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BLOG: Fleming gives insight on young defence

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

The Bakersfield Condors rolled out a largely young and inexperienced lineup this season, especially on defence. The Oilers American Hockey League affiliate played host to several young blueliners in either their first or first few professional seasons. Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming provided his breakdown of some of those young players when he spoke to Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now Tuesday.

Joey LaLeggia enjoyed a fruitful career at the University of Denver. The 23-year-old played five games as a pro last season when his collegiate career ended, but this was his first full year in the AHL.

The defenceman had to spend time playing forward several games due to injuries and call-ups, but the Condors and Oilers are pleased with his progression. He finished the season with 27 points (8-19-27) in 63 games.

“I think Joey got better as the year went on,” said Fleming. “He’s a good player with the puck, but he expanded on that. He was walking the line a little bit more, he had more poise with the puck and his defensive game got better and better. There’s still areas in his defensive game, because he’s a little bit of a smaller guy he’s got to get a little bit stronger but overall we liked his progression and like where he’s at right now.”

Another former collegiate defenceman enjoyed a very promising second pro season in the eyes of his coach.

Dillon Simpson, I thought overall, was probably our most consistent d-man all year long,” said Fleming. “I don’t know where to begin. There’s so many improvements in his game that have happened not only this year but last year as well. He doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s low maintenance, he’s a good leader and he assumed that responsibility this year. I think more time for Dillon and hopefully he gets some games up and down next year to see where he’s at. He was great for us all year long.”

Simpson spent four years at the University of North Dakota. The 2011 fourth-round pick finished this season with 20 points (4-16-20) in 57 games.

Jordan Oesterle is a name very familiar to Oilers fans, as he spent 17 games with the big club this season and drew much praise from the Edmonton staff. The second-year pro posted 25 points (4-21-25) in 44 AHL games with the Condors and returned to them late in the season.

“Before he left he was playing a really high level of hockey at this level, and he came back and picked up right where he left off,” Fleming said of the college free-agent signing out of Western Michigan. “He was a big part of our push down the stretch here especially over the last weekend.”

The Oilers invested a first and second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to acquire 2012 fourth-overall pick Griffin Reinhart. While he spent half his season with the Oilers, Fleming and the Condors did get a chance to work with the blueliner for 30 games. There were positive signs upon his late-season return to the AHL.

“Griff, when he came back, I thought he played a lot heavier,” said Fleming. “There was times we’d show him the importance of that aspect of his game and being consistent with it. I thought when he came down he played a lot more physical.”

Another year of development has paid dividends with some of the Oilers defensive prospects.

“There were some good signs,” said Fleming.

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