The Young Stars Tournament in Penticton wrapped up on Monday, and while there’s still oodles to be worked out at the main training camp, a few players might be making things very interesting for the Oilers’ top affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors.
It’s hard to get a full grasp of a game, let alone a whole tournament, when you’re either listening on the radio or trying to watch it via an incredibly poor streaming feed. (Note: You’d like to think that with technology nowadays the participating NHL teams, their website people, the arena managers, and/or YouTube could figure it out so the stream is better quality than my grandparents’ black and white box set).
A few players stood out during the tournament, mostly ones that will get a short look at the Oilers main camp, but if they keep playing the right cards, they’re going to get a very long look when they head to Bakersfield. Whether the Oilers/Condors were looking for help on the left side or not, three of the players who stood out at the Young Stars Tournament are port-siders.
Braden Christoffer made perhaps the biggest splash, arguably scoring the niftiest goal of the tournament and generally playing far above expectations. He signed an AHL contract with Bakersfield in the off-season, one of the original AHL Condors in fact, but most figured he’d come to camp with the top farm club and then be sent down a peg to the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals for more arduous seasoning.
But the Sherwood Park product might just be taking a good run at the Condors lineup. Prior to Young Stars, he was given some worthy praise from Gerry Fleming, who ran the Oiler Rookies bench in Penticton and will be the bench boss for the Condors.
“He was the captain of his team last year. He’s got that character and leadership. In the room he’s been great. This is my first experience with him so I’m just observing him. He brings those characteristics that all good captains bring to their team. I like the way he plays. He almost reminds me of a Bobby Bassen a little bit. Not an overly big guy but plays physical, plays with a lot of heart, plays with a lot of passion and he’s got an above-average skill set.”
-Gerry Fleming on Oilers.NHL.com
Christoffer is only 20 yet obviously sturdy for age, having racked up 147 penalty minutes as the captain of the Regina Pats last season. If he can show well enough against the older, more experienced University of Alberta Golden Bears, he’s bound to get at least one NHL pre-season game. From there, he’ll probably get his ticket to the Condors’ nest and then it will be up to him to show that he can hang with the pros and top prospects.
He potentially could play some right wing, but the depth chart is even less open over there with Andrew Miller, Iiro Pakarinen or Tyler Pitlick, Matthew Ford and Greg Chase all slated in.
Another junior grad free-agent signing by the Oilers who raised his stock in Penticton is Connor Rankin, who was another original AHL Condors signing along with Christoffer and potential backup goalie Ty Rimmer.
Rankin is more of an offensive talent than Christoffer, at least in junior where he notched 79 points last season for the Calgary Hitmen (he added 14 more including nine goals in 12 playoff games). He, like Christoffer, is only 20, but he’s got some size as well at 6-foot and 200 pounds.
This Connor could wind up being a replacement for Connor Jones – one half of the Jones twins who spent last season yo-yoing between Bakersfield and Oklahoma City. Though quite popular Condors last season, the Jones duo (Kellen was a seventh-round pick of the Oilers in 2010) are reportedly unsigned for the ’15-16 season.
WINNING WITH WINQUIST
The other left winger was already tabbed for Bakersfield but instead of being a serviceable fill-in, Josh Winquist has probably played himself into full-time duty with the Condors.
As pointed out during the radio broadcast of the Oiler Rookies vs. Winnipeg Jets Rookies on Monday, Winquist came to Bakersfield last season neck-and-neck with another high-scoring, undrafted prospect in Mitch Holmberg. By the time, mid-November 2014 had gone by, Winquist had outclassed Holmberg so much that the latter was traded, and now enters the 2015-16 season playing in Hungary.
Winquist compiled 42 points in a combined 64 games with Bakersfield and Oklahoma City last season. When in California, he was by far the Condors best forward and his call-up to OKC was a permanent one.
A comment from Christoffer succinctly describes, to one degree or another, where the he, Rankin and Winquist all sit now as they head into main camp.
“I’m kind of the underdog story a little bit. I’m just here to have a little fun, enjoy myself and work hard.”
If any, one or two of, or all three are going to crack the Condors lineup, they’re going to have to continue to play above expectations. At best, there’s probably only room for two of them as veteran presence Ryan Hamilton and Anton Slepyshev are most likely to occupy the spots on the top two lines (Slepyshev is listed as a left winger in most sources but apparently can play right wing as well).
That leaves those three players competing against a pair of rugged types in Kale Kessy and Mitch Moroz – both of whom have AHL experience and the required toughness that Bakersfield will need. So one could find his way, and stay, with the Condors and that is sure to be Winquist. The other two should head to Norfolk where part or all of a season to rack up points and experience would be worthwhile.
Then again, what if they play better than say Kessy or Moroz? Should they stay on merit alone?
RAH, RAH EETU
The other interesting character to come out of Penticton is goaltender Eetu Laurikainen.
He was a virtual unknown coming into Young Stars but he leaves it sporting an impact that will have Oiler insiders pondering where that leaves him in the depth chart.
Of course, fan favourite Laurent Brossoit is considered the No. 1 for the Condors. But what if Laurikainen shows more in main camp and even a pre-season period or two? He could come to Bakersfield pushing Broissoit and forcing his way into a stay. On the other hand, if Anders Nilsson or Ben Scrivens are demoted, Laurikainen might tumble to Norfolk where he’ll definitely be the No. 1.
“He’s got the ability to play at the AHL level (this season). We’ll see how everything unfolds. He’s got to have a good camp and we’ll just find out where he fits in the whole scheme of things at the end of it.”
-Bob Green, Oilers Director of Player Personnel
The Oilers might just have stumbled upon some actual goaltending depth for their system. It’s a good problem to have with two potential major-leaguers honing their craft in the minors.