After three years at Western Michigan University, Jordan Oesterle chose Edmonton as the next stop in his hockey career. The college free agent defenceman signed with the Oilers on March 31, 2014.
Although he played four games for the Oklahoma City Barons last season, even scoring his first professional goal and adding one playoff game under his belt as well, this year was his first full professional season. And it was a good one.
“I’m happy with the way my first year went,” said Oesterle. “I’ve got a lot of good things to build on, and going into the summer I’ve got a lot to work on to get to the next step that I want to be at.”
Making the jump from the college game to the pros was an adjustment at first. The biggest thing was the amount of time devoted to hockey now that the schoolwork is complete.
“The amount of practices. You’re not practicing as much at school, and the amount of games,” he said.
But once you get to those games, the competition is much more fierce as well.
“In the games, the strength of the players and the skill level of all the players. All the players are top-league guys and you just have to be ready every night,” the defenceman said.
Oesterle played 65 games for the Barons this season. His 25 points (8-17-25) were good for second on the team in defensive scoring behind established AHL blueliner, Brad Hunt.
His first call-up to the NHL will likely be the most memorable thing he’ll take from this season. Oesterle made his NHL debut on February 28, against St. Louis. He recorded his first NHL point with an assist against Los Angeles in his second game on March 3.
Although Oesterle says he is happy with how his first season played out, he knows his development is just beginning.
“It’s definitely been a good first year and something I’ll build on,” he said. “I won’t be satisfied with the way the season has gone. I’ve liked the progression I’ve made through the year and I’ll just take that into the summer… with confidence and do what I need to do to hopefully make the team out of camp.”
With his eyes set on competing for an Oilers roster spot, the 22-year-old Dearborn Heights, Michigan native will attempt to beef up in the off-season. Oesterle is just 6-foot-0 and 182 pounds. He possesses excellent skating ability already, but wants to ramp up his physical gains during the summer.
“Going into every summer, the biggest thing for me is to get stronger,” said Oesterle. “Being a smaller guy, I need to work on that every summer more than my on-ice stuff. I think I’m going to do a little extra this summer and try and work on all areas of my game.”
Jujhar Khaira had just finished his first professional season, which ended in a 1-0 game seven loss to the Utica Comets in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He couldn’t help but mention his teammates when summing up the season that was.
“With the group of guys we had this year, I’ve been on a few teams in different leagues, and I’ve never been on a team with a group of guys like this," Khaira said after the game. "Everybody was close, there were no groups or anything.”
As a 20-year-old making the jump to the professional game, having a group like he did in Oklahoma City helped Khaira grow as a player and as a young man.
“I thought it went really well,” Khaira said of his first pro year. “I thought I learned a lot this year just with information coming from the older guys and the coaches and watching video and all that. It was a disappointing loss (in the playoffs) but overall I had a lot of fun and a pretty good season.”
Playing with the Barons and those in that locker room was his favourite part of the 2014-15 season.
“I just liked being around the guys,” said Khaira. “I think any time you’re around the guys, it’s always a blast. I can’t really pinpoint one part of the season, but the whole season was a lot of fun.”
Khaira finished his first pro season with four goals and six assists in 51 games, adding 62 penalty minutes. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound centre came up big in the playoffs.
After missing time due to an elbow injury, Khaira returned to the lineup for game three against the San Antonio Rampage. Up 2-0 in the best-of-five series, Khaira would help the Barons advance.
The Oilers 2012 third-round pick scored a goal at 5:01 of overtime to clinch the series. Even with scoring that big goal, the time spent with his teammates after the win sticks out even more in his mind.
“I think just beating those guys,” said Khaira. “All year, it was just a war against them and it was just nice to beat them and move on. Just the feeling after with the guys, I’ll remember that a lot more than scoring.”
Khaira scored two goals in game four of their second round series against Utica. His performance helped the Barons win 7-4 and tie the series at 2-2.
Heading into his second professional season, Khaira has a few areas of his game he looks to focus on this summer.
“I’m always going to be working on my skating, just protecting the puck, my stick handling in small areas, making plays at full speed,” he said. “I’m going to try and do a lot of that this summer.”
A shorthanded goal at 2:08 of the third period gave the Quebec Remparts 3-1 lead. Although it got tight at the end, they eventually beat Leon Draisaitl and the Kelowna Rockets, 4-3 in the opening game of the 2015 Memorial Cup.
Nikolas Brouillard opened scoring at 5:18 of the first for Quebec.
Matt Murphy gave the Remparts a 2-0 lead with a point shot that snuck past Jackson Whistle at 13:22 of the second. Oilers 2013 second-round pick Marc-Olivier Roy got the second assist on the goal.
Kelowna drew within one at 17:56 of the middle frame as Cole Linaker dished the puck in front of the net and Nick Merkley put it away, shorthanded.
The Remparts responded with a shorthanded goal of their own. Anthony Duclair had a breakaway and the rebound from his shot was buried by Ryan Graves.
Kelowna again responded, scoring on the power play at 12:43 of the third.
An empty-bet goal by Quebec’s Adam Erne gave the host team a 4-2 lead.
Draisaitl, the Oilers fourth-overall pick in 2014, scored backdoor with 36 seconds remaining in the game to draw within one, but Kelowna could not find the equalizer.
The Remparts face Oshawa on Sunday and the Rockets play Rimouski on Monday.
There is no doubt that Todd McLellan brings experience and name recognition to the Oilers organization. The long-time coach has worked his way up through the hockey ranks, with stops in the SJHL, WHL, IHL and AHL on his way to the NHL as an assistant and head coach.
His winning record (311-163-66) as the bench boss in San Jose the past seven seasons is also a plus. But Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli spoke more specifically about McLellan, following the hiring announcement. McLellan becomes the 14th coach in Oilers franchise history.
“Todd brings with him a wealth of experience, a level of energy and intellect I haven’t seen in a long time,” Chiarelli said. “He’s been a coach for a number of years, most recently a couple of days ago where he won the gold medal with Team Canada over in Prague. I had a chance to meet with him over there and talk at length on a number of different levels. I’m very impressed with him, meeting him face to face. I had been very impressed with his teams over the years in the NHL with Detroit and with San Jose.”
When Chiarelli came to Edmonton, he spoke about wanting the Oilers to play harder. That doesn’t necessarily mean getting bigger or more physical, and Chiarelli feels McLellan gets that.
“We talked a couple of weeks ago at my press conference about different ways of playing hard, rather than switching out a whole team’s roster. Both those teams in Detroit and San Jose, you look at them and how they play, the personnel, and they know how to play hard. Todd is one of the main reasons for that, instilling a level of confidence, energy and discipline into these players,” said Chiarelli.
Chiarelli says McLellan was the top target for the Oilers.
“His level of energy and his level of thinking really impressed me,” said Chiarelli. “If you look at him behind the bench, he’s active. I think he’s a terrific bench manager. A lot of reasons. My time in Boston, we didn’t play the Sharks a lot, but whenever we played them they were hard games, they were games where adjustments would be made all the time. They were heavy on the puck and he really looked like he enjoyed coaching. A number of those reasons helped me make my decision in choosing Todd.”
The Oilers have had five head coaches since the start of the 2009-10 season. Stability is something the Edmonton organization would like to have with Todd McLellan, who was announced as the 14th head coach in franchise history on Tuesday.
McLellan most recently coached seven seasons in San Jose, posting a record of 311-163-66 in 540 games. Six of those seven seasons, McLellan and the Sharks made the playoffs. His record indicates that he could be a more long-term fixture for the Oilers.
Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli talked about stability at that position and all that goes into developing a long-term relationship.
“By no means, is there a perfect amount of time for a coach. I think from a consistent messaging viewpoint, that’s important,” said Chiarelli. “In delivering your message and from a coaching perspective, he’s the main messenger and I think to have it over time, with more or less the same group, you’ll see it reaps tremendous rewards. Having said all that, there’s a lot of stuff in between. Not just having a stable coach for a certain number of years. You have to work well together, you have to have a plan and it has to be laid out and executed. Todd’s one of the top coaches in the league and we’re fortunate to have him here.”
Prior to San Jose, McLellan coached the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL, the IHL’s Cleveland Lumberjacks and the Houston Aeros in the AHL. He was also an assistant in Detroit for three seasons.
“Todd brings with him a wealth of experience, a level of energy and intellect I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Chiarelli.
The search was a relatively short timeline from start to finish. The Oilers season ended on April 11, and on the 20th Todd McLellan and the San Jose Sharks mutually parted ways after seven seasons. Now, one month later, McLellan has found his new home in Edmonton.
Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli didn’t waste any time in meeting with McLellan following the season. Chiarelli knew the free agent coach would be sought after for multiple vacancies around the league. So Chiarelli, trying to get a head start on the competition, got on a plane and travelled to the Czech Republic to meet with McLellan, who was coaching Team Canada at the IIHF Men’s Hockey World Championship.
“It happened fairly quickly, as far as trying to set something up,” said Chiarelli. “We wanted to get ahead of it with Todd. I went over to Prague and we spent three or four hours on a number of different things. I had a fairly exhaustive checklist to go through with him and he had a lot of questions for me. We felt it was a better time in the tournament, earlier on. The competition, the pace, the daily schedule grind wasn’t quite up to speed yet. It was a good time to do it. I knew there would be a lot of teams that would want to talk to Todd so I wanted to be kind of first in to let him digest it and get to know me and what we’re about here and what we’re trying to do here. Timing and opportunity was good and the fact that he had the time was good too. He’s the guy we wanted and wanted to get on to in a hurry.”
The 2015 Worlds ended on Sunday, with McLellan and Canada taking home gold and finishing 10-0 in the tournament. Barely off the plane from Prague, McLellan was announced as the 14th coach in Oilers franchise history, concluding the short hiring process.
The American Hockey League has announced approval for their new alignment for the 2015-16 season.
The Western Conference’s Pacific Division will be the home of Bakersfield, the Oilers affiliate. They will compete against fellow Pacific Division teams; the Ontario Reign, San Antonio Rampage, San Diego Gulls, San Jose Barracuda, Stockton Heat and the Texas Stars.
The format for the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs will be finalized at the Board of Governors annual meeting in July.
Bakersfield will become the Oilers primary development team, starting next season.
Playing in relief of Laurent Brossoit in game two against San Antonio, Richard Bachman was on point. The Barons goaltender stopped all 16 shots as Oklahoma City rallied for the win, pushing the Rampage to the brink of elimination.
Bachman stopped 35 of 36 in game three, as the Barons advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals of the Calder Cup playoffs.
Again, Bachman was sensational. The netminder made 56 saves as the Barons and Utica Comets went through three full overtime periods before Curtis Hamilton potted the winner 16 seconds into the fourth.
Despite losing to Utica in overtime, 2-1 in game two, Bachman gave them a chance with 36 saves.
“He’s amazing back there,” said Barons forward Connor Jones. “He’s calm, he’s cool and he’s made some incredible saves. Like in game three against San Antonio, he made some big saves. Same as game two. When we’ve made mistakes, he’s been there to back (us up) and you can’t say enough about him.”
The Barons goaltender is leading the AHL with a .84 GAA and .973 save percentage this post-season.
Bachman says his performance is a result of multiple factors, but one is the confidence he gained from a call-up with the Oilers.
“I think it’s a number of different things. I’ve had some pretty good confidence from the time spent up in Edmonton at the end of the year there, to bring that back down with me,” said Bachman. “Part of it is seeing the puck well and a lot of it goes to our defence and our forwards. They’re blocking shots and letting me see the puck and really battling hard in front of the net for me.”
Bachman played six games with the Oilers this season, posting a 2.84 GAA and .911 save percentage. He finished his time in Edmonton with three-straight wins, making 83 saves on 86 shots in that span.
Bachman is expected to start tonight in game three against Utica, in Oklahoma City.
It was a battle that a lot of people around the hockey community were eager to watch— Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds against Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters.
Nurse played huge minutes against the Otters, drawing some big responsibilities. Unfortunately, the Greyhounds lost to the Otters, 4-2 in the Ontario Hockey League Western Conference Final.
McDavid is the OHL playoffs’ leading scorer with a whopping 43 points (19-24-43) in 17 games. He’s NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater ahead of the 2015 NHL Draft. Nurse says, after playing him, the hype is deserved.
“Obviously, he has a lot of hype but it’s something that he’s earned,” said Nurse. “Obviously, he’s such a great player. He showed in our series the way he’s able to make plays. He’s a special player. It was good to play against him. It was a good challenge for myself and it was good just to go out there and play and have a lot of fun.”
Erie is down 2-0 in their OHL Final best-of-seven series against the Oshawa Generals.
Nurse is in Oklahoma City with the Barons for the Calder Cup Playoffs. OKC takes on Utica in game three of the Western Conference Semifinal on Monday. The series is currently tied 1-1.
Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl and the Kelowna Rockets were able to hang on to their one-goal lead in the third period, on the way to a 4-3 win over Brandon in game one of the Western Hockey League Final.
Draisaitl, taken third overall in 2014, finished the game +2 with a goal. His score came at 18:50 of the second period, proving to be the game-winner.
Tyson Baillie, Justin Kirkland and Chance Braid also scored for Kelowna. Rihards Bukarts (2) and Peter Quenneville both scored for Brandon.
Kelowna outshot the Wheat Kings 40-28.
Game two is on Saturday, in Brandon.