Flames Top 20 prospects, Spring 2008

By Travis Head

Since the last Flames Top 20, the most noticeable changes are the absence of Daniel Ryder, huge jumps up the board by John Negrin and Adam Pardy, and a considerable fall by David Van der Gulik. The Flames may not possess that one "can’t miss" prospect, but they do have a few solid second line standouts and an abundance of grit and energy players to fill out their third and fourth lines. The Flames have lots of depth between the pipes, and center is the position found highest on the list.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Dustin Boyd, C (7.0 B)
2. Mikael Backlund, C (7.5 C)
3. Leland Irving, G (7.5 C)
4. Juuso Puustinen, RW (7.0 C)
5. Andrei Taratukhin, C (7.0 D)
6. Curtis McElhinney, G (6.5 C)
7. Mark Giordano, D (6.5 C)
8. Eric Nystrom, LW (6.0 B)
9. Matt Keetley, G (6.5 C)
10. John Negrin, D (6.5 C)
11. Tim Ramholt, D (6.0 C)
12. Adam Pardy, D (6.0 C)
13. Kris Chucko, LW (6.0 C)
14. Matt Pelech, D (6.0 C)
15. Brandon Prust, LW (5.5 B)
16. John Armstrong, C (6.0 C)
17. Aaron Marvin, C (5.5 C)
18. David Van der Gulik, RW (5.5 C)
19. Devin Didiomete, LW (5.5 C)
20. Jordan Fulton, C (7 F)

1. Dustin Boyd, C (7.0 B)

Drafted: 98th overall, 2004

Winnipeg’s Dustin Boyd sits atop the list of Calgary prospects. Despite not making it onto the Flames roster out of training camp, and a somewhat shaky start to his sophomore season in the AHL, Boyd has played the majority of the year for Calgary. After 18 games with Quad City, Boyd was recalled on Nov. 22, and has been up with the Flames ever since.

In his 48 appearances with Calgary, Boyd averaged about ten minutes of ice time a night on coach Mike Keenan’s fourth line. The 6′ 191 lb Boyd finished the season with 7 goals and 5 assists and just 6 penalty minutes, playing a defensive/energy role for the Flames. Boyd did go unnoticed on some nights, but he really improved in the shot-blocking department, as well as inside the face-off circle.  He has the opportunity to contribute in a playoff setting going forward.

2. Mikael Backlund, C (7.5 C)

Drafted: 24th overall, 2007

Backlund had a standout international performance at the 2008 WJC. His seven points in six games, centering Team Sweden‘s top line, helped get his country to the gold medal game. Backlund and Team Sweden would be forced to settle for a silver in overtime.

Backlund has spent the rest of his time playing for Vasteras at the Under-20 and Division 2 levels in Sweden. After dominating at the Under-20 level with 13 points in 9 games, Backlund has since moved up to play for Vasteras in the Allsvenskan league (Division 2). In 37 games played, Backlund has 9 goals and 4 assists for 13 points.

The playmaker was selected by the Kelowna Rockets in 2007 CHL import draft, so if he doesn’t make it the cut out of Flames camp, a year in the WHL next season might help acclimate him to the North American style of play.  

3. Leland Irving, G (7.5 C)

Drafted: 26th overall, 2006

The year for Irving and the Everett Silvertips did not unfold the way many had thought it would. Though talented, Everett finished the WHL season in sixth place in the Western Conference and was recently eliminated in the first round of the WHL playoffs in a sweep. Irving would only play in three out of the four games.

The 6’0 177 lb Irving had a regular season record of 27-24-0-3, a 2.14 GAA, and a .919 save percentage in 56 starts with Everett. Irving also faced more shots this season than any of his previous years in the WHL.

Despite a solid performance for Team Canada in the Canada-Russia Super Series, Irving was the last goalie cut from the 2008 Canadian World Junior team.

Irving is considered to be a technically sound goaltender, and a year facing AHL shooters next year should be in the cards for him.

4. Juuso Puustinen, RW (7.0 C)

Drafted: 149th overall, 2006

Kamloops Blazers forward Juuso Puustinen came off a rookie year in which he was fourth in WHL rookie scoring with 71 points (32 goals, 39 assists) in 2006-07.
Despite the firing of head coach/general manager Dean Clark after a 6-9-1-1 start, and trades that saw Keaton Ellerby and Brock Nixon leave town, the Blazers, led by Puustinen, managed to finish the season in eighth place in the WHL’s Western Conference. In a first-round tilt with the Tri-City Americans, Kamloops would prove to be no match for the WHL’s No. 1 ranked team, as the Americans took down the Blazers in four straight games.

Puustinen’s point totals for this year are down from last season, but in his 60 games for the Blazers he did have the team lead in points (53) and goals (27) at season’s end.

The 6’2 190 lb Puustinen is clearly an offensive talent.  He must be signed by the Flames by June 1.

5. Andrei Taratukhin, C (7.0 D)

Drafted: 41st overall, 2001

In 2006-07 with the Flames AHL affiliate in Omaha, the hard-working Russian scored 17 goals, led the team in assists (43), and tied for the team lead in points (60) with Dustin Boyd, and Carsen Germyn. He accomplished all this in his first professional season in North America.

In 2007-8, the 6′ playmaking Taratukhin decided to head back to Russia with a year remaining on his contract. Taratukhin has tallied 10 goals and 16 assists in 51 games for Ufa Salavat of the Russian Super League.

The now 25-year-old Taratukhin has a fairly well-rounded game, as he’s not only a good passer with strong offensive instincts, he also plays well in his own end.  But all of this is unlikely to happen in a Flames uniform.

6. Curtis McElhinney, G (6.5 C)

Drafted: 176th overall, 2002

The 24-year-old former Colorado College Tiger netminder has had a mixed-bag season. After earning the No. 2 position out of training camp and an NHL debut on Oct. 22, McElhinney would be demoted back to the AHL after the arrival of free agent Curtis Joseph.

McElhinney appeared in 41 of Quad City’s 80 games, posting a record of 20-18-0-2 and a 2.28 GAA. With a great deal more ice time being given to Matt Keetley and Brent Krahn this year, McElhinney’s ice time decreased from last year, in which he made 57 appearances.  Quad City finished 2007-08 in sixth place in the West division and out of Calder Cup playoff contention.

In his short stint backing up Miikka Kiprusoff this season, McElhinney did show that he could someday be a viable goaltending option for the Flames. If the 6’2 McElhinney can work on controlling his rebounds and improve his positioning, he might get a chance to hold down the No. 2 spot for Calgary next season. McElhinney was recently called up by the Flames for the 2008 playoff run.

7. Mark Giordano, D (6.5 C)

Acquired: Free agency 2004

After a strong rookie season in which Giordano scored 7 goals and 8 assists in 48 games on the Flames blue line, the Toronto product was unable to come to terms on a new deal with Calgary for the current season.

Giordano then headed off to Russia to play in the Russian Super League for one of the country’s most revered hockey clubs, Dynamo Moscow. In his 50 games playing in the Russian capital, Giordano scored 4 goals and 9 assists.

In his time in Calgary, Giordano was very reliable, often playing bigger than his 6′ 203 lb frame. A year in Russia playing with and against some of Russia‘s most talented players should go a long way in improving his skating and offensive game. The Flames could definitely use Giordano’s skills for next season, so look for negotiations to resume in the summer as he remains a restricted free agent.

8. Eric Nystrom, LW (6.0 B)

Drafted: 10th overall, 2002

The former Michigan Wolverine has spent the majority of the year up with the Flames this season. Nystrom has appeared in 44 games for Calgary, logging fourth line minutes. The gritty left winger has been a healthy scratch in some games this year, and has recently missed some time due to broken jaw suffered on Jan. 11.

While Nystrom has not really contributed offensively for the Flames (3 goal, 7 assists), he has had an effect in the energy department. In his 44 games with Calgary, he has thrown out some big hits and dropped the mitts seven times.
When the 6’1 204 lb Nystrom has been reassigned to the AHL at various times this season, he has recorded four goals and three assists in 18 games with Quad City.
Nystrom is a responsible player in his own zone, and if he can stay healthy, he can contribute.

9. Matt Keetley, G (6.5 C)

Drafted: 158th overall, 2005

Keetley played in his first pro season this year, after a stellar four-year career stopping pucks for the Medicine Hat Tigers. In 26 appearances with the Quad City Flames, Keetley had a record of 10-8-0-3 with a 2.33 GAA.

On Nov. 5, Keetley would make his debut for the Flames, stopping the only two shots he faced after relieving in the third period of a 4-1 loss to the Avalanche.

If you are looking for a place to shoot on the southpaw, you won’t see many holes around his 6’2 215 lb frame. Keetley pairs his size with exceptional mobility. The 21-year-old does require a few more seasons facing AHL shooters, but is another reason to be optimistic about the Flames goaltending future.

10. John Negrin, D (6.5 C)

Drafted: 70th overall, 2007

No other prospect has climbed up the Flames Hockey’s Future Top 20 list as much as Negrin. The 6’2 190 lb defenseman played in his third full season with Kootenay of the WHL this year, posting a goal and 42 assists in 71 games. His 42 assists were good enough for third among all WHL defensemen.

The Ice finished the year fifth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. Negrin would record a goal and an assist in his 10 playoff games. Negrin possesses above-average skating ability and passing skills, to go along with his solid physical play. The Vancouver product should return for another season in the WHL next year.

Negrin was recently recalled by the Flames on Apr. 13 upon completion of his WHL season. 

11. Tim Ramholt, D (6.0 C)

Drafted: 39th overall, 2003

The Swiss-born defenseman has wrapped up his second AHL season. In his 77 games played for the Quad City Flames, Ramholt had 4 goals and 20 assists.
Like most European defensemen, Ramholt has well-developed passing and puck handling skills. The most noticeable aspect of Ramholt’s game is his ability to move at great speeds, but he’ll have to learn to cut out the mental mistakes to have a lasting NHL career. His time playing in North America has demonstrated a commitment on Ramholt’s part to crash and bang as the game dictates. The 23-year-old’s game could lead to an NHL debut with the Flames next season, however, the circumstance and duration of a stint in Calgary may have to come about due to an injury.

12. Adam Pardy, D (6.0 C)

Drafted: 173rd overall, 2004

Pardy made a lot of strides in his development this season. In 65 games with Quad City, he had 5 goals and 13 assists to go along with 67 PIMs. His
steady play on the blue line earned him a call-up with Calgary on Dec. 3, but would be reassigned back to the AHL on Dec. 19 without playing a single game with the Flames.

The 6’2 218 lb defenseman’s hard work was rewarded with a selection
to the 2008 AHL All-Star Game, where he suited up for Team Canada. Pardy provides a strong physical presence on the blue line, as well as an adept ability at shutting down offensive talent. The most encouraging thing about the 23-year-old prospect is that since his first pro season in the ECHL, his overall play has shown a remarkable improvement. His continuous development and progression in the Flames system, makes a jump to the NHL more of a probability than a mere possibility.

13. Kris Chucko, LW (6.0 C)

Drafted: 24th overall, 2004

The former Minnesota Golden Gopher recently finished his second AHL season with Quad City. Chucko played in all 80 games and tallied 15 goals and 15 assists, with 38 PIMs.

While the 6’2 198 lb right winger put up great offensive numbers in the BCHL, that scoring production didn’t translate to the NCAA ranks and has yet to come out in the AHL. Chucko has had to rely on his solid defensive play and grit to get ice time. Chucko has also proven to be extremely durable, as he has played in back-to-back complete seasons in the AHL.

Barring an offensive awakening, you will probably see Chucko on Calgary’s third or fourth line in upcoming seasons, but when his time will come is still up in the air.

14. Matt Pelech, D (6.0 C)

Drafted: 25th overall, 2005

In his rookie season in the AHL, Pelech recorded 3 goals and 9 assists in 77 games played. The Toronto native also finished the year with 141 PIMs and a -10 rating. At 6’4 220 lbs, Pelech is by far the biggest Flames prospect, and he still has some room to fill out as he gets stronger. Pelech is a decent skater and has shown the potential to be a reliable stay-at-home defenseman at the NHL level, but another year in the AHL should help polish his game and help him in his sometimes questionable decision-making ability. He could be called up next season to fill in for any possible injuries on the Flames blue line.

15. Brandon Prust, LW (5.5 B)

Drafted: 70th overall, 2004

In 79 games this season with Quad City, the tenacious Prust had 10 goals and 27 assists, to go along with a whopping 248 PIMs. On Apr. 15, Calgary recalled Prust for the NHL playoffs.

Prust is a gritty, hardworking hockey player. He is definitely not shy about dropping the mitts to lift his team, and he has developed a nose for the net while playing in the AHL. Prust may only be 5’11, but he plays about six inches taller on most nights. If the Flames are looking for a way to inject some energy into their roster at some point during the playoffs or next season, penciling Prust into the fourth line would be a great place to start.

16. John Armstrong, C (6.0 C)

Drafted: 87th overall, 2006

Armstrong recently saw his final OHL season with the Peterborough Petes come to an end. The 6’2 188 lb Armstrong finished the regular season with 21 goals and 36 assists (57 points), good for second on the Petes in scoring, behind 2008 eligible defenseman Zach Bogosian. After an eighth-place finish in the OHL‘s Eastern Conference by Peterborough, the Petes would face off against the Eastern Conference regular-season champion Belleville Bulls. The Bulls took down the Petes in five games, with Armstrong recording one assist.

Armstrong is a quick smooth-skating center, who has an NHL-caliber shot (+90 mph) in his arsenal. He handles the puck very well, but needs to sure up the defensive aspects of his game to become an everyday player in the NHL. A season or two in the AHL should help his refine his game.  He must be signed by June 1.

17. Aaron Marvin, C (5.5 C)

Drafted: 89th overall, 2006

Marvin played in his freshman season at St. Cloud State University. The Huskies would finish the season in fourth place in the WCHA, and would be defeated 2-1 by the Golden Knights of Clarkson University in their first round match-up of the 2008 playoffs. Marvin, 6’2 192 lb, ended the year with 3 goals and 10 assists in 39 total games with the Huskies. Marvin also finished with the team’s best plus/minus record, at +6. Marvin has good size and is a very gifted skater. He should continue to get stronger with more experience, and should put up some solid offensive numbers in upcoming seasons in the WCHA.

18. David Van der Gulik, RW (5.5 C)

Drafted: 206th overall, 2002

Van der Gulik was one of three players to dress the full 80-game schedule for Quad City this season. He would post 19 goals and 23 assists and a plus/minus rating of +3. Upon completion of his AHL season, Van der Gulik was recalled by Calgary on Apr. 15, along with teammates Prust, Grant Stevenson, and McElhinney. 

The 5’11 185 lb right winger plays with intensity every night and has developed into a consistent scoring threat in the AHL. Interestingly, like fellow Quad City teammate Chucko, Van der Gulik has also played in back-to-back complete 80 game seasons in the AHL. Since the last Hockey’s Future Top 20 list, he has had the biggest drop, going from No. 11 to No. 18 on the list.

19. Devin Didiomete, LW (5.5 C)

Drafted: 187th overall, 2006

Didiomete wrapped up his OHL career with the Sarnia Sting. After playing his first three years with the Sudbury Wolves, Didiomete suited up this season alongside the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, Steven Stamkos. In Didiomete’s 56 games with the Sting, he would record 23 goals and 33 assists. Didiomete would also spend 216 minutes in the sin bin, and eclipse 736 PIMs over his four-year career. Didiomete and the Sting were swept by the Kitchener Rangers in the second round.

The 5’11 200 lb left winger is a gritty as it comes. Didiomete plays with an edge, he can put the puck in the net, and is defensively reliable, so it’s not hard to fathom a future spot on the Flames roster.  Didiomete must be signed by June 1. 

20. Jordan Fulton, C (7 F)

Drafted: 179th overall, 2006

Fulton’s sophomore season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth came to an end last month. For the fourth consecutive season, the Bulldogs did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The 6’1 191 lb center recorded 5 goals and 9 assists in 36 games for the Bulldogs. His 14 points led all UMD sophomores this season.  The 20-year-old Fulton put up some mind-boggling offensive numbers while playing at Breck High School, so a breakout in scoring production next season at UMD is not that far fetched.

*Daniel Ryder, C (7.0 F)
Drafted: 74th overall, 2005

After signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Flames, the 5’11 193 lb center unexpectedly left the game of hockey after six games with the Quad City Flames. In his six games with the Flames AHL farm club, Ryder had a goal and four assists. Ryder is currently under suspension by Calgary without pay.  His talent would place him in the top five prospects if he were still playing.