The Bakersfield Condors entered the AHL in the fall of 2015, replacing the Oklahoma City Barons as the primary farm team for the Edmonton Oilers. In OKC, Edmonton developed a handful of useful players and almost always got their team into the Calder Cup Playoffs. In California, neither has really happened.
The Condors haven’t been terrible, but they have failed to make the playoffs in each of their three seasons in the AHL. They’ve also only graduated a handful of players to the show. Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse both played a handful of games with the club, but I wouldn’t consider them developed in Bakersfield.
Ty Rattie and Jujhar Khaira are really the only full-time NHL’ers to be developed by the Condors during the team’s first three seasons. That’s a bad record, but there are players coming like Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones and Cooper Marody that could change the tone of development very quickly.
Those players could also change the tone of losing in California. The Oilers are actually icing a quality AHL outfit this season, one that has some actual prospects on it and the potential to make the playoffs for the first time.
It’s a goal of the organization, Bob Nicholson admitted as much in the spring, and they have taken steps to realize that. Jay Woodcroft will be the club’s second head coach, while a plethora of veterans have been added to help the team win.
For the first time since 2012, I’m intrigued by the Oilers’ AHL outfit.
Friend of the blog Lowetide did an excellent job yesterday morning of going over the Condors’ lineup and looking at where some of the young guys could slot in. The team has more prospects up front than in previous years, and should be the most dynamic Condor squad yet.
Here are the lines LT proposed yesterday:
Tyler Benson—Cooper Marody—Tyler Vesel
Joe Gambardella—Josh Currie—Patrick Russell
Dave Gust—Brad Malone—Mitch Callahan
Nolan Vesey—Cameron Hebig—Evan Polei
Braden Christoffer—Luke Esposito—John McFarland
Colin Larkin was assigned to the ECHL yesterday, and it’s likely that AHL contracts Braden Christoffer and Luke Esposito could join him down in Wichita. John McFarland is also a candidate, although he’s looked good in AHL camp and has the talent to be a player that could surprise.
Benson and Marody are the big guns up front, both close to making the NHL and both with legit potential. Benson is more of a two-way player, while I expect Marody to be a real factor offensively.
Josh Currie is a proven offensive producer at the AHL level, and I think people underestimate Patrick Russell. He’s got good two-way ability and honestly shoots the puck a ton. He doesn’t get a lot of love, but there’s a reason the Oilers re-signed him this past summer.
Vesey, Hebig, Gust, Polei and Gambardella are the next tier of prospects for the Condors. Gambardella, Gust and Polei all looked solid in limited AHL work a season ago, with Gambardella playing strong hockey in the second half after returning from an injury.
This forward group doesn’t have an AHL difference maker, but Currie is established as a 20 goal man at that level and I think both Benson and Marody can be impact players in Bakersfield as they develop. Plenty of rookies in their spots have come into the league and enjoyed success early.
I love the Condor defense. The mix of young prospects ready to impact the NHL roster and veterans there to help the process and gain some wins is perfect. Although Ethan Bear is starting the season with Edmonton, I think it is fair to suggest that he’ll find his way to Bakersfield before the end of the month.
Here are LT’s defensive duos for the AHL outfit heading into the season:
Kevin Gravel—William Lagesson
Ryan Stanton—Caleb Jones
Keegan Lowe—Logan Day
Jake Kulevich—Jeremy Beaudry
Gravel, Stanton and Lowe give the Oilers a veteran on every pairing, someone to calm the waters and help the young kids develop. Jones and Lagesson both have legit NHL potential, and when Bear is added to the group he might become the best of the bunch.
Logan Day is an interesting player, because he has the skillset to thrive in today’s NHL but is coming from a little procured area of hockey. The former D3 NCAA star will likely play a depth role, especially when Bear gets back.
The blueline can move the puck well, has a mix of veterans and youth, and the ability to lock things down with Stanton and Lowe. I’d argue this is the best AHL blueline the Oilers have had under their watch in at least a decade.
Stuart Skinner was assigned to the ECHL yesterday, while Shane Starrett is currently in Europe serving as the emergency goaltender for the Oilers. That means Al Montoya is slated to be the starter in Bakersfield while rookie Dylan Wells backs him up.
Montoya is a capable NHL backup who should thrive at the AHL level. He gives the Condors a true number one netminder who can handle a heavy workload and perform at a high level.
This Condor lineup is the deepest in club history, and features a very strong blueline to go with a strong veteran option in net. Up front, there are some question marks but a lot more depth and a lot more options than in years past.
The Oilers are slowly building up a prospect system that should spit out NHL players and bring competitive hockey to the fans in Bakersfield. For the first time since I can remember, the Oilers’ AHL team has given fans a reason to be excited.