The Bakersfield Condors, via the Edmonton Oilers, have a few familiar faces who are going to bring some veteran leadership to a team that, after several years of futile drafting, has an abundance of top-rated prospects.
As of now, and after a signing late last week, the Condors will have five vets on the roster who will be utilized in multi-tasking roles. They’ll be expected to guide the youngsters like Darnell Nurse and Greg Chase through their first year of pro hockey, provide some first- and second-tier scoring alongside Bodgan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev, and be the first ones over the boards playing the hard minutes such as penalty-killing and holding a late lead.
Last season, the Oklahoma City Barons had roughly eight players on the roster who would have to be considered veteran AHLers. Four have since departed – Steve Pinizzotto, C.J. Stretch, and Jason Williams all signing in Germany, while C.J. Ludwig as joined the New York Islanders organization.
One of the more interesting veteran hands will be Matthew Ford, a native Californian who is coming to his home state for the final year or two of his career. Chosen in the eighth round of the 2004 Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, Ford has spent the last two years with the Oilers’ top farm team totaling 100 points in 142 games.
Ford, who has played over 400 AHL games with OKC, Springfield, Adirondack, Hershey, Lake Erie and Hartford, and Ryan Hamilton could look pretty solid flanking rookie Leon Draisaitl if the promising star is sent down by Edmonton. Hamilton put up 53 points in OKC the past two seasons and appeared in 16 games for the Oilers. Hamilton, who also earned NHL time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, is closing in on 500 AHL games having spent five seasons with the Toronto Marlies and breaking into the league with the Houston Aeros in 2006.
An interesting veteran is Andrew Miller. He’s four years younger than Ford and Hamilton, and at 26, he has only two years of AHL experience, but that’s coming off four years at Yale University. Miller had a standout 2014-15 season, netting 60 points in 63 games with OKC, and sliding up to Edmonton for nine games. That stint with the Oilers resulted in six points and Miller’s first NHL goal, niftily coming on a penalty shot.
On defence, the most seasoned talent is Brad Hunt, who has all sorts of offensive skills but his lack of size and coverage abilities prevent him from being a regular NHLer. Like Miller, Hunt is only 26, but he has four years of Triple-A experience including two years with the Chicago Wolves where he attracted the attention of then-coach, now-Oilers executive Craig MacTavish.
Hunt notched 51 points in 62 games with Barons last season and figures to be in the No. 1 pairing with the Condors, possibly in tandem with Brandon Davidson.
The newest member of the well-seasoned veterans put his name on a contract just last week. Phil McRae, the son of former NHL enforcer Basil McRae, spent last year with the Chicago Wolves. A former second-round pick (33rd overall) in 2008 by the St. Louis Blues, McRae has four years of AHL time under his belt plus two years in the Finnish Elite League.
McRae, who played for Team USA in the world juniors, stands 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, and while not overly physical, he’s a two-way centre and has been used in numerous situations. A provocative fourth-line could see McRae with Chase and either Mitch Moroz or Kale Kessy.
Kam Sa Mi Da (Thank You) Korea
Two former Oiler farmhands are hanging on to their hockey lives playing in the Asia League. Much-maligned 2007 first-round pick Alex Plante recently signed with Anyang Halla, and there he’ll find another onetime Oiler hopeful Brock Radunske.
Plante was last part of the Oilers’ picture during the 2012-13 season when he played 49 games with the OKC Barons. Finally bounced from the plans, Plante, who was picked 15th overall out of the Calgary Hitmen, played the last two years in Austria and Norway.
Radunske, who was an Oiler third-rounder in 2002 out of Michigan State University, has become one of the biggest stars in the Asia League after bouncing along the minor-league trail with the Edmonton Roadrunners plus Greenville, Grand Rapids, and Stockton. Following a year in Germany, Radunske moved to South Korea and has gone on to become Anyang Halla’s all-time leader in points and goals, and led the team to the 2009-10 Asia League title where he was named the playoffs MVP.
Radunske even became a Korean citizen in 2013, just in time to be the first non-Korean playing for the national team. Radunske proceeded to be named the most valuable player at the 2013 Division IA world championship.
The Kitchener, Ontario, native is now 32 and entering his seventh season with Anyang Halla. He’s so popular in Korea that at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Radunske has been gifted the nickname “Canadian Big Beauty.”