Brandon Baddock could be playing for the AHL’s Albany Devils this season. His career season with the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2014-15 certainly would have warranted a contract from the New Jersey Devils, the team that selected him in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Draft.
The native of Vermilion, AB went undrafted in his first year of eligibility, playing few minutes on a powerful Oil Kings team. But in 2013-14 he showed a slight increase in scoring, recording 17 points in 56 games, but it was his size and strength that caught the eye of scouts – Baddock is listed at 6’4, 215 pounds and has been involved in 21 fights in his WHL career.
But his confidence skyrocketed in 2014-15, and he was given a larger role offensively on a team that had just lost key contributors in Curtis Lazar and Mitch Moroz. Baddock finished fifth on the Oil Kings in scoring with 40 points, up 23 from his previous high. His 19 goals ranked third on the team.
The Devils, however, felt it made more sense for him to replicate that offense as an overage 20 year old with a young, rebuilding Oil Kings team this season. Because he was drafted as a 19 year old, the Devils still hold his rights until June of this year.
“They basically just told me that it would be better for me to come back and develop here in the WHL playing lots of minutes,” Baddock said prior to a game at Rexall Place against the Kootenay Ice. “(They wanted me) playing PK and PP and playing a bigger role, rather than going and playing in one of their farm systems and taking a lesser role. They said I can never be over prepared.”
Just prior to the start of this season Baddock was named Edmonton’s captain. It’s a team that has a few NHL draft picks – Brett Pollock (DAL), Dysin Mayo (ARI) and Aaron Irving (NSH) – but is relatively young. Baddock is one of just two overage players on the roster, despite the fact teams are allowed to carry three.
He is someone who has had to work hard for every opportunity he has been given – Baddock is not particularly blessed with natural skill – and that’s something that the Oil Kings liked about the selection. He can impart that work effort and attitude on some of the team’s younger players.
“He’s quiet by nature, but he has come out of his shell a little bit and has a real presence with the guys and a lot of respect with the players,” said the team’s second-year assistant coach, Ryan Marsh.
“The beauty about Brandon is he has taken his lumps along the way to get to where he is; he didn’t play a lot, especially in his first year. So he can share some of those experiences with some of our young players that are going through that now, coming out of midget and expecting to play but then not playing a significant role game in and game out. And he has been real good about taking those guys aside.”
The Oil Kings rotate alternate captains, with Dallas Stars‘ 2014 second round pick Brett Pollock having worn the ‘A’ on multiple occasions this season. He is part of the leadership group alongside Baddock, and he recognizes the impact the 20-year-old has on the young Oil Kings group.
“He’s a great guy and a great captain,” said Pollock. “He leads by example and always knows when to joke around, when to be serious… and he’ll stand up for anyone.”
Baddock has been fortunate enough to play on a Memorial Cup-winning team in 2012-13, one captained by current Edmonton Oiler Griffin Reinhart. In the past few seasons the Oil Kings have been among the WHL’s elite teams and some strong personalities have come through the City of Champions.
“There has been a tremendous amount of different leaders on this team,” Baddock said. “If you look at guys like Griffin Reinhart, who wore the ‘C’, and other leaders like Curtis Lazar and me and Ashton Sautner being close here last year, they’ve really helped me and I’ve been able to learn from what they did.”
Nobody expected the Oil Kings to lead the league or even the Eastern Conference at this point, but the dreadful start they have gotten off to is a bit surprising to say the least. As of Nov. 2nd, the Oil Kings have won just one of their last 10 games and sit 11th in the 12-team conference with a 4-9-3-0 record.
Baddock has six points through 16 games, which is about what could be expected offensively from the hulking forward. But in the coming weeks his ability to lead will certainly be tested and that is something of which is he very aware.
“This isn’t the start we would like and we’re kind of getting into a slide here, but I think we’re learning from our mistakes, getting better and pushing forward every day (and) I need to lead that way.”
On the ice he is a player that makes an impact with his physicality, but he isn’t inept skill-wise. His size creates room for his linemates and, more often than not, a good screen in front of the opposition’s goaltender. He can score with his shot, but records the majority of his goals in tight to the crease on rebounds generated from teammates.
In years past, Baddock has played center, but has recently been moved to the wing where his coaches feel he can be more effective.
“I think that’s probably a better spot for him long term as he moves forward and tries to get himself to the pro ranks,” said Marsh. “That’s more of a natural fit for him. Early in the year I think he struggled a little bit with the change but I think the last three or four games he has really become the big body presence that we need; he’s been physical, been turning pucks over, creating off the rush much better than he was early in the year. We’ve been happy with him.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Baddock as he moves forward and turns pro is his skating. Of course, not every prospect has the full package of talent and skill, and there is certainly a lot to like about Baddock, but his ceiling is limited. At the pro level, he projects, at best, as a third- or fourth-line energy forward. And how much he can improve his skating will be the deciding factor in where he ends up.
“That will be the area he needs to continue to work on,” said Marsh. “He’s certainly not slow, but he’s not what you would consider fast either. Generally just pace and tempo to his game is where he needs to improve to get to that next level – move pucks a little bit quicker, get a step on (defenseman) and be able to drive to the net. Those are the areas he needs to continue to work on to essentially be in the American (Hockey) League next year.”
Baddock is not someone to count out, however. He has been a year behind at every developmental stage in his young career – he played a year of Junior A as a 16 year old, was drafted a year late and will now wait an extra year before turning pro – and has then exceeded expectations.
Who is to say he won’t do it again?
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