WICHITA, KS – Less than 12 months after announcing their first-ever player development affiliation with the Ottawa Senators (NHL) and Binghamton Senators (AHL), the Wichita Thunder will have new NHL and AHL primary affiliates for next season.
At a media conference Tuesday afternoon, the organization announced their new NHL & AHL affiliates, the Edmonton Oilers, and Bakersfield Condors, respectively.
“I would like to thank Bill Scott and Peter Chiarelli for bestowing their confidence in me to develop the young prospects the Oilers will assign to us,” said Thunder head coach Malcolm Cameron. “I look forward to a great season ahead.”
After selling the Admirals to the Mongo Group, the Oilers had been searching for a new affiliation partner that was farther west and have found one with the Wichita Thunder.
The Oilers organization appears to be one on the rise after spending several years in the National Hockey League’s basement. Last season, the Oilers were one win away from the Western Conference Finals, losing in a bitter seven-game series to the Anaheim Ducks. One step lower, the Bakersfield Condors missed the Calder Cup playoffs by five points but finished above .500 for the second year in a row, both in the AHL.
“Wichita will be a tremendous place to develop our prospects while they are in a winning environment under Malcolm Cameron’s guidance.” said Bill Scott of the Edmonton Oilers.
Seven players the AHL club saw ice time in Norfolk last year; three forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. Of the seven, three were on Edmonton deals, while the other four were on Bakersfield contracts.
Zach Pochiro appeared in 42 games for the Admirals and collected 27 points (3G, 24A) in those games.
Rookie Joey Benik was closer to a point-per-game player, scoring 31 points (16G -tied for third most, 15A) in 35 games for the Admirals. Benik has signed to play in Norway next season.
Fellow rookie Jaedon Descheneau is the forward that is most likely, out of the group who played in Norfolk last season, to be on the opening night roster for Wichita. Last year, the rookie collected 19 points (9G, 10A) in 26 games for the Admirals.
On the blueline, the Oilers and Condors featured a very active defensive corps when it came to scoring.
Mikael Tam, headed to the KHL, posted 22 points (9G, 13A) in 36 games, with 11 of those points coming by way of the power play.
Frankie Simonelli had offensive success in the Tidewater during the 2016-17 season, collecting 37 points (15G, 22A) in 49 games and was a +5. 10 of the 37 points came via the special teams.
Finally, Ben Betker is a big defenseman who has a heavy shot. In five games on the Admirals blueline last year, Betker notched five points and was a +4.
In net, Eetu Laurikainen did not have a strong showing in the Tidewater, going 1-7-3 with a 3.77 goals against average and a .881 save percentage in 11 starts. Laurikainen is signed to play in Finland next season.
According to Walt Ruff, the Admirals Director of Communications, the Condors called up one ECHL contract player from Norfolk last season, team Captain Brodie Dupont. Dupont had 41 points in 40 games for the Admirals before being promoted to Bakersfield on February 23. Dupont registered eight points (2G, 6A) in 21 games in Bakersfield.
In a phone conversation with The Sin Bin, Cameron says the Ottawa Senators will remain partners with the Thunder next season, but will not send as many players to Wichita as they did last year, though Cameron says there will be a goaltender in camp sent from Ottawa. He also said the Oilers and Thunder have not had formal talks on the number of players being sent to Wichita.
Wichita opens their 26th season on October 13 & 14 with a weekend set against the Indy Fuel.