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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Which Condors Could Make The Jump?

There have been few bright spots for the Oilers organization over the last 12-18 months, but what’s been going on in sunny Bakersfield, California is definitely something to be happy about. There is a whole slew of players who have become impactful players early on in their pro hockey careers and another handful of players who have not only been wildly successful at the AHL but have also gotten a taste of NHL action.

The success of some young players and the continued development of some older prospects has led a lot of Oilers fans to wonder, which players will be in contention for NHL jobs next September when camp opens? Here are some candidates:

THE FORWARDS

Sep 17, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Joseph Gambardella (45) shoot the puck as Calgary Flames defenseman Ryan Sproul (96) defends during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Benson: He just turned 21 a few days ago and is in the final stretch of a very good season that could earn him Rookie of the Year honours in the AHL (he’s third in rookie scoring). He’s been riding on the Condors top line and has been a solid source of offence. He’s a smart player with good offensive instincts, both of those were evident in his juniors days. I was impressed at just how quickly he adapted to the pro game and I think that is a testament to just how good of a hockey brain he has. The fact he’s stayed healthy all season is a tremendous sign for the former second-round pick. He could inject some life into the Oilers bottom six.

Cooper Marody: His first pro season is coming to a close and it’s been a good one. Not only is he over a point per game in the AHL, but he got some quick looks in the NHL as well. He’ll need to work on playing a little bit quicker and that was evident in his time with the big club, but he could be a cheap bottom six option.

Joseph Gambardella: In his second pro season, he more than doubled his offensive output from his rookie year. He might only be 5’10, but he doesn’t play a small game and in today’s NHL, players can overcome a size difference. We’ve seen him get into the Oilers lineup a few times this season but he’s been largely ineffective if I’m being honest. At the same time, he’s never played more than nine minutes in an NHL game, so that might be why he hasn’t been able to make a bigger impact. He’ll turn 26-years-old next season so if the NHL is going to happen for him, it will have to be sooner rather than later.

Josh Currie: After scoring 24 goals and adding 13 assists in 49 games with the Condors, he got the call to the NHL and quickly became one of the best stories of the NHL season. The 26-year-old has scored twice and added two assists in 14 NHL games while almost exclusively playing with Milan Lucic & Colby Cave. His 60% GF at 5v5 is impressive as well. He’s under contract next year for 650k so he could be a nice option lower in the lineup or as the 13th forward.

Kailer Yamamoto: He battled injuries at the AHL level and that hurt his ability to be a consistent impact player, but he has looked better since getting put on the team’s top line. His offensive production is good for an undersized rookie (10-7-17 in 26 gp), but he isn’t ripping the league apart which is what you would like to see from a first round pick before you graduate them to the NHL. Still, Yamamoto has gotten the benefit of the doubt from the organization on a few occasions so I think he’ll stick around long into training camp next year. I would like to see him go back to Bakersfield and become a dominant player before coming up to the NHL.

Patrick Russell: Russell has seen his point total jump from 17 to 26 and then to 36 this year at the AHL level. He also got a cup of coffee with the Oilers this year. The organization likes him, but he’s 26 years old now. With three pro seasons under his belt as well, he needs to prove he’s an NHLer next year or he might not get another shot.

Brad Malone: I think the Oilers would be comfortable with Malone as their 13th forward next year. He can play centre or wing and he hasn’t looked awful at the NHL level over the past few seasons. The only thing I’ll say is that he doesn’t really have an upside. If you have Currie, Benson, Marody, or even Gambardella in the NHL next year, you might be surprised with them. I don’t think that possibility exists with Malone who turns 30 in a few days.

THE DEFENSEMEN

Sep 18, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Caleb Jones (82) celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the third half at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Jones: His great start to the season earned him 17 games with the Oilers. He looked good at first but when the team started playing him over his head, the issues in his game became glaring. I have no doubt that he will be an NHLer for a long time, I’m just not sure if he’ll crack the team next year. A lot can change over the course of one summer and he does have a lot of potential. Definitely the top option in the Oilers pipeline as of right now. If they move on from someone like Matt Benning, he could slide in as a cost-effective third-pairing option.

Ethan Bear: At the end of 2017/18, fans and media were very high on Bear but he’s struggled at points this year and that’s resulted in Jones passing him on the depth chart. He has good offensive instincts, but he needs to round out his game if he wants to be a full-time NHLer. The fact that the organization has Evan Bouchard and Joel Persson as well and they’ll give Bear some tough competition on the right side. I doubt he plays very many NHL games next year because of that.

William Lagesson: In his first season of pro hockey in North America, Lageson has done alright for himself. It’s not enough for him to have passed Jones on the left side of the depth chart, but I’ll be interested to see how he continues to grow next year assuming he stays in Bakersfield. Next year isn’t make or break for him, but the 2020-21 season might be when he makes a legitimate push into the NHL lineup.

THE GOALIES

Shane Starrett is really the only goalie in the organization with any sort of shot at making the NHL roster next year, and it’s not a good one. He’s been lights out in Bakersfield with a 28-4-4-1 record to go with a 0.921 save percentage (4th in AHL) and a 2.22 GAA (1st in AHL). He’ll turn 25-years-old this summer, so he should probably stay in the AHL for another year anyways to see if he can have another dominant season. The fact that the Oilers have an inexperienced NHL starter in Mikko Koskinen won’t help his case either. They need a more established backup for a few years at the NHL level.

ALL IN ALL

I would like to see them go slow with guys like Benson, Yamamoto, Jones, and Bear since they are still very young and could benefit from a chance to dominate at the AHL level. That being said, if they come into camp and dominate, where’s the harm in keeping them around for a few games at the beginning of the year? If they start to struggle, you can just send them right back since they’re all waiver exempt.

When it comes to guys like Marody, Gambardella, and Currie, who are players who project as bottom-six options, I think you could give them honest chances to be bottom six players. They could inject some energy into the teams bottom six next year, which needs some speed and youthfulness in my opinion, and the best part is that they’re all cheap. The team needs all the cap relief they can get.

What say you? Which players do you think could jump from the farm into the NHL lineup next year?

  • Dapper Dan

    How about the coach? Jay Woodcroft has been working his tail off and is well respected. He seems to have a environment for the group to grow in – keeping him in the organization is important

  • OriginalPouzar

    Agreed, 100%, Yamamoto needs to start next year back in Bakersfield and its not an issue at all if he spends most of the season (if not all of next season) in Bakersfield.

    Kailer has started to gain some traction a few times as a Condor – he was starting to drive offence and consistently create scoring chances playing with Esposito and Vesel (prior to replacing Currie on the top line upon his recall) and there were a few games where he was the best player on the ice. With that said he, once again, has been banged up and simply hasn’t had a chance to get some solid development time – to just come to the rink daily and play games. Hopefully he has a great summer, is healthy next year and can just play games and develop.

    His development is on track – he’s not a top 5 or 10 pick – he’s a 22nd overall pick and reasonable expectations would be for such a player to be in the AHL as a rookie pro, in particular in draft plus 2 and draft plus 3.

    Prior management made a mistake giving him NHL games last year (and this year) and gave the fanbase unreasonable time expectations on his deveopment.

    • QuitForRealThisTime

      JP needs to join him. Sadly I think the Oilers are (due to cap issues) at least another year of being out of the playoffs next year. Leaving all the above mentioned prospects to remain on a good Condors team, moving out the older Condors and adding Bouchard, Maxsimov, Safin, Samourukov, Persson and maybe Bergland and hopefully Kaapo Kakko (go lottery champs!). Let the new GM filter out some expensive contracts and look to make this team a perennial contender starting 2020-2021 just in time for the lockout. haha

      • OriginalPouzar

        There is zero chance that Puljujarvi will play for the Condors next year. Due to the fact that Jesse played 11 NHL games in his “18 year old season” the number of required seasons to lose his waiver exempt status dropped from 5 to 3 and he’s vested 3 years pro. He would need to clear waivers to go to Bakersfield and I’m confident that 30 teams would put in a claim for him.

  • Todd the electron rod

    The NHL squad is now sitting at 99% chance not to make the show.
    98.5% wasn’t close enough for some to call it a season.
    Bottom five finish is a very real possibility.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Brad Malone turns 30 before the summer – I don’t imagine he will be re-signed and, like Callahan (and Vesel) ,will be let go. They will, hopefully, re-sign P. Russell and Russell and Joe G. can be the main “veteran” leaders for the Condors next season.

  • TKB2677

    I really, really hope the organization moves on from guys like Brad Malone. I am not bashing the guy. He’s a good AHLer and a guy who you can have as a 13th but there is zero upside to him. He’s going to be 30. He is what he is. I would like to see guys who when you put them in, might score you a goal the odd time, not just play 8 mins of uneventful hockey.

    For guys who might make the jump. I could see Benson, Marody, Currie and Gambardella having shots. Malone and Russell, I make a decision on. Keep one, let the other go to have an AHL vet. I’d pick Russell because he is younger. Given how much Yamo has been hurt this year, it’s a clear indication to me he needs more time to bulk up. Too fragile.

    I think Jones will make the team, maybe Lagesson, Bear the least likely.

    No goalies.

    • OriginalPouzar

      I believe that Bear is behind both Jones and Lagesson as far as NHL readiness. He is the best offensive player of the bunch (he has now produced more than Jones in less AHL games this year), however, he is still a poor skater and it causes problem with puck retrieval.

      This was highly evident in his NHL games last year and I haven’t seen much improvement at the AHL level. It doesn’t hurt him as much in the AHL but it will at the NHL.

      Jones’ elite skating gives him the current edge and Lagesson is just a fantastic new age defensive d-man who can skate and move the puck.

      Persson in the mix as well.

      • TKB2677

        I agree with you. I like the idea of Bear but the main reason is he’s right handed. If he was left handed, I don’t think Oilers fans would be talking a lot about him.

        It wouldn’t surprise me if Persson made the team. He does everything the Oilers defense lacks. I truly believe the Oilers defense will look very, very different next season.

        Call me crazy but:
        – I think Russell will be gone. I know people bash the guy but for whatever reason, he does lots of things teams still value. That includes management, coaches AND the players. The whole warrior, sacrifice your body for the team, block shots thing is ingrained in hockey guys as being important. His contract isn’t that grossly expensive so I think someone takes him. You won’t get much but someone will.
        – Maybe it’s a pipe dream but I think Sekera is gone too. If Chia was here, I’d say no way because he was Chia’s first signing but now that he’s gone, I just have a feeling he somehow gets moved. He’s showing their is still some game their.
        – Benning is playing well. He does lots of things OK, nothing overly spectacular but he is showing he is a decent 3rd pairing, right shot guy. His contract isn’t that bad. I could see them trading him just because he is worth something. As an example, there was rumors the Leafs were close to dealing Connor Brown for him. Brown is having a down year but he’s a decent top 6 player, shoots right, skates well, has a 20 goal season not long ago so he has some talent, kills penalties. Contract wise, he’s making 200K more.

  • Big Nuggets

    between Gamby, Currie, Russell and the younger crew of Marody, Benson, Yams there will be plenty of potential call ups next season. Hopefully a couple of them can make an impact next year. At least there is one bright spot in the Oilers organization. If the next GM can keep from doing anything stupid they should have a full roster in a season or two.