Flames 2007-08 CHL prospects review

By Travis Head

The Calgary Flames had a total of eight prospects play in the CHL this season. Five of those eight are listed in Calgary’s Top 20 prospect list.

WHL


Leland Irving, G
— Everett Silvertips (WHL)
HT: 6’1 WT: 177 lbs
DOB: 04-11-1988
Draft: 2006 (1st round, 26th overall)

One might at first glance label Leland Irving’s final WHL season as "disappointing." And in many ways it was, but truth be told, a lot of the negative criticism has more to do with the vast amount of success Irving had in his first three years in the WHL.

Going into the 2007-08 WHL season, the Everett Silvertips were looking like surefire contenders for the league title. And why not? They had Irving between the pipes, and players like Boston Bruins first-round forward Zach Hamill, and the highly-touted and offensively-charged forward Kyle Beach.

But sometimes things don’t go according to plan. The Silvertips finished the year in sixth place (39-30-0-3) in the WHL’s Western Conference, and were ousted in four games by the eventual WHL Champions in the Spokane Chiefs. Irving played in 56 of the Silvertips 72 games, and finished with a record of 27-24-0-3, a .919 save percentage and a 2.45 GAA. His GAA this season was much higher than his three previous seasons (1.80, 1.91, and 1.86). Due to some notable departures on defense for the Silvertips, Irving was forced to stop more rubber in his 56 games this year than in any of his previous seasons, including in 2005-06 when he appeared in 67 games for Everett.

Another low point for Irving this season was when he was the last goalie cut from the 2008 Canadian World Junior Team, despite winning gold one year prior and a strong performance at the Canada-Russia Super Series.

While Irving may want to put this season behind him, many people consider this year a blip in an otherwise stellar WHL career. Irving remains a key component in the Flames future, and should continue his development in Quad City next season.

Juuso Puustinen, RW — Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
HT: 6’2 WT: 190 lbs
DOB: 04-05-1988
Draft: 2006 (5th round, 149th overall)

Kamloops Blazer forward Juuso Puustinen had a standout rookie season in 2006-07 in which his 71 points (32 goals, 39 assists) were good for fourth among all WHL rookies.

This year, Puustinen was definitely the standout performer for the Blazers this season, leading the team in goals (27) and points (56) in 60 games. While his point total decreased from his rookie season, a lot of his decline in offensive production could be attributed to factors outside of Puustinen’s control. The first would be the firing of Blazer coach/manager Dean Clark after a 6-9-1-1 start. A short while later, the Kamloops Blazers traded their big, shut down defenseman Keaton Ellerby (FLA) to the Moose Jaw Warriors after 18 games. But, perhaps the most telling factor in Puustinen’s decrease in scoring was when his linemate Brock Nixon was dealt to the Calgary Hitmen at the trade deadline. Nixon had 39 points in 40 games for the Blazers, and another 32 points in 29 games for the Hitmen, so it’s pretty safe to say that had they remained together for the entire season, Puustinen should have been able to surpass his rookie totals. Despite Nixon’s departure, Puustinen had great chemistry all season long with his other linemate Ivan Rohac, and Nixon’s replacement on the line, Alex Rodgers.

The Blazers were downed four straight in their first-round match up with the Tri-City Americans. Puustinen’s only offensive contribution in the series came in Game 4 when he had goal and an assist.

The highly-skilled Finnish right winger recently signed a contract to play in his home country of Finland with Kiekko-Espoo Blues.  With the IIHF agreement on ice for next season, it’s not clear if he’ll necessarily follow through with this move.

John Negrin, D — Kootenay Ice (WHL)
HT: 6’2 WT: 195 lbs
DOB: 03-25-1989
Draft: 2007(3rd round, 70th overall)

Negrin had an outstanding year in Kootenay. He was a pillar of strength on the Ice’s blue line. His 41 assists were second highest on his team and good for third among all WHL defensemen, just behind Prince George Cougar/Moose Jaw Warrior Ty Wishart (SJ) and Vancouver Giant Jonathan Blum (NSH). Negrin played in 71 of Kootenay’s 72 games and ended the season with 68 PIMs and a plus/minus rating of +15. Negrin was the most versatile defenseman for the Ice this season, playing the point on the power play and having the responsibility of killing off Kootenay infractions. The West Vancouver, B.C. native would even drop the gloves on two occasions this season.  Negrin spent time paired up on the blue line with Chad Greenan, Ian Barteaux or Paul Kurceba, depending on the situation and time of year.

Negrin’s great puck-moving skills and solid physical play from the back end helped lead the Ice to a fifth-place finish in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. Negrin and the Ice would eliminate their first-round opponent in the Medicine Hat Tigers in five games, only to be ousted in five games themselves by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the second round. Negrin had a goal and an assist in 10 playoff games.

Negrin is currently under contract with Calgary and is likely to return to junior next season. On Apr. 13, upon completion of his WHL season, the Flames recalled the newly-turned 19-year-old.

J.D. Watt, RW – Red Deer Rebels/Regina Pats (WHL)
HT: 6’2 WT: 203 lbs
DOB: 05-25-1987
Draft: 2005 (4th round, 111th overall)

Cremona, Alberta native Watt covered a lot of ground over the course the year. After a winning a Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants last season, Watt would begin the 2007-08 season with the Red Deer Rebels only to be traded at the deadline to the Regina Pats.

In the 58 games spent between the two clubs (29 games each), Watt recorded 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) and 169 PIMs. Regina finished the season in second place in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, five points behind the Calgary Hitmen. Unfortunately for Watt, the Pats were upset by the #7 Swift Current Broncos in six games. Watt led the charge offensively for the Pats with eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in six playoff games.

The 6’2 203 lb Watt became a key component to the Regina Pats power play towards the end of the season. On any given night, Watt would be play on the right wing alongside any number of linemates, but the bulk of his time was spent playing on a line with former Red Deer Rebel teammate Scott Doucet, and Rudolf Cerveny. The Flames 2005 fourth rounder dropped the mitts quite a few times this season, fighting on several occasions for both the Rebels and the Pats.

The prospect of both Watt and Didiomete on the same team next season should definitely provide a spark for the Flames AHL team, as well as some fireworks for opposing teams to handle.

Keith Aulie, D – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
HT: 6’6 WT: 218 lbs
DOB: 06-11-1989
Draft: 2007 (4th round, 116th overall)

Aulie, a native of Rouleau, Saskatchewan, was another member of the Flames 2007 draft class playing in the WHL this season. In Aulie’s third year in Brandon, he appeared in all 72 of the Wheat Kings games, and registered 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) and 81 PIMs from the backend.

At 6’6 218 lbs, Aulie is a commanding presence on the Wheat Kings blue line. Paired with Brandon’s captain Daryl Boyle, the two were as solid defensively as any other defensive paring in the WHL this season, as the two were a combined +23. Although Aulie is known more for his disruptive physical play and was primarily used for his shutdown capabilities on the penalty kill, his heavy shot earned him some power-play opportunities this season.

The Wheat Kings placed sixth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, and were eliminated in the first round of playoffs in six games by the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Aulie will be depended on heavily next year in Brandon as the backbone of the Wheat King defense. He is also a strong candidate for the Wheat Kings captaincy next season, with Daryl Boyle headed for Milwaukee in the AHL.

OHL

John Armstrong, C — Peterborough Petes (OHL)
HT: 6’3 WT: 198 lbs
DOB: 02-26-1988
Draft: 2006 (3rd round, 87th overall)

Peterborough Petes captain John Armstrong finished off a solid OHL career this season. He had 21 goals and 36 assists (57 points), good for second on the Petes in scoring, behind 2008-eligible defenseman Zach Bogosian. Armstrong also recorded 77 PIMs and a -10.

After an eighth-place finish in the OHL’s Eastern Conference by Peterborough, the Petes faced off against the Eastern Conference regular-season champion Belleville Bulls. The Bulls dismantled the Petes in five games, with Armstrong recording one assist.  Armstrong displayed deceptive speed and an NHL-caliber shot (+90 mph) as the go-to guy on offense among Peterborough forwards. However, he was also one of Peterborough’s top penalty killers this season. Armstrong played on the Petes’ top line centering Zach Harnden and Justin Soryal.

The 6’2 188 lb Armstrong signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Flames on Dec. 21, 2007.

Devin Didiomete, LW – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
HT: 6’0 WT: 195 lbs
DOB: 09-05-1988
Draft: 2006 (7th round, 187th overall)

After playing his first three years with the Sudbury Wolves, Didiomete gladly suited up for the majority of this season alongside the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, Steven Stamkos. Didiomete would also spend time playing alongside Daniel Lombardi and Matt Martin at various parts of the Sting’s season. 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. Despite a decisive 4-1 series victory over the Windsor Spitfires, Didiomete and the Sting were swept by the Kitchener Rangers in the second round of the OHL playoffs.

One of the highlights of Didiomete’s final OHL season came on Feb. 8 when the Sting thrashed the Owen Sound Attack 9-1, and Didiomete registered five points (1 goal, 4 assists) and record six PIMs, as well as a plus/minus of +5. One of the low points on the season included a two-game suspension that caused Didiomete and Sting head coach Dave MacQueen to miss the first two games of the regular season stemming from an incident in a pre-season game versus the London Knights. Didiomete would be suspended for a second time by the league on Nov. 2, this time for five games because of an incident versus the Guelph Storm.

Didiomete was more than just an offensive weapon for the Sting, on any given night he was an uncontrollable pest, a defensive specialist and a team enforcer who didn’t shy away from bigger players.

Didiomete is looking to be signed by the Flames by June 1.

QMJHL

Hugo Carpentier, C –Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
HT: 6’1 WT: 199 lbs
DOB: 03-17-1988
Draft: 2006 (4th round, 118th overall)

Of the eight Flames prospects playing in the CHL, Hugo Carpentier was the lone QMJHL player. The 6’1 199 lb center had yet another solid season playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies this year. In 69 games, Carpentier registered 65 points (27 goals, 38 assists), 114 PIMs and a +17 rating for the QMJHL regular season champions.

The native of Hull, Quebec, was an integral part of the Huskies power play this season, as 12 of his 27 goals were scored on the power play. He also had a moderate 50.4 percent success rate in the face-off circle this season.

Carpentier and the rest of the Huskies stormed through the first three rounds of the QMJHL playoffs, with three straight sweeps over Val-d’Or, Rimouski, and Saint John. With the way the Huskies were playing it appeared a Memorial Cup appearance was in their future. But Gatineau would take the series and the QMJHL Championship in five games. Carpentier would end the playoffs with 26 points (14 goals, 8 assists) in 17 games.

Carpentier is a solid two-way forward who has scored timely goals over his junior career and has the ability to play with an edge. These features to his game are all typical aspects of Flames prospects, but if his potential is going to be realized in Calgary, he’ll have to be signed by June 1.