The Edmonton Oilers’ minor league team, the Bakersfield Condors, had an impressive year in the American Hockey League (AHL) last season, winning 24 of 39 games in the regular season after an 0-5-0 start. There was no Calder Cup awarded due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Condors claimed the Pacific Division Championship.
A big part of their success last season was the first line of Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, and Ryan McLeod, who head coach Jay Woodcroft put together six games into the season. The line had amazing chemistry and was dominant against AHL competition.
Benson finished the campaign with 36 points in 36 games, Marody tallied 36 points in 39 games, and McLeod was recalled to the Oilers with 12 games left in the Condors’ season, finishing with 28 points. This season, McLeod and Benson have relished their promotion with the Oilers, while Marody has been a staple on the AHL club. With their previous success together and the Oilers’ recent struggles, it’s time the team recalled Marody to reunite their dominant AHL line.
McLeod and Benson Reunited Against the New York Rangers
McLeod has been the team’s third-line centre for most of the season, registering six points in 22 games. Despite his low point total, he’s shown more poise in his game, and his speed is apparent when he’s transporting the puck up the neutral zone. Benson, on the other hand, usually plays on the fourth line while averaging only 7:54 minutes of ice time in 16 games.
Benson was effective in his last two games with four hits, and he was given a promotion on Monday against the New York Rangers. For the first two periods, he was bumped up to the third line to play with his former linemate, McLeod. Kyle Turris rounded out the line, and the trio proved to be the team’s most effective line outside of Connor McDavid’s. They played well together, and the duo showed a dash of their chemistry. In the first period, they were assertive in cycling the puck behind the Rangers’ net, and in one sequence, Benson found McLeod in the slot, but the shot was blocked. The rebound trickled to Turris for a Grade A scoring chance, but the puck went wide.
In the second period, the pair looked even more comfortable and confident on the ice together. In one sequence, Benson knocked the puck down off of goaltender Alexander Georgiev and created a scoring chance that nearly resulted in a goal. But with six minutes to go in the period, Benson shovelled over a backhand pass to McLeod for a wonderfully timed tap-in goal. However, despite their success in limited time together, head coach Dave Tippett opted to separate the pair in the third period, and Benson was demoted to the fourth line.
Oilers Need to Recall Marody
Fans were treated to two-thirds of the once-dominant AHL line on Monday night, and Marody should be recalled to complete the trio, although there are questions over his footspeed and whether he can keep pace in the NHL. Having said that, Turris — who was the third wheel on McLeod’s line against the Rangers — is not fleetfooted either and performed decently.
Marody has 19 points in 21 games in the AHL this season, but he had a brief cup of coffee in the NHL three weeks ago. Due to the Oilers’ issues with COVID protocol, he was recalled to the big club on Dec. 17 and registered an assist in six minutes of ice time against the Seattle Kraken. He had a decent showing, and it should’ve earned him another game, but unfortunately, he was sent back down to the AHL during the Oilers’ prolonged Christmas break.
Last season, Woodcroft said the trio was one of, if not the best line in the AHL. They complement each other well, with McLeod as the engine that carried the puck through the neutral zone, Benson as the sandpaper that made plays along the boards, and Marody — former AHL player of the week — the shooter to finish plays. In their span together, Marody set a Condors record with an 11-game point streak.
The Oilers are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games and are struggling to get offensive production from their bottom-six, so it makes sense to try something creative to spark his team. The trio has chemistry, and knowing another player’s tendencies can lead to more scoring chances. In the small sample size, McLeod and Benson showed a snippet of chemistry against the Rangers, benefiting from knowing each other’s style, which resulted in a goal.
Tippet often turns to the safe bet and awards his veteran players with more ice time, but with his team struggling and the rumours of a coaching change circling, it might be worth the gamble to try something new with a trio of youngsters in a more prominent role.
First ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – CBC Radio Oilers’ Fan Panel Analyst – Freelance Writer. Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.