A pair of Russian forwards spent part of the 2015-16 season down in the American Hockey League with the Oilers affiliate. Anton Slepyshev and Bogdan Yakimov each played over 35 games for the Bakersfield Condors.
Slepyshev opened the season in Edmonton (11 games, one assist), but was assigned down to Bakersfield. It took him some time to adjust to his new surroundings in his first North American season.
The winger seemed to find his groove in the month of March. He had a stretch of games in which he recorded three goals and four assists for seven points in seven games. He finished the season with 21 points, including 13 goals, in 49 games for the Condors.
“I think Slepy got better as the year went on and I think you’ll see more offence from him next year,” said Condors Coach Gerry Fleming, who spoke with Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now Tuesday. “It’s always tough when you don’t understand the language, different culture, the game is a little bit different here with just the size of the ice and the way the philosophies are. It took him a little while to adapt to that but I think there were signs toward the end of the year that he does have that club in his bag and he’s got a good skill-set. He’s big, he just needed time to get comfortable.”
Yakimov had much more of a rollercoaster season that saw him return to the KHL for 11 games and then the playoffs before returning to Bakersfield to finish out the year. He finished his 2015-16 AHL campaign with 15 points (5-10-15) in 36 games. This came a year following a promising first North American season in which a strong rookie camp put him right in the thick of the top end of the Oilers prospect pool. The return to Russia could be seen as a bump in his development road, but his return was encouraging for the Condors and the Oilers.
“Double-edged sword there,” said Fleming. “He thinks that going back helped him not only physically but mentally. He says it’s a different game, they play a little bit differently. Maybe a little more skill-set is required so maybe you have to be focused on that. He came back and kudos to him for coming back and trying to help us. He was good on draws for us down the stretch. Obviously, we’d like to see a little more offence from him but it wasn’t from lack of trying, that’s for sure.”
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.
The Bakersfield Condors would like to be sitting in a playoff spot right about now, but unfortunately they fell just short of that goal. But for their bigger goal and the bigger picture, there were successes this season.
As the American Hockey League affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, the Condors main purpose is to develop the NHL club’s young prospects and prepare them for life in the NHL. The staff down in California takes great pride when they are able to tell a player they’ve gotten the call-up.
“Ultimately, that’s our job is to prepare these guys to play in the NHL,” said Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming. “We had pretty much all of our guys at some point or a majority of our guys play in the NHL and contribute or perform well up there. That speaks volumes to the reception they receive down here. People don’t understand that coming to these games and watching these guys develop is a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish here. In that respect, it was a positive thing. But at the end of the day, you’d always like to make the playoffs, and I think that experience of going into the playoffs and learning how to win and playing those games is a huge part of their development.”
Players like Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl began the year on the farm, but earned call-ups and stuck with the Oilers the rest of the way, taking advantage of an opportunity that presented itself with injuries to the parent club. Prospects like Jujhar Khaira and Jordan Oesterle took advantage of their opportunities as well and were able to turn heads on the Oilers first-year coaching staff. Laurent Brossoit earned time in the NHL after an All-Star campaign down in the AHL.
That being said, all of the call-ups this season left the Condors fighting for their playoff lives and struggling to piece together a full roster. But that’s the life of an AHL team, and through the disappointment there were successes.
“I don’t think it’s a question of frustration,” said Fleming. “I am disappointed for the guys because they do put the sacrifice in and the hard work and the time and details that need to go into getting into the playoffs. But at the end of the day, their ultimate goal is to play in the NHL and contribute to that team and to further their careers. They all want to play in the NHL. At the end of the day, we’re here to service the Edmonton Oilers. They want us to make the playoffs because it is a big part of their development. To see the amount of guys we had move up and progress in their careers was rewarding.”
Oilers goalie prospect Keven Bouchard and the Moncton Wildcats clinched their QMJHL quarter final series against Gatineau 4-2 with a 7-2 victory in Game 6 Monday night.
The 20-year-old netminder stopped 22 of 24 shots Monday, helping the Wildcats secure victory and advance to the semi final.
Bouchard finished the series playing 352:21, while posting a 2.55 GAA and .907 save percentage in six games.
Bouchard was selected 183rd overall in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Draft.
Oilers prospect and Seattle Thunderbirds defenceman Ethan Bear is moving on in the WHL Playoffs.
Seattle beat Everett 3-2 in Game 5 to take the series 4-1. The Thunderbirds will now head to the Western Conference Final to face either Kelowna or Victoria. Kelowna leads that series 3-2.
8. WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP BOUND pic.twitter.com/ObDIQLQwgL— Seattle Thunderbirds (@SeattleTbirds) April 17, 2016
Bear finished Game 5 +2 with no points. He has three goals and six assists for nine points in nine games this post-season.
The defenceman was selected in the fifth round, 124th overall, by the Oilers in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Bear was named third star of the game Friday as the Thunderbirds beat the Silvertips in Game 4 of their WHL Playoffs second-round series.
The defenceman finished the game +1 with one assist. He recorded the second assist on the game’s opening goal.
Bear has nine points (3-6-9) in eight playoff games this post-season. He has one goal and four assists in four games this series.
He was selected in the fifth round, 124th overall, by the Oilers in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Seattle has won three straight games since dropping the series opener and looks to eliminate Everett tonight.
Meanwhile, Bouchard and his Wildcats also picked up a win Friday. The goaltender made 24 saves on 28 shots in a 6-4 win over the Olympiques.
Moncton was spurred to victory by a five-goal third period. In that third, Bouchard allowed just one goal in the final 20 minutes as Moncton trailed 3-1 heading into the frame.
Bouchard and the Wildcats lead the series 3-2 and look to close it out Monday on the road.
The goalie was taken 183rd overall in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Draft.
Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr was a guest of Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now Thursday and talked about Central Scouting’s final draft rankings and some of the top prospects in the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft.
Marr gave his insights on the top three skaters, ranked one, two and three atop the European skaters list: Auston Matthews (Zurich), Patrik Laine (Tappara) and Jesse Puljujarvi (Karpat).
“They’ve been frontrunners right from the get-go, and I would say all of them have exceeded the projections that were in place for them,” said Marr.
All three have their individual positive traits, but Matthews is considered the cream of the crop.
“Auston Mathews is clear-cut, the best prospect available for this 2016 Draft,” said Marr. “Laine and Puljujarvi, they’ve each made individual cases for themselves to be part of the discussion but they’re just not going to supplant Auston Matthews right now. The teams picking in the top five or six of the draft are going to come away with a future star for their team down the road.”
Laine and Puljujarvi are different from Matthews and each other. Laine exhibits dynamic offensive ability in contrast to the power-forward game of Puljujarvi.
“It’s like a Brett Hull release, and you’re always wondering because you know Brett Hull has the shot, why is he open on the play? Laine can deliver that,” said Marr.
“(Puljujarvi) can rely on his physical attritbutes a little bit more. Not the same skill set, but we’re talking really minuscule differences between these players here. I just think Laine right now has a little bit more dynamic game he brings to the table. Puljujarvi might have what you’d call the more up-and-down game.”
All three of these players could make an immediate impact at the NHL level, given the right situation.
“All three are capable to go to a team and make the team out of training camp,” said Marr. “Whether they’re in a position to play in the National Hockey League during the season is up to the players and the teams.”
A pair of Oilers prospects had big nights in their respective junior playoffs series on Wednesday.
Oilers defensive prospect Ethan Bear and the Seattle Thunderbirds have edged ahead of the Everett Silvertips in their WHL Playoffs series.
Seattle is now up 2-1 in the series, following a 5-0 blanking of the Tips in Game 3 on Wednesday. Bear was named the game’s First Star after scoring a goal, adding an assist and finishing +3 on the night.
Bear’s goal, a snipe from the high slot, at 9:14 of the second period put Seattle up 2-0. Bear also assisted on the game’s opening goal, which served as the game winner.
The series stays in Everett for Game 4 on Friday, as Seattle looks to push their opponent to the brink of elimination.
Bear was taken 124th overall in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Oilers draft pick Keven Bouchard is among the top goalie performers in the QMJHL playoffs. The Moncton goaltender is 6-3 in the playoffs and has a .919 save percentage.
Bouchard was named the first star of the game Wednesday night as he made 31 saves in a 2-1 overtime win over Gatineau. Their quarter final series is tied 2-2, and continues Friday in Moncton.
Bouchard was selected by the Oilers in the seventh round, 183rd overall, of the 2014 NHL Draft.
The NHL has released their final rankings for the 2016 NHL Draft, which will be held in Buffalo, NY June 24-25. NHL Central Scouting Bureau released its final ballot of draft-eligible skaters, and forward Auston Matthews tops that list.
Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr says Matthews is “an extraordinary prospect with NHL size, speed and smarts combined with an exceptional work ethic and a relentless compete level.”
Matthews, a Scottsdale, AZ native, skated for Zurich in Switzerland this past season, leading his team in goals with 24 (24-22-46). Matthews ranks at the top of the European skaters list, followed by Finnish wingers Patrik Laine (Tappara) and Jesse Puljujarvi (Karpat).
Laine is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound winger who scored 17 goals and had 33 points in 46 games for Tappara in Finland. He was a part of the Finland team that won gold at the 2016 World Junior Championship.
Puljujarvi was also on that Finnish team. The 6-foot-3, 201-pound right winger had 28 points (13-15-28) in 50 games for Karpat.
Atop the final rankings for North American skaters is Cape Breton left winger Pierre-Luc Dubois. The next two are London’s Matthew Tkachuk and Alexander Nylander.
Dubois scored 42 goals and finished his season with 99 points and 112 penalty minutes for the QMJHL’s Screaming Eagles. He is a big left-shot winger at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds.
Tkachuk played for the OHL’s Knights, potting 30 goals and adding 77 assists for 107 points in 57 games this season. He comes from a hockey family, as the son of long-time NHL winger Keith Tkachuk and the brother of 2018 draft-eligible Brady Tkachuk.
Nylander, a winger, played 2015-16 with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League. The son of long-time NHL player Michael Nylander and brother of Toronto prospect William Nylander finished the year with 75 points (28-47-75) in 57 games.
The final rankings feature the top 210 skaters and 30 goaltenders from the U.S. and Canada, as well as the top 150 skaters and 15 goaltenders from Europe.
The 2016 NHL Draft Lottery will be held on April 30.
Hockey Canada announced today their first 18 players and the Oilers will be well-represented at the IIHF World Championships next month. Forwards Connor McDavid and Taylor Hall will be joined by goaltender Cam Talbot on Team Canada.
The Oilers have also confirmed over the last two days that forwards Patrick Maroon and Matt Hendricks will skate for Team USA, while defenceman Andrej Sekera will represent Slovakia and centre Leon Draisaitl will play for Germany.