EDMONTON, AB - Jordan Oesterle’s legs were a little more tired than usual Saturday night.
“It’s definitely different playing 25 minutes up here than playing 25 minutes in the AHL,” he said.
The 23-year-old defenceman led all Oilers skaters in ice time against the Arizona Coyotes, playing 25:27. The Oilers lost the game 4-0, but Oesterle wasn’t on the ice for a goal against and finished with three shots on goal, two hits and two blocked shots. He chipped in 3:07 of power-play time.
“I like playing a lot,” said Oesterle. “I like getting thrown to the wolves like that and I feel like my game comes alive when I get to play a little bit more than usual.”
Oesterle has played just 12 NHL games in his career, six this season. While 25:27 was a career high for him at this level, the blueliner is used to shouldering a lot of minutes. Down in Bakersfield in the American Hockey League, Oesterle was getting top-pairing minutes with the Condors. That meant roughly 25 minutes per night on average. The night before Oesterle was recalled by the Oilers, the defenceman says he played 27 minutes.
“I think the biggest thing for me is just take care of my body and make sure I’m getting my legs going every night, whether I’m playing 25 or 15,” said Oesterle. “Just always have my legs going. That’s the biggest thing, just getting your legs under you and getting used to it.”
Oesterle may have been breathing a little heavier after the Coyotes game, but he felt he kept his effort level the same for the full night. While there are minutes available, Oesterle enjoys taking them. He’s used to the playing time, as he got good minutes in college at Western Michigan as well under former NHL coach Andy Murray.
One thing Oesterle’s legs are used to is skating. His dad put him in skating school at a young age and he would go at six in the morning for two hours, every day. Repetition breeds consistency.
“He can skate,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “He’s not afraid to skate with the puck, he can escape, he gets the puck moving up the ice, seems to be confident. It’s good for us to see him here again.”
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Oesterle has returned to the Oilers, seizing an opportunity that arose due to injuries on the club’s blueline. With Adam Pardy, Brandon Davidson, Eric Gryba and Oscar Klefbom all dealing with various ailments and Darnell Nurse serving a three-game suspension, Oesterle has been given another opportunity at this level.
“I didn’t really go down with any expectations of coming back up or staying down,” said Oesterle, who was recalled on March 9 after being sent down at the NHL Trade Deadline to make him eligible for the Condors playoff run.
“I just went down and tried to get Bakersfield in the playoffs and just play to the best of my ability down there and good play will give you good returns. I think it did that.”
Oesterle has shown growth in his game ever since signing with the Oilers out of the NCAA in 2014. The defenceman uses his skating ability and hockey smarts to overcome a perceived lack of size, although he’s bulked up seven pounds since last season to play at 6-foot, 187 pounds. Another year of professional preparation has made Oesterle both physically and mentally better suited for the NHL game.
“I feel a lot stronger than I did last year and I’m able to compete a lot better than I was down low and pin guys or box guys out in front of the net and I just feel more comfortable,” he said.
“I think the extra year of pro helped me mentally. And then another summer of training and just learning what to do and being a year older and more mature has really helped me grow both mentally and physically.”
Smaller defencemen like Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon, Boston’s Torey Krug and Colorado’s Tyson Barrie give Oesterle some insight into what it takes to compete against bigger skaters at the NHL level.
“It’s definitely nice to see that,” Oesterle said. “It gives me some hope that I can make a career out of this and it’s nice to see guys like that have a lot of success. It makes me feel confident in doing what I can do and, hopefully, somehow getting to be like Spurgeon or like the smaller guys in the league.”
Increased minutes also help Oesterle learn by trial and error. If he continues to play bigger minutes down the stretch for Edmonton, it sets the defenceman up for a wealth of experience to draw upon next year when the club meets for training camp in the fall.
“Last year was a little more surreal and I just was giving everybody a little too much space, in the sense of defensively, and not really going out and taking initiative and being the type of player I was in the American League.”
This year is different for Oesterle, who is out to prove the team can give him big minutes while there are minutes to give.