL anytime soon.
As you would expect, a lot of rookie skaters are on this team. None of them have really made waves yet, but it’s still way too early in their careers to write them off.
Some of the more notable ones are last year’s leading scorer of the Medicine Hat Tigers, James Hamblin. He’s also a local Edmonton boy and a one time teammate of Tyler Benson’s in the amateur ranks here in Edmonton. 4th round pick from 2017 Ostap Safin has made his way over to Bakersfield too. College free agent Liam Folkes has only played one game, but he’s in Bakersfield. fifth round left winger from 2016 Graham McPhee is also on his maiden voyage in Bakersfield.
In between the pipes we’re in a bit of a bizarro world.
Second round pick from 2016 Olivier Rodrigue has joined Bakersfield for this season but he’s been a bit of a mess four games into his career, sporting an 0-4 record in four games with a 3.55 GAA and an ugly .865 sv%. Plenty of time for the 20 year old to clean up his game, hardly a write-off four games into his pro career, but you never want to see those kinds of numbers for a goalie who was drafted in the 2nd round. The Oilers haven’t drafted a goalie this high in multiple decades, so let’s hope Rodrigue improves so he can cover the bet.
22 year old starter Stuart Skinner, who looked like he was headed for the scrap heap after the first two years of his ELC, is playing himself into the conversation for a potential spot with the Oilers or at the very least another contract for next year. Skinner currently sits at third in the AHL in sv% with a stingy 1.72 and fourth in the AHL in sv% with a lofty .935. I guess that start Dave Tippett gave him against Ottawa did more for him than we realized.
And all this after two straight seasons of sv% below .900 and back to back sub 3.0 GAAs. It was almost hard to believe this was the same guy who was one of the best goalies in the WHL in 2017 and 2018…..until now.
Condors GM/Oilers assistant GM Keith Gretzky will have to have a talk or two with Condors head coach Jay Woodcroft and Oilers GM Ken Holland about their 3rd string goalie sometime in the near future as Skinner’s contract is up after this season.
Both the forward lines and defensive corps can look even more forward to some reinforcements coming as well. Left D Philip Broberg – round one pick in 2019 – will be likely joining the Condors at least for awhile at some point as will right center Raphael Lavoie, second round pick from 2019. C/LW Dylan Holloway is making waves in the NCAA as he is in the conversation for the Hobey Baker award. Rumour has it he’ll go straight to the Oilers but personally I’d rather see what he can do in the AHL before putting him two steps up. Oiler fans should know better than anyone what the hazards of rushing prospects are. He was, after all, just drafted last year.
Even more is coming between the pipes too, as Russian KHL third round pick from 2019 Ilya Konovalov is coming to Bakersfield at some point as well, so Rodrigue’s quest for playing time is not going to get any easier.
If Bakersfield head coach Jay Woodcroft can continue to oversee a team that continues to roll missing as much talent on defense as it is and with a backup goalie who’s struggling in his rookie season, then he might be in the conversation for head/assistant coach at some point. If it weren’t for the fact we promoted him to head coach in Bakersfield he probably would’ve followed Todd McLellan to LA.
With how well Bakersfield is doing now, it’ll be worth checking in with them again to see who’s made strides and who hasn’t. Also, it’ll be interesting to see how they do in the AHL playoffs. We still haven’t heard how long the AHL season will be as of February 23 as logistical changes due to the pandemic postponed the start of the season multiple times. So, will they go their usual 68 games or shorten the season like the NHL? They tend to mimic the NHL so it’s likely they’ve shortened their season too.
That’s it for now. Let’s report back from the farm team later on in the season.