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FUTURE WATCH: Development in the details

With no games to play until Sunday, Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft has designated the week to individual development

by Paul Gazzola / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - The American Hockey League season is rolling but if you're the Bakersfield Condors, it's at a standstill.

The club opened the 2019-20 campaign by beating the San Diego Gulls 2-1 on Friday then dropped a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ontario Reign a day later. The team doesn't play again until Sunday when they visit the San Jose Barracuda, meaning the Condors calendar is carte blanche.

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"We're using it as a development week," Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft, entering his second year with the squad, said.

"We started this last year. We wanted to take advantage of those weeks that come up in the schedule when there's a big gap in between games."

For Woodcroft, development week is about personal growth through detail-oriented drills. A change-up from practices typically devoted to team systems and strategies.

"What we like to do is we split up the players by position and we'll do forward-specific things, D-specific things, goalie-specific things, all in the hopes that we work on little details to improve individuals so that the team improves as a whole," the coach said.

"The way we equate it to players is they're investing in their personal corporation when they go through these types of practices because they're working on details in their game. The more you do that, the more you get out of everyone's potential."

Woodcroft and Co. unearthed plenty of the team's potential in '18-19 when Bakersfield topped the Pacific Division with a 42-21-3-2 record and .654 win percentage. The Condors achieved a 17-game winning streak, clinched the franchise's first AHL playoff berth, defeated the Colorado Eagles in Round 1 then were outed by the Gulls in six games in the Pacific Division Final.

But Woodcroft isn't dwelling on it.

"It's a new season, a new year, a new team," he said. "We have new players and we have some experience now. We made it clear right from our opening meeting that we're here to produce in the present."

The book is out on Bakersfield, though. Last season's ascension put the club on notice, so nothing is expected to come easy in the new schedule.

"Having the year we had last year means that you're not going to take anybody by surprise in any way," Woodcroft said. "I think the idea that as the team gets better, things get easier. I don't think it works like that. I think it gets harder."

Kailer Yamamoto, who used development week's downtime to get settled into a new house, is buying in. 

Woodcroft's '18-19 philosophy was to treat winning as a skill and his message this year is convincing the players that teamwork does, indeed, make the dream work.

"You just come to the rink every day and put your boots on," Yamamoto said. "Every time you come into the rink, not only do it for yourself but if you're playing your best, you're making other players better."

So even though the ball may not get rolling again until Monday, progress is being made. 

"We want to be the best team that we can be," Woodcroft said. 

"We realize that the strength of the team is in the team. We don't think winning and development is mutually exclusive. We think you can do both."

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ROOKIE CAMP: Prospects close out Rookie Camp on Day 7

Oilers prospects took part in their last practice of Rookie Camp on Wednesday at the West Edmonton Mall Ice Palace ahead of tomorrow's official start of Main Camp

by Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - The sixth and final day of Oilers Rookie Camp took place at West Edmonton Mall's Ice Palace Wednesday morning after the Oilers prospects fell 3-1 to the Flames in Calgary last night.

FULL ROOKIE CAMP ROSTER

The Oilers Rookies now turn their attention to Main Camp, beginning Thursday morning at Rogers Place with fitness testing and medicals.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Rookie Wrap-Up 09.11.19

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Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Tyler Benson 09.11.19 

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ROOKIE CAMP: Stukel, Iacobellis hoping to pluck spots on the Condors

Wichita Thunder forwards Jakob Stukel and Steven Iacobellis inked AHL deals this past off-season, and are looking to grab spots on the Condors in '19-20

by Paul Gazzola / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Jakob Stukel still remembers attending Oilers Development Camp in 2015.

It's hard to forget, given it was Oilers Captain Connor McDavid's first foray with the organization as he created a buzz every time he stepped on the ice in Oilers silks.

"It was McDavid's first year and there was a lot of hype," Stukel recalled on Day 5 of Oilers Rookie Camp. 

"I just remember the (Billy Moores Cup) game where he had five goals. He put on a show. That was pretty cool to be there with him and learn some things from him as well."

Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Stukel 09.09.19

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ROOKIE CAMP: Woodcroft's teaching innovation on display

"It's a screen generation, right? We're just trying to get creative with how we get our point across," said Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft of his decision to use a television monitor on the bench at Rookie Camp

by Paul Gazzola / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - The Information Age is making its presence felt on National Hockey League ice.

Video monitors are already embedded in NHL benches, IPads appear in the palms of a coach's hands every game and puck tracking is a work in progress, so it wasn't exactly novel when Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft decided to wheel out a large television monitor on the bench to help explain some new concepts at Oilers Rookie Camp. 

"It's a screen generation, right? We're just trying to get creative with how we get our point across," said Woodcroft at Day 5 of Camp.

The bench boss knows that to resonate with players, there can't be too much information to process at a time. Visual teaching methods can assist in packaging information and Woodcroft felt his players got the grasp of his new theme immediately.

"I believe you have to really be careful as a coach not to dump too much information on people," Woodcroft continued.

Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Woodcroft 09.09.19

"As a result, our meetings are brief, succinct and to the point. That day that you saw us implement the monitor on the bench, the reason we did that is we introduced a new theme. We had a theme before practice, we went out and executed it, and then we introduced something new. I thought the players responded really well and executed right after. They did it all while having a little bit of a water break."

Most of the prospects attending Rookie Camp haven't been accustomed to the instructional methods Woodcroft used, and that was something he was quick to point out.

"Really, where that happens is in the NHL," he said. "Most of the guys here, that would be the first time they would be shown those types of things on monitors and what not. I think it makes it a little easier if they get into an NHL exhibition game and one of the assistant coaches is showing something on an iPad or the screens down below, they can do that."

"But for me, more than anything, it was a teaching tool to make sure that we introduced a theme. We didn't want to go off the ice, we didn't want to flood the ice. We wanted to use our time as wisely as possible while introducing a new theme. I think the players responded to it."

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ROOKIE CAMP: Prospects elevate the pace on Day 5

The Oilers Rookies elevated their pace on Monday as they continue to eye spots at Oilers Main Camp while preparing for Tuesday's rematch with the Flames Rookies

by Staff / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Day 5 of Oilers Rookie Camp saw the prospects continue to elevate their pace as they look towards getting an invite to Oilers Main Camp which begins later in the week.

FULL ROOKIE CAMP ROSTER

The Oilers hopefuls also prepared for their rematch with the Flames Rookies on Tuesday. The prospects dropped a 1-0 overtime decision to Calgary in Red Deer, AB, on Saturday in what was a hotly-contested Battle of Alberta match.

Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Iacobellis 09.09.19

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PHOTO GALLERY

 Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Woodcroft 09.09.19

See below for content from Sunday's Rookie skate.

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ROOKIE CAMP: Hebig better prepared for longevity after first pro season

Forward Cameron Hebig understands the rigours and balancing act of a full season after experiencing the highs and lows of his first professional campaign with the Bakersfield Condors

by Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - If you talk to marathon runners, they'd tell you a race isn't won in the first 100 metres.

Carry that line of thinking over to hockey, and much of the same still applies.

Forward Cameron Hebig was off to a flyer to begin his first professional season with the Bakersfield Condors last campaign, breaking out in his first 10 games with six goals and six assists after helping lead the Regina Pats to a Memorial Cup final appearance the year prior following a mid-season trade from his hometown Saskatoon Blades.

"I learned a lot in my first year, and the coaching staff was so great for teaching me so many things," he said on Sunday from Oilers Rookie Camp.

 "The Calder Cup is a whole different level than the regular season. Obviously the Memorial Cup was a great experience and those kinds of big games you get more comfortable in, but to be around the guys in the Calder Cup and see how we operate, it was great to go to the second round but too bad we couldn't go further."

Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Hebig 09.08.19

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ROOKIE CAMP: Beau Starrett benefitting from brother Shane's experience

"Having him here to show me the ropes and really tell me what's right and what's wrong has really benefitted me. I love Shane to death and he's helped me a lot making this transition easier," forward Beau Starrett said

by Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Beau Starrett got a fistful of exposure to one of hockey's most heated rivalries during this season's first rookie rendition of the Battle of Alberta on neutral ground in Red Deer.

The 6-foot-5 forward could barely shed his mitts in time to defend himself from a sucker punch delivered by Flames d-man Montana Onyebuchi midway through the second period of Saturday's 1-0 overtime defeat for the Oilers Rookies at the hands of their provincial rivals.

"It was the Battle of Alberta, so the rich history of Calgary and the Oilers going at it," Starrett said on Sunday at Rogers Place following Day 4 of Oilers Rookie Camp. "Obviously I got a big taste of what that rivalry was like at the half-way point of that game, but it was great just getting our feet under ourselves. We didn't get the result we wanted, but overall it was a good game.

"We still have Tuesday's tilt to get redemption."

Video: ROOKIE CAMP | B. Starrett 09.08.19

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ROOKIE CAMP: Woodcroft says Benson 'looks fantastic' early in Camp

"When he feels confident, his natural skills and natural abilities come out. His numbers speak for themselves," said Woodcroft

by Tony Brar / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Seamless.

That's probably the best way to describe Tyler Benson's transition to the pro game.

In junior, Benson captained the Vancouver Giants in three of his four seasons with the club, tallying 184 points in 190 career WHL games - his last two seasons with Vancouver saw the winger average well more than a point per game.

However, no one questioned his talent. It was his ability to be on the ice that was the concern.

Benson battled numerous injuries in his junior career, including spinal issues and groin and shoulder injuries that lingered during his tenure with the Giants.

Thankfully for the Edmonton native, that wasn't the case in his first year of pro hockey, suiting up in all 78 games for the Bakersfield Condors in the regular season and playoffs.

"He's got to feel real good about a few things," said Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft. "Number one, the fact that he was healthy for the entire year. He was healthy, he put in a great summer last summer and he reaped the benefits. That's a kid who put in the work in order to feel confident.

"Confidence is earned. That's something we would say in Bakersfield, that you earn the right to feel confident. It comes from the work you put in during the summertime, it comes from your daily process, how you take care of yourself away from the rink, how professional you are and your work habits."

Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Woodcroft 09.06.19

While Benson enjoyed a productive rookie season in the American Hockey League - registering 66 points (15 goals, 51 assists) in 68 games - it didn't come without personal adversity. From mid-November to late December, the six-foot winger went 17 games without scoring a goal.

"What I liked about it was he worked his way out of that situation," said Woodcroft. "He worked his way out of it at that level. Now he has the foundation of how to overcome some personal adversity of not scoring a goal for a certain length of games.

"Then, in the second half of the season, he shot the puck a lot more. He was a threat."

After being named to the All-Rookie team with his teammate and roommate Shane Starrett, Benson went on to be a key piece for the Condors during their 2019 Calder Cup playoff run. While Bakersfield was eliminated in the Pacific Division Final, Benson's skill and confidence was on full display this past spring.  

"When he feels confident, his natural skills and natural abilities come out," explained Woodcroft. "His numbers speak for themselves. What I like about him is that there was personal growth in his game as well. Benson's overall game was a huge plus as well. I was comfortable putting those kids against anybody.

"Look at him out here (in Rookie Camp), he looks fantastic. Just like a lot of the other forwards that are going to compete to make the Edmonton Oilers, he's got to feel real good about his opportunity."

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ROOKIE CAMP: Cooper's town

The 22-year-old forward is supplementing his burgeoning career as an Oiler with his budding musical talent, having already released two singles on iTunes and Spotify

by Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Forward Cooper Marody walks to the beat of a different tune than most.

A first full season for the 22-year-old in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors produced an impressive 64 points (19G, 45A) in 58 games to supplement a strong bid for the former University of Michigan Wolverine to claim a spot on the Oilers roster this campaign after his six-game stint in the big leagues last year.

"The end goal is to make the Oilers, and I've said this many times, I don't want to be a 13th or 14th forward," Marody said following Day 2 of Oilers Rookie Camp on Friday. "I think I can be a top-six player in the NHL, and I put in a lot of work this summer to prove that. I gained eight pounds of muscle, did a bunch of on-ice stuff that's really helped me, and I know it's going to help me this year."

What's supplementing Marody's budding hockey career, and helping him become a better player on and off the ice, is a passion for music that's become more than just a hobby.

After finishing his weekly quota for workouts in Michigan during the summer, you'd find Marody regularly jetting out to Nashville, Tennessee to work on his next single in the studio.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Cooper's Town 09.06.19

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ROOKIE CAMP: Safin enters Rookie Camp with a chip on his shoulder

Ostap Safin is healthy and participating at Oilers Rookie Camp with a chip on his shoulder after navigating most of the 2018-19 season injured

by Paul Gazzola / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Ostap Safin is entering Oilers Rookie Camp with a chip on his shoulder.

That's not a cliché, as the Oilers 2017 fourth rounder's right shoulder protrudes unlike his left, stemming from a shoulder injury he sustained in the 2018-19 season.

The left-shot right-winger was limited to 15 regular season games with the Halifax Mooseheads last year but managed to score three goals and 11 points. He was healthy enough to get back up and running for Halifax's playoff and Memorial Cup runs, as the club lost in the QMJHL Finals but hosted the perennial Canadian Hockey League best-on-best tournament after.

Despite the physical bump, the Czech is fully healthy and driven to return to form in the upcoming campaign.

"It was a mentally hard season to get through the injuries," said the winger at Day 2 of Rookie Camp. "I was kind of frustrated. First, it was a one-month layoff then three months. It was bad. 

"But now it's in the past so I want to move on."

Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Safin 09.06.19

Move on and move up to the pro ranks, where Safin is expected to compete in '19-20. His main goal is to remain in the lineup without ailments or injuries keeping him out.

"I want to stay healthy. That's 100 percent my goal right now," Safin, who had a strong '17-18 season with the Saint John Sea Dogs when he scored 26 goals and 58 points in 61 outings, said. 

"I was born to play hockey. This is my game and I love to play hockey. When you're not playing and you're watching the guys playing and cheering for them, it's hard."

Bakersfield Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft is getting better acquainted with Safin at the 2019 edition of Oilers Rookie Camp. In 2018, Safin was unable to participate for most sessions due to injury.

The Condors coach believes Safin has all the tools to be a solid forward and is now in the right frame of mind to make it happen.

Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Woodcroft 09.06.19

"When you look at him as a player, he's got size and a level of skill," said Woodcroft. 

"Any time a player has been injured and they're fully recovered, you've got to feel good about the daily opportunity to show what you got. He's in a good headspace for that."

With his head on his shoulders, Safin's simply looking to getting back to playing the game he loves at the highest level possible.

"Right now, I'm 100 percent," he said. "It's not easy but I'll battle through everything."

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