Part 6 of my summer series, Prospect Profile, is going to look at a group of players who are poised to be big parts of the Oilers farm system, and overall depth this coming season.
It’s going to be an exciting year as far as the farm system is concerned. Over the summer, the Oilers have transitioned their AHL affiliate from the new defunct Oklahoma City Barons, to the Bakersfield Condors, formerly of the ECHL. Along with membership in the AHL, the Condors also find themselves as inaugural members of the newly christened Pacific Division, beginning an exciting chapter for both the Oilers and the Condors franchises. And the Condors look to be a prominent force in the division, with many players returning from those successful OKC teams, as well as maybe a few exciting additions, depending on how training camp plays out this September.
The unfortunate thing for Kale Kessy is that he will forever be known as the player that came the other way in the Tobias Rieder trade. And that’s really unfair for him. Yes, Rieder had some offensive flashes with the Arizona Coyotes last season, but contrary to popular belief, he was never really a top prospect for the Oilers. That fact was proven when they traded him to bring in Kessy in 2013. What Kessy brings to the Oilers is a player that can step in on the 3rd or 4th line, who isn’t afraid to engage opponents. While he is in no way a heavy weight enforcer, if such a role even exists in hockey these days, he’s a more than capable middle weight fighter, who can hold his own against most.
Kessy has never had glamorous offensive stats. His best season to date came as an over ager with the Kamloops Blazers that saw him post 25 points in 31 games. But offense is not what Kessy brings to the organization. His best seasons as a pro came when he posted 6 points, a mark he reached twice, first in 2013-14 in 54 games with the OKC Barons, and again last season, although he did it in only 17 games before losing much of his season to injury.
This looks to be a proven ground sort of year for Kessy, as he’ll be looked upon as somewhat of a veteran in Bakersfield this season. Hopefully he can remain healthy, and improve upon his numbers. He has the chance to project into a decent depth player for the Oilers, if not a bottom six player at some point.
Jujhar Khaira has caught the attention of Oilers fans in recent years. My guess is that is mostly in part due to his play during his one and only year in junior, where he finished 16-27-43 in 54 games for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, including some significant scoring streaks. Fans also see a big body that slots in up the middle of the lineup, which was something Oilers fans had coveted for many years prior to drafting both Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.
Khaira is one of those interesting paths taken to pro hockey. After two years in the BCHL, where he scored 39-82-121 in 112 games, he joined Michigan Tech for one year of college hockey, before opting to head to the WHL and pursue a professional career. Obviously, with the editions of both Draisaitl and McDavid, Khaira finds himself pushed well down the depth chart. However, much like his former Everett teammate, defensive prospect Ben Betker, this could be a blessing in disguise. Much like defense, center is a position that the Oilers were traditionally lacking in, before adding some blue chip prospects to the fold. And in much the same way Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart have pushed Betker back, so too have Draisaitl and McDavid with Khaira, which affords both Khaira and the Oilers the luxury of not having to rush development. With this time now afforded, Khaira truly has a chance to become, in my mind, a very effective 3rd line center, who is strong on the puck, and able to chip in offensively.
While I wouldn’t call last season a break out year for Iiro Pakarinen, it was a starting point to be sure. Pakarinen handled himself well in his 17 games with the Oilers last season, and endeared himself to the fans, which could be considered good or bad, as the fans been endeared to many players over the years, such as Linus Omark and Jesse Joenssu. Hopefully Pakarinen can buck the trend in this category.
Formerly a Florida Panthers draft pick, Pakarinen joined the Oilers as a free agent following five years in SM-liiga. During his time over seas, Pakarinen totaled 45-55-73 in 232 games, his best season coming in 2013-14 with HIFK Helsinki, where he scored 20 goals and 30 points in 60 games.
Putting up only one goal and 2 assists in the NHL, a bulk of Pakarinen’s workload came while with the Oklahoma City Barons, playing 39 games. In those 39 games, Pakarinen went 17-11-28, while carrying an impressive +17 rating. The Oilers will be looking for more of that this season in Bakersfield, where Pakarinen will be counted on as a veteran, as well as being on the list for call ups through out the season.
Injuries last year presented lots of opportunity for bubble players in the Oilers organization. Brandon Davidson can be counted amongst that number. Drafted in 2010, Davidson bounced up and down between OKC and then ECHL affiliate, the Stockton Thunder in his first professional year. Davidson would stick with the AHL club the following year, and made his NHL debut last season, dressing for 12 games, and picking up his first NHL goal.
Following a consistent showing with the Regina Pats of the WHL, where he posted totals of 34, 52, and 49 points, Davidson has yet to find that same offensive consistency as a professional. So far, in his 149 AHL games, Davidson has only collected 28 points. It seems to only be a matter of time until Davidson adjusts to the AHL, as he was able to produce 12 points in 11 games with Stockton during his time there. This season could be a pivotal one for Davidson, but there may not be enough ice time in Bakersfield to go around, depending on how training camp shakes out, specifically with Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart, who will play big minutes if they are with the Condors.
While I have heard rumblings and opinions that Davidson should be considered for the 7th spot on the Oilers, he’s going to be better served to continue his development in the minors. It’s more than likely that Brad Hunt, who made big strides last year, is going to be the 7th defenseman this year. The big question is going to be whether Davidson is playing bottom three minutes in Bakersfield, or top three minutes with Norfolk of the ECHL.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Oilers went through an era where they signed a multitude of players out of college to address their depth. In 2014, Jordan Oesterle was added to that list. Following his third year at Western Michigan University, Oesterle joined the OKC Barons for a brief playoff run, and hasn’t looked back. Not only did he become a mainstay on the Barons blue line last year, going 8-17-25 in 65 games last year, as well as adding a goal and three assists in 10 playoff games.
Much like Brandon Davidson, last season saw Oesterle take advantage of a depleted blue line to make his NHL debut, playing in six games with the Oilers. During those six games, Oesterle registered his first NHL point. Oesterle is another player that is going to find it difficult to get the ice time he may need to develop if the Oilers feel both Nurse and Reinhart need to be in the AHL to start the year. While I have some doubts if he can become a fulltime NHL defenseman in any capacity, he’s going to be one of the go to guys if and when the Oilers need to call upon blue line depth.
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it should. The son of Oilers alum Craig Simpson, Dillon is looking to make a name for himself amongst the Oilers. Drafted in 2011 following an outstanding year with the AJHL Champion Spruce Grove Saints (12-29-41), Simpson elected to attend the University of North Dakota. During his four years with North Dakota, Simpson amassed a total of 75 points in his 156 games. He also helped the team to capture the WCHA Championship in 2011 and 2012, and made two appearances in the NCAA Frozen Four tournament.
Simpson made his pro debut last season with the OKC Barons, and acclimated himself to the team very well, playing in 71 games, going 3-14-17 in those games. Perhaps not the most impressive offensive numbers, but Simpsons game isn’t so one dimensional that he needs to have stat heavy seasons.
Again, how much and where Simpson plays this upcoming season is going to have a lot to do with what happens in training camp. By no means do I see Simpson sticking with the Oilers throughout camp. In fact, barring an outstanding showing, my guess is he goes down in the early rounds of cuts. It’s the later cuts, if any, that will dramatically affect Simpsons career, be it in the AHL with Bakersfield, or down in the ECHL. I would almost prefer Simpson getting a decent amount of ice time in the ECHL, but again, it’s going to depend on the Big Two of Nurse and Reinhart, and where the Oilers feel is the best fit for the development of their blue chip defensive prospects.