Quad City Flames 2008-09 season preview

By Scott Mitchell

It was a disappointing first season in Quad City for the Flames top affiliate, both in terms of results and player development. After moving from Omaha after the 2006-07 season, the 2007-08 Quad City Flames were an average hockey team with average talent. They missed the playoffs by eight points and finished with a 38-32-3-7 record while amassing the third fewest goals for in the league with 203. Like the parent club, Quad City’s strength was its goaltending depth and defensive system, which led to only 212 goals against, better than every other AHL team that failed to qualify for the postseason and better than four of the 16 playoff qualifiers.

The objective is simple this year — continue developing the young blueliners and goaltenders and find a way to get by without any blue chip forwards.

Goaltenders


Simply put, the Flames are loaded in net. With 2006 first-round pick Leland Irving exhausting his junior eligibility and Curtis McElhinney having the inside track on the backup job in Calgary, Quad City is left in an enviable position. Matt Keetley, who posted impressive numbers in 26 games last year should get the bulk of the starts but who backs up is the real question. Last year Kevin Lalande apprenticed with the ECHL‘s Las Vegas Wranglers and posted outstanding numbers with a 2.05 GAA and a .932 save percentage, guiding the Wranglers to the ECHL final.

Irving had a down year, by his standards, in his final WHL season, posting a 2.45 GAA after being sub-2.00 for three straight years, but he continues to be pegged as the goaltender of the future by Flames brass. With three quality goaltenders battling for starts, someone will be spending a good portion of the season in Sin City.

Defensemen

The veteran depth on the Calgary blueline will benefit the Quad City Flames again this season. While there is no doubt Adam Pardy has played well enough to crack the big club, the veteran depth almost precludes the former Cape Breton Screaming Eagle from breaking camp with the Flames. While Pardy should see the majority of time in the AHL this season, barring injury, the rest of the Quad City blueline is an interesting bunch.

As the youngest player on the team last year, Matt Pelech acquitted himself quite well for a rookie defenseman. This year, a lot is expected from the rambunctious blueliner. There are no hidden aspects in Pelech’s game. Sandpaper tough, Pelech is at his best when making a smart first pass and playing a simplified game. Gord Baldwin will look to build off of his 35-game stint in QC last year. Much like Pelech, Baldwin needs to play a simple game to be successful and will be given a chance to develop with a full AHL slate this season. Brad Cole, Brett Palin, Ryan Wilson, Dan Spang and Brandon Straub round out the Flames back end to start the season.

Forwards

If evidence is needed of the Calgary draft missteps, it can be found in the Quad City forward ranks. With top prospect Mikael Backlund likely heading back to Sweden if he is cut from Calgary, and No. 2 prospect Dustin Boyd trying desperately to overcome a two-way contract with superb preseason play, the Quad City forward ranks is devoid of a major scoring threat.

If Boyd returns he would be, without question, the best young Flame up front and find himself playing in all situations, which is one reason Flames brass may opt to send him down for another 30 games of seasoning. Without Boyd, the QC scoring burden falls to prospects Dan Ryder, Kris Chucko and David Van Der Gulik. Of the three, Ryder is by far the most interesting project.

After leaving unexpectedly leaving the team last year after scoring one-goal and adding four assists in six games, Ryder went AWOL for the remainder of the season. A year off apparently helped Michael’s younger brother find his love for the sport again, as he returned to Flames camp this fall, trying to mend any hard feelings. An uninspiring pro camp led to his demotion, but if Ryder can keep his head straight and let his skills do the thinking, he could be in line for a big season in Quad City and a return as a true prospect.

Chucko’s past two seasons have essentially mirrored each other, which is not exactly a good thing. Drafted 24th overall in 2004, the Flames expected more than 14 and 15-goal seasons but it is quite clear at this point, what you see is what you get with Chucko. He could be in line for a recall to the Flames at some point this season if they are hit by injuries on the third and fourth lines.

John Armstrong had a solid final season with the OHL‘s Peterborough Petes and will add an element of skill to the QC lineup this season. He is able to dazzle with the puck from time to time but must add strength to do the same at the pro level.

Like Chucko, Van Der Gulik essentially duplicated his 2006-07 numbers last season. The shifty Abbotsford, BC, native will need to take the next step this season.

Another player making his pro debut is center Hugo Carpentier. After spending four seasons with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL, Carpentier is a 6’1, 200-pound center looking to build off an impressive playoff run. After scoring 27 goals in 69 regular season games he took it to another level in the postseason, racking up 14 goals and eight assists for 22 points in 17 games. Aki Seitsonen will be looking to make the transition from full-time ECHLer to AHL regular. As with many Flame forward prospects, he leveled off last season, posting 18 goals and 18 helpers for 36 points in 70 games with the Wranglers.

Cam Cunning, Kyle Greentree, J.D. Watt, Brett Sutter and Adam Cracknell will also look to make their mark in QC this year in what should be a wide-open competition for top-six minutes.