The difference between the good teams, and teams that are only good for a month or two, is depth.
Depth at the NHL level — when the third-liner who gets moved up to second-line left wing because of injury can handle the job. And depth from the minors, when the body that comes up to fill a roster spot can actually perform like an NHL player when he arrives.
The Edmonton Oilers have been a good team thus far this season, and part of the reason is that players they’ve had to call up — Sam Gagner, Colby Cave, Caleb Jones — are NHL-experienced and not at all intimidated by a promotion to the NHL. Now, they’re running thin on those players, and if the injuries continue to mount they will begin tapping into a younger group whose NHL readiness is far more of a question mark.
This month we’ll delve into the Edmonton Oilers farm system, and weigh in on the five players who are the most "NHL-ready."
So, we’re talking about two kinds of players here: Prospects who are closing in on the time when they have mastered the AHL, and the logical step is a call-up. And, players in Bakersfield who can step into the lineup and help Edmonton in the short-term — even if they are not considered long-term prospects, as such.
Here we go:
Tyler Benson, LW
Team: AHL Bakersfield
Size: 6-foot, 192 lbs.
GP: 21 | G: 5 | A: 12 | Pts: 17
Among Bakersfield forwards, Benson is the closest to having his AHL time end. He had 66 points in 68 games as a rookie last season, and after a slow start is now pushing point-per-game production again this season.
His issue is foot speed, but Benson is young enough to find a half-step through training, and his ability to think the game might just make up for whatever speed he can not find. Ideally, Benson "over-ripens" in the AHL through this season, or at least until late February or early March. But with almost 100 AHL games under his belt now, when he finally does come up no one can say he has been rushed.
William Lagesson, D
Size: 6-foot-2, 207 lbs.
GP: 14 | G: 2 | A: 5 | Pts: 7
Lagesson spent some time in Edmonton as a seventh defenceman earlier this season, but never got into a game. At age 23, that is acceptable. As opposed to calling up a first-year pro like Evan Bouchard or Dmitri Samorukov and having him watch from the press box.
Lagesson, a big, stay-at-home defender, is the first in line if the Oilers get injuries on defence. And if he languishes as a No. 7, well, better him than Bouchard, Samorukov, or in a year Swede Philip Broberg. And when he does play, Lagesson could be the perfect guy to come in on an entry level deal and munch some minutes on the third pairing.
Kailer Yamamoto, RW
Size: 5-foot-8, 158 lbs.
GP: 16 | G: 5 | A: 6 | Pts: 11
Yamamoto missed some time to injury again this season, but he’s back and had a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win over Ontario on Saturday. He’d likely be close to where Benson’s development is, but Yamamoto only played 27 games last season, mostly due to a wrist injury.
The Oilers lack speed and scoring punch on their right side, and the first-rounder Yamamoto — 22nd overall in 2017 — did score 42 goals for Spokane in his draft year. But he hasn’t even played 50 AHL games yet, so Oilers GM Ken Holland will have to be mighty thin on his NHL roster before he resorts to interrupting Yamamoto’s development with a call-up.
Colby Cave, C
Size: 6-foot-1, 200 lbs.
GP: 16 | G: 2 | A: 3 | Pts: 5
Cave is a quiet reason why a team like Edmonton gets better.
When they have to reach down into their system for a player they can reach for Cave, a guy who has played 61 NHL games for Edmonton and Boston, who isn’t nervous or ill-prepared for the NHL game when he gets to Edmonton. In the meantime he services the kids in Bakersfield by showing them how a real pro handles the disappointment of coming back down to life in the AHL and earning another recall. And, he allows the young players to stay put and not have to yo-yo up and down.
Shane Starrett, G
Size: 6-foot-5, 195 lbs.
GP: 3 | GAA: 2.03 | SV%: .923
Thought we should include a goaltender here and Starrett is the best one in the Oilers’ system. He has only played three games this season due to injury, but he’s back now and the numbers above are impressive. He’s got plenty of size, and Starrett — who was never drafted — is in his third pro season — the minimum for qualification as a goalie who may be NHL-ready, in our eyes.
Holland has a good thing going with Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith in Edmonton, and if something happened and he needed a long-term replacement he may have to go shopping. But if Starrett has a second dominant AHL season, it will be fair to say he’s due an NHL job at next September’s training camp — if not sooner.