Future Watch: Jordan Bendfeld
Stockton rearguard aims to turn heads & climb the professional ranks
Jordan Bendfeld with the ECHL's Stockton Thunder (Photo by Sean Blair / Stockton Thunder).
A breakaway goal for a 6-foot-3, 230-pound defenseman, who previously scored last on November 17, 2008, was no pedestrian accomplishment. As Bendfeld swarmed his Stockton Thunder teammates in celebration for the goal and after the game in a 3-1 series triumph, those around including coaches and teammates could only marvel at his traveled road back from injury.
“A Datsyukian goal,” playfully quipped Thunder head coach Matt Thomas.
It officially signified the return of Bendfeld to prominence, a former standout defenseman in the Western Hockey League with Medicine Hat, who took a long, beaten path back from a freak knee injury which plagued the first year of his contract after being drafted by the Oilers in the seventh round in 2008.
His season ended on the sidelines, in November, after just 17 games – enough for motivational fuel.
“Every year I’ve been getting better,” said the soft-spoken Bendfeld, who was actually drafted in 2006 by the Phoenix Coyotes, but was unable to sign before the Oilers swopped him up. “I’ve been working hard during the season and in the offseason and hopefully I can keep it going in my pro career.”
Now in year three of his contract, Bendfeld’s goal is like many others – find stability and more ice time in the upper reaches of the Oilers farm system, despite several other Barons blueliners earning key minutes in Oklahoma City.
But at the yet-to-be ripe age of 22, his game of muscle and intimidation stands out with his imposing frame primarily used in a shutdown role on the Thunder blueline, a glimpse that Oilers fans have caught in preseason training camp and in rookie tournaments, most recently in Penticton last September.
When at the top of his game, only the most brave of the opposition travel to the front of the net when Bendfeld steps over the boards.
“He’s a tough kid,” said Thunder goaltender Bryan Pitton, an Oilers drafted prospect who has suited up with Bendfeld at the ECHL, AHL and Oilers preseason levels. “He’s going to clear the front of the net and has definitely worked on his offensive game.”
He doesn’t have to look far for inspiration.
A tutor of his at the ECHL level, Matt O’Dette, recently turned in a career which included six years on the blueline in the American Hockey League and additional experience on the 2003 Montreal Canadiens “black aces” squad for an assistant coaching job with Stockton, previously brandishing his game with a similarly imposing and intimidating 6-foot-5, 230 pound build.
O’Dette, who primarily works with the Thunder defensemen, acknowledged the “more of the same” approach when it came to fine-tuning Bendfeld’s role.
“He’s a very big and strong guy,” said O’Dette. “He has to be a guy who plays with an edge – play ‘loud.’ He’s a tough customer and when he’s playing that way, the rest of his game comes around. He gets that confidence to make good plays in the defensive zone and moving the puck.”
It means more critical moments for Bendfeld, when his eyes and ears become more focused while lining up for a drill in practice, ushered by O’Dette.
“Odie has a lot of experience and I want to learn from him,” said Bendfeld. “I just have to make sure I have to listen to him, follow his drills and do them the best I can.”
Many of the times that Bendfeld dropped the gloves, last season, like in O’Dette’s career, ended in quick, but not so much painless experiences for the opposition.
Using a large upper-body frame and a trademark oversized grip, effective for locking up opponents in fisticuffs, Bendfeld racked up 91 penalty minutes in just 52 games with the Thunder last season.
Then, the playoffs occurred, when Bendfeld returned from an AHL stint, just in time to help the Thunder become the first team in ECHL history to eliminate Alaska from the first round of the postseason.
“I just got called up to Springfield before that,” said Bendfeld. “I learned a lot. Coming back for playoffs, I brought a lot back and took advantage of it. I made sure I played hard and I’m pretty sure I did. I just have to make sure I keep doing that, every game I play.”
Bendfeld’s major role included the following stat line in the four game series: five points, four assists and a plus-10 rating.
The Thunder, taking a cue from Bendfeld’s physical style, powered a path all the way to their first Conference Finals appearance, coming six wins shy of their first Kelly Cup championship.
"Right off the bat he showed a physical presence,” said O’Dette. “He set the tone early on in the playoffs because during that time, physical play becomes more intense. He came out of the gate throwing his body around. That gave him the confidence to have his complete game come around as well.”
It helped Bendfeld earn another spot on the Oilers preseason rookie tournament roster in Penticton, where he dropped the gloves with Ryley Grantham of the rival Calgary Flames last September.
“We were among the older guys in the tournament,” said Pitton. “I think that helped by standing out, showing how much bigger and stronger he was, in the end.”
Eventually, Bendfeld would head back to the minors with a checklist of to-do items, including his own acknowledgement of increasing his foot speed. It came after the ritual chat with Oilers management, held with every prospect that falls short of earning a season opening dressing room stall at Rexall Place.
He took the talk with Oilers brass in stride.
“They told me I need to keep developing in the minor leagues,” said Bendfeld. “It was good and they said I played hard in Penticton. I just need to keep working on goals, foot speed and overall puck handling skills.”
It’s enough motivation for Bendfeld to stop racking up the frequent flier mileage back and forth, between Stockton and Oklahoma City, for good.
“The travel I think is the worst part,” said Bendfeld. “You want to settle down and you’re staying in hotels a lot of times but as a hockey player you have to learn from it, work hard and learn to get better.”
“Coming down (to Stockton) isn’t so bad. “I’m getting the minutes I need to improve. But obviously I want to be up in Oklahoma City.”
As the future goal remains to eventually step on the Oilers team plane, he continues to blaze that trail, by way of sheer force.
Author: Mike Benton
2010-11 OILERS PROSPECT STATS
|19||43||4||9||13||-2||54||Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)|
|22||33||7||13||20||-2||10||stockton thunder (echl)|
|20||41||4||8||12||+3||4||Oklahoma city barons (AHL)|
|18||51||12||23||35||+10||65||kootenay ice (WHL)|
|23||26||9||17||26||N/A||22||university of maine (h-east)|
|26||36||12||9||21||+2||80||stockton thunder (echl)|
|29||54||27||34||61||-1||53||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|19||44||17||41||58||+37||10||saskatoon blades (whl)|
|20||54||14||18||32||-3||27||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|20||29||6||11||17||N/A||29||quinnipiac university (ecac)|
|21||53||6||10||16||+1||18||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|19||41||8||14||22||-5||32||timra ik (sel)|
|23||43||3||6||9||-5||8||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|18||47||30||38||68||+31||18||ottawa 67's (ohl)|
|26||54||24||10||34||+1||45||Oklahoma City Barons (AHL)|
|31||54||15||32||47||+4||24||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|23||39||2||18||20||+11||34||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|28||26||14||17||31||+7||32||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|28||54||5||11||16||-5||58||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|18||48||8||12||20||+8||25||edmonton oil kings (WHL)|
|19||49||22||34||56||+4||29||medicine hat tigets (whl)|
|19||33||7||10||17||-4||4||ilves tampere (fnl)|
|24||37||18||15||33||+14||16||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|24||49||6||6||12||-2||77||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|23||49||7||4||11||-14||28||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|25||39||3||17||20||-10||61||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|22||12||1||0||1||-1||36||stockton thunder (echl)|
|21||21||0||4||4||N/A||71||merrimack college (h-east)|
|18||26||2||23||25||+13||34||acadie-bathurst titan (qmjhl)|
|23||46||3||13||16||E||22||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|19||55||7||33||40||-4||50||regina pats (whl)|
|19||22||0||0||0||-12||30||sioux city musketeers (ushl)|
|18||49||13||36||44||+1||43||prince george cougars (whl)|
|21||34||1||3||4||-7||30||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|28||40||0||11||11||+10||32||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|23||32||7||14||21||-7||18||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|21||51||1||9||10||+5||108||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|18||41||28||11||2||0||2.45||.918||medicine hat tigers (whl)|
|26||19||8||9||2||0||2.99||.901||Oklahoma City Barons (AHL)|
|36||32||18||11||3||0||2.45||.919||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|22||25||16||6||2||0||2.79||.903||stockton thunder (echl)|
|19||33||20||12||1||0||2.99||.905||acadie-bathurst titan (qmjhl)|