It’s a bit of a tired cliché at this point. Every year, training camp begins, and coaches all across the league give the media some variation of this quote: “No one is being given anything. Everyone has to earn their place.”
Noble idea. It gives the impression that the coaching staff is giving everyone the same chance to earn a place with an NHL club. But let’s be realistic. There is no way the Oilers are starting the year without a Taylor Hall, or a Jordan Eberle in the line up, no matter how bad their camp performance may be. At best, there are maybe, MAYBE, 3-5 spots on any given team that some of the younger guys have a crack at.
But maybe it doesn’t have to be about earing a place on the big club. For lots of players, it’s really about earing a place, any place, in the organization. Enter Braden Christoffer.
After going undrafted, the 21 year old from Sherwood Park signed an AHL deal, following a 4 year career in junior, 1 with the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the AJHL, and 3 years with the Regina Pats of the WHL. During his time in the WHL, Christoffer amassed an impressive 114 points in 202 games, including 50 goals. He added an additional 9 points in 13 playoff games.
I first noticed Christoffer at the Oilers development camp back in June. Brought in as a camp invite, he impressed with his work ethic he displayed, knowing it was a chance to get the attention of Oilers brass. Imagine the effort you would need to put in to be noticed while on the same ice as top prospects Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, and of course, Connor McDavid. The effort paid off, as Christoffer was invited to join the Oilers rookies in Penticton for the annual Prospects Tournament. It was another chance to get in front of Oilers staff, this time in an actual game environment. Christoffer had a very good showing, putting up 3 goals in 3 games at the tournament. Again, the effort paid off for him.
Christoffer would be invited to main camp, and hasn’t slowed down since arriving. The coaching staff seems to be very happy with the work that Christoffer is wiling to put in each and every day. He’s been giving significant playing time so far in the pre season, surviving the initial round of cuts that saw many players on AHL deals sent down to Bakersfield to begin camp there.
I was lucky enough to be at the game vs Winnipeg on Wednesday night, and what I saw from #61 is the exact same thing I saw at the development camp. Hard work, and dedication. He also seems to have Todd McLellan’s nod of approval as well. Despite taking a series of questionable penalties, the veteran coach didn’t stifle the youngster. Instead of having him ride the bench in hopes of sending a message, McLellan elected instead to send Christoffer out for his regular shift. It was a very refreshing visual, after seeing some young players punished a bit by the coaching staff last year for less.
I’m hoping Christoffer can continue to have a great showing at camp, and sticks with the team for as long as he can. Obviously, the odds of him making the Oilers are very slim. That being said, with a strong enough showing, Christoffer should have a very good chance to earn a 2-way contract with the club, and become an integral part of the Bakersfield Condors in their first AHL season. But regardless of the outcome, there can be no doubt that Braden Christoffer is truly earning his place in the Oilers organization. I expect this training camp won’t be the last time we see him wearing the Blue and Orange.