The Bakersfield Condors open training camp today with all the faces who were expected to be here coming out of the Edmonton Oilers camp.
One face, coming in from totally out of the blue, is a very big surprise.
Former Oilers third-round pick Daniil Zharkov is on the Condors’ camp roster. If there ever was a forgotten man in the system, Zharkov fits the bill to a ‘T’.
The hulking Russian winger, who stands 6-foot-2 and tips in at 212 pounds, made some waves on the day of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft – ones that certainly opened eyeballs then but closed them just a year later.
“It’s my goal to be better than Yakupov. I know Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Yakupov are three really good guys. My goal is to better than they are. It makes me more angry, maybe work harder than if I wasn’t with Yakupov. I can’t say anything bad about him, but I want to beat him, that’s it. It doesn’t matter that he’s my friend.”
If nothing else, you had to like his moxie. While Yakupov has definitely had his fair share of ups and downs since draft day, it’s been nothing but downs – way downs – for Zharkov who comes to Bakersfield on an AHL tryout.
In his two seasons of Canadian junior hockey with the Ontario League’s Belleville Bulls, Zharkov counted 109 points in 79 games. Good but not eye-popping numbers yet the Oilers still thought enough of him to snap him 91st overall.
That was a hard landing for Zharkov who had been ranked 32nd amongst North American skaters by Central Scouting which should have made him an early pick in Round 2.
“I think because I’m Russian and all NHL teams are scared I’m back to the KHL. Every team (pressed him about it). It was the biggest question of the combine. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to try and make the team and if not, I’m going back to Belleville. I’ve started calling myself Canadian. Russian hockey is not my hockey anymore. I don’t want to play in Russia. I don’t want to do things like Russian guys. I want to play like a Canadian guy.”
But Zharkov didn’t stick around Canada long after his second year with Belleville, and did indeed wind up going to Russia. That wasn’t a smart move either as it turned out.
In 2013-14, Zharkov appeared in 58 games for Novgorod Torpedo and managed only five points. This past season, he dressed for a mere nine games in Torpedo colors and didn’t register anything but four penalty minutes.
It is hardly a resume of much magnitude that Zharkov brings to Bakersfield, and he certainly is in tough with the likes of Ryan Hamilton, Kale Kessy and Josh Winquist already on the port side. With more cuts and moves to come, the left side is going to get even more crowded with injured Mitch Moroz and Oilers’ camp breakout star Anton Slepyshev both ticketed for Bakersfield.
Maybe Zharkov finds a temporary home with the Oilers’ new ECHL affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia, but even then it won’t be an easy fit. The Oilers have surely liked what they’ve seen out of free-agent Braden Christoffer and he either gets a landing with the Condors or definitely a spot on a top line with the Admirals. Even down in Norfolk, the left wing spots are filling up with Marco Roy jumping back into the mix plus recent signee Connor Rankin, ECHL Condors holdovers Jordan Kremyr and Jonathan Lessard, and Norfolk off-season acquisition Kain Allicock who stands 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, all set to go with the Admirals.
If his talents shine through, the Oilers/Condors will find a way to make room for Zharkov. Maybe he settles in nicely with fellow Russians Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slephyshev, even helping them adapt to the North American game and lifestyle.
But because he’s been an enigma ever since being drafted, skepticism is rather rampant in his case.
CAMPING WITH THE CONDORS
The Condors open camp with 33 players including three goaltenders. As has been the case all along, that situation is going to be held up until the Oilers decide on what to do with Anders Nilsson and Ben Scrivens.
Of the nine defenceman, three are on AHL tryouts including ECHL Condor holdover Joe Marciano. It will be an interesting race till the end to see who claims the starting six and one spare spots. The most compelling situation is that of Joey LaLeggia who might be ready for AHL duty but it’s a question of where he fits considering the lone AHL veteran of the defensive unit is Brad Hunt who plays pretty much the exact game (slick offense, fire-drill defence) as the former Denver University star.
Up front, there are already 21 campers including six on AHL tryouts. Noteworthy of that bunch is Michael Pelech, a sixth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2009.
Pelech was signed by Norfolk in the off-season and has 33 games of AHL experience. Last season with the ECHL Utah Grizzlies, Pelech 59 points – the second-best total of his pro career – plus 109 PIMs. He also got in 10 games with Buffalo’s affiliate in Rochester and put up four points and 21 PIMs.
The Condors have a pair of pre-season tilts at the end of this week. They’re in Stockton to play the Flames on Friday, then back home Saturday against San Jose.