With the Edmonton Oilers in shambles despite giving solid efforts many nights, there aren’t many positives to talk about with the big club. Let me point your attention to the minor leagues, the American Hockey League (AHL) in particular where there is a ton to be excited about if you have been following the Bakersfield Condors.
The team has gone 10 consecutive games getting at least one point and have been getting contributions throughout the lineup. Head coach Jay Woodcroft has done an excellent job developing prospects to be NHL ready, and it already looks like the next crop of talent are well on their way to joining the Oilers in the near future.
Dylan Holloway has finally been cleared for game action after skating with the Oilers for the last little bit while they were practicing almost every day during their break. Fans have been waiting for the most anticipated prospect to suit up for game action in the NHL, but we’ll all have to wait a little longer as Holloway was reassigned to the AHL.
I don’t anticipate him being there for long, as he was going to have a real shot at making the Oilers’ opening day roster if he hadn’t been injured. The 14th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft has yet to even play a game in the AHL, so it’s not the worst idea to get him into game action at a lower level before making the jump from college right to the NHL after just recovering from an injury.
If the struggles of the Oilers continue much longer, there are arguments for both sides of rushing Holloway to the NHL. The Oilers have failed to score many goals as of late, but they have also had key players out of the lineup. He could be inserted on the third line or higher as soon as he gets the call. On the other hand, they don’t want to rush him and have him suffer the same fate as Dmitri Samorukov or others before him and lose confidence. They still have over half a season remaining, and Holloway is sure to join the Oilers at some point before the season is over.
Philip Broberg leads all rookie defencemen in plus/minus in the AHL. He has been even or better in 13 consecutive games for the Condors. In that time he has two goals, nine assists, and is a plus-11. Since getting that NHL experience, Broberg has really picked up his game. His totals for the season in Bakersfield are now up to two goals and 16 points in 22 games. He is fifth in rookie scoring among defencemen and has less games.
Remember, even though Broberg has already got the call to play games for the Oilers, he is still only a rookie in the AHL as well. Though it was a tough eight games and he was outmatched and called up to provide support before he was ready, he has been dominant for Bakersfield where his development has gone very well. It’s not likely we see Broberg in the NHL again this season, but most likely by the end of next season.
Raphael Lavoie had a very tough go at it to begin his second season in the AHL. He recorded just three assists and a minus-7 in 18 games. In 19 games last season, he had five goals and 10 points at the same mark. Something must’ve snapped inside him because in his nine games since he has scored six goals, nine points, and is a plus-8. He is a big reason why the Condors have won nine games in a row, as it coincides with his turnaround.
Nine games may be a little short to call it a complete season turnaround, but Lavoie is heading in the right direction if he can continue to at least score over 0.5 points per game. The point-per-game pace he has been on since flipping the switch is definitely doable considering the previous second-round draft picks who have since graduated to the Oilers, Ryan McLeod and Tyler Benson.
Cooper Marody is also another player who has played very well, leading the team along with Seth Griffith. Griffith won’t be in the minors forever with the points he is putting up. He will likely sign on to another team and try to earn a spot in the NHL on a team that has room. With Griffith gone, Lavoie will have an elevated role next season in Bakersfield, and we may even see him with the Oilers by the end of the season or the year after. Instead of continuously signing veterans who are on the decline, bringing up prospects who the Oilers have developed should be the trend in the future. They are hungrier and have more potential.
Last week, Markus Niemelainen returned from the injured reserve and got reassigned to the AHL. This was expected as the Oilers aren’t as banged up as they were when he got injured. After the stellar initial showing he provided for the Oilers, don’t be surprised if he is the other candidate that we see back with the club by the end of the season, especially with how they are lacking physicality and defensive responsibility.
Niemelainen has never been a points guy and probably never will be. That’s perfectly okay because the Oilers have enough of them on their team and in the system. What they need, sooner than later, is a player that can throw the opponent’s top players off their game. We saw a great example of that in the Oilers’ recent shutout loss to the Florida Panthers where Radko Gudas was very noticeable. Niemelainen is the most likely option to become that type of player for the Oilers, which will really help the goaltending as well. Though it hasn’t been good, forcing players to the outside and think twice about going down that side of the ice is key.
Niemelainen will continue to play the type of game we all now know he can bring until he gets the call again, and he will. The answers for the Oilers may not all be in a trade, but in bringing up the right players and shifting towards a younger and hungrier team.
Bakersfield & Prospect Roundup
An inexperienced defence group for the Condors has helped the team allow the third-fewest shots against, rank fifth on the penalty kill, and have allowed the seventh-fewest goals against. All of the defencemen have played less than 70 games in the AHL.
Vincent Desharnais One goal, three assists, plus-7 in his last five. He is signed to his second two-year AHL contract after coming out of college. At his steady rate of development and now adding offence to his already solid defensive game as a 6-foot-6 defenceman, his next contract should be a two-way. Despite being 25 and what looks like a late bloomer, it’s not too late to add someone of his size to the Oilers’ blue line in the future if his rate of improvement continues on an upward slope. Despite three other defencemen on the Condors with NHL-eligible contracts, Desharnais has played in 26 of 27 games this season (From “Desperately seeking some good news, Oilers fans? Look no further than Bakersfield Condors”, Edmonton Journal, 1/10/22).
Seth Griffith recorded his fifth career five-point game, posting five assists in their 6-3 win over the Tucson Roadrunners. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and is 29 years old with 80 games of NHL experience. It’s very likely that he finds a new home next season in search of a role on an NHL team after the season he’s put together so far, recording 33 points in 25 games.
The Condors signed first Bakersfield-born player Brayden Watts. He has played in the ECHL for the Wichita Thunder since 2020. Got his first game of action in the AHL on Jan. 19.
The Bakersfield Condors signed Matt McLeod to a professional tryout. He is Ryan McLeod’s older brother. He scored nine goals and 17 points in 30 games with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL before getting this shot. He appeared in the Condors’ most recent game.
Stick it out with the Oilers, it can only go up from here. But in the meantime follow the Condors and their success as they are doing great things in the AHL and lots of talent is being primed for the future of the Oilers.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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