Since the beginning of last season, the Oilers have been aggressively adding forward prospects to fill out their American Hockey League team in Bakersfield. It looks like the Oilers will finally use their AHL team to play their prospects instead of a group of AHL veterans, but those prospects might be more quantity than quality. We’re focusing mostly on scoring here. If a player can’t score a bunch in a lower league, it’s unlikely he’s going to do that in the NHL, or even the AHL.
Still, it’s better to give any sort of prospect the ice time instead of older, career AHL players. Edmonton has used its farm team for AHL veterans and older players who had no future in the NHL for too many years. The Bakersfield Condors have been the Oilers AHL affiliate for three years, it was an East Coast Hockey League team and the Oilers ECHL affiliate since 2013 before that and featured mostly veteran lineups. They might finally see a prospect-heavy lineup.
AHL time on ice isn’t available to the public, but Bakersfield’s leading scorers have almost always been AHL veterans since becoming Edmonton’s AHL affiliate.
|Year||Top Five Scorers||Average Age|
|2015-16||Matt Ford (30), Brad Hunt (27), Andrew Miller (26), Ryan Hamilton (30), Josh Winquist (21)||26.8|
|2016-17||Anton Lander (25), Taylor Beck (25), Joey LaLeggia (24), Josh Currie (23), Ryan Hamilton (31)||25.6|
|2017-18||Josh Currie (24), Ty Rattie (24), Joey LaLeggia (25), Brad Malone (28), Patrick Russell (24)||25|
Ty Rattie is the only player here to make a notable appearance in Edmonton recently. Anton Lander played 215 games over six seasons with Edmonton but could never latch onto an NHL career. Rattie caught fire late in the season, scoring nine points in 14 games on a line with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He played well enough that he’ll likely start the season in Edmonton and be counted on for a scoring role.
Playing a bunch of prospects over older AHL guys is always a good idea. Maybe a prospect surprises and works his way to the NHL but feeding AHL veterans prime minutes does nothing for the NHL club.
Using NHLe, the shorthand for NHL equivalency, we can roughly see how these prospects compare to others that have already graduated to professional hockey. NHLe estimates how much scoring is worth in other leagues and shows a reasonable idea of the quality added to Edmonton’s system.
The Oilers have acquired some legitimate prospects, but also a few speedy guys who couldn’t score much in college or dominated the NCAA’s lower league.
|Player||League||Age||NHLe (82 games)|
|J. D. Dudek||NCAA||22||8.9|
|Colin Larkin||NCAA III||24||6.9|
Cooper Marody and Cameron Hebig are two of the more interesting names that’ll be in Bakersfield next season. Both are young and excelled in their respective leagues last year. Marody led the University of Michigan in scoring and Hebig was one of the WHL top scorers as an overage player. They’re both right-shot centremen with legitimate NHL-upside. It’s possible Marody pushes for an NHL job this fall.
Josh Currie has played for Edmonton’s minor league team for a few years now, but on an AHL contract. The Oilers rewarded him with an NHL deal after he scored 20 goals the past two seasons. Currie’s older, he’ll turn 26 in October, but he’s had some success in the AHL and adds another right-shot to the organization.
Vesey, Dudek, and Larkin, however, don’t have the scoring resumes that suggest an NHL future. Vesey and Dudek didn’t produce much in their college careers, although Dudek, acquired from New Jersey in the Patrick Maroon trade, likely returns to Boston College for his senior year. Larkin destroyed the lower-tier NCAA league, but it historically yields almost no NHL players.
Edmonton adds these forwards when all of Tyler Benson, Kailer Yamamoto, and Tyler Vesel will graduate to professional hockey and play for the Condors next season. Bakersfield could see a line of Benson, Marody, and Yamamoto play significant minutes, while Vesel assumes a depth role. Bakersfield should have its youngest team ever.
The Oilers desperately need their AHL team to develop cheap NHL players to fill out the roster. This offseason is a good example of why. The Oilers have self-inflicted salary cap issues and could only add depth players through free agency. If they want to be a good team, and stay a good team, they’ll need a constant stream of forwards coming in from Bakersfield and producing until they become unaffordable at the NHL level.
The 2017-18 Condors had virtually no forward prospects on the roster unless you consider a 24-year-old Rattie a prospect. The Oilers are trying to change that for 2018-19. They’ll get some help from the previous drafts with Yamamoto and Benson arriving, but Edmonton’s trying to address that through trades and undrafted free agents.
Even though most of the prospects added are lower-quality players that will probably top out at the minor-league level, it still represents a change in the organization. It never hurts to give these players a chance in the AHL to see if they can develop into more, as opposed to a veteran-heavy team that doesn’t help the NHL club. Now they just have to play them.