Edmonton Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Ken Holland knows a thing or two about the American Hockey League.
“I spent eight years in this league a long long time ago (1976) and was GM of an AHL team in the Red Wings organization (Adirondack) and to me, it’s the best development league in the world,” he said. “It’s a great league where many, many players are going to go on to the NHL, they just need some time.”
As seen through recent Stanley Cup winners such as Tampa Bay, the ability for an AHL team to develop prospects is invaluable for an NHL franchise. In Edmonton, those dividends are starting to pay off with players such as Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, and Evan Bouchard logging big minutes with the big club.
The next wave of those developing in Bakersfield features a highly rated defenseman in Philip Broberg. The 20-year old Swede was drafted eighth overall by Edmonton two years ago. Starting this season in Bakersfield, his first in North America, has proved to be a positive with six assists in the opening nine games and quarterbacking the team’s top power play.
“In player development, I’m big on young people being important,” Hollard said. “He’s on the power play, he’s on the penalty kill – he’s important down here. He wouldn’t be playing in all those key situations in Edmonton right now.”
Past success of prospects developing in Bakersfield has entrusted the faith of Oilers management that time spent in the AHL is time well spent.
“I look at Evan Bouchard who was 10th overall and first year pro spent here and now in his 3rd year pro he’s a really really important part of our team. We’ll see what happens in the second half of the year (with Broberg), but he’s in a great spot. In talking to the coaches they feel that Broberg is getting better every game. When you’re 19, 20, 21 you need to be important and his confidence is growing.”
Players confidence is a big part of development and that trust has been earned through seeing their fellow teammates go on and have success at the next level. It’s key from a player perspective to have a coaching staff with a resume that affords them the ability to succeed in the AHL and move on to the NHL.
Ten players for the Condors in the past four seasons have gone on to make their NHL debuts from Bakersfield. Recently, Ryan McLeod, Tyler Benson, and Stuart Skinner all made the jump. With that track record, the Condors coaching staff has started to get the attention of those in hockey who know what type of program that has been established in Condorstown.
“The coaching staff has done a tremendous job here. You look at the work Dave Manson has done with the defensemen,” Holland remarked. “And Jay Woodcroft somewhere down the road is probably an NHL head coach, he’s building his resume. He does a great job running the bench here in Bakersfield.”
High draft picks in the fold and en route in future years coupled with a coaching staff determined to succeed at this level and the next, the excitement of the “best development league in the world” is certainly high in Condorstown.