Calgary Flames prospects came up with a few notable playoff performances

By Brian Jung

Ryan Culkin - Drummondville Voltigeurs

Photo: Drummondville defenseman Ryan Culkin, signed to an entry-level contract by Calgary in March, led Voltigeurs blueliners with 11 points in 11 QMJHL playoff games (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Although the Calgary Flames did not make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year, most of the prospects in the system were involved in postseason play.

Starting with the Abbotsford Heat, recently sold and moved to Glen Falls, New York and now known as the Adirondack Flames. With the help of a new rookie class, the Abbotsford Heat returned to the post season after being one year removed from the playoffs.

Meanwhile a pair of new faces for the Alaska Aces have helped the team advance to the semi-finals, while the usual suspects in the collegiate and junior ranks once again saw postseason action. The lone overseas prospect, Rushan Rafikov was also able to make a playoff appearance for his Yaroslavl junior team. 

AHL

After a tremendous regular season, the Abbotsford Heat were paired up in a first round match up against defending champions, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Despite being eliminated by the Griffins, Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart and Joni Ortio kept the Heat in the series. 

Carrying over his confident regular season play into the playoffs, Markus Granlund led the Heat in playoff scoring. In five games, Granlund recorded a team high 17 shots on goal, netting two power-play goals and three assists. Despite the early exit for the Heat, Granlund still ranks tied for 15th among rookie playoff scorers. The strides the Finnish forward made in his rookie season has formed a strong base for future development.

Another prominent figure for the Heat this season is Max Reinhart, who continued to be a source of production for the team during the playoffs. The 22-year-old battled on every shift with intensity and hard work. The third year pro formed excellent chemistry with Markus Granlund, and recorded back-to-back multi-point games in the process.    

Providing an opportunity to win every game fell on the shoulders of Joni Ortio, who produced a valiant effort in his first playoff appearance in goal for the Heat. Falling three games to one, Ortio kept the Heat in contention during the best-of-five series against the Griffins, which included two close games that only had a one-goal differential. Ortio posted a respectable 2.88 goals-against-average and a .915 save percentage, while facing an average of 35.5 shots per game.

ECHL

As the Alaska Aces hunt for a third Kelly Cup in franchise history, a couple of Flames prospects have provided a strong performance in the playoffs thus far. Olivier Roy and John Ramage have both stepped up their play in their first off season appearances for the Aces as the team heads back to Anchorage with the Kelly Cup Finals tied 1-1.

Starting the season in Abbotsford, John Ramage primarily focused on adjusting to the professional level. It was evident that Ramage concentrated on his defensive responsibilities as he recorded only one assist in 50 games with the Heat. An assignment on March 20th to the Aces resulted in Ramage joining the team right as they were gearing up for the post season. The push for the playoffs propelled Ramage to find another aspect in his game. Through 17 playoff games, Ramage has been instrumental on the blue line, leading all defensemen for the Aces with four goals and nine assists. Building up confidence has led to some pretty impressive contributions in the offensive zone.

Despite splitting goaltending duties in the playoffs with Gerald Coleman, Olivier Roy has turned in a solid performance for the Aces. After being acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers, Roy finds himself with an impressive 6-1 record in eight appearances. Roy has a 2.27 goals against average and a .896 save percentage in the playoffs. In the Western Conference finals series, Roy earned an 11-save shutout win in the pivotal game five to take the series lead against the Bakersfield Condors, backstopped by the goaltender for which Roy was traded in the Ladislav Smid deal last November, Laurent Brossoit (EDM).

CHL

The junior ranks were pretty quiet on the playoff front this year, with no Flames prospect advancing past the second round with their respective teams.

In the WHL, Morgan Klimchuk posted five points in four games, including three goals, one on the power play and another while shorthanded. Despite the offensive production of Klimchuk, the Regina Pats were eliminated in the first round by the Brandon Wheat Kings. It was not how Klimchuk envisioned his playoff run with the Pats would be, as he entered with hopes of winning a championship and making a Memorial Cup appearance.

In the QMJHL, a pair of Flames prospects also averaged at least a point-per-game in playoff action. The stellar play of Ryan Culkin stood out on the blue line for Drummondville. The 20-year-old was tied for third in team scoring, with eleven points in eleven games. Despite falling to Val-d’Or in the second round, Culkin is still tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen in the playoffs by recording two goals and nine assists. Few defensemen delivered solid play in their zone, while adding offensive contributions, however Culkin was able to carry out both tasks with great success.

For Emile Poirier, adding offensive contributions is something that comes with ease. In the first round match up against Cape Breton, the 19-year-old recorded eight points in only four games, including two game winners to help the Gatineau Olympiques advance to the next round against the Halifax Mooseheads. However, Halifax was able to shut-down the talented forward and frustration started to set in for Poirier. In five games, Poirier was penalized for 18 minutes worth of infractions, while recording only one goal and one assist throughout the series.

NCAA

The core of collegiate prospects once again made it to the post season this year, however they did not find the success they had last year. Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold helped Boston College return to the Frozen Four, however they were knocked out by the eventual champions from Union College. Gaudreau recorded four goals and seven assists, while Arnold added two goals and three assists in three NCAA Tournament games.

International

As the only overseas prospect in the system, Rafikov followed suit like his North American counterparts in making a playoff appearance to only get eliminated in the second round. Rafikov quietly put together a solid season on the blue line for the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv MHL junior club and continued to improve as the season went on. Although Rafikov posted a career best offensive season with 20 points in 47 regular season games, the Russian defender was held pointless in seven playoff games with a minus-2 rating.

Notes and Signings

The relocation of the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate team to Glen Falls, New York will provide the team and organization an advantage in development, as the prospects will benefit from a more central location to their opponents. Reducing travel time and increasing practice and recovery time will only help improve the overall performance of the new Adirondack Flames.

The Calgary Flames recent signings involved a group of college prospects, including Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold, while adding Quinnipiac’s Bryce Van Brabant to the mix. The three prospects should be happy with the relocation of the AHL team to Upstate New York since all three have played their college careers in the surrounding areas and will not have to travel far to meet their new team. The Flames also signed 24-year-old David Wolf, a bruising winger from Germany’s top pro league, the DEL.

Follow Brian Jung on Twitter: @brianjung80