In the wake of changes this season, the Edmonton Oilers have made patient player development one of the cornerstones of their new philosophy.
In Bakersfield, the Oilers' American Hockey League affiliate, the switch has delivered immediate results in the standings while the NHL team tries to find its footing during a season in which its coach, Todd McLellan, and its GM, Peter Chiarelli, were fired.
Bakersfield (37-17-3-1) has won 20 of its past 23 games (20-2-1-0) during a tear through the Western Conference that has extended more than two months. That surge included 17 consecutive wins, the second-longest winning streak in the AHL's 83 seasons.
Bakersfield went from a middle-of-the-pack team in mid-January to a top contender to win the Calder Cup, something the Edmonton organization has not done since 1993.
Bakersfield's .672 points percentage leads the Western Conference and is third in the AHL behind Charlotte (.706) and Syracuse (.683). The team's 37 wins also are tied with Chicago (Vegas Golden Knights) for the Western Conference lead.
Bakersfield plays in the competitive Pacific Division, which also features fellow California contenders San Diego (Anaheim Ducks) and San Jose (San Jose Sharks). San Diego had a 15-game point streak earlier this season, and San Jose held first place in the division for much of the season before being overtaken by Bakersfield. Colorado (Colorado Avalanche) had a nine-game winning streak ended this past weekend.
Bakersfield is averaging 4.61 goals per game in their past 23 games, but coach Jay Woodcroft credits early-season diligence for the second-half success.
The team started the week first in the AHL in goals per game (3.62) and second in goals-against per game (2.60) behind Syracuse (2.46). At 32.9 shots per game, Bakersfield also ranks second behind Cleveland (33.2).
"For us to have started that habit in October was key to us having some of the offensive success that we've had lately," Woodcroft told the team web site. "[It] is because it is ingrained in our group. They know that to have success on the offensive side of things, they have to do things like get to hard areas and the puck has to get there as well."
"It's a full credit to our guys for the work that they have put in."
Three Oilers prospects are having significant impacts.
The Oilers drafted the 21-year-old forward in the second round (No. 32) of the 2016 NHL Draft. After a difficult Western Hockey League career beset by injuries, he had a strong finish there with Vancouver and had 69 points (27 goals, 42 assists) last season.
Benson (6-foot, 190 pounds) is tied for 15th in AHL scoring at 55 points in 58 games (13 goals, 42 assists). He is third in rookie scoring behind Alex Barre-Boulet of Syracuse and Drake Batherson of Belleville, each with 56 points.
In a 7-0 home win against Ontario (Los Angeles Kings) on Saturday night, Benson had a career-high four points (one goal, three assists). That has him on a six-game point streak (four goals, seven assists) going into a rematch at Ontario on Friday.
The 22-year-old forward has emerged as a real find for the Oilers, who acquired him from the Philadelphia Flyers on March 21, 2018 for a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Philadelphia had selected Marody in the sixth round (No. 158) in the 2015 NHL Draft. He finished his career at the University of Michigan by leading the Big Ten in scoring with 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 40 games last season.
Woodcroft has had Marody together with Benson, and the rookies have clicked. Marody (6-0, 184) has a six-game point streak (three goals, seven assists).
Edmonton gave Marody a six-game NHL stint earlier in the season, but he did not register a point. Despite his strong second-half play (and Benson's), the Oilers have stuck to their word and exercised patience with each player, keeping them in Bakersfield to continue their AHL development together.
Marody is fourth in AHL rookie scoring at 51 points (15 goals, 36 assists) in 48 games.
Yamamoto became the first example of the Oilers' philosophy change. They assigned the first-round selection (No. 22) in the 2017 NHL Draft to Bakersfield, where the forward has remained since.
The 20-year-old (5-8, 153) struggled to find a regular role with the Oilers after Ken Hitchcock took over as coach. Out with an upper-body injury at the moment, he has thrived in the AHL with regular ice time and has nine points (six goals, three assists) in 15 games since the assignment.