Looking at Bakersfield

Condors

BAKERSFIELD, California – For those that have never been to the city before, Bakersfield, California, is about two hours north of Los Angeles and known mostly as the home of both country music legend Merle Haggard and NASCAR superstar Kevin Harvick.

In some ways, Bakersfield is like a mini-Edmonton because the area’s economy revolves around two things. One is agriculture, though unlike the Alberta farms, these are the fruit and vegetable orchards that cover the countryside.

The other is oil. This is California’s Oil Country.

And now, very fittingly, it is Oil Country on the hockey front as well.

The Bakersfield Condors are the Oilers’ new American Hockey League affiliate, the triple-A farm club to the parent major-league team. Upon originally joining the Katz Empire, the Condors were the Oilers’ secondary affiliate, the double-A landing spot to the triple-A Oklahoma City Barons. But with the western-based NHL teams pitching hard for their top farms clubs to be closer to headquarters, the AHL created a new division primarily based in California with the Oilers, Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks all moving their primary farm teams to the Golden State. The Condors, Stockton Heat (Calgary), Ontario Reign (LA Kings), San Diego Gulls (Anaheim), and San Jose Barracudas (SJ Sharks) form the California contingent in the AHL’s Pacific Division along with the Texas Stars (Dallas) and San Antonio Rampage (Colorado).

There’s a good chance this division will grow in the next year or two as Arizona (if they stay in the NHL or are replaced by another geographical equivalent) and Vancouver are both thought to be looking at moving their prospects to the Pacific region.

The Condors play out of Rabobank Arena in downtown Bakersfield which features a brand-new dressing room and training centre for the new AHL team.

Just who will be using those spiffy facilities is now up for debate.

Under the guidance of former OKC bench boss Gerry Fleming, who got bumped up when Todd Nelson was promoted to interim head coach of the Oilers last season, the Condors are bound to have one of the youngest and most talented rosters in the AHL.

This current perspective roster is based on the assumptions that:

*Darnell Nurse and Tyler Pitlick stay with the Oilers at least to start the season

*Leon Draisaitl is assigned to Bakersfield to kick off the year

Laurent Brossoit

Anders Nilsson/Eetu Laurikainen


Brad Hunt – Brandon Davidson

Dillon Simpson – Jordan Oesterle

Joey Laleggia – David Musil

Ben Betker – Martin Gernat – Nick Pageau

Ryan Hamilton – Leon Draisaitl – Andrew Miller

Anton Slepyshev – Bogdan Yakimov – Iiro Pakarinen

Kale Kessy – Kyle Platzer – Matthew Ford

Mitch Moroz – Jujhar Khaira – Greg Chase

Josh Winquist

GOALTENDING…

The only real potential goalie of the future prospect on the Oilers’ depth chart right now is Laurent Brossoit so he’ll be the No. 1 netminder for the Condors. Brossoit was a fan favorite when he was with the Oil Kings and that has endeared him to the Oiler faithful. He was also quite popular during a 35-game stint in Bakersfield in ‘13-‘14 when the Condors were the Oilers’ ECHL affiliate so he should feel quite welcome returning to California. After a somewhat ho-hum start to last season, Brossoit turned it on in the late stages, finishing with 25 regular-season wins and then pacing the Barons through their playoff run.

If he doesn’t beat out Ben Scrivens for the backup job with the Oilers, Anders Nilsson is the likely 1A puckstopper in Bakersfield. If Scrivens is traded and Nilsson goes to Edmonton, expect another recently signed Euro stopper, Eetu Laurikainen, to be the second-stringer with the Condors. If all else fails, journeyman minor-leaguer and Edmonton native Ty Rimmer might get the gig. Rimmer was solid in Bakersfield ECHL-editiion a year ago until he was sidelined due to treatment for testicular cancer.

DEFENCE…

Veteran Brad Hunt and his booming shot will be the main offensive blueliner and will probably be coupled up with Brandon Davidson who would need to see some significant roster moves revolving around high-priced veterans in Edmonton to catch on as the 7D with the Oilers. Davidson was once a long-range prospect but blossomed into earning a 12-game sojourn to Edmonton last season.

Dillon Simpson and Jordan Oesterle should make up the second pairing. Simpson, a second-year pro, and Oesterle, now in his third pro campaign, will need a strong season to see their stock rise although Oesterle slid into six Oiler games last season.

The third pairing has numerous candidates. Rookie pro Joey Laleggia has oodles of offensive talent, and despite his lack of size, is probably the highest-ranked prospect of the latter group. David Musil has yet to immerge from the prospect pool with any serious consideration although he garnered four NHL games a year ago. His length-of-stay in Oiler training camp will be a huge indicator of his future.

Martin Gernat, another ex-Oil King, has gone from interesting prospect to pretty well becoming a lost cause because of his lack of improvement primarily in the area of strength and conditioning. Gernat might lose his spot in the Condors’ nest to rookie pro Ben Betker, who would give the Condors some size on the back end at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. Nick Pageau, the best of a middling Bakersfield ECHL defensive group, earned eight AHL games last season and might sneak into a 6/7 role with this edition of the Condors.

THE FORWARDS…

First Line: The consensus No. 1 will be Leon Draisaitl (again, this is based on him starting the year in the AHL) and the smart thing to do is flank him with two accomplished minor-league veterans in Ryan Hamilton and Andrew Miller. Draisaitl was overwhelmed playing in Edmonton last season but recovered his game and had a stellar finish to year as a dominant force amongst junior-aged peers with Kelowna in the Western League. If Draisaitl goes from being a man amongst boys last season the Dub to being too good for the AHL in short order, he’ll be up in Edmonton by Christmas at the latest. Hamilton, who had 37 points in an injury-shortened season, and Miller, who was OKC’s leading scorer with 60 points, were re-signed by the Oilers to provide AHL-level scoring talent, veteran presence, and leadership which make them perfect bookends for Draisaitl.

Second Line: The ‘Euro Trio’ of Anton Slepyshev, Bogdan Yakimov, and Iiro Pakarinen form a very capable unit for the Condors. All three are high up on the Oilers’ prospect list with the latter two getting cups of coffee in Edmonton last season – a cappuccino in Yakimov’s case (just one game) and a grande for Pakarinen (17 games). Slepyshev, the Oilers’ third-rounder in 2013, will be making his North American debut after a 25-point campaign in the KHL. Outside of the obvious names like Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse, Yakimov, who was also a third-rounder in ’13, is probably the prospect the Oilers are intrigued by on the most. He’s a centre with offensive skills and stands 6-foot-5, 232 pounds. Pakarinen might not be long for the Condors as his abrasive style is something the Oilers covet and he could get the call if there’s a move involving Teddy Purcell, Nail Yakupov or Tyler Pitlick.

Third Line: Kyle Platzer gets the call here for the pivot spot as the rookie pro is coming off an 81-point season in junior and an end-of-year call-up to OKC. He’s progressed on regular intervals, be it in the Ontario League, his brief AHL stint or at Oiler developmental camps. Platzer should get some veteran assistance from seven-year minor-leaguer Matthew Ford, who totaled 100 points during two years in OKC. He’ll be wrapping up his career by playing in his home state of California with the Condors. The left side spot will be a derby between tough guys Kale Kessy and Mitch Moroz plus second-year pro Josh Winquist, who was far and away the best forward at Bakersfield ECHL before going up to OKC.

Fourth Line: Jujhar Khaira was once serious hopeful in the pipeline mostly because he is a centre with size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds). He’s not a lost cause yet, but he needs a huge bounce back after notching just 10 points in 51 AHL games last season. If it’s a jolt of energy he requires, he should get it from winger Greg Chase, the Oilers’ seventh-round steal from the ’13 draft. Chase has become a prospect to watch because of the shift-disturbing, agitating nature of his game with the caveat that he maintains some discipline and provides something in the offensive zone (drawing retaliatory penalties at bare minimum). One of Kessy, Moroz, or Winquist gets the left-side spot with the trailer of the trio pushed to the press box.

There will be some players at Condors’ camp that could make things interesting and put themselves into many post-practice conversations among the coaches. Included in that group will be freshly signed junior free agents Braden Christopher and Alexis Loiselle plus the sizeable John McCarron, a virtually forgotten 2012 draft pick thanks to minimal production at Cornell University. If they don’t crack the Condors lineup, they’ll certainly go a long way to making the Oilers’ new ECHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, a better team than what Bakersfield ECHL was a year ago.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Bar fights and Buck Owens music should help the rookies man-up this year. Bakersfield should be in for a treat with an exciting, competitive team. Good luck and BE CAREFUL WITH OUR BOYS.

  • Scott Zerr

    Thanks for the welcome Nation.

    Hopefully my stuff from Bako will be well received.

    I’ll also make sure to keep Oil Country dwellers informed on the temperature here from November thru February!

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Someone did the math a while ago but another good thing about Bakersfield is that there will be shorter travel time which will give our prospects more time to practice.

    This is very good for the organization.

    • Jason Gregor

      There are no direct flight to Bakersfield or to OKC. The flight time is virtually the same. If you search flights to Bakersfield the shortest time is 5:28 and the quickest to OKC is 5:36…

      Bakersfield, and the other new west coast teams, will have more practice time because they will play fewer games than the rest of the AHL.

        • Jason Gregor

          That will work for road games in division, yes, but when they go east it is much longer.

          Often in AHL they would play two games in two nights vs. same team. The biggest benefit of more practice will be fewer games. Even if the travel is an hour or two shorter, doesn’t mean they will get on the ice in that time. It means more rest on those days.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    I would prefer:

    Miller-Draisaitl-Chase
    Slepyshev-Yakimov-Pakarinen
    Moroz-Platzer-Ford
    Hamilton-Khaira-Kessy

    Nurse-Reinhart
    Laleggia-Oesterle
    Hunt-Musil/Simpson

    Broissoit
    Nilsson
    The Finn

  • El Pindo

    Welcome to Oiler-ville Scott. Great report and I look forward to your comments and analysis in the weeks and months ahead. I have relatives in Tehachapi so hope to get “down” there to cheer on the Condors!!!!

    Larry

  • El Pindo

    Bakersfield for far too long lacked a strong independent voice. I know that Scott can be that voice. Keep reporting with complete honesty and sincerity regardless of the wins, losses or personal feelings.

  • El Pindo

    I believe the reason that there will be more practice time available is proximity to rival teams. The “nearest” team in OKC was a 6 hour bus trip. Now there are 4 AHL rivals within California alone. Don’t underestimate the organizational benefits of the Bakersfield relocation…I have searched all of the arena facilities and they are very impressive in their own right!! Go Condors!! Go Oilers!!

  • El Pindo

    I just noticed that all the affiliates in this new division have a relatable team identity EXCEPT the Oilers.

    Heat > Flames
    Reign > Kings
    Gulls > Ducks
    Barracudas > Sharks

    How do Condors relate to Oilers?

  • ubermiguel

    Welcome Scott! I am looking forward to the skates-on-the-ground reports from California.

    I think Greg Chase is going to move up that depth chart quickly. He’s got some offensive skills to go along with that crust. He was not out of place in the Oilers’ orientation camp game, and that was basically a no-hitter. If he was playing his style of game I think he would have caused some havoc for even McDavid, Drai and Nurse.

  • Snowdropper

    What I find interesting is that a condor kind of sounds like a noble bird and a fitting name for a hockey team but there is another name for the species…Vulture.

    • paul wodehouse

      …Dubya Von G ..when did you headhunt the great Zerr away from the cozy confines of the Edmonton Sun?…or is it that I stopped reading the lil tab that did a while back and he’s been gone a long time?

      …nevertheless Scott Zerr IS a great get!!!

  • Kurri_Flavor

    I’d rather drive the 3 or 4 hours it takes to get from Phoenix to Bakersfield to go see the Oilers farm team, than drive to Gila arena to watch the Coyotes this upcoming season!

    • Randaman

      I would like to believe Chirelli isn’t done quite yet. There might be a short lull but I see Nikitin being bought out and possibly a trade to reduce numbers.

      If we lose Davidson, that would be a shame for sure.

      • S cottV

        You’re a broken record man…people on here have already said that about that bum Nikitin! Must be all of those yrs playing and coaching and oh most of all watching hockey eh! Davidson is a good guy and I’m glad he beat the cancer but a career AHL D-man

  • Scott Zerr

    Hi all,

    Just a couple responses to points raised:

    *My understanding is Brandon Davidson would have to clear waivers to be assigned to Bako. My thought was he’d be 6/7D in Edmonton but with arrival of Sekara and Reinhart and potentially having to keep both Nikitin and Ference, it would be tough for Davidson to stay up.

    *The Condors name was kept after it “won” a name the team contest. Whether it finished first or not, regardless, the name is a good one and very familiar to hockey fans and the public here. Plus the mascots are really funny.

    *Travel isn’t great but it’s not terrible from Bakersfield to Edmonton. You can fly direct on WestJet out of LA and then drive 2 hours to Bakersfield or you can fly United from Bakersfield to Phoenix and then it’s about a 90 minute layover for Edmonton connection. I’ve done both and prefer the Phoenix route as LAX is a zoo. For reference, Bakersfield’s airport is pretty much like flying out of Fort Mac or Saskatoon.

    *In-state travel for the Condors – Ontario is about 2 hours away; Stockton, San Jose and San Diego are all about 4 hours.

    *Yes Pelham Grenville, I was with the Sun for eight years but left there in 2006. I moved to Bakersfield a year ago to be with my wife and stepkids who are born and raised here. It’s a dry heat LOL. They only consider it hot when it’s above 112!

  • S cottV

    Yes – well written article. Thanks.

    I’m thinking that PC needs to be careful with treating LD too much different than the Oilers have treated Hall, Nuge, Schultz, Yak and now McDavid.

    Wouldn’t base too much on what he looked like last year. On a depth team LD may have done just fine. Tough to be rookie centreman with a rookie incompetent coach, no systems, the swarm anti system, no appropriate wingers, d men or goaltenders.

    You could argue that he did damn good under the circumstances.

    I would really like to see him clearly earn and keep a job with the Oilers next year.

    • freelancer

      Actually, treating Draisaitl different than those guys isn’t a bad thing. When most of those guys started on the Oilers roster, they had no veteran support. They were pretty much the best players on the team the moment they got there. With Draisaitl we now have the depth to properly shelter him. Look at Tarasenko, he spent a few years outside then NHL, and has now become one of the most dynamic players in the league.

      Having said that I do think he will get some NHL time this season and will hopefully perform extremely well.

  • paul wodehouse

    …up the road from you is one of many California State Prisons…@Corcoran an hour north, none other than Charles Manson resides there…glad you’re well and happy in the dry heat too…enjoy many successes sir, be well!pw

    • Scott Zerr

      Actually the area is thoroughly dotted with prisons. Seriously, there’s one about every 30 minutes in every direction.

      It’s got to be in the top-10 industries around here.

      I read this on a TV show recently – “The prison industry is virtually recession proof. For the privately owned prisons, crime does pay.”

  • Milli_4

    I used to just be Milli, have read every article on here but have not commented in a long time. one of the early nation posts featured my old gas station,/c-store. So the reason I post tonight, Scotty Zerr…..My old roomie….hey bud….Mike mills! remember the old Sherwood park days! lol! good to see you on the nation!!!!!!!!!
    And finally, GO OILERS!!!!!!

  • Joy S. Lee

    The AHL roster is finally filling out with prospective talent. Coaching and heart seems to have gotten the team over the hump the past few years (kudos to Todd Nelson and staff), and now talent can take it the rest of the way.

    Unbelievably, the Oilers didn’t even have a farm team not so long ago. It takes time to build these things, but it didn’t really start in earnest until the Oilers started making a few decent picks in the draft. Not that long ago. Keep them coming, in another year or two, the Condors could be loaded with legitimate, young prospects. That’s how it’s supposed to work (see LA/Manchester). Nice to see it finally coming together, thanks for the insights.