The Vincent Desharnais experience has been an awakening in Edmonton. The 26-year-old imposing right-shot defenceman has capably stepped into a defence group that was struggling and has provided some quality minutes. His work on the penalty kill and at evens has given his coach the comfort to run him out over 12 minutes per game on average. Desharnais has even chipped in with three assists in eight games. The work of Desharnais is a testament to his commitment to getting to the NHL, but also to his coaches in college as well as in ECHL and AHL. It should also be a reminder to everyone that NHL players come from everywhere in the draft, and outside for that matter, and get to the NHL on their timetable, not anyone else’s. It should also emphasize that the Bakersfield Condors are key part of the success of the Edmonton Oilers. Can you imagine if the Condors had more big, right-shot defencemen prospects that might have the same impact as Vincent Desharnais? Guess what, the Condors do and one is breaking out this year in a big way. Plus we talk about deja vu all over again and the OHL phenom who might never play for the Edmonton Oilers next in The Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report.
Who Caught My Eye This Week?
Another of the late-round picks of the Peter Chiarelli era, Michael Kesselring is breaking out this year. The 23-year-old 6’5 220 pound right-shot defenceman was drafted in the 6th round out of the USHL in 2018. His journey took him to Northeastern University for two years after which he turned pro and joined the Condors last in 2021. In his first full year in 2021/22, he finished 2-11-13 in 55 games with 87 shots. This year he has been a revelation. It really started at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton where he was the best defenceman of all four teams. From there, Kesselring has really taken off. In his 40 games, he is 12-7-19 with a whopping 124 shots. In fact, he is tied for first amongst AHL defencemen in both goals and shots. Now some people may question his .5 pts/g stat given that it plants him 71st amongst AHL defencemen. The important thing to remember here is Kesselring plays virtually no powerplay time. He has some penalty kill time, but most of his time is spent at even strength. To give you some context, Kesselring’s 19 points are all at even strength. If you removed the powerplay points of the top 20 defencemen scorers, Kesselring has only been outscored by four players at evens. To me at least, this is a very impressive statistic. Scoring at evens is the hardest thing to do in hockey and he is doing it at a very high level in the AHL.
So what has the big man been doing lately. The short answer is more of the same. He missed three games in early January with a virus and it was clear he was still not quite full strength when he came back. This week though he came firing with two goals and two assists in three games along with 11 shots on net. While plus/minus is a very flawed stat, he was plus-six in those three games. His goals were more of the same for Kesselring who has really emphasized shooting from up top this year.
While the release is methodical, and will likely need improvement, it is a very accurate and heavy shot which has found the net several times this year.
Even chances that aren’t converted to goals illustrate that Kesselring has some very good puck skills to create time and space for himself.
Kesselring is also a strong skater and he uses that ability to get on the attack with his teammates. I would add that his offensive instincts are very natural as well. Look at this weakside activation that comes off him reading the play on the wall. Then uses his skating and puck skills to get himself into a prime spot to create a high-danger scoring chance.
The coup de grace of clips for me this week for Kesselring is the one below. Kesselring’s hockey sense is really strong. Maybe it is because he’s a coach’s kid or it is just a natural skill of his. However it developed, he has great hockey sense. In this clip he combines that sense with his skating and his size to both defend and create an opportunity. In the first part, watch how he uses his size and reach to push a really large player outside and then smartly doesn’t follow behind the net, but comes across the top of the net to meet him on the other side. Then he defends again and ultimately is rewarded with a loose puck that he promptly exits the zone with and creates possession in the Wranglers’ zone. This is really dynamic stuff by Kesselring.
Now Kesselring still has work to do. His footwork can cause him a little grief when being attacked with speed, but it has been getting better. His big area of opportunity to improve is his static defending in-zone. He does have a tendency to react a little slow to situations sometimes and it causes him challenges. Look at this penalty-kill situation. It is a tougher read for certain, but I am posting it for two reasons. The first is watch how he doesn’t react to the dangerous player down low once the puck gets to him. Instead, he is focused on the player behind him. He should react down and let the weakside winger manage that weak-side attacker. The second reason I am posting the clip is because to get to the next level with the Oilers, Kesselring will need to penalty kill. He’s not going to play on the powerplay and so he needs to ensure he can contribute to specialty teams somewhere. This will be a key part of his development.
Can Kesselring mimic the success of Vincent Desharnais? Well, he’s three years younger than Desharnais and he’s doing a lot of good things already. He has time to progress just like the “Seaweed Man”. It’s going to be fun to watch.
Another week and another three points in three games for Lavoie. He also added an unreal 17 shots in those three games. What did I see this week? Nothing new at all. He just keeps doing the same things over and over again. Guess what, this is great news! He’s using the skills he has and he is determined to keep his battle level high in all three zones. Look at these clips.
He’s consistently winning battles and then using his size, hands and skating to move pucks into good spots for himself and his teammates. What about his goals you ask? The first one is a display of determination and strength to get the puck into a good position and then is finished because Lavoie is hard on his stick while being checked. The second one is a really smart play by Lavoie to play sound offensive zone hockey instead of chasing the puck. He gets rewarded for that play.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a week if I didn’t another Lavoie-Tullio forecheck clip. These two continue to generate more and more chemistry. This has been a tremendous line combination and the coaching staff is running with it.
The Russian phenom had another stellar week with the North Bay Battalion. He had two goals and three assists in five games this week along with ten shots. At one point, he was in first place in the OHL scoring race before dropping back to third place. As a quick refresher, Petrov is a right shot, but plays the left wing which is a common Russian hockey trait. So when I started the article with a comment that Oiler fans may never see this player, it relates partly to his position. On the Oilers, you have Kane and Holloway with RNH and McLeod both able to play left wing. Carter Savoie is down in the AHL as a prospect left winger. More importantly, Petrov is a player that will need a year at the AHL level, which means he likely doesn’t get a look at the Oilers until the 24/25 season. With that timetable, the roster depth situation and, most importantly, the Oilers need to win now, it is just as likely Petrov is part of a deal for the Oilers. His play this year would certainly make him a prized piece in a deal. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to trade him. I value prospects and picks more than most, but the reality is the reality. Still this would be a rough piece to attach to a deal.
I was even encouraged by some of Petrov’s defensive work this week. Here is a clip where he didn’t do anything fancy, but stay in the middle of the ice and protect two lanes. Was he aware that he was protecting two, not sure, but a forward coming back to the net through the middle is a win. A defenceman might even crack a smile at him(doubtful). The best part of this clip is that Petrov gets rewarded. The puck comes to him and then he makes a very cheeky lob pass to a teammate to spring him for a goal.
Would I love to see Petrov go, definitely not. Do I want to see Connor, Leon and RNH hoist a Stanley Cup in Edmonton, very much so. If this is a piece that helps the latter occur, then tip your cap to the scouts that made the selection. They found a diamond in the rough in the 6th round and turned it into an asset that led to people parading down Jasper Avenue in June, 2023.