When the season opened for the Bakersfield Condors there was plenty of reason for optimism. The goaltending group had been solidified by Calvin Pickard. The defence group was relatively strong with Jason Demers being added
to a core of Markus Niemelainen, Michael Kesselring, Phil Kemp and Yanni Kaldis.
However, it was the forward group that generated most of the reason for optimism. The Condors added a solid group of prospects including 2021 first-rounder Xavier Bourgault, NCAA Frozen Four hero Carter Savoie and high-scoring OHL star Tyler Tullio. The Condors surrounded this group with returning prospects James Hamblin and Raphael Lavoie as well as a new addition in Klim Kostin. It was predicted that one from this group of prospects would lead the way for the Condors and help create a formidable offensive force in the AHL.
Predictions are a funny thing, however: sometimes they don’t work out. The Condors’ season certainly didn’t contain the offensive fireworks that were expected finishing 24th out of 32 teams in goals scored. More surprising was that at the end of the year, the best forward prospect didn’t come from any of the names above. Instead, it was a young man from Canmore who excelled in the shadows of Rogers Place at the University of Alberta
before having a tremendous rookie season in Bakersfield, California. Noah Philp is that young man and he is the feature of my premiere edition of season reviews of Oiler prospects.
Now it is important to note that Noah Philp did not lead the scoring charge
for the Condors’ prospect group. That distinction goes to Raphael Lavoie who will be our feature next week. So why is Philp as my choice as the best forward prospect for the year? Well for starters Philp did lead all rookies on the Condors in scoring with 19-18-37 in 70 games. His 19 goals had him tied for 15th amongst rookie goal-scoring in the AHL. Not bad for a player known for his defensive prowess far more than his offensive abilities.
In addition, Philp did all of this while playing center in the second most difficult league in the world. By the end of the season, Philp was counted on the penalty kill, the power play, any high-leverage situation and had moved to the very top of the depth chart for centers in Bakersfield. Philp was ahead of Brad Malone, Greg McKegg, James Hamblin and Luke Esposito. That’s right. A rookie was being trusted to play the most important minutes despite a strong group of players around him. To me, that is why Noah Philp had the best season amongst forward prospects. You’re not convinced, let’s dig into his season in detail.
Noah Philp: The Preseason Assessment
To be honest, I did not know very much about Noah Philp when he was signed by the Oilers. My friends at the University of Alberta had talked about how good of a player he was in USports. Of course, Bob Stauffer spoke highly of the player which most certainly had an outsized impact on the Oilers’ interest in him. What I had heard from others was Philp was a strong defensive forward with good size who had some ability to score. However, he had some challenges with skating and puck skills. In addition, while some noted he had offensive skills, others I talked to wondered about his vision to create offence in a much faster league. How did the season go? Well, he displayed his defensive skills right away. The surprising thing for me though was that by the end of the year, I was more impressed with his offensive ability. That combination makes me believe there is an NHL player in Noah Philp.
How Is This Skating?
For those that follow my work, you know that skating is a big deal for me. If you cannot get to the puck, you’re never going to make the NHL. Given this was the major concern on Philp, I focused a lot in the early season on this element. Here is a great clip of multiple aspects of the skating technique of Noah Philp. The first part of the clip illustrates his edge technique on crossovers as well as his transition to straight-line skating. The crossover technique is not great. It’s a little clunky and his balance is in a little jeopardy through the turn. Now, when he comes out of the turn, I really like his stride. The boots stay low to the ice and return to the center quickly. Watch him accelerate away from the other players in pursuit of the puck. The upper body is pretty good. Maybe a little too much sway which can cause a loss in energy, but nothing fatal. In all, once out of the turn, it is a clean technique.
Let’s jump to a clip that is almost six months later and look at Philp’s skating again. The first part of this clip is the focus. Watch when Philp intercepts the puck and regroups it with his teammate. The edgework is really nice here and there are some nice athletic crossovers that translate into Philp carrying more speed. Ideally, the jumps would be lower to the ice, but the balance and the power are much improved. He then uses this transition speed to create a scoring chance for his team and some offensive zone time.
In all, Philp’s skating was never a negative to me. However, he certainly improved over the season and that will be a benefit for him going forward given the other aspects of the game that Philp brings.
The Release is Pure!
This for me was the biggest surprise. My man, Zach Laing of Oilersnation.com, told me that his release was good. Zach is a terrible salesman because he undersold this facet of his game by a lot (sorry Zach!). Look at these three goals by Philp and watch the release. There is so little body movement from Philp that I imagine it is hard for goalies to read it coming until it’s on top of them. In addition, he generates a lot of power off minimal body torque and combines this with some excellent accuracy.
The Puck Skills Are Alright
The other area of focus for me was whether Philp’s puck skills could hold up in the AHL where time and space are more scarce than university hockey. From my perspective, Philp’s puck skills were a close second to his release as a surprise. Philp is quite calm under pressure with the puck. I think this derives from his confidence to use his body to shield defenders from the puck. Watch this subtle example of Philp separating himself from a check using his body and then out-letting the puck.
This calmness translates into Philp making excellent reads on what to do with the puck and then executing with a degree of success. Here are three different examples from Philp.
Now he’s never going to be confused with Xavier Bourgault in terms of an ability to beat players one on one with the puck on his stick using his hands. However, his puck skills are more than adequate and Philp smartly uses his size to help him in high-pressure situations. Given his size, I doubt this element would be compromised in the NHL.
Heavy Is The Forecheck Of Noah Philp
Ok, that title was a poor attempt at working in the Coronation to this article. What isn’t poor is Noah Philp’s forecheck. We’ve talked about his skating. We have talked about his puck skills. We have talked about his size. If you combine all of those with great hockey sense and a heavy stick, you get a monster on the forecheck. Philp’s ability to create and/or sustain offensive attacks through the forecheck was a feature of his game all season. Here are just a few examples:
Noah Philp can create some havoc on the forecheck. I am certain this skill translates to the next level for Philp.
So You Need A Right Shot Faceoff Man
Just watch these clips.
How long have the Edmonton Oilers been looking for a right shot center who can win faceoffs? A long, long time. Philp was well over 50% this season in the faceoff dot. I believe his technique and strength would allow him to be successful at the next level.
You Want A Great Teammate?
Fighting isn’t the be-all and end-all of being a great teammate. However, it takes a ton of courage to drop your gloves and risk getting hurt. When you are willing to make that sacrifice to stand up for your teammates, that’s leadership. Noah Philp did that this year and I have no doubt his teammates were more than impressed.
Again, fighting is one of the less pleasant elements to hockey. However, it is part of the game and quite frankly, as long as players take liberties like these two clips illustrate, there will be fighting. I don’t expect Noah Philp to make it to the NHL as a fighter. However, the fact he is willing to do something that he has little professional experience with speak volumes about the character of the young man and that goes a long way in a dressing room.
Noah Philp is a legitimate NHL prospect. He’s not a top six player and likely wouldn’t fit most top nines. However, Noah Philp can play a 4th line role in the NHL. He’s a right-shot center with great size and hockey sense. He can score enough to ensure that his line will not be underwater on goal share. These are the players that the Oilers will need for years to come given the salary cap challenges of trying to keep McDavid and Draisaitl together.
It should be noted that as of this article, Philp is not signed past this season. He is also not part of the black aces group up with the Oilers in playoffs. That does raise some curiosity for me and concern about whether the player, the organization or both have decided to part ways. Given the lack of draft picks and the anemic results in signing unrestricted collegiate and junior players, Noah Philp is needed even more than ever by the Oilers organization. With Ryan, Bjugstad and Shore all free agents, there is an opportunity for Noah Philp to go back to Edmonton, but this time not for university. If that happens, time will only tell.
That’s it for this week folks. As always, your feedback is welcome here or to @bcurlock on Twitter.