For the 12th time in the past 13 years, the Edmonton Oilers have failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With their 3-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, the Oilers were officially eliminated from playoff contention. This is an emotionally difficult time for Oilers fans, who now have another draft lottery to look forward to this spring instead of a playoff run.
On the plus side, the Oilers’ farm club, the Bakersfield Condors, are headed to the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since they relocated to California from Oklahoma City in 2015. It’s been a dream season for the Condors, who won 17 consecutive games this winter, and have helped develop several future NHL players.
Right from the beginning of the season we set the goal of trying to develop players in a winning environment, and the key to that was making the playoffs.
– Condors head coach Jay Woodcroft told Condors TV on Mar. 27
Here are three Oilers prospects who will be counted on to lead the Condors on a deep playoff run this spring.
Tyler Benson has undoubtedly been one of the best stories within the Oilers organization this season. After missing significant time due to injury as a junior player, Benson has not only managed to stay healthy, he’s arguably been the Condors’ most valuable player in 2018-19. For years, the Oilers have been rightfully criticized for rushing their top forward prospects to the NHL, but keeping Benson in the minors for at least one full season hopefully signals a change in philosophy.
Benson leads all AHL rookies in assists (48) and points with 62 in as many games this season. The 21-year-old left wing also ranks fourth in the league in assists and seventh in points. He displays excellent vision and hockey sense, which should aid him in reaching his potential as a top-six forward in the NHL. With the best-of-five division semifinals just weeks away, Benson is heating up at the right time. The first-overall pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) during a 10-game point streak. This will likely prove to be Benson’s only chance to win a Calder Cup title, as I believe he will be a permanent NHL player in 2019-20.
Cooper Marody entered his AHL rookie season with big expectations after a tantalizing three-game audition late in the 2017-18 season. Marody firmly established himself as the top-line talent at the AHL level early on. After putting up 51 points in 40 games in his final NCAA season, Marody is again scoring above a point-per-game pace in his first professional season. The 22-year-old centre ranks 10th in the league in assists (39) and tied for 17th in points (58) in 52 games.
Marody was recalled by the Oilers on two occasions this season, but was barely used under head coach Ken Hitchcock. Still, he showed glimpses that he could eventually become a decent bottom-six player in the NHL. Marody has good offensive instincts and creative moves with the puck, which are two skills the Oilers greatly lack right now. Marody and Benson have been the dynamic duo in Bakersfield in 2018-19, factoring in on 120 of the Condors 222 goals (54 percent). While the Condors have greater depth than their parent club, Marody and Benson will be leaned on heavily in the playoffs.
After playing in 18 games with the Oilers in 2017-18, Ethan Bear came into training camp with the goal of sticking with the big club this season. Bear made the trip to Europe with the Oilers in October before being assigned to the Condors. Then, Bear had a slow start to the season and missed 13 games with an injury.
But since Jan. 19, Bear has been an offensive weapon on the back end with four goals and 16 points in 17 games. Perhaps even more importantly, his defensive game has improved over the past few months, which is his most glaring weakness. Still, his ability to move the puck quickly and efficiently and dangerous point shot will be a major positive for Bakersfield on their playoff run, and eventually help him secure full-time NHL work.
Eric Friesen is a freelance sports broadcaster and journalist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Eric has diplomas in Broadcasting from Mount Royal University in Calgary and Sports Journalism from Centennial College in Toronto. A lifelong hockey fan, Eric has followed the Edmonton Oilers for more than 20 years. He cheers for the Oilers because of his hockey hero Wayne Gretzky, who played his more productive seasons in Oil Country.