The Edmonton Oilers’ new AHL affiliate will be playing in the league’s brand-new and highly touted Pacific Division.
This is end-goal of how the Oilers, Calgary Flames, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Anaheim Ducks masterminded a complete overhaul of the AHL which gets their top prospects closer to headquarters. Shuffled over to complete the Pacific Division are the affiliates of the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. Depending on how NHL expansion might unfold and other contractual situations, the Pacific Division could further grow in a very short time as the Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes are rumored to be moving their farm clubs to the west.
For now in the first year of the new Pacific Division, the Oilers’ top prospects suiting up for the Bakersfield Condors are joined by four other California-based clubs plus a pair of Texas teams with distinct rivalries at the AHL and NHL levels.
There’s already been much speculation (with plenty more to come) on what the Bakersfield roster will look like come October and beyond. As for the Condors’ rivals, that will depend on their big-league affiliates as well. In the meantime, meet the new minor-league rivals for the Oilers’ prospects:
Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings – ranked 24th in Hockey’s Future team prospect list)
One of the most-conveniently located farm clubs, the Reign are almost around the corner from Kings. Even in moderate L.A. traffic, the Kings could call up a player from the Reign and he could be at Staples Center in little more than an hour. Obviously that’s better than the seven-hour flight from Manchester, New Hampshire, where the Kings’ AHL farm team up until this past season.
It was a highly successful final season in Manchester for the Kings’ up-and-comers as they finished first during the regular season and went on to win the Calder Cup league title. The Reign have some serious promise at centre with Nick Shore, Jordan Weal (the AHL’s third-leading scorer last season), and Adrian Kempe. On defence, Derek Forbert has been a commodity bandied about in trade rumors as a player other teams covet. Martin Jones has moved to San Jose with Anton Khudobin arriving in L.A., so the Kings will likely keep their next hot goaltending prospect, J.F. Berube, at the AHL level.
Name of Note: If, for some reason, the Kings can’t use him on the blue line, the Reign might be getting ex-Washington Capital Jeff Schultz back. He spent 52 games in Manchester last season. Manchester’s Brian O’Neill was the AHL MVP, President’s Award winner, and league-leading scorer last season.
Condor Connection: Can you imagine the potential chirping debates when Ontario tough guy and Twitter sensation Paul “Biz Nasty” Bissonnette battles Condors agitator-in-training Greg Chase?
San Antonio Rampage (Colorado Avalanche – ranked 29th in Hockey’s Future team prospect list)
One of two non-California rivals for the Condors, the Rampage are entering their first season as top affiliate for Colorado after spending the past four seasons teamed with the Florida Panthers. However, Colorado’s prospects aren’t well thought of as evidenced by their prospect ranking. The Rampage did finish third in the Western Conference last year but they were the Panthers’ picks and they were ultimately swept in the first-round of the AHL by the Oklahoma City Barons.
In goal, San Antonio might have Calvin Pickard, who became something of an overnight sensation when he stepped in the Avs’ lineup last season and posted a 2.35 GAA and .932 save-percentage over 16 games before being shipped back to Lake Erie in an unpopular move with fans. Should he be back in the AHL, he’s a prime candidate to win Goalie of the Year or be traded to an NHL team that needs a potential big-league backup.
Name of Note: If he doesn’t get a full-time NHL spot, defenceman Stefan Elliott will be a star for a second straight year in the AHL. He finished second in team scoring with 40 points and was third in the league with 13 power-play goals.
Condor Connection: More of an Oil-esque connection in this case, but former Edmonton Oil Kings Tomas Vincour, Reid Petryk and Mason Geertsen are ticketed for San Antonio.
San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks – ranked 3rd in Hockey’s Future team prospect list)
Another big shift here as the Ducks dropped Norfolk, Virginia, in exchange for San Diego for a travel time of a two-hour drive instead of a seven-hour flight.
The Ducks have a loaded talent pool with most of the top-end prospects stationed on the blue line. Amongst the defence hopefuls are former Canadian national junior team rearguard Shea Theodore and Josh Manson, the son of former Oilers blue-line enforcer Dave Manson. Up front, the Gulls will probably be utilizing power forward and former 10th overall pick Nick Ritchie, and in goal, they’re getting John Gibson, who won gold with Team USA at the 2013 World Juniors and bronze at the 2013 World Championships.
Name of Note: For Oilers fans, these are going to be very interesting games to take note of as Edmonton’s top prospects face off against a team coached by Dallas Eakins. Once a highly publicized coaching prospect, Eakins bombed in Edmonton. Guessing the animosity between coach and organization is still very raw.
Condor Connection: Back in the days of the West Coast Hockey League, the Condors and Gulls were big-time rivals. While other teams might be a shade closer in proximity, the Bakersfield/San Diego matchups are probably going to be the hotly contested ones of the regular season. And, after being dropped by Anaheim as its AHL farm team, the Norfolk Admirals are now the Oilers’ ECHL affiliate with former Condors assistant coach Ben Boudreau moving east.
San Jose Barracuda (San Jose Sharks – ranked 23rd in Hockey’s Future team prospect list)
Talk about convenient. When the Sharks need a quick call-up, they’ll simply have to knock on the dressing room door down the hall as the Sharks and Barracuda will both play out of the SAP Center. It’s a monumental change as opposed to having your farm team entirely across the country in Worcester, Massachusetts.
That said and as evidenced by their ranking, the Sharks are hardly loaded with prospects at the moment. The best of the potentially-ready bunch is centre Mirco Mueller who played 39 games with the Sharks last year.
Name of Note: Seven-year minor leaguer Bryan Lerg finally got a call-up last season, appearing in his first NHL game and scoring his first NHL goal … and it came against the Edmonton Oilers who had actually signed him as a free agent out of Michigan State University in 2008.
Condor Connection: Actually, it’s an Oiler thing, and an obvious one. New Oilers head coach Todd McLellan was formerly the head coach of the San Jose Sharks, but also won an AHL championship when he coached the Houston Aeros. And new Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer scored in his NHL debut playing for the Oilers in 1981.
Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames – ranked 11th in Hockey’s Future team prospect list)
The last of the big transitions from east coast to west as the Flames move their prospects from Adirondack (Glenn Falls, New York) to California where they instantly become a rival for the Oilers prospects that are going to be just four hours away.
Calgary could be making room for some of its most significant prospects on the big club, most notably centre Sam Bennett and maybe even defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon. One of the more interesting hopefuls to watch will be goaltender Jon Gillies. The Providence College product is coming off a terrific end to the 2014-15 season as he was named MOP of the NCAA Frozen Four championship tournament and earned Hockey East’s Goaltender of the Year honor. Not only is Gillies a huge prospect, he’s just plain huge – 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds.
Name of Note: Hey, look behind the bench. It’s ex-Oiler Domenic Pittis and former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Todd Gill, who are both assistant coaches with the Heat.
Condor Connection: Prior to buying the Bakersfield Condors, the Edmonton Oilers’ ECHL affiliate was the Stockton Thunder. The Flames then bought the Stockton franchise in order to move its AHL affiliate to the west. The Thunder were previously owned by Red Deer oilman Brad Rowbotham.
Texas Stars (Dallas Stars – ranked 9th in Hockey’s Future team prospect list)
The other non-California team in the AHL Pacific Division, the Stars finished four points ahead of the OKC Barons in the Western Conference last season.
Texas is loaded very good defence prospects including giant Jamie Oleksiak, who is 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, and offensively gifted Julius Honka, the 14th overall pick in the 2014 draft who notched 31 points last season. Up front, the Stars have Edmonton-born Brendan Ranford, whose uncle is former Oiler and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Bill Ranford. Ranford was second in Stars scoring last season with 51 points. Texas also has Brett Ritchie, a former second-round pick who played for Canada at the 2010 World U-17’s, the 2011 World U-18’s, and the 2013 World Juniors.
Name of Note: Jack Campbell was once thought of as a major goaltending prospect – the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and the puckstopper who led Team USA to the stunning overtime win over Canada at the 2010 World Juniors in Saskatoon. Now, he’s in serious need of a bounce-back year after going 14-14 last season with a 3.03 GAA and a .907 save-percentage plus a demotion to the ECHL.
Condor Connection: At one time, you might have bet that Derek Laxdal would be coaching the Oilers farm team. But after leading the Edmonton Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup title in 2014, Laxdal became head coach of the Texas Stars.
FYI: Edmonton was ranked 16th in Hockey’s Future team prospect list which lists the Oilers top five prospects as Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, Laurent Brossoit, Jujhar Khaira, and Dillon Simpson.