A constant theme of mine throughout this year has been that the kids playing both with the Oilers and the Condors needed to be trusted. Trusted in good times and in bad. Eventually, the kids will show you where they belong if you give them a fair opportunity. What does a fair opportunity mean? It means time on ice, in meaningful situations, with players that can both help them and protect them so that they have a chance to succeed. I grew up in the ’80s. I watched Glen Sather play Paul Coffey. Ask Bruce McCurdy or Allan Mitchell or Jim Matheson what kind of mistakes Paul Coffey made. Ask them how often they happened. Most importantly, ask them what Glen Sather did after these mistakes. He played him. Just as he played a young Mark Messier through trials and tribulations at left wing and then center. Same with Glenn Anderson. Same with all of them. You can hate the mistakes kids make, but you have to live with them and be willing to take more until the player tells you he’s either a player or not.
This lesson is magnified at the AHL level. It is the most meaningful time an NHL organization has to control the development process of a player. It’s their staff, their systems and their off-ice training regimes that work with each player day in and day out. However, all of these opportunities can go for not, if you do not play the kids. You can invest in all the practice time, skills and strength sessions and video and analytics work you want, but if you do not allow young players to take it all to the ice over and over again regardless of outcome, you risk wasting the efforts and, frankly, the player.
The Bakersfield Condors are a living lesson of this mantra. The first half of the season saw a litany of health scratches, low time on ice and questionable deployment for the young Condor prospects. The Christmas break came and the coaching staff and management group clearly had a re-think. The kids got played bigger minutes and in critical situations with players that could help them succeed. Did mistakes happen? Yes. Did the coaching staff veer from that new mantra? Not in the slightest. Funny thing happened, the Condors started winning and the kids started leading the way! We talk about all these kids plus Hollywood being relocated to Bakersfield in this week’s Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report.
Who Caught My Eye?
Many players this week could have had top billing, but I chose Tullio because I thought he had the most complete week. In four games, he had four goals, including a hat trick against San Diego, and one assist for five points. He also had 11 shots in those four games. Tullio just continues to grow each week he plays. This week he really started to find the range with his shot. A shot that I think has a chance to be very effective for him as a pro.
However, shooting wasn’t the only skill Tullio displayed this week. I really have come to like his passing skills. His vision and quick execution are becoming more prominent as the season develops. Here are a couple of great examples from this week.
Finally, Tullio impacted the specialty teams this week. He’s moved up to the first powerplay unit and even saw some penalty kill time. Some of this skill as we have seen above, but a lot of it is Tullio’s hockey sense. He has it in spades and it continues to be on display more and more each game. Watch this sweet little defensive play on the penalty kill. Tullio has his stick down ice into the cross-seam lane. He reads the passer and moves his stick up ice to prevent the pass to the weakside defenceman. He then is able to control the puck out of mid-air. Finally, the most subtle, but brilliant play: he takes a shot and makes sure it is deflected out of play to get a faceoff as far from his zone as possible. Brilliant stuff!
Tullio is now tied for third in team scoring with 24 points in 44 games. He’s now at .55pts/g and he has a 16.4 shooting percentage on 73 shots. He ranks 26th in rookie scoring in the AHL and is moving in the right direction as an Oilers prospect.
Let’s be crystal clear: Noah Philp may never play anything more than fourth-line minutes in the NHL, but he is one of my favorite prospects. His hockey sense and motor will make him an absolute fan favourite. As I have said ad nauseum, all Philp needs to do is keep scoring. His size, handedness and defensive prowess will already have him on NHL radars. If he can score, even a little, it’s a sure bet he sees minutes in the best league in the world. Well, he keeps doing it each week. This week he had one goal and four assists in the four games and added nine shots on net. He is now up to a tie for sixth place in team scoring at 11-10-21 and is at .44pts/g. More impressively, Philp has 17 of his 21 points since the Christmas break. That is a very healthy .74pts/g.
Before we take a peek at a couple of the offensive highlights, watch this whole clip of Philp in the offensive zone. Study how often the puck comes through his stick and more importantly watch how the play never dies on his stick. In addition, he always seems to find an opportunity for himself or a teammate.
This type of play is not a one-off. Here is another small clip of Philp getting the puck in transition and attacking the zone. When he is put under duress by the defender, he wins the stick battle and makes a deft little play to a linemate for a good scoring chance. His puck skills continue to impress me each week.
Philp’s goal this week was the most common, but most available type of goal. Go to the net and get your stick on the puck. Again, he has a big body with excellent hands. Once he establishes a position, he’s hard to move and that makes him a great target for shot passes and deflections.
This week he also showed off his shot again, completely surprising an AHL goalie from 60 feet out. This goal was given to Benson, but it was all about Philp’s shot.
Oh and this week, the right-shot center was 60% in the faceoff dot.
Each week that Noah Philp carries this type of play is another week closer to the NHL.
I struggled with where to slot Lavoie this week. You cannot argue with his production of four goals and one assist in four games. He also added a hefty 15 shots in those four games as well. However, Lavoie was a little inconsistent. His four goals came in one game and a couple of them were in a meaningless part of the game. Nevertheless, after a modest quiet period, Lavoie came back with abandon and that needs to be recognized.
He came with the reputation of being a goal scorer and with 16 goals in 44 games, he’s averaging more than .42 goals per game. In a 72-game season that is a 30-goal pace.
Now Lavoie still needs to continue to work even harder in his own zone to ensure that he can be counted on to take off his zone, but the offence is there for certain. Also, for those that forget, Raphael Lavoie is not a shrinking violet. Something that will not be lost on Oilers fans. Going back to his junior days, he is a very underrated scrapper. Oilers fans looking for a goal scorer who can provide some physicality may not need to look further.
We finally started to see some green shoots from Xavier Bourgault this week. The 2021 first-round draft pick started the season on fire with six points in the first seven games. However, it has been a struggle since that first month of the season. I have wondered often whether Bourgault suffered some form of a lower-body injury because his top-end speed and his first two steps have seemed sluggish for a while. The team has never indicated an injury, so perhaps it was Bourgault wearing down some playing against men in a very physical league. He has been on the receiving end of this type of play more than once.
In any event, what we have seen for a couple of months is a far less dynamic Bourgault. Here is an example. In the early part of the season and certainly in his junior days, Bourgault would have taken this puck to the net before determining what to do. Instead, he stays outside and settles for a very harmless attack.
Even his forechecking skills which were very impressive in the part of the season went away. Instead, it was a much more timid and reticent Bourgault on the forecheck.
However, there have been some signs in the last two weeks that Bourgault may be coming out of this funk. This week he picked up a goal and two assists in the four games. He’s in a tie for third on the team in scoring with 24 points in 49 games with fellow rookie Tyler Tullio. However, I think this clip here is illustrative of what we are starting to see again from Bourgault.
Bourgault also scored a nice goal off a great forecheck by Dino Kambeitz.
For me, the next steps with Bourgault are to see that hard, persistent forecheck we saw at the beginning of the year and more determination to play in the middle of the ice. His puck skills and skating will make him very effective once he regains those aspects of his game.
Look, he is above this league. He shouldn’t be here at all. Sure, at the start of the year. Definitely after the injury from the Warren Foegele suicide pass. But after more than a half of season, his play was NHL calibre. I am not here to debate why the demotion happened, but it did. Well, it happened for 33 minutes anyway. However, in that 33 minutes, it was an absolutely dominant performance. Playing the top team in the AHL by points percentage, the Condors were all over the Coachella Firebirds. Dylan Holloway was the reason. It was almost Mark Messier like in terms of how one player could physically alter a game on his own despite playing only 33 percent of the available minutes. Now that may seem like hyperbole, but I sent this tweet out at the end of the game that backs up what went on.
Holloway’s performance was dynamic. Take a look at his goal here on the powerplay. Watch the passing plays he makes before scoring, which to me were more of note than the goal.
Look at this clip where he hangs on to the puck through all manner of traffic and creates opportunities for himself and his teammates. This part of his game is what really needs to develop because he can be very impactful in the NHL with the puck on his stick.
When he didn’t have the puck he set out to retrieve it from the other team using his familiar brand of physicality.
And then this happened.
I don’t know the extent of the injury. Someone told me that Bob Stauffer reported it was a week-to-week type injury. To be honest, that is better than I originally thought. Nevertheless, it is a very bad break for a player that was clearly intent on proving his NHL worth by dominating in the AHL. As to what happens next, I came fully prepared before the injury to say keep him in Bakersfield until absolutely necessary this year. Let him fill the net and develop his skills without the issues that were going on in Edmonton. Obviously now, he likely finishes the year in Bakersfield. While that is a bad break now, maybe it is for the best in the long time both for Holloway, and the Oilers.
That is it for this week. Thanks for being patient with me and waiting an extra day so I could watch the Condors Sunday. Turns out it was worth it for me. I hope it was for you. As always, send me feedback at @bcurlock. DMs are always open.