While 2015-16 is his first campaign playing in North America, this season hasn’t been a breakout one for Anton Slepyshev.
In part that’s due to a shoulder injury. Add in some time to adjust to his new surroundings and the surprising departure of linemate and fellow Russian Bogdan Yakimov, and the year has been mostly trial and error for the former third-round pick (88th overall) in 2013.
Slepyshev has toiled with the Oilers for small spurts. Spurts could also accurately described his offensive contributions in Bakersfield, although they are coming more regularly as the Condors scramble for a playoff spot.
“It’s taken a while but he’s starting to get it. He’s playing physical, he’s moving his feet more, he’s not playing on the outside, he’s playing on the inside more, he’s going to the blue paint better, he’s protecting the puck more. There’s definitely been some good signs to his game.” – Condors head coach Gerry Fleming, who recently spent some time with TSN 1260 Edmonton/OilersNation.
Let’s not forget that Slepyshev is only 21. The vast majority of players his age are still finding their way at the pro level, let alone adding in an entire cultural adjustment. Oilers fandom probably was expecting more and maybe so too were the Oilers, but it’s only Year 1 of this venture.
“He’s got good skill assets. He just has to bring it on a consistent basis. There’s times when he was caught just standing around but I think that was just getting used to the league and the way the North American game is compared to the KHL where a lot of guys showcase their talents individually. Here it’s a smaller area to work with so you’ve got to use your teammates and you’ve got to always come to the puck and play on the inside. It just took him a little while to understand but he’s starting to grasp the concept and as a result his play has been better.” – Fleming
While Slepyshev has time yet to become a factor, time is not on Tyler Pitlick’s side. He’s gone from prospect to suspect primarily because he can’t stay healthy. Currently in his fifth AHL season, Pitlick has played only 159 games yet when he has been healthy enough to suit up, the 2010 second-round pick has managed 79 points.
This season’s troubles for Pitlick have been centered upon concussion issues. He’s missed large chunks at a time, but when he’s been in, the Minnesota native has produced with seven goals. The problem has and always will be Pitlick’s ability to stay in the lineup.
“Since he’s been in the lineup, ‘Pitter’ has performed really well. He’s starting to understand what he has to do on a nightly basis in order to be effective and that’s play physical, number one, and move his feet. When ‘Pitter’ is at his best, he’s on loose pucks, he’s moving his feet, he’s protecting the puck, he’s going to the net. The biggest part of his game is his physicality. He hits like a train, and when he’s hitting and starting and stopping on pucks, he’s an effective player. I think he’s starting to grasp the concept of the way he has to play in order to be effective and that’s using his speed on the outside, protecting the puck, and bringing it to the net. It comes back to his physicality. When he’s finishing his checks, being physical in front of the net, and winning battles in the corners, he can help the team and be an asset.” – Fleming
With the Oilers retooling their forward ranks to include more grit and size, Pitlick fits the bill, but the question will be if there’s still room this off-season in the wake of additions Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian, and even Iiro Pakarinen. Pitlick could still be worthy of another one-year deal with an eye on a bottom-six spot with the Oilers or at minimum as a first-string callup and veteran spot in Bakersfield. Both parties could also opt to wish each well and go their separate ways.
Lastly, it has been a puzzling season so far for defenceman David Musil. Time again when the Oilers have found themselves in need of blue-line help from Bakersfield, Musil’s number has not been called. Yet he’s been easily the Condors most consistent top-end defenceman, unflashy but unwavering.
Game in and game out, he’s been better than Griffin Reinhart yet Musil, whose goal this season was to increase his hard-to-play-against quotient, hasn’t even been called upon for the proverbial cup of coffee. If there’s anything to be gained from facial expressions, it is evident that the coach and player are somewhat baffled by the fact he hasn’t received one chance this season in Edmonton.
“He’s been our number-one shutdown guy and been great on the penalty kill. We use him in all situations, we use him late in the game when we’re up a goal, and he’s responded well. The biggest thing is when you don’t notice Dave during a game, you know he’s had a good game. He reads the play offensively as well. A lot of people underestimate his value in that area but he jumps in at the right times. He activates at the offensive blue line at the right times, he’s been getting pucks down to the net a lot better, and creating offensive chances for himself. But his specialty, obviously, is as a shutdown guy and he’s done a good job at that. We’d like to see him get an opportunity but that’s out of his control. All he can control is the way he plays down here. At times it’s been a little frustrating for him. We’ve had a few talks and he’d like to get an opportunity but you can’t worry about whether or not you’re going to get an opportunity. You have to worry about the things you can control in your game.” – Fleming.
Musil talks like his plays the game – patient and steady. One wonders, though, what exactly he and the coach have discussed when others have been summoned to the Show and he has not.
“I feel it’s been a pretty good learning year. I’m trying to get better every day and work at the things I need to improve on. There’s always things to work on to get to the next level. There’s a lot of things I need to improve on offence but I think defensively I improved this year. I want to contribute to the team offensively as well. I know I’m more of a shutdown guy but I know I can do other things as well and contribute otherwise. I just want to play my game and play well. We’ll see what happens afterwards. For sure I want to go there and I feel I can play there but I’ve still got work to do and being here is a chance to get better.” – Musil
Bo is back
After a questionable departure to his native Russia under the guise of competing for a spot in the World Championship, Bogdan Yakimov made an eye-opening return to Bakersfield at the conclusion of the KHL season. The Condors weren’t keeping a spot waiting for him but neither did they turn a cold shoulder when Yakimov came back to roost.
“Bo’s a very likable guy. He’s a good teammate and his teammates enjoy his company. They like the way he plays and they like playing with him. He’d been here for a while so guys welcomed him back. It was like he never left, to be honest with you.” – Fleming
From ‘A’ to ‘Z’
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) March 9, 2016
Zach Boychuk hasn’t found his scoring touch yet and the Condors are hoping he can find it again fast as they hit the stretch drive towards a playoff spot. Boychuk was part of a loan/trade between the Charlotte Checkers and Condors which saw Andrew Miller flipped to Carolina’s farm club. Boychuk, a former first-round pick of the Hurricanes, is Charlotte’s all-time leading scorer.
Ironically, Bakersfield is in a fight with Charlotte and San Jose for the last playoff position in the Western Conference. The Checkers (.548), who are fifth in the Central Division, can crossover into a playoff spot if they end the regular season with a better winning percentage than the fourth-place team in the Pacific which is bound to be either San Jose (.544) or the Condors (.536).
“Both players wanted another opportunity. They felt in order to move on with their careers they needed another look from another organization. Both were in the same boat and they’re similar players so the move was to help both of them out. Andrew was a good teammate, a good leader and was great on the ice. I’ve known and seen Zach play for quite some time in the American Hockey League and I know what he can bring to a team. It’s a win-win for both players. Hopefully Zach can come here and find that scoring touch that he had in Charlotte.” – Fleming