The last time an Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate made the playoffs was the 2014-15 season, before the club won the Connor McDavid lottery and before Peter Chiarelli took over as the head of Hockey Operations. The farm team, now the Bakersfield Condors, wasn’t even in California at that point. They were still playing out of the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City as the Barons.
The Barons, who lasted five seasons in OKC, made the playoffs in every year of their existence. Twice they made the Western Conference Final, falling to Toronto in 2011-12 and Grand Rapids in 2012-13. In the spring of 2015, after sweeping San Antonio in the opening round, the Barons were bounced in seven games by the Utica Comets, and were off to California from there.
Since then, the Condors have not enjoyed the same success. Bakersfield hasn’t exactly produced a ton of NHL talent for the Oilers and has failed to make the playoffs in each of their first three seasons. Things are changing on both fronts, however.
The Condors have a plethora of prospects with NHL hopes, and recently saw a 17-game winning streak come to an end. They bounced back with a pair of big divisional wins, and now have a magic number of just 16 with 14 games to go. The Condors are going to make the playoffs, and with a seven point cushion they are likely to win their division.
It’s been quite a ride in Bakersfield in the first season of Jay Woodcroft’s tenure.
Path To The Playoffs:
As we hit the New Year, it looked like the Condors were going to be in the playoff chase for the majority of 2019. They were far from a lock to make the playoffs, but they were going to compete and make things interesting for the second straight season. Then it happened, a winning streak not seen in the AHL in seven years. 17 straight games for the Condors, who lost to Iowa last Friday night but bounced back with back-to-back wins including an 8-4 drubbing of San Jose on Wednesday night.
Now the Condors hold a seven point lead on that same San Jose team with just 14 games remaining in the season. The Barracuda do have a game in hand, but a Condors win against them tomorrow night likely cements the first division title in Bakersfield history.
The push by the Condors in 2019 has been nothing short of sensational and has given fans in both Bakersfield and Edmonton reason to smile. Finally, after three seasons, Condor fans are being rewarded for being one of the best fanbases in the entire AHL. They show up in droves night after night, and now finally have a product to be proud of.
Fans in Edmonton can smile because the key figures on this Condor team are vastly different than the leaders of the Barons. Oklahoma City was a veteran team driven by guys who, for lack of a better term, had no chance to establish themselves as NHL’ers. That is not the case on the farm anymore.
As of now, the Condors would play the Colorado Eagles (Colorado’s affiliate) in the opening round of the playoffs. It would the renewal of an old rivalry in the ECHL years ago, with the series being a best-of-five.
The Condors will be on the road both tonight and tomorrow night, starting off with an AHL Battle of Alberta against the Stockton Heat tonight. Tomorrow it’ll be back to the Shark Tank for a date with the Barracuda, who they hung eight on on Wednesday. The next home game? Wednesday night against Dallas Eakins and the San Diego Gulls.
Youth Gone Wild:
Those Baron teams of the past were led by guys like Bryan Helmer, Yann Danis, Josh Green, Ryan Hamilton, Alexandre Giroux, Colin McDonald and Brad Moran. All solid players, but all AHL veterans with no real NHL potential for the club. Sure, they won games at that level, but one could argue they hurt the development of Edmonton’s prospects back then.
Now, the youth is going wild on the coast, with guys like Tyler Benson, Kailer Yamamoto, Cooper Marody, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, Shane Starrett and William Lagesson leading the way for a Condors team that should be a threat to win a wide open Western Conference.
The Condors currently have two of the top-five rookie scorers in the AHL, with Tyler Benson (10-37-47, 54 GP) sitting third and Cooper Marody (13-32-45, 44 GP) sitting in fourth league wide. Both players have established themselves as top-six forwards in the AHL, and should be considered for NHL employment as early as next January.
Defensively, I think Jones could be ready as early as next opening night, with Bear close behind and potentially Lagesson as well. Those three should help, along with Evan Bouchard, improve Edmonton’s situation on the blue-line moving forward.
The Oilers likely don’t have a game-breaker in Bakersfield that will emerge as a core piece at the NHL level. What they do have, however, are players like Yamamoto, Marody, Benson, Jones, Lagesson and Bear that could fill roles inside the top-nine forward group and the top-four defense in due time.
The Condors are a fun team to watch with a number of young prospects that could help the big club as early as next season. For the first time in recent memory, the Oilers are developing talent and winning at the AHL level. It might not see like much to the average fan right now, but this playoff push down on the farm is a big deal.