Winning organizations must develop young players internally. Whether they play for your team or develop into good trade assets, a continual pipeline of quality prospects is needed if you want to remain competitive in the NHL. For years the Oilers didn’t have that, but over the past few seasons, they’ve started to develop players who can help at the NHL level. But they need more and head coach of the Bakersfield Condors, Colin Chaulk, will play a big role in their development.
I spoke with Chaulk last week on my radio show to get an update on some of the young prospects in Bakersfield.
Jason Gregor: Let’s start with the two guys who just got recalled; [Mattias] Janmark and [Klim] Kostin. How have they performed?
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Colin Chaulk: They’ve been really good. Klim coming in and having a fresh start in somewhat of a new piece of scenery. He started out really well for us. He’s got good offense to his game. He’s excited to finish first on the forecheck, and he protects the puck well. I think Janmark, obviously a veteran NHLer, coming down and was off of the ice for a little bit due to a little bit of illness and that kind of stuff, but I tell you, the last few games, him and James Hamblin and Noah Philp were a threat every time on the ice. So it’s great to see him get rewarded with the call based on his play.
Gregor:  I want to get your thoughts on Michael Kesselring. He’s got five goals in nine games from the blue line for you. Tell me about Kesselring’s goal scoring prowess early on.
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Chaulk: Yeah, you know it’s interesting. We met with him today and did some personal foundation keys with him just to make sure that he understands, and we understand what Michael wants to do on a game-by-game basis. One of the things he talked about was just valuing some of those simple, efficient, first plays that he sees. So aside from his first goal of the season which was a really nice fake, and a shot through a screen, the other ones have just been on and off of his stick. They have been hard; they have been quick. There’s been some net presence and a little bit of seeing eye shot in the back of the cage. So, there’s lots of components that have gone into it, but it’s a simple quick shot, and he has a hard shot. It’s been going in for him and early on we weren’t getting a lot of scoring up front for us, so we were very thankful that our back end was generating some offense.
Gregor: You mention the simple plays that led to goals, but he’s a defenceman, and the main priority if he gets to the NHL will be defending. How is the defensive side of his game developing?
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Chaulk: I tell you, he’s a new person this year. When the coaching change happened last year, he struggled a little bit because Dave was such a great mentor to him and helped him along the way so much. So, he struggled a little bit. And he had a choice in the summertime to work hard and get better, and with Keith McCambridge coming in and taking care of the D, his style of play and coaching was defence first and working on the hard skills. We thought that it was a really good match. A few things Mike (Kesselring) did, he got his head straight, he focused, he put on some weight, he worked really hard, he put on some muscle, and I think that he’s also come to terms with, like you said, understanding that he has to defend first.
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He got into a fight in Penticton. He’s understanding that being physical and having good stick detail, boxing out, being hard to play against is going to get him to the NHL, but more importantly at some point, get him to stay.
He’s been excellent, with a positive level of maturity both on and off of the ice.
Gregor: Many Oilers fans are curious about Xavier Bourgault. It looks like he’s playing a fair number of minutes for you. How has he adjusted to pro hockey?
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Chaulk: I think before he got his first goal in Tucson, he was unsure before that, but when he got that first goal, he had a boost of confidence. So that was nice to see, but then in our last game in Vegas, it got a little rough and he got a little tumble in. And there were lots of penalties, he kind of lost the flow and momentum at times. There were sometimes that I felt like he was getting a little bit nervous. Brad Malone was sitting next to him on the bench and there was a moment where he said ‘Just breathe. It’s alright, just play and sometimes the play is no play.’ I think coming from Junior, where he was able to be a threat offensively on the ice every time, the message to him is learning how to play against men. How heavy their sticks are. How heavy they are. Using his speed and quickness, but also making sure he’s playing with a hard bottom hand, wide legs and a heavy back end to stay in battles and to protect pucks. So, those hard skills, kind of like Michael (Kesselring), last year had to learn them and then understand kind of what it takes. He’s going through that kind of on the fly right now. But there are definitely some pretty cool pieces in his game for sure.
Gregor: I like how you explained that Colin, how going from being a threat every time on the ice in Junior and then you get up the American League and it’s really hard to be a threat every time. And so, for offensive guys, if he isn’t scoring every game, or making something happen every shift he thinks, ‘Oh jeez, I didn’t do anything, but in your mind you see him making the right play and that is a good shift. How much of that is coaching your players to take pride and realize you are helping the team even if you don’t get points?
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Chaulk: It’s celebrating the little bigs. And you said it. Xavier is probably, he was probably top three on his team all throughout minor hockey. So now every time he crosses the blue line, and Dylan Holloway was no different, every time he crosses the blue line, he’s looking to make something happen. While the coaching staff, and the players, are celebrating when he manages a shift.
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I’ll give you an example: We’re on the penalty kill, and he gets up the ice and we’ve been in on the penalty kill for 20 or 30 seconds, and [he’s thinking] ‘Do you think that I can score, can I maybe get in an offensive chance?’ but the penalty kill is expiring and our D needs to change — he’s got to put that puck to the bottom on the bench side and get some fresh bodies out there. How do we do that? We share that in video. We make a big deal of those things, managing the game, making those winning decisions, also developing decisions, because when he gets to Edmonton, at some point I don’t see him taking Connor [McDavid], or Leon [Draisaitl] or [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] Nuge’s ice time, right? So you have to bring something else to the party, you’ve got to bring something else to the shift. And that’s our job down here of making sure the players understand that we value those small plays, but we also see you’re an offensive guy and you have tools. So, if you see a play — not hope a play is there, if you see a play — you have free reign and we believe in you, and you have the confidence to make that play.
Gregor:  Carter Savoie was banged up to start the year, but he’s come in and scored two goals in four games. James Hamblin has three goals, six points. How have those two looked so far?
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Chaulk: Good. You know, they’re different players. James has had a lot of success like Carter, different in College and Junior, but James had lots of success in Junior, and he’s found his niche in being a two-way player, killing penalties, being on the right side of the puck, kind of being the do-it-right sort of guy. He’s had some offence last year but with very limited power play time. The message for him is…Will his game transfer to the NHL? Your role has got to transfer. So he is totally on board, management is totally on board, all that kind of stuff with James, but having said that, because he’s developed, he’s earning some man advantage minutes and he’s making good on those times.
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Carter has more of an offensive role. Checking isn’t his forte, that’s something that we’re working with him and talking to him about that he needs to add that element to his game. His release, his offensive awareness is something that comes natural to him, but I bring it back to the very beginning there, Mike (Kesselring) is understanding that going against a 28-year-old veteran who has a wife and kids and car payments, that they’re making it a lot harder to get to the net and a lot harder to get that shot through playing against those types of players. Lastly, I would say, everybody in the American League was probably the best player on their team at some point. The competition just gets tighter and tighter and tighter and harder and harder and harder each night, but, if it was easy everybody would be there, right?
Gregor: Yes, very true. Lastly, are any of Bourgault, Savoie or Hamblin getting penalty kill time?
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Chaulk: Yes, absolutely Bourgault because they need to be able to do that at the National League level. I remember Ken Holland talked about in the league there are maybe 175 guys in all of the NHL who play the power play, so you have to be able to kill penalties and be in the lane. Hamblin kills penalties, Bourgault kills penalties, Carter is not killing penalties at this point yet. But there are guys, those types of players who need to bring that level of skill, hard skill into their game. Essentially, they become a little bit more of a utility player and they have a few more tools in their belt so to speak.

WRAP UP…

Sep 28, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Dylan Holloway (55) skates against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Speaking of developing, the Oilers have to be at the point where Dylan Holloway will go down to Bakersfield and get significant playing time. He has played 12 NHL games, but he is only averaging 7:55/game. He played a season-high 15:15 in Carolina last Thursday, but then skated 6:55 in Florida. With Evander Kane out of the lineup, if he can’t play at least 10-12 minutes a game isn’t it clear he should be in the AHL?
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Even if he only goes down for a week or two, just to gain some confidence handling the puck and playing significant minutes, it would be fine. I don’t see how him remaining in the NHL and only playing eight minutes a night is the best development plan. It won’t crush him. In 1997-98, 18-year-old Joe Thornton played 55 games with the Boston Bruins and averaged 8:05/game. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career, but he wasn’t eligible to go to the AHL at 18.
Holloway can be sent down, and if Jay Woodcroft doesn’t trust to play him more than eight minutes a night yet — which is fine because the NHL is about winning, not developing rookies — then Edmonton should send him to the AHL where he will play a lot, gain confidence and then when recalled be more prepared to help the team win.
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It is extremely difficult to impact the game when you only log 7:55 of ice time, and Devin Shore or Brad Malone could fill those minutes and there wouldn’t be much of a difference.
Holloway should either start skating at least 10 minutes/game or go to the AHL. The current strategy isn’t helping him or the Oilers.