After a week of deliberation, a Saturday morning phone conversation with his mom, Shawndra, helped Michael Kesselring decide it was time to turn pro.
The defenseman from New Hampton chose to forgo his final two college hockey seasons at Northeastern University and signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Edmonton Oilers, who drafted him in the sixth round of the 2018 NHL draft, last Saturday.
The next day, Kesselring hopped on a flight to California to join the Oilers’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, for the remainder of their season.
“I was leaning toward going pro and, after talking to my mom, I decided that’s what I was going to do,” Kesselring said.
Kesselring, 21, logged seven goals and six assists and blocked 49 shots over his 54 games for Northeastern. The right-shot blue-liner helped the program win its third straight Beanpot championship last year and logged a career-high five goals alongside three assists in 20 games this past season.
Northeastern fell to the University of Massachusetts, 4-1, in the Hockey East quarterfinals on March 14.
Kesselring said he chose to go pro now because Edmonton will provide him a good opportunity to continue developing and get to the next level. While assessing his options, Kesselring’s dad, Casey, who coached him at New Hampton School, said he should go with his gut and to not be afraid to take chances in life.
“Physically, I developed the past few years,” Kesselring said. “Playing against men, learning to be a pro was the next step for me. That’s what went into my decision.”
Over the past two seasons with Northeastern, Huskies assistant coach Mike McLaughlin taught Kesselring how to play defensively at a high level.
“I was more of an offensive defenseman before Northeastern,” Kesselring said. “They molded my game into a more pro style. I’d definitely say defensively I learned to defend fast. That’s the biggest thing I took away from my time at Northeastern.”
Because of Northeastern’s depth of talented forwards, Kesselring said he did not get as many offensive opportunities as he would have liked. He is looking forward to developing that side of his game in the Edmonton organization.
“The better you are two ways, the better you can help your team,” Kesselring said. “I’ve always had an offensive side of my game. I think I’ll have the opportunity to show it off more here than I did at school so I’m excited.”
In his first week of practice with Bakersfield, Kesselring said assistant coach Dave Manson worked with him on moving the puck quickly, getting up in the play and defending hard all the time.
Kesselring said he just wants to play well defensively and hopefully set up some goals in his first few games with the Condors. Once he gets settled in, Kesselring expects he will get more offensive chances.
Bakersfield has 20 scheduled regular-season games remaining. The AHL has not yet announced if there will be a Calder Cup playoffs this year.
“Keith Gretzky, the assistant general manager for the Oilers, (talked) about making sure I’m getting up in the play once I get acclimated here, get some offensive opportunities maybe on the power play or adding opportunities five-on-five,” Kesselring said. “I think the biggest thing they expect from me is to play hard defensively and, when the opportunity is there, make some plays offensively.”