Calgary Flames forward prospects turning AHL success into NHL opportunities

By Brian Jung

Ben Hanowski - Abbotsford Heat

Photo: Winger Ben Hanowski, part of Calgary’s return from Pittsburgh in the Jarome Iginla trade last season, is part of a strong class of rookie forwards in Abbotsford (courtesy of John Rivera/Icon SMI)

Brian Burke, President of Hockey Operations, recently turned up the heat in Calgary by relieving former GM Jay Feaster and Assistant GM John Weisbrod of their duties with the organization.

Burke decided to change directions in the midst of the rebuild from those of Feaster and Weisbrod, who were the initial architects accredited in restructuring the current team, which includes the squad of the prospects currently finding success this season.

A group of prospects comprised of Sean Monahan, Sven Baertschi, Lance Bouma, and Joe Colborne have started the season in a Flames’ jersey, and with the exception of Baertschi, have all remained in Calgary thus far.

Meanwhile the Flames’ AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat, have been off to an impressive start as the team welcomed 11 new full-time faces to their 2013-14 lineup. The collection of rookies join Chad Billins, Mark Cundari, and Max Reinhart in pursuit of the Heat’s first Calder Cup. The Heat have been playing well as a cohesive unit, particularly on the power play, where they have been executing as one of the top units in the AHL through 42 games.

With the abundance of talent producing in Abbotsford, the Alaska Aces welcomed Olivier Roy, James Martin, and David Eddy to their lineup as they find themselves as one of the top teams in the ECHL this season.

NHL

Sean Monahan, C, 19

From the minute Sean Monahan was drafted to the announcement that he made the opening day lineup, he has done nothing but solidified his value as the sixth overall pick. The 19-year-old made a strong case to stay in Calgary by utilizing the momentum he had generated over the summer to impress during his nine-game NHL try out period.

For the month of October, Monahan was just shy of a point-per-game pace with 11 points in 13 games. However, he has since slowed down considerably from his hot start, only recording eight points in his last 30 games.

Flames coach, Bob Hartley, continues to tinker with his ice time and when the rookie is inserted into the game. However, since Monahan possesses the confidence and skill to play in any situation, he can find success given any amount of time he gets in a game. If Monahan can find the scoring touch he had at the start of the season, he could once again be considered a top contender for the Calder Trophy.

Lance Bouma, LW, 22

Bouma has taken the feedback and advice from coaches and continues to steadily improve as he finds himself in the lineup for the Flames this season. As a hard-working, physical player, Bouma falls into the type of player the Flames would like in their lineup.

The 22-year-old has seen third and fourth line duties this season, playing with a mix of different forwards including fellow prospect Joe Colborne. Although Bouma only has nine points through 46 games, his contribution to the team is made up from his gritty play, defensive awareness, and willingness to block shots. Bouma has also been part of the penalty kill unit and baring any injury, will continue to improve this season with the Flames.   

Joe Colborne, C, 23

At 6’5, Joe Colborne draws in perfectly as the Flames’ fourth line center, mostly playing alongside 6’4 Brian McGrattan and 6’4 Kevin Westgarth. The 23-year-old brings a scoring touch to an otherwise big physical line. The former first round pick of the Boston Bruins has the combination of size and talent to become a big strong player down the middle.

Playing fourth line minutes can lead to sporadic ice times, and as a result Colborne has only four goals and eleven points through 48 games. With limited ice time, Colborne will have to make the most of every shift in order to maximize his production.

AHL

Joni Ortio, G, 22

Joni Ortio has been a vital part of the Heat’s success this season, beginning in October when he took the reins as the starter in goal. The rookie goaltender backstopped the Heat to seven of their nine game record-breaking win streak, and has an overall record of 17-4 with one shutout through 22 games. The 22-year-old has been exceptional in goal coming up with numerous big time saves for Abbotsford, posting a 2.29 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.

The Finnish goaltender has been a reliable workhorse for the Heat with his ability to face and stop a high amount of shots, which includes a career high 48 shots in a win against the Texas Stars on November 13th. 

Ortio will be trusted with the starting position for the remainder of the season, which will be a quality test to gauge his mental and physical durability in goal. Last season with HIFK Helsinki, Ortio played a career-high 54 games and posted a 23-20-9 record with four shutouts. This season Ortio will have the opportunity to post better numbers in goal for the Heat.

Sven Baertschi, LW, 21

Baertschi entered the 2013-14 with the expectation that he was ready for a full season in the NHL. After 26 games and only nine points, Baertschi was re-assigned to the Heat. Baertschi was called out by management a few times this season for his level of commitment and lack of physical play, which resulted in spending time as a healthy scratch and watching from the press box. The Flames were hoping this would ignite Baertschi to step up his game, however it did not, and as a result sent down the 21-year-old to Abbotsford on December 12th.

In 10 games with the Heat, Baertschi has three points, including one power-play goal. As Baertschi adjusts to his new teammates, he will have an opportunity to regain his offensive form and contribute to a winning environment. 

Michael Ferland, LW, 21

Ferland made a seamless transition from the WHL to the AHL by elevating his speed, defensive play and physicality on the ice. The 21-year-old rookie started his campaign confidently as a consistent source of production with 18 points through 25 games this season with the Heat.

The Manitoba native also accepted the challenge to battle this season, dropping the gloves three times to help provide a physical presence for the Heat. Ferland found chemistry with his teammates as a top-six forward, as well as on the power play unit, by chipping in two power play goals and two game winning goals.

Sidelined by a knee injury since December, the Flames recently announced Ferland would undergo surgery and miss the rest of his rookie season.

Ben Hanowski, LW, 23

The acquisition of Ben Hanowski has paid off for the Calgary Flames and Abbotsford Heat. The Minnesota native has been one of the offensive workhorses for the Heat this season with 25 points through 41 games. Playing down low or creating up high in the slot, Hanowski has been a versatile forward, especially on the man advantage where he leads the prospect group with five power-play goals.

Hanowski has the talent to approach the second half of the season as a challenge to increase his nightly production and become a point-per-game player. 

Turner Elson, LW, 21

The former Red Deer Rebels’ captain entered the 2013-14 season in his first full campaign as a pro with the Abbotsford Heat. Elson saw time with the Heat last year as a call up late in the season playing in two games without a point.

Elson is a sparkplug player that can motivate his team through his tenacious style of play while giving a boost when the team falls behind or lacks energy. Through 30 games, Elson has two goals and 17 penalty minutes, which includes two fighting majors.

As Elson continues to play out the season, he will have to find the offensive gears of his game which made him one of the top offensive leaders for the Rebels. However similarly to how he slowly began his career in Red Deer, it could only be a matter of time before Elson starts to increase his offensive numbers.

Max Reinhart, C, 21

Returning for his third season with the Heat, Max Reinhart began the season with a slow start relative to other prospects on the team. The BC native was getting opportunities early on, however could not capitalize on them. Finding himself on a line with Josh Jooris and Ben Street, Reinhart started to heat up. The 21- year-old had a break out game against the Oklahoma City Barons on December 27th, scoring two goals and one assist. Despite the slow start, Reinhart has compiled 30 points in 35 games, already surpassing his last year’s totals.

Reinhart was called up again by the Flames this season as an injury replacement. With his all-around complete style of game and the ability to keep pace at the NHL level, Reinhart played four games in Calgary, and although he did not record a point, he was able to provide support the Flames required. Finding himself back in the lineup for Abbotsford, Reinhart will be looked upon to help the Heat as they strive towards the playoffs and ultimately a championship this season.

Markus Granlund, C, 20

Playing in his first season for the Heat, Markus Granlund finds himself as one of the top scorers in Abbotsford. The transition to the North American game has been smooth for the Finnish center, who has kept things simple playing his style of game. A new environment and teammates can present a challenge for players, but Granlund has been fortunate to find chemistry with his teammates, which has been key to his success on the ice. The 20-year-old leads the Flames’ prospects with 16 goals in 37 games, five of those coming on the power play.

Granlund has been open in receiving feedback and advice from Heat coach, Troy Ward, who has been conscious in helping the Finnish center adjust to his new surroundings. While Granlund has found life off-ice a little challenging with the different language and customs, on the ice, it has been a different story. Granlund has been able to contribute to the Heat’s success this season, which includes an 11 game point streak earlier in the year.

The Finnish rookie was recalled by the Flames on December 29th, and although his stint only consisted of practicing with the team and watching from the press box, Granlund took the opportunity to witness the difference in the game between the AHL and the NHL. He will have to continue to work as hard as he has in order to crack the Flames lineup.
 
Corban Knight, C, 23

Acquiring Corban Knight has benefited the Heat this season, as Knight is one of the top scorers with 28 points in 41 games. The Alberta native has been instrumental in finishing off plays, which is evident from his three power play tallies and his team-leading four game winning goals.

Through the first half the season, Knight joins fellow Heat rookies Granlund and Hanowski in the top 15 AHL rookie scorers. The three forwards have been exceeding expectations and excelling in their new environment with ease. They have been instrumental in creating a great comradery in Abbotsford, which has translated into success on the ice.

Josh Jooris, C, 23

After flying under the radar and making an impression at the Flames development camp, Josh Jooris was offered a contract to sign with Calgary. Although he was unable to crack the Flames’ lineup, Jooris finds himself in a great position playing with the Abbotsford Heat.

The Ontario native is highly competitive and his determination to play to his potential is evident every time he gets on the ice. In 39 games this season, Jooris has four goals and 10 assists along with 19 penalty minutes.

Patrick Sieloff, D, 19

Finding himself on the injured reserve list after playing only two games was not what rookie defenseman Patrick Sieloff had in mind for the start of the 2013-14 season. Due to a staph infection that has sidelined the 19-year-old, Sieloff can only watch for the time being as he recovers.

Sieloff unfortunately contracted the infection from an injection he received for a previous hip injury. The Massachusetts native is out indefinitely, however according to doctors he is making good progress and is on track for recovery.

Tyler Wotherspoon, D, 20

Tyler Wotherspoon is shaping into a quality mainstay defenseman for the Abbotsford Heat. Wotherspoon has been open to coaches’ advice and guidance in regards to how to improve defensively, and it is evident that he has applied the advice to his game this season. Wotherspoon has posted respectable numbers through 31 games, which includes eight points and a plus-11 rating.

The 20-year-old has been utilized in all situations, and as one of the top ranked defensive prospects in the system, he possesses the talent and the physical presence that any team would want on their blue line.

Mark Cundari, D, 23

Playing the point on the power play, Cundari has been a key component of the Heat’s lethal power play unit. Cundari brings experience and leadership to the Heat’s blue line as a fourth year veteran in the AHL. The 23-year-old can be trusted to quarterback the power play as the lone defender if need be and although Cundari only has 10 points through 32 games, he has been a contributing factor to the offensive flow of the team.

At 5’9 and 196-pounds, Cundari plays bigger than his size and possesses a strong physical game leading the Heat in penalty minutes with 45. In a game against the Hamilton Bulldogs, Cundari took on 6’4 Mike Blunden in a contest and held his own against the considerably larger opponent. Cundari joins Chad Billins and Kris Russell as similar sized defenders in the Flames organization that will have to play over and beyond their larger sized teammates in order to stand out and impress management.

John Ramage, D, 22

John Ramage has carried over his hard nose defense and strong shut down play from Wisconsin to Abbotsford in his first season on the blue line for the Heat. The 22-year-old defender has been adjusting to the pro level of play with the increased physicality and speed to contend with. The first half of the 2013-14 season has been a learning experience for Ramage to say the least. Ramage has dropped the gloves in a few tilts already, and although he did not win the fights, Ramage did show the team that he will not back down from a challenge. Providing the physical presence has been part of his game which is evident as he ranks as one of top players on the team in penalty minutes with 38.

Ramage is considered a stay-at-home defenseman that can provide reliable and steady defense rather than a high scoring offensive threat, which is illustrated by his one assist through 35 games.

Chad Billins, D, 24

As the direction in Calgary turns towards getting bigger and stronger, 5’11 Chad Billins will have an uphill battle in order to crack the Flames lineup. However with his play in Abbotsford so far in 2013-14, Billins is standing out among the giants.

The Michigan native has been a valuable defender for the Heat this season. Not only is Billins providing a solid defensive game, he also ranks as one of the top offensive producing defensemen in the AHL earning him a selection to the AHL All-Star team. Billins has recorded 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists) through 38 games, including four power play goals. The 24-year-old has been offensively instrumental ranging from quarterbacking the power play unit to setting up breakout plays at even strength.

The signing of Billins as a free agent over the summer has been paying off quite nicely, and as the race to the playoffs intensifies, the Heat will look to benefit from his keen play and offensive production.

ECHL

Olivier Roy, G, 22

Newly acquired Olivier Roy finds himself in goal for the Alaska Aces (ECHL) as he starts his career with the Flames organization. Due to the tandem of Joni Ortio and Joey MacDonald in Abbotsford, Roy is the odd man, however he is finding success playing with the Aces.

Having played only seven games with a 2-4 record for the Oklahoma City Barons, Roy was acquired in November, and went 1-3 with a 2.79 goals against average and .901 save percentage in his first four games with Alaska. However the 22-year-old turned things around in December and compiled a 7-3 record and improved his goals against average to 1.79 with a .935 save percentage to go along with three shutouts. He has put together five straight wins in January and as a result, Roy has a 13-6 record through 13 games. Roy ranks as one of the top five goaltenders in the ECHL in goals against, save percentage, and shutouts.   

James Martin, D, 22

With a crowded blue line in Abbotsford, James Martin has played most of the 2013-14 season with the Aces. Martin was initially assigned to the Heat at the start of the season, however with the solid play of the newcomers over that of Martin, resulted in the 22-year-old being sent down to the Aces.

Through 33 games, Martin has two goals and 11 assists, to go along with a plus-18 rating. The Manitoba native has provided a solid defensive presence for the Aces and as the defensive core in Abbotsford remains productive and healthy, Martin will most likely continue to play the season out with Alaska.

David Eddy, RW, 24

After earning an opening day roster spot in the Heat’s lineup, David Eddy has bounced back and forth between the Abbotsford and the Alaska Aces a few times. The 24-year-old forward finds himself as the odd man out due to his performance and increased competition in Abbotsford.

Through 14 games with the Aces, Eddy has found some success, recording seven points (four goals, three assists) to go along with three fights. Yet in five games with the Heat, Eddy was pointless with one fight under his belt. As Eddy works on his performance, the organization will evaluate his development to determine his placement within the system.  

Other Notes:

The only prospect who represented the Calgary Flames in the WJC was American goaltender, Jon Gillies. As the starter for Team USA, Gillies was considered to be one of the top goaltenders in the tournament. The Providence College product was unbeaten through two games with a .926 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average until a New Year’s Eve matchup with Team Canada. Gillies and Team USA kept the game close, but ultimately fell 3-2 in a loss to Canada. Facing tough competition in the quarterfinals from Team Russia, Gillies and Team USA were bounced from the tournament, unable to defend their gold medal from last year.

The Calgary Flames made a few moves prior to the end of 2013. In a move to get bigger and tougher, the Flames traded prospect Greg Nemisz to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Kevin Westgarth. The move adds another enforcer-type player to the system, while giving up a power forward. To compensate for the loss of Nemisz, the Heat signed Adrian Foster. In five games in Abbotsford, Foster has one assist.

Emile Poirier is a sniper in the Flames’ system who is lighting up the score sheet this season for the Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL). The 2013 first-round pick notched 60 points in only 42 games and is on pace to surpass his career totals in all scoring categories. Poirier is exceeding expectations with his performance and production this season, and is the third prospect signed by the Flames following the recent signings of Morgan Klimchuk and Keegan Kanzig.

Both Klimchuk and Kanzig are character players that the Flames are pleased to have signed. Klimchuk has been a leader on and off the ice for the Regina Pats (WHL), and although injuries have set him back this season, Klimchuk brings valuable attributes to a team. The Calgary native has an excellent work ethic and has great attention to detail that few players possess. He can motivate his teammates through his positive attitude and lead by example.

Joining Klimchuk as another hard working prospect signed by the Flames is Victoria Royal’s (WHL) defenseman, Keegan Kanzig. The 6’7, 241-pound defender was ecstatic to learn of the news that the Flames have offered him a contract and the signing brings him one step closer to his dream of playing in the NHL. The signings of Kanzig and Klimchuk secure quality prospects for the organization.

Follow Brian Jung on Twitter @brianjung80

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