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Photo Credit: NHL.com

The Oilers have been loading up on lower-tier forward prospects for Bakersfield

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)
Cooper Marody NCAA 21 34.8
Cameron Hebig WHL 21 33.8
Josh Currie AHL 25 22.5
Nolan Vesey NCAA 23 9
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.

  • Rysani

    This is actually a more positive sign, lets the young guys play down there and show there stuff, all old veterans do in the AHL is stunt the development of potential roster help.

  • Remember when Lowe nixed the farm team? Remember that? Oilers prospects were scattered all over. He thought he could just sign free agents, make some trades, and boom, there’s your team. Yet, the smart teams like Detroit were drafting and developing in their farm and had players year-after-year hitting the ground running.

    That dumb decision alone made the Oilers the most consistently worst team in the league near a decade as there were few players to challenge for spots. Then when they finally got a farm team, high-drafted young rookies were expected to play big minutes and then got riddled with injuries. Roster shifts and call-ups of poorly developed players continued.

    When injuries do happen, you need to be able to slot in call-ups seemlessly.

    There is finally some semblance of sanity here.

      • OilCan2

        EIG was barely able to keep the team here but thanks. Detroit’s model of success was spending mega pizza bucks on big $$$ free agents in the pre cap era. Notice how well Detroit did last season,….

      • The Whispererer

        With all the bashing of Lowe, Tambellini and McT it’s good to hear from someone with an accurate recall of the history of that era.
        I have certain other memories, but with the passage of time and the filter of an aging mind i often catch myself wondering if they are true or simply wishful remembering. For instance, i recall a press conference when Tambellini was hired wherein the fans were warned they were in for a few difficult years because of the state of the team/system. In my dream we were told that Tambellini’s job was to rebuild a shattered farm system and to accumulate skilled players via the draft to populate that system and eventually provide a good feeder system for the NHL team. I recall another presser a few years later where we were told that Tambellini had successfully executed Phase 1 of the rebuild and it was now time to bring in a new GM ( MacT ) with a different perspective to implement Phase 2 and use the improved system/talent to build the Oilers into a winner. In my memories, things were basically developing along plan until MacT made the disastrous decision to replace the coach, who was bringing the team along as expected, with Eakins.
        These memories explain why, whenever i see Tambellini and MacT being denigrated as being terrible GMs responsible ( with Lowe ) for the DoD, i find myself sputtering …but, but, but, ( until Eakins ), they were doing precisely the functions that they were explicitly hired to fulfill.

      • OilerForLife

        The fact is that the Oilers were so poor, they couldn’t afford one, because they really had to overpay for big free agents, but most of them didn’t want them to come here. The cap forces players to go where there is money left.

  • toprightcorner

    The farm team is moving in the right direction. With a good young NHL team having an average age of 25-26, I think the average age in the AHL should be 23-24. You have six or seven 20-22 year olds and a couple veterans in the 28-30 range. The goal should be to have prospects move up to the NHL when they are around 21. You can’t do that if your top 5 scorerers are 24 and older.

    I also think Woodcroft will make a huge difference and focus on developing and giving prime minutes to young prospects with high expectations. YOu can’t develop a young prospect for the NHL if he only plays in the bottom 6 with no special teams time. I think that is one of the biggest issues that slowed JP’s development was no quality minutes on the PP and playing mostly 3rd line and some 2nd line minutes. HE should have played 1st line and on the PP. Yamamoto needs to play top line and PP. None of the quality prospects like Marody, Maximov or Benson should be playing lower than top 6 minutes unless after an extended period f time they show they are not ready for it.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Marody, Benson, Lagesson, Hebig, potentially Safin, potentially Yamamoto – that is a solid influx of talent coming this year. Not to mention, potentially Wells and/or Skinner.

    Maksimov, Berglund, Samorukov, McLeod and, possibly, Bouchard, for next year. Hayden Hawkye as well.

    The prospect pool is still a work in progress – no real “can’t misses” (except probably Bouchard) but some depth is being accumulated and, really, the team only needs a couple here or there to “hit”.

    One of Maksimov, Benson, Safin to “make it” as a top 6 forward would be great.

    One of Marody, Hebig, Benson, McLeod to make it as a bottom 6/middle 6 forward would be great.
    One of Samorukov, Bear, Jones, Berglund, Lagesson, Persson to make it as a puck moving d-man (plus Bouchard).

  • We’re getting more prospects in Bakersfield and now we got a guy down there actually handpicked by the big league team who knows the system up here, not to mention that Keith has been making some solid picks. The big league’s biggest priority for the AHL team is to develop players, not winning the Calder Cup or pleasing AHL veterans.

  • Arfguy

    Still not seeing anything about Vincent Desharnais. I remember there was something that was mentioned about how the Oilers would have to make a choice regarding the defender, but haven’t read anything since then.