Gerry Fleming is obviously very high on what he’s got when it comes to the perspective lineup of the Bakersfield Condors.
And he has every reason to be over the moon with the roster of top prospects that the Edmonton Oilers’ futility and subsequent high draft picks have provided to him and his staff. Fleming will take charge of the bench when the Oilers hit the ice for the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C., which begins this Friday.
Before heading north, Fleming was posed questions about numerous players in various forums, some in Bakersfield and others in Edmonton. He was very coy and deliberate about what he said regarding individual players and whether they would stay with the big club or come down to the team’s new AHL affiliate.
One player that Condors’ fans had wishful thinking about was Leon Draisaitl, but by all accounts, including that of Hockey Hall of Fame writer Jim Matheson, it is sure looking like the big German is going to get a very long look at training camp – such a look that he might as well start shopping for a condo or at least determine which veteran might take him in.
Understand Oilers considered Glencross on PTO but will go with their own signed forwards first. Draisaitl will get look on wing on 3rd line
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) September 4, 2015
I can recall when the long-gone and long-missed Edmonton Trappers had a stud lineup, one that would eventually go on to claim the Pacific Coast League title. There were several high-end prospects on that team in much the same way the Oilers/Condors are set up now. On the diamond, manager John Russell went about business by educating a handful of those prospects on the finer points of playing multiple positions.
Case in point then was Michael Cuddyer, a ninth overall pick, who was drafted as an outfielder. Cuddyer spent time in left and right field, but also hit the diamond at first, second and third base. When Russell was asked why he’d tinker with a prospect in such a manner, he replied that knowing and being useful at multiple positions could fast-track a guy to the majors. In Cuddyer’s case it was perfectly executed. Sure enough when Cuddyer achieved full-time status in the bigs, he played third, left field, and second, eventually even some first. He did all right for himself, earning an All-Star nod in 2011 and ultimately signing contracts worth $31.5 and $21 million.
Now back to the ice. For Draisaitl, versatility doesn’t mean that he don the pads and get between the pipes. It does, however, mean that cracking the Oilers lineup as the third-line left winger isn’t a bad idea.
If it works, great. If it turns out to be a long-term thing, no problem.
If in a year or two, there’s a better fit for him at centre, so be it.
Fleming basically suggested that Draisaitl will get every opportunity to make the Edmonton roster on left wing. It seems very clear that the Oilers have a spot for Draisaitl and it’s not in the minors.
WHAT ELSE DID HE SAY…
Another subject that Fleming deftly danced around was that of Darnell Nurse and whether he’d be an Oiler or a Condor at least to start the 2015-16 campaign. Fleming got a sneak peek at Nurse during the AHL playoffs a year ago and he’ll get a longer look in Penticton and Edmonton.
“He showed a lot of good things the year before and he’s kept on track. He’s a good player with a lot of upside. Only time will tell where he’s at at the end of training camp. Looking at the chart the other day, we have a lot of depth on ‘D’. If he does come down he’s going to be a top-pairing defenceman. So we’re going to see what happens at training camp. There are so many factors that come into play between now and the beginning of the season.”
-Fleming on Nurse’s status
As for others that are more certain bets to be headed to Bakersfield, Fleming seems high on the potential all-European line of Bogdan Yakimov, Anton Slepyshev, and Iiro Pakarinen. The two Russians are definitely in need of more North American grooming so they’re ticketed to California but Pakarinen is probably going to be in a dogfight with Tyler Pitlick for bottom-six duty in Edmonton.
“It’s all going to come down to training camp and how he performs. He’s got intensity. I like the way he plays with a lot of passion.”
-Fleming on Pakarinen
Yakimov is the big centre the Oilers have coveted for some time, and if he keeps trending upward, Yakimov could, say in a year or so, be a third-line pivot flanked perhaps by Draisaitl and either Nail Yakupov (which would be a killer for play-by-play guys) or Pakarinen.
Slephyshev is the least-known of the Euro trio and enters this season on the first year of an entry-level contract. He’s got good skills, but unlike many of his winger brethren in the Oilers system, he’s got some size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds).
“I’ve heard nothing but positive things and I’m excited to see him play. I know he’s got skill, he’s quick and big. He’s got a lot of things that can help our offense but it’s all going to come down to training camp.”
-Fleming on Slepyshev
The Oilers are keeping Draisaitl. That’s all but official. Whether he stays past the end of October/early November, that’s definitely up for debate.
The Condors are going to be good and quite possibly a frontrunner in the AHL’s new Pacific Division. They’re young for sure but there’s some gained experience from last year’s playoff run plus leadership from a handful of veterans up front. The Condors didn’t do much in the way of free-agent shopping in the off-season as only Phil McRae was signed – another signal that they’ll need a centre in Draisaitl’s absence.
And with Draisaitl, at minimum, temporarily out of the picture, that’s a leg up for Kyle Platzer who could now be situated between two of those veteran forwards in Andrew Miller and Ryan Hamilton.