Lowetide: How did Oilers’ rookie pros perform in 2023-24 AHL season?



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The Edmonton Oilers badly needed strong performances from the club’s rookie pros during the 2023-24 AHL season.

The trading of multiple draft picks plus impressive young prospects like Mike Kesselring and Reid Schaefer meant the Oilers needed some dark horse candidates to break through.

Counting on prospects with little or no draft pedigree isn’t a recipe for success.

Additionally, a historically small graduating class of juniors and college kids suggested a stark reality for the organization.

Even in seasons where the focus is winning the Stanley Cup, procurement and progress by prospects in the minors is vital.

How did this year’s rookies do?

The three main rookies this season are Max Wanner, Matvey Petrov and Jayden Grubbe.

Each man has shown promise this season, and all three have a chance to play NHL games in the next couple of seasons.

Wanner revealed

Wanner is the lead story among Edmonton’s rookies who played the season for the Bakersfield Condors.

A depth draft pick during the pandemic season (Wanner was chosen No. 212 in the 2021 draft), he improved in each season played for the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors.

Wanner has size (6-foot-3, 184 pounds), mobility and a mean streak, with improved coverage and gap control through his rookie AHL campaign.

The most impressive thing about him is how much he played at age 20 in the AHL.

The league doesn’t publish time on ice totals, but there are ways to estimate ice time. In Wanner’s case, he has been on the ice for 81 even-strength goals in 66 games so far this season. That total suggests he was a regular throughout the season, something that is matched by the eye test.

Recent rookie defencemen who have played a significant amount for the Condors include Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg. Here’s a list of graduates to the NHL and what they accomplished as AHL rookies.

Player Year EV GF-GA Per game

2019-20

41-51

1.7

2021-22

30-15

1.45

2020-21

24-24

1.3

2021-22

40-30

1.27

2023-24

43-38

1.23

Wanner is part of an impressive list and is doing it at 20. Vincent Desharnais (24) and Kesselring (21) were older when playing their rookie pro seasons.

The goal share for Wanner is outstanding, and includes a 20-10 run at even strength over his most recent 28 games.

In observing AHL players over many decades, the most likely player types to have NHL careers of note tend to be players like Wanner.

Why? The most talented offensive players land in the NHL with no (or very few) games in the minors.

The players who succeed from the AHL tend to be suppression types who learn how to smooth out the edges of their games and become reliable contributors to outscoring.

A close comparable in style, Desharnais, made it to the NHL from the depths of the draft, and the same thing could be happening for Wanner, whose goal share at even strength (53 percent) compares favourably to other Bakersfield defenders this season.

Wanner is a shutdown defenseman with an edge, but he can make plays and has some skill. His 0.24 points per game as an AHL rookie is in the range with some of the recent rookie forwards for Bakersfield.

Petrov’s offence

The two rookie forwards have posted interesting numbers, but both men have had difficulty earning playing time.

The Condors have a pile of youngsters up front and a large number of veterans who are holding back progress.

Here are the rookie numbers for all rookie Condors forwards over the past two seasons.

Player Year Pts-Game EV Goal Share

Xavier Bourgault

2022-23

0.55

60 pct

Noah Philp

2022-23

0.53

55 pct

Tyler Tullio

2022-23

0.41

54 pct

Matvey Petrov

2023-24

0.25

55 pct

Carter Savoie

2022-23

0.25

30 pct

Jayden Grubbe

2023-24

0.2

55 pct

The numbers for Petrov and Grubbe reflect a lack of ice time, but the second-year wingers on this list (Xavier Bourgault, Tyler Tullio, Carter Savoie) have also faltered.

That speaks to either poor drafting or poor development, and the debate has been raging all season among Oilers fans.

About Grubbe

Grubbe’s offence is the least impressive among rookie forwards from the last two seasons, but he might be the one name to emerge from this group as an NHL player.

He is a rugged right-handed centre who can make plays, win battles along the wall and do the difficult work of checking his man.

Grubbe will need to add some offence, but he stands out as a forward who knows that suppressing opposition offence is a key element to making the NHL.

Rookie report card

Wanner is an emerging talent and appears to be on an NHL trajectory. An estimate for arrival would be sometime during the 2025-26 season, but Desharnais is an unrestricted free agent this summer and that could move up Wanner’s timeline.

They are similar player types and Wanner is probably best suited to the third pair and penalty killing in the NHL.

Oilers fans will love him. Wanner is a defender who makes opponents pay a price.

Grubbe is a player who can develop over the next two seasons in Bakersfield. At the end of his contract (summer 2026) expect an extension and a full NHL audition if he continues to play his current style, remains healthy and can move the needle just a little more offensively.

Grubbe was an astute acquisition by the Oilers and is a good bet for NHL games.

Petrov has miles of talent but he needs to play. This season has been an exercise in frustration for fans watching the young forwards who were rookies in the past two seasons.

The solution is to play the kids.

Management can make that happen by walking some or all of Brad Malone, Seth Griffith, Greg McKegg, Adam Erne and Sam Gagner this summer.

All of those names are quality players at the AHL level, and all have played significant minutes in the NHL over the years.

None of these men have the kind of hockey future that suggests they should be playing in front of the prospects.

Slow-playing Bourgault, Tullio and Savoie this season is one of the most baffling decisions made at the minor-league level in many years.

Making room for the young forwards, including Philp who is coming back after a year away, would represent recognition of a poor development season.

These young players have earned the opportunity.

(Photo of Max Wanner defending in NHL preseason: Alika Jenner/ Getty Images)





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