At the beginning of the season, there were a few key pieces to the Oilers future toiling down in the American Hockey League.
Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl, both first-round picks, began the season with the Bakersfield Condors. Now both are playing up in the NHL with the big club and neither look like they’ll return to California anytime soon, unless of course it’s with the Oilers.
Nurse is consistently playing in the 22-25 minute range for Edmonton. Draisaitl, as of Tuesday morning, ranked fourth in the league in points per game (1.20).
As for the prospects down in the AHL and playing in junior today, defence and goaltending stand out as early top performers heading into the Christmas break.
Laurent Brossoit was the number one netminder with the Condors before he went down with an injury. The Oilers top young goalie prospect has played 15 games this season, and has a record of 9-4-2 with a .926 save percentage and three shutouts. He won five straight and seven of nine starts during a stretch from October 24-November 27.
“LB’s been good this year,” said Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming. “He got off to a little bit of a slow start, but he’s been solid here over the last month. He had a setback with an injury here, but he’s been a big part of our success. When LB’s on, he’s tracking the puck well. His rebound control is outstanding. He’s so athletic in the net. Technically, he works on things every day.”
Photo by Mark Nessia | Bakersfield Condors
Since Brossoit’s injury, Ben Scrivens has filled in well. He is 2-2-1 in his last five starts with a .942 save percentage and a shutout.
Defensively, it’s no surprise to see Brad Hunt’s name at the top of the scoring list for the Condors. The blueliner with the knack for the power play leads the team with 21 points (4-17-21) in 26 games. Joey LaLeggia, also known for offensive ability, is sixth on the team in scoring with nine points (2-7-9). LaLeggia has had to play on the wing given recent injuries and call-ups.
Dillon Simpson is back on the ice after injuring his shoulder at training camp. The 2011 fourth-round pick has three assists in 16 games.
Griffin Reinhart, who is expected to factor into the future of the Oilers as they invested a first and a second-round pick for him in a trade, is currently down on the farm. In five games, Reinhart has three points.
It’s in the CHL and USHL where we see some more impressive results from Oilers defensive prospects so far this season.
Ethan Bear has lit up the stat sheet this season. He is tied for 24th in WHL scoring as of Tuesday, with 36 points (11-25-36) in 33 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds. Bear was selected 124th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. In the month of December, Bear recorded two multi-goal games, including a hat trick on the 11th.
Ethan Bear skates with the puck for Seattle. Photo by Getty Images.
Fellow 2015 draft pick Caleb Jones (117th overall) is also posting big numbers for a defenceman. Jones has 24 points (5-19-24) in 33 games for Portland.
On September 28, John Marino was named USHL Defenceman of the Week. The Oilers 2015 sixth-round pick (154th overall) is a Harvard commit playing in his first USHL season with the Tri-City Storm. He has 12 points (1-11-12) in 22 games so far and just played for Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge. The U.S. beat Canada East 7-1 in the bronze medal game on December 18. Marino had two assists in five games.
William Lagesson, taken in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft, will represent Sweden at the 2016 World Junior Championship. Lagesson has six points (2-4-6) in 18 games for UMass-Amherst this season, his first collegiate year.
As for forwards, the Condors are mostly led by AHL veterans. However, Andrew Miller, despite being called up to the Oilers then sent down a couple times, is third on the team in scoring with 16 points (6-10-16) in 20 games. After starting the season in the NHL, Anton Slepyshev has four goals in his last 12 games after no points in his first six.
Coming out of Christmas break is when we traditionally see prospects take off, especially in the AHL. Young players down in the minors gain confidence and adjust to the professional game or the level of competition. Systems are integrated and the players can see their numbers reflect that. It will be interesting to see which prospects separate themselves from the pack come the new year. The story of the first part of the season for Oilers prospects belongs to defence and goaltending.