By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
When Bryan Young was told he was going to California, he assumed he had been reassigned to the Stockton Thunder.
But the Edmonton Oilers contract player wasn’t being sent to Stockton. He was told he was going to California to meet the Oilers in Anaheim to play the Ducks.
Welcome to the NHL, Bryan.
“I was surprised and a little nervous, but it’s great,” Young said. “This just goes to show you that you have to be ready, because you don’t know what will happen.”
Young’s ascent is what minor league players dream about. Young, who played 17 games with Stockton, became the first Thunder player to play in the NHL. He debuted with the Oilers on March 9, just 25 days after he left Stockton for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pa.) Penguins of the American Hockey League.
The other Oilers prospects in Stockton are thrilled for Young and hope their chance at playing in the NHL comes soon. Edmonton currently has five players assigned to the Thunder – forwards Liam Reddox, Tim Sestito, Stephane Goulet, and Brock Radunske, and goaltender Devan Dubnyk, the Oilers’ top draft choice in 2004.
“When I heard it, I got very excited for Bryan, and then you get to thinking that it can happen to you too,” Reddox said. “Things like this make you realize why you have to give it everything you have every day.”
It’s rare for a player to go from the ECHL to the NHL in less than four weeks, but this was a unique situation. The Oilers have been hit with a rash of injuries and currently have 10 players sidelined for a variety of ailments.
So Young, a 21-year-old defenseman, got the call.
“You just never know what will happen, especially the way the injury bug has hit us,” said Kevin Prendergast, Edmonton’s vice president of hockey operations.
“The key is that guys (in the minor leagues) keep playing hard and stay committed to their off-ice programs. It usually doesn’t happen this quick, but Bryan proved it can.”
Prendergast said the Oilers always consider their minor league teams as an important tool to help the franchise, and he is happy with how well the first year of their relationship with Stockton has gone.
“I think everything we want for our players we’re getting,” Prendergast said. “They are developing, and they are getting a lot of ice time. They still have a ways to go far as getting to the National Hockey League. But as far as their development, from our standpoint the best place for them to play was (in Stockton).”
NHL teams move players around in an attempt to get the right fit or to promote those who deserve it. Prendergast said that as of now Troy Bodie and Tyler Spurgeon, both of whom were moved up to the AHL, are not slated to return to Stockton. But since their departure, Edmonton has sent Radunske, a speedy skater who had 10 points in his first six games.
“They try to send you to an environment where you can develop your skills,” Radunske said. “At this level, it’s all about learning.”
It’s late in the season, but there could be more moves. It’s unlikely anyone on the Thunder would come close to joining Young in Edmonton, and even he wasn’t sure what was happening when he was told the news by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Todd Richards.
“When I heard California, I originally thought for sure they were talking about Stockton,” Young said. “I was taken off guard. I was excited and nervous, but the veterans have been great to me. I’m getting my chance.”
His former teammates hope they can say the same thing one day.
“It’s what we all want,” Dubnyk said. “And the main way you can help yourself is with hard work.”