Rookies have been vital to the success of the Bakersfield Condors this season.
Whether it’s as the team’s top point producers (Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody), a pleasant surprise on the blueline (Logan Day) or the team’s red-hot goalkeeper (Shane Starrett), first-year players have made major contributions in 2019.
It’s shown in the win column. Bakersfield enters Saturday’s home game against Ontario standing first overall in the AHL’s Pacific Division with 76 points (36-17-3-1 record).
Rookies in the American Hockey League are players who have 25 games or less experience on the professional level (AHL and NHL combined). Here are five in particular that have stood out in Bakersfield as the season hits its stretch drive.
Tyler Benson, No. 16
Incredible vision. The 21-year-old left wing leads all AHL rookies in assists (39) and has emerged as the Condors’ leading point scorer (51). Talent has certainly always been there for the Edmonton native, selected by his hometown team with the first pick of the second round (No. 34 overall) during the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. After suffering through injuries during his days as a junior player Benson has emerged, leading the Condors in points (51) with 14 games left in the 2018-19 regular season.
Quote from head coach Jay Woodcroft: “Elite passer. I think he has unique ability to find the open man. He can pass on his forehand and his backhand, which is another unique skill.”
Cooper Marody, No. 20
What a find. Drafted by Philadelphia only to be traded to the Edmonton organization last March, Marody led the University of Michigan in scoring last year before making his late-season debut with the Condors and contributing immediately. At the outset of this season Marody made his first NHL appearance before returning to Bakersfield and continuing his strong play. The 22-year-old is second on the Condors in points (49), racking up 14 goals and 35 assists. With him at center and Benson at left wing, the rookie linemates form an impressive one-two punch.
Woodcroft: “He wants to make plays, he wants to take people on. He has excellent puck protection skills….as a center, he has more responsibility defensively. He’s improved his faceoffs. Turning into a bigtime player.”
Kailer Yamamoto, No. 20
Another high draft pick by Edmonton (first round, 22nd overall) the 20-year-has been highly touted. The diminutive winger (5-foot-8, 155 pounds) began the year in Edmonton but was sent to Bakersfield to get more playing time and experience. It’s worked, as he’s provided some scoring punch (10 goals, seven assists in 26 games) as the most recent linemate to skate alongside Benson and Marody.
Woodcroft: “He’s gotten hungrier offensively. He’s developing a killer instinct around the front of the net. He’s shooting the puck a little bit more….His hockey sense is off the charts….We wanted to see a little more offensive finish to him. He’s been one of our hottest players.”
Logan Day, No. 19
A pleasant surprise indeed. Day is one of the few players in Bakersfield taking the ice on an AHL-exclusive contract, after scoring two goals in 10 games last year. All he’s done in 2019 is lead Condors’ defensemen in points (his 31 rank sixth overall on the team) and assists (25). Woodcroft said Day — a 24-year-old right-handed player from Division III Endicott College — “makes plays that a lot of players can’t make” on the offensive end of the ice.
Woodcroft: “He’s worked on his defensive game this year as well. He’s not just a one-way player. He’s a plus player on our team. He spends a lot of time with our defense coach, Dave Manson, working on the nuances of how to defend on this level.”
Shane Starrett, No. 40
Last but certainly not least, Starrett has been nothing short of sensational between the pipes. To say the performance came out of nowhere would be accurate — last year Starrett had a goals against average of 3.01 with the Wichita Thunder of the ECHL, before putting up a 3.76 mark in three games with Bakersfield. Either way, this year he’s been the Condors' backbone and a primary reason the team ripped off a recent 17-game win streak. Starrett, 24, was named AHL Goaltender of the Month in February after posting a 9-0-0 record, a 1.75 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. In short, he took the starting job this year and ran with it.
Woodcroft: “He’s a great teammate who’s teammates play for him, not with him. His story mirrors the story of the Bakersfield Condors’ season, which is he’s working his tail off for everything he gets. I’m happy to see him have success.”