More than half of the defensive corps for the 2015-16 edition of the Bakersfield Condors is pretty well set in stone.
Unless there’s a sudden massive overhaul on the Edmonton Oilers’ blue line, the Condors are going to get Brad Hunt, Dillon Simpson, Jordan Oesterle, and David Musil are sure bets with Hunt, Simpson and Oesterle locking down top minutes. Simpson and Oesterle will likely partner up, and it’s a solid bet that Hunt will pair up with one of Darnell Nurse or Brandon Davidson, even possibly Griffin Reinhart. Of that trio at least one will be sent down after training camp and Davidson would have to clear waivers before getting on a plane to California.
Let’s assume the Oilers keep Davidson as the 7D because he’s too valuable to lose basically free on waivers, and another team would surely grab him if he’s on the wire. Now we’ll also assume that Reinhart stays in Edmonton and Nurse is deemed to need some seasoning in the AHL. If all that comes together, we’re left with:
Hunt – Davidson
Oesterle – Simpson
Musil – TBA
There’s two spots open and three names that would most likely fit the puzzle – Joey Laleggia, Martin Gernat, and Nick Pageau. Another name that would require the piece to be wedged into place is Nikita Nikitin.
|Draft Result||5th Round (’12)||5th Round (’11)||Undrafted|
|Size||5’9, 185||6-4, 200||6-1, 185|
Joey “Legs” Up
Laleggia has the most upside of anyone in that group of four and could be a nice piece to have in Bakersfield. Let’s say the Condors go with a first power-play unit consisting of four forwards and one defenceman, then Brad Hunt is guy. Laleggia coul fill the spot on the second PP unit and Musil coming over the boards in the dying seconds of the man-advantage to re-establish a defensive pairing.
There’s no shortage of offensive game in Laleggia as evidenced by his Hobey Baker Award nomination a year ago as he totaled 15 goals and 40 points in his final regular season with Denver University.
“He’s very steady, smart, is able to play lots of minutes in important situations and can contribute in multiple areas. He reads the play extremely well, jumps into the attack and generates a lot of opportunities.”
-TSN’s Craig Button on Laleggia
The rub on Laleggia is that with his smaller stature (5-foot-9 and 185 pounds) he will be in tough against rugged forwards in the AHL. There’s been some consistent talk out there that with the sudden re-structuring of the Oilers defence (additions of Reinhart, Gryba and Sekara combined with Nurse’s rise) that Laleggia might be better suited to start the season with ECHL Norfolk perhaps in tandem with another mid-range prospect Ben Betker.
Betker might have been worth considering for Bakersfield had it not been for the re-tooled defence with the big club and the subsequent pending trickle down. Honestly, Betker will benefit from going to Norfolk and playing every game rather than sit in the Rabobank Arena press box watching other hopefuls getting their chance. Betker’s size will come in handy in the always rough-and-tumble ECHL.
It’s Marty’s party and he’ll cry if he wants to
Gernat is the very epitome of a guy on his last chance. At one time, the former Edmonton Oil King was maybe a diamond in the rough. Now he’s a cubic circonium in quicksand.
The lanky Slovak barely made a dent as any sort of factor with the Oklahoma City Barons last season, mustering only nine points in 54 games. He seems to have totally lost his way, never having improved on his defensive game, not particularly developing any offensive abilities where his defensive liabilities could be overlooked, and he’s definitely not endeared himself to the organization by his seeming massive indifference to off-season training. At 22, he’s 6-foot-4 but barely over 200 pounds.
There were apparently some signs of life last season in Gernat. His training camp this fall will definitely determine his long-term fate.
“The guy who has turned the corner for me over the last couple of weeks is Martin Gernat. Marty was very inconsistent at the start of the year. We had to communicate to him (that) we wanted him to play with more intensity and more consistently. He’s bringing it the last five or six games.”
-Former OKC head coach Todd Nelson in December 2014
One would think that sending a message to Gernat is a waste of time. He hasn’t paid attention to any of them before so would it necessarily be a bad thing to bury him in Norfolk? If Laleggia comes with any sort of gamesmanship in preparedness for the professional level and Gernat has clearly shown his doesn’t get between the ears, then Laleggia should be looking for a place to stay in Bakersfield.
In the Nick of time
Outside of the now-departed C.J. Ludwig, Pageau was really the only defenceman with the ECHL Condors from a year ago that showed he could hold his own at a higher level. He spent 64 games with Bakersfield and wore an ‘A’ while totalling 27 points. His call-up to OKC yielded six points in eight games including his first AHL goal.
Pageau certainly hasn’t whined about taking the long road and it’s a testament to his will that after going undrafted, he put in four years with the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men (CIS All-Rookie Team in 2009-10) and then losing most of the 2013-14 campaign after suffering a fractured skull when hit in the head with a puck.
“I had a depressed skull fracture, my left orbital bone was broken in three spots, my right orbital bone was broken in one, the bridge of my nose was broken. They had to make an incision from ear-to-ear, go in there and clean up the fracture in the skull. There were bone chips everywhere so they had to clean that up, put some plates and screws in there and tie it all together.”
-Pageau via Bakersfield.com, Oct. 2014
Doctors thought his career was over, but he returned to Bakersfield last fall. Pageau was re-signed in the off-season to an AHL contract so that is a good sign he’s figuring into the plans for the Condors. Having resided in Bakersfield and being a leader, Pageau might just earn himself full-time status as a 6/7D.
(No) Love Monkey No. 9
Nikitin is the monkey wrench in the whole plan. There’s more questions – good and bad – than anything else.
What if he comes in shape to Oilers camp? If he does, then does he fit as a 6/7D in Edmonton? If he doesn’t, does he get sent down, get claimed on waivers or even take off for the KHL?
If Nikitin doesn’t register a heartbeat with the Oilers, it doesn’t even make sense to send him down to Bakersfield. Would you really want his obvious (at least from last season) lack of passion for the game to rub off on promising prospects? Even if his attitude is at bare minimum tolerable, do you want his depleted abilities causing surrendered goals, possible losses, and eventual disdain amongst young pros?
The argument is dated. Nikitin should have been bought out when the second window of opportunity opened thanks to Justin Schultz’s scheduled arbitration hearing. There was some talk that Nikitin could also have been traded a few weeks back with the Oilers either retaining some salary or in exchange another team’s bad contract.
If Nurse is sent down … if Reinhart stays up … if Davidson doesn’t have to go on waivers … if no one gets hurt at training camp …
Musil and Laleggia make up the bottom pairing and Pageau is serviceable fill-in who might just see a fair bit of action depending on call-ups to Edmonton.
That would leave the enigma Gernat falling to Norfolk. If the Oilers had an affiliate any lower, he’d probably be sent there (hello, Fayetteville FireAntz).