It’s the three-headed monster that no coach wants to tangle with, but for a least a few days, Bakersfield Condors bench boss Gerry Fleming is going to have to cope.
With Laurent Brossoit’s return to the nest, the Condors are now carrying three goaltenders in training camp and heading into the only two pre-season games this weekend. Brossoit is most definitely staying put as the No. 1. He should be in contention this season as the AHL’s best netminder and repeat as a participant in the All-Star Game.
So what do you do at No. 2?
Eetu Laurikainen – 2015-16
Bakersfield (AHL) – 18 GP / 6-10-2 / 3.42 GAA / .907 SVP
Going by experience alone, Eetu Laurikainen would be the backup in Bakersfield for a second year in a row, but there are some things to ponder about the Finnish stopper. When Brossoit was sidelined by injury or called up to Edmonton, Laurikainen didn’t exactly put the team on his shoulders and carry the load. He was the very definition of inconsistent as the main man and arguably was outplayed by third stringer Ty Rimmer.
Nick Ellis – 2015-16
Providence (NCAA) – 36 GP / 25-7-4 / 1.80 GAA / .936 SVP
Nick Ellis was one of the Oilers’ significant college free-agent signings this past summer and by the noise made, one would have to say he’s scooted up the depth chart without having played a pro game. Is it the easiest thing to do to simply send Ellis to ECHL Norfolk and make him the starter? Probably, yet it’s not necessarily the best thing to do.
As the No. 1 in Norfolk, Ellis would see the most ice time, and the ECHL is not the goon league it was a few years ago. It has become a true developmental league with the good majority of the players who’ve played there who have gone on to the NHL are goaltenders. Yet maybe Ellis is better-suited to stay in Bakersfield, get adjusted to the pro game with the organization’s best minor-league coaches, and understudy to its top goaltending prospect.
Laurikainen isn’t likely to ever make the NHL, certainly coming off an inconsistent year in the AHL. He isn’t a good bet to head to Norfolk since he passed on going there during the 2015-16 season and returned to Europe for a stint when the Condors were stacked up with Brossoit and Ben Scrivens.
The writing may be on the coach’s office wall as to who is headed where but at least for now the line is that who stays and who goes will be determined in exhibition action. Although reading between the lines, it does sound as though a decision has been at least partially made.
“A lot of it will be based on performance. Both did well in Edmonton’s camp and today both looked sharp and crisp. It’s also contingent on what the organization wants. Some young guys can go to the East Coast League and play a tonne of minutes and that’s important to their development.” – Condors head coach Gerry Fleming.
The “a tonne of minutes” comment might be aimed directly at Ellis, who could wind up going from Rhode Island to British Columbia to Alberta to California and finally Virginia in the span of ending one season and starting the next. Yet Laurikainen, who before the Oilers signed Ellis was no worse than the second-best goaltending prospect, did get into 18 games a year ago. Would 18 or so games be enough for Ellis as a first-year pro or do the Oilers need to get him 30-40 in Norfolk?
For now, Ellis is just letting things play out.
“You just to work as hard as you can every day, put your best foot forward every day, work hard and compete. It’s definitely a little bit faster (pro vs. NCAA). Guys shoot a little bit faster, the passes are harder, so you have to make sure you are set, quick, and explosive. I worked out really hard (this summer) because I knew that Edmonton really focused on off-ice, and on the ice, just doing the small details that will make a big difference.” – Nick Ellis
As the goalies await word on which one remains in sunny California, the forwards and defencemen are in midst of being matched up on different lines and combinations. The coaches are looking for the right fits across the board and where a player like Joey Benik slots in.
Benik was a late-season addition last year from St. Cloud State (NCAA) and did enough to land a minor-league deal. He could find a left-side spot on the first line and might look good alongside, say, Jujhar Khaira and maybe Taylor Beck or Jere Sallinen on the right. That top line could see some significant change should the Condors wind up getting Anton Slepyshev, Tyler Pitlick and/or Anton Lander.
“It’s out of our hands as players. It’s all up to the coaching staff and they’re going to make the decisions that are best for the program. We just have to come out, play hard, work within the systems they give us, work hard, and let the skill take over. Whatever pairings and line combinations they come up with, you just roll with it, build chemistry as you go along and go from there.” – Joey Benik
From the nest
- The Condors will take on the Calgary Flames farmhands with the Stockton Heat on Saturday in the lone home pre-season game, and then trek to San Jose to tangle with the Barracuda on Sunday. They’ll then have nine days of practice before the season-opening double-dip in Manitoba against the Moose on Oct. 18 and 20. Bakersfield’s home-opener is on Oct. 22 against the Tucson Roadrunners.
- The Norfolk Admirals open the ECHL season Oct. 14 against Kalamazoo. At their camp, you’ll find two interesting European tryouts – five-foot-six, 140-pound forward Ben Davies from Cardiff, Wales, who turned pro at 16 and has played nine years in the British pro leagues, and Nardo Nagtzaam, a 26-year-old from the Netherlands who played last season in Austria. Also in Admirals camp is six-foot-three, 245-pound forward Brandon Blair, who accumulated 288 penalty minutes the last past two seasons playing for Pensacola in the Southern Pro League.
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