The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs are only two weeks away, and while they haven’t yet officially clinched a spot, the Edmonton Oilers are well on their way to a third consecutive postseason appearance. Hopes are high that Edmonton can go on a run this spring, at the very least win a round for the first time in five years, and perhaps reach the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2006.
Playoff hockey, being the war of attrition that it is, takes depth for teams to advance and the Oilers have that this year, not only on their NHL roster but throughout their organization, including with the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League (AHL).
Edmonton’s AHL affiliate comprises a strong collection of young talent and veteran hands, with a number of players that have already had significant stints with the Oilers in 2021-22.
That means there are a lot of players the Oilers can feel confident calling upon should they need to look to Bakersfield for backup this postseason. Their options will be limited only by the recent rash of injuries that has hit the Condors, who should be getting back most of their sidelined talent soon.
Here are four players currently on Bakersfield’s roster, that if recalled by Edmonton, could make an impact in the upcoming NHL playoffs.
Before he was sent down to the minors on March 17, Tyler Benson had been with the Oilers from the outset of the 2021-22 season, appearing in 29 games. Playing in a bottom-six role, the 24-year-old winger had two points and a minus-5 rating.
Typecast as a scorer for his entire career even well before the Oilers drafted him in the second round in 2016, Benson reinvented himself this season as a grinder who wasn’t afraid to go into the corners and seemed to relish mixing it up. Essentially, he was playing playoff-style hockey as far back as October.
While he’s never played an NHL playoff game, Benson has 12 points in 16 career AHL postseason contests and scored the Pacific Division championship series-winning goal as the Condors captured the John D. Chick Trophy last year.
There’s something to be said for familiarity, and after spending the first five months of the season in Edmonton, Benson knows the ropes and would be able to jump into the lineup right away with teammates who know what to expect of him just like Benson knows what to expect of them.
There was talk of Dylan Holloway making Edmonton’s season-opening roster, before wrist surgery prevented the 14th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft from taking part in training camp and kept him out of action until January, when he finally made his pro debut in Bakersfield.
Through his first 32 games with the Condors, Holloway has eight goals, 13 assists, and 78 shots. He’s got eight points in his last six games but hasn’t played since April 6 as he has joined the ranks of wounded Condors.
Though it may not seem wise for a player’s first NHL experience to come under the bright lights in the postseason pressure cooker, there have been many cases to the contrary. A recent example that stands out is Colorado Avalanche blueliner Cale Makar, one of this season’s leading candidates for the Norris Trophy. He hadn’t skated in a single regular-season NHL game before putting up six points with a plus-3 rating in 10 playoffs games with the Avs in 2019, including a goal in his very first outing.
Versatility is what could make Holloway come in handy. He’s a developing two-way player that can fill a number of roles, from scorer to forechecker, and has been seeing time on both the power play and penalty kill for Bakersfield.
There’s nothing special about the 32-year-old center. At the NHL level, Malone is an extra body in the press box/borderline fourth-liner that shouldn’t be expected to offer more than a handful of minutes of sound, uneventful hockey.
But what Malone does possess is the savvy that comes only with time and experience. He’s spent more than a decade in pro hockey and is a veteran of 207 NHL regular-season games, plus six in the postseason. He wears the captain’s ‘C’ in Bakersfield for a reason.
Malone was every bit that solid but unspectacular player during a stint with the Oilers in March, during which he suited up for eight games and chipped in a goal and an assist.
Need an instant injection of offence? Brendan Perlini’s your man. The 25-year-old left winger showed it during the preseason (leading the Oilers with six goals, all at even strength), he showed it when he found the scoresheet in three of four games he played with the Oilers between Jan. 5 and 22, and he’s been doing it in the AHL (producing at a point-per-game rate with the Condors). Heck, he’s done it his whole career at every level, from the Ontario Hockey League (three straight seasons of 25 or more goals) to the AHL (25 goals in 35 career games) to the NHL (averaging close to 20 goals per 82 games over his first three seasons).
Consistency can be an issue though as Perlini’s goals tend to come in bunches, but it only takes one at the right time to make all the difference in the playoffs. When the game goes into double OT and the top forward lines are gassed, every coach wants to be able to look down his bench and have the fresh legs of a one-shot scorer like Perlini.
Plus, the relentlessly upbeat attitude Perlini possesses is infectious, and it never hurts to have that around when the intensity is cranked up in the playoffs.
Perlini actually played a couple of games in January on Edmonton’s top line alongside Connor McDavid. And while it takes superstars like McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to capture the Stanley Cup, no team wins 16-team playoff games without getting a timely goal or two from the likes of a Benson or Holloway. Time will soon tell who, if anyone, can be that man for the Oilers in 2022.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.