📝 by Ryan Holt | AHL On The Beat
The path should look familiar for Olivier Rodrigue.
Drafted in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft, Rodrigue spent the past two seasons with the Bakersfield Condors, working in tandem with Stuart Skinner. Skinner spent his rookie season in the ECHL in 2018-19, established himself as an everyday AHL starter in 2019-20, and recorded back-to-back 20-win seasons in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Now full-time in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, Skinner just signed a three-year, $7.8-million contract extension.
“I’m so happy for him, he deserves it,” Rodrigue said. “He is a great guy. Seeing that gives me hope. We have a similar path with two seasons of up-and-down and then having a good year in the third year.”
Rodrigue’s up-and-down ride started during the COVID-shortened season in 2021. In fact, it started with 23 games overseas in Austria, before he was able to make 11 starts with the Condors and record his first AHL shutout. Last season was split between the ECHL and AHL, including 13 starts as Skinner’s understudy.
The Oilers brought in established veteran Calvin Pickard over the summer to help ease the burden of this season, but an injury in early November forced the number-one duties onto the third-year Condors netminder.
“I wanted to play more games this season,” said Rodrigue, whose 15 appearances this season have already surpassed last season’s total. “I feel more comfortable when I’m settled and in one place. It wasn’t easy traveling back and forth. I feel confident in my game and I just need to keep working from there.”
That confidence has him among the league leaders in save percentage at .916 entering the Christmas break.
“What Ollie has done is he has given us a chance to win every night and that’s all you can ask of your goaltender,” Condors head coach Colin Chaulk said. “Whether we have been on or off, he’s been very solid. That’s his job… to give his team a chance to win every night. He’s done that.”
Though the injury to Pickard opened the door to more starts and more shots — Rodrigue recently had a stretch of at least 30 saves in six straight games — the 22-year-old Quebec native’s mentality has always remained the same.
“I need to be ready,” Rodrigue said. “When Pick got injured, I had to jump in, and you don’t know for how long he’ll be out. My mindset was just to go out and give our team a chance every night.”
Despite the injury, the relationship with Pickard has been a real strength for the two netminders.
“He took me under his wing since coming here,” Rodrigue said. “He’s been through every level and seen a lot during those years. He wants to help me grow my game and more confident with the way I play. With him on the sideline, he’s been a great guy to have around. He’s been pushing me.”
Though the wins have been harder to come by of late, Rodrigue and the team see a positive outlook on the post-Christmas Condors. The team has gotten off to slower starts in recent years, but have found ways to win four playoff series and two division titles. With Rodrigue’s emergence through 26 games this season and the impending return of Pickard, the team in front of the netminders can feel confident that they’ll have a chance to win any given night.