Edmonton Oilers executive Bill Scott showed up for a Wednesday press conference at Intrust Bank Arena, which gives the Oilers a record for public appearances.
The Thunder’s NHL affiliate last season, the Ottawa Senators, didn’t make any in a season that was marred by the uncertainty of player movement to and from Wichita.
Those hang-ups had the Thunder looking for a new affiliate, and Edmonton was in a similar position. The two sides began talking about a month ago and quickly reached an agreement.
Edmonton, which reached the second round of the NHL playoffs, was the Wichita Wind’s NHL affiliate in the early 1980s. The Thunder, which enters a system that includes Bakersfield of the American Hockey League, didn’t have an NHL connection before last season.
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“We make sure that we’re in constant contact with the coaching staff,” said Scott, the Oilers’ assistant general manager. “We think we’ve done with a good job with that … and we make sure we talk to the coaching staff on a regular basis. We help them recruit players. We do whatever we can in our arsenal to help them improve their team, as well.”
Thunder coach Malcolm Cameron and the Senators built a talented roster last season, but it quickly unraveled as many of Wichita’s most important players, including some contracted to the Senators, were promoted to Triple-A Binghamton of the AHL.
Those transactions were most often one-sided – usually players weren’t sent to Wichita to fill roster spots. That left Cameron often scrambling to acquire players and the Thunder failed to recapture the early-season optimism, finishing with the ECHL’s second-worst record.
“I would love to have the players stay here all year, because truth be told, last year we were really good,” Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno said. “We were so fast and we were scoring and we were great on the power play. We lost a handful of players and it really hurt us. But ultimately, this league is to develop players and get them called up to the NHL.
“The affiliation is how you get players.”
The relationship with the Oilers – on the ice – will begin similarly to the Thunder’s with Ottawa. Edmonton will send about seven players to Wichita and hope many of them develop quickly enough to earn promotions.
The difference could come in the communication and presence between the teams, which both expect to be active.
“Ottawa, if you’re asking if I’m happy to move on – I’m happy to have Edmonton,” Lomurno said. “From the standpoint of Ottawa, look at all the players they sent here that got called up and got developed.… I’d guess in the next year or two you’ll see a player or two that played for the Wichita Thunder play in the NHL, which is really cool.
“Hopefully we want to have a good mix of some prospects that will really help the team and be here. If they get called up, they get called up.”