On the day Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft flew to California to introduce himself as head coach of the AHL Bakersfield Condors, the minor league system had some issues.
The organization had few bona fide prospects landing in Bakersfield, due to a combination of traded draft picks and elevating the first-round selections right to the NHL.
In the season before Woodcroft arrived, there were only two signed rookies aged 20 (Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear) who played in the minors. The two defencemen had a rough pro debut, Jones bleeding goals at even strength (30-54, minus 24) and missing time due to injury. Bear performed well enough to receive an NHL recall, but there were things to work on and no guarantee of NHL success.
Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson turned around both young defencemen the following season. The results, even these years later and with both defencemen gone from the organization, offered a hint about what Woodcroft and Manson could do with young players.
Bear’s on-ice goal differential at even strength (60 percent) was up almost 20 percent year over while Jones went from 36 to 62 percent with the new coaching staff.