What can add to the success of minor league franchises is the availability of a nearby rival. With the American Hockey League’s new Pacific Division, five teams will enter California, giving the league some competitive battles looming in the future.
Three California NHL clubs, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose, now have their affiliates in close enough proximity to help grow fan excitement. For the Oilers and Calgary Flames, it is also an opportunity to ignite a new Battle of Alberta— AHL edition.
“The fact that Calgary’s farm team (is close by), who we haven’t played a lot in recent years, our team will be playing them now,” Vice Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group Kevin Lowe said. “That’s going to benefit (the players) and you’re going to have a high-level rivalry with the three California teams who have been successful in the NHL. Usually, that means that they’ve had good success in terms of their player deployment and player development. We have our hands full but we’ll be ready for the challenge. Ultimately, it will benefit in terms of the improvement in our players.”
Lowe also spoke to the geographic proximity of the teams benefiting development, due to less practice days taken up by long travel.
The Bakersfield ECHL franchise has been featured across the internet and on national and international news outlets due to their unique promotions and in-game entertainment. From Gettysburg Address, Seinfeld or Hobbit themed jerseys to cemetery headstone giveaways, the Condors in the ECHL have been anything but mundane.
Throughout their relationship with the Oilers, having been purchased by the NHL club a year ago, Bakersfield has maintained autonomy when it comes to their unique entertainment.
“The Oilers have given us the autonomy to do things and the Oilers purchased us because of some of the things we do,” Bakersfield’s President Matthew Riley said.
Now that Bakersfield will house the Oilers AHL affiliate, as part of the league’s new Pacific Division, the antics don’t have to stop.
“We want to be able to continue to do what we’ve done in the past and now just do it at a higher level, just one step away,” Riley said. “I’ll just say now we’re going to have more fun.”
The Oilers hope it doesn’t change much either.
“We hope it doesn’t change,” Vice Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group Kevin Lowe said. “Matt Riley, who has been with the Condors and runs the business operations, has been there for 17 years. He’s a bright guy and really understands and respects the game of hockey. We’re going to encourage Matt to keep doing what he’s doing. Our fans who happen to be in California, Oilers fans, who want to see the American Hockey League team, go to Bakersfield. You never know what you’re going to see.”
In addition to providing family fun, Bakersfield will now see an increased emphasis on developing young future NHL players.
“We’re certainly focused on family entertainment and being involved in the community and those will remain our focuses and now bringing this accelerate level of play to the ice where nine out of 10 who play in the NHL played in the AHL,” Riley said. “Now the fans will get to connect and see those guys on TV and say, ‘Hey, I knew that player.’”
Riley couldn’t help but smile.
“It’s pretty thrilling.”
The AHL made a major announcement today at 1:30 p.m. MST and it was streamed live on edmontonoilers.com.
WATCH: Draisaitl Interview | READ: Gene Principe blogs on Draisaitl
Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl makes his return to Rexall Place tonight when his new team, the Kelowna Rockets, takes on the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Prior to the game, Draisiatl met with the local media to talk about his time with the Rockets.
“It is an adjustment, of course," Draisaitl said about going back to Major Junior. "It’s a total different game in my opinion. You have more time, more room and obviously don’t really feel the pace as it is in the NHL. It’s definitely a slight adjustment.”
After six points in his first five games with the Rockets, Draisaitl has put up six more in his last three and has a +4 rating in those three games. Overall, Draisaitl has four goals and 12 points in eight games with an even plus/minus.
“It’s never easy to just join a brand new team and try to fit in. But all the guys, the staff, the coaches, they made it really easy on me and I’m thankful for that,” he said. “So far it’s been a lot of fun.”
The Rockets sit in first place in the entire league with 37 wins and 77 points in 48 games.
“We have three, almost four, lines that can all be scoring and be reliable out there. That’s really important for a long playoff run,” Draisaitl stated, noting that he's been happy to be honing his skills in the WHL at the moment.
“It’s definitely not a bad move. For me personally, it was (for) the best. I can work on my skill, develop as a player and work on all the little things,” he continued. “I’m definitely happy that it worked out that way.”
Draisaitl still keeps in touch with Oilers management, players and coaches.
“I’ve talked to the management, I’ve talked to the coaches and all that stuff. We have a plan on what I’ll be working on, what my expectations are and what I’m trying to follow,” he said, adding what those items of his game are that he is expected to be working on.
“The complete game, face-offs, the little things. My skating, my total skill. It’s just something I want to improve and get better at.”
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Taylor Hall was absent from Oilers practice on Wednesday after missing Tuesday’s morning skate and game against the Minnesota Wild as well.
The left-winger took a shot off the lower leg right above the skate during Monday’s practice. The injury will continue to be evaluated each day.
“He’s still day-to-day,” Coach Todd Nelson said. “It’s a bone bruise, and we’ll see how it reacts for him tomorrow.”
Hall is in a three-way tie for the Oilers scoring lead with linemates Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, accumulating 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in 41 games. Hall missed six games earlier this season with a sprained MCL.
Thanks to a late third period goal from Charlie Coyle, the Oilers were unfortunately on the wrong side of a 2-1 decision against the Minnesota Wild last night at Rexall Place. But Edmonton certainly forced their opponents to earn the victory the hard way, delivering a number of punishing body-checks over the course of the game.
Nail Yakupov crushed Nate Prosser behind the Wild net on a strong, clean forecheck, knocking the defenceman out of the game. Jeff Petry also delivered the hit of the night in the middle frame, lining up and clobbering Mikael Granlund with his rear end, sending the Minnesota forward hard into the boards near their bench.
The Oilers blueliner said it’s all about taking advantage of those physical opportunities when they’re there, but not shifting his mentality away from being a responsible defender.
“I want to continue to incorporate (physical play), but I also don’t want to go around looking for it and end up getting out of position,” Petry said. “That hit last night, he tried to beat me wide and I was able to get good position on him and able to play the body. My goal is just to play a physical game when the opportunity is there.”
As game went on and the intensity picked up, the Oilers also found themselves in a few post-whistle scrums with the Wild. Petry said interim head coach Todd Nelson has stressed the importance of Oilers players sticking up for each other in those situations and playing with a pack mentality.
“It’s something he really believes in and he’s passed that message along to us,” Petry said. “If there’s one in there, we all have to get in there.”
After missing last night’s game, Taylor Hall is absent today as well. The left-winger took a shot off the lower leg during Monday’s practice and Coach Todd Nelson said on Tuesday the injury didn’t react how the team wanted it to overnight, hence why he was kept out of the lineup vs. the Wild.
With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins still absent (All Star Break), the line combinations are as follows:
Taylor Hall left the ice early with an apparent injury but he has since returned.
On January 20, the Oilers hard fought efforts brought them a shootout win over the Capitals in Washington, D.C. It was a win the players were genuinely proud of, with they way they stuck together, came back and pulled it out in the end.
So when faced with an All Star break immediately following a rush of good vibes, would the players welcome the break or wish they could keep going?
“It always creeps in your mind a bit, but it was a good break for everybody,” Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “The guys seemed recharged and energized and, like I said before, I liked the way our practice went. Sometimes your first practice back after time off gets really sloppy but today was not that case. It was a pretty good day.”
The Oilers returned to Edmonton on Monday for their first practice since the morning of their win in D.C. Some of the players had wished they could have played some more before the time away, but all of them are feeling refreshed.
“I was talking to my dad on the way home (after the Capitals game) and I wasn’t really ready for a break,” Jordan Eberle said. “It was more that we were excited. Hockey is really fun again. When you’re winning games, that’s how it is. But that being said, you get to take a breath, you get a little bit of a mental break and you can come back here with some jump. Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off.”
Benoit Pouliot was in the group of players who welcomed the time away, despite riding high after the win.
“I think it was nice for everyone,” Pouliot said of the break. “I don’t think it will break up anything. The whole league is in the same situation as us. I think everyone enjoyed their four or five days off and now we’re back on the ice today. I don’t think it’s going to mess anything up. We’ll just be back tomorrow against Minny and be ready.”