Flames 2008-09 AHL/ECHL prospect review

By Andrew SR Cowie

After coming to Quad City in 2007-08, the Flames affiliate just played its last season there before a move to Abbotsford, British Columbia next season. They finished with a record of 38-31-6-7, accumulating 85 points, 5th in their division under coach Ryan McGill and missing the playoffs by one point. The baby Flames saw some breakout seasons for a few of their players, though little opportunity for NHL time.

Forwards

Kyle Greentree LW, 25

The Quad City player who saw the biggest explosion of offense was Greentree, who in only his second full pro year, raised his point totals from 48 points to 76 points, putting him 10th in the league in points. More impressive was his goal total 39 goals in 79 games, second in the AHL. He’s big at 6’3 and that size was paramount with his work in front of the net.

The problem with Greentree, like many players able to put up numbers in the AHL, is the speed translation between the minors the big leagues. His foot speed is lacking at this point, and if he wants to snag one of the spots come training camp he’ll need to do whatever he can to improve his skating.


Kris Chucko, RW, 23

Chucko was another player who saw an impressive increase in points. After two near identical seasons in the minors, Chucko pounded out 28 goals and 51 points in 74 games, almost equal to the point totals from his first two seasons combined. Chucko started hot, putting 30 points in 37 games but only getting 21 points in the second 37 games.

No one is going to confuse Chucko for an offensive dynamo, but Chucko’s strengths will always be throwing his weight around and being an aggressive forechecker who’s willing to knock some heads. That’s the way Chucko will take the next step, because he’ll be looking to compete with three or four players for fewer spots on the big squad next year.

Brett Sutter, C, 21

The son of the Calgary general manager Brian Sutter entered his professional sophomore season with 10 goals and 15 assists in 71 games with a brief four-game call-up to Calgary as well. Sutter did start the year fairly slowly, but ended with 16 points in his last 35 games, a marked improvement over not only the first half of the season, but also his first year, where he put up four goals and six assists.

Sutter is destined to be a fourth line energy liner for his career. Sutter by all means should be in Abbotsford next season, but will be one a collection of players looking for a call-up.

John Armstrong, C, 20

The season didn’t go quite as well as some may have hoped for young Armstrong, who surprised many by making it deep into training camp before being a late cut. After putting up almost a point a game over the last two seasons with the Peterborough Petes, his numbers took a hit like many juniors going pro. In 68 games in Quad City, he only mustered 5 goals and 20 points.

While one of the greatest hopes with Armstrong was for him to master his defensive game, it’s never a bad sign to put up some offensive numbers on the side.

Armstrong is feisty. He’s got the size at 6’2, but he needs to fill that out. Armstrong is still another couple years away from competing for a spot in the line-up, and next year in Abbotsford will be a huge tell on his offensive capabilities and his ability to master the defensive game the organization wants him to work on.

David Van der Gulik, RW, 25

Van der Gulik has moved in the opposite position of Greentree. Both came out of the US college ranks with a couple of good seasons and put up similar seasons in the AHL. That’s where those two fork away from each other. Where Greentree responded after that with a big season, Van der Gulik has stagnated the last two seasons with Calgary’s farm team.

Van der Gulik’s problem is a lack of offensive skill combined with his lack of size. While he’s steady in a position with the minor team, his upside is limited and his size was a problem with getting pushed off the puck at times.  This inability to bulk up and fight back in some corner battles is directly shown with his stats so far in the farm.

Van der Gulik is in a tough position as the 25-year-old is looking at stiff competition for a lineup role and he’ll be facing against other players better suited for a bottom-six job. His time with the organization may be winding down.

Adam Cracknell, RW, 23

Cracknell has made steady progress almost every year of his career. From his first season putting up 22 points in 31 games with Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL in 2006-07, to 59 points in 61 games the following season in 2007-08, to this season where he put up 26 points in 71 games in AAA play.

Cracknell is starting to look like a late bloomer in the pro ranks. Cracknell will go into next training camp with the momentum of two good years of growth at the professional level.

J.D. Watt, RW, 21

In 42 games, the right winger had no goals, two assists and 146 penalty minutes and another 51 PIM in 18 games with the Las Vegas Wranglers. At this point of his career, Watt is an fighter/pest tried and true, the perfect example of a WHL player that saw some offensive success but stuck to what would get him a job at the pro level.

He’s not a particular big fighter, tipping the scales at just around 200 pounds but that didn’t stop him from getting under the skin of the opponent. Another couple seasons in the minors would be good to see if his enforcer/pest role expands into something more, especially after his 34-goal WHL season with the Vancouver Giants showed he can put the puck in the net at some level.

Cam Cunning, LW, 23

After another very regular season in the AHL, the time has come for Cunning. Now in his fourth AHL season, Cunning has never gained an ability to become anything more than a fourth liner in the AAA league after a pretty regular WHL time as well.

Defensemen

Matt Pelech, D, 23

The large 6’4 stay-at-home defenseman had another strong year, posting three goals, nine points and 130 PIM’s.  While Pelech looked like he was running around a little when he had a five game call-up to the majors, it was most likely due to the speed difference of the two leagues. With Quad City, Pelech is getting top-three ice time, and he’s responding to that by playing the exact game the Flames want to see — rough and reliable.

Pelech will throw this weight and he will make opposition players regret running into him in the corner. If Pelech is to follow his development, he needs to keep this constant. His time in the AHL will help focus him on the game-to-game work that needs to go into this.

Pelech will battle for the No. 6 or 7 defenseman spot next camp, but likely will spend time in Abbotsford as a call-up option but in a greater capacity than five games. 2010-11 might be the year he becomes a regular, if everything goes right.

Gord Baldwin, D, 22

This Winnipeg native saw time both in the ECHL and AHL, spending three games with Las Vegas and the rest of the season up in Quad City. At 6’5 and 210 lbs, Baldwin is a noticeable big-hitting defenseman, but with that size comes an awkward skating which has never caught up to that frame.

He seems out of sync with play at times and has trouble keeping up with elevated speed. He needs to spend his summers working on that aspect of his game to even maintain in the AHL.

Goalies

Leland Irving

Irving had a great professional debut season in Quad City and was arguably the best rookie on the lineup. The 21-year-old played 47 games, posting 24 wins with a goals against average of 2.23, fourth best in the AHL, and a save percentage of .912. He showed in his first season that he has the skill to dominate the farm league when a lot of goalies take a few years to adjust to the pro level. Irving was also a popular player on the farm, winning the Fan Favorite award in the Flames player awards.

In the search for the elusive backup for Calgary, caution should be urged for anyone who would want to rush Irving. Next season will be a great chance for Irving to retain his No. 1 role in Abbotsford, giving him another season of experience in a starter’s role. As one of the better hopefuls in Calgary’s system, there is no rush to move him along faster than is necessary.

Matt Keetley

When Kevin Lalande got traded for a fourth round pick at the deadline, the space for the Quad City backup position was cleared solely for Keetley. The drop off though from Irving’s play to Keetley’s in net was fairly noticeable. Keetley only had 8 wins in 33 games, with a 2.85 GAA and a .892 save percentage. This is a considerable drop off from last year, when he posted very respectable numbers for a rookie netminder. He also played seven games with the Wranglers in a late-season demotion, putting up good numbers if not wins, before getting the permanent call-up.

The question would have to be why though, and it should be interesting to see how Keeltey responds. This is the first bad season Keetley has had in his career, including his time in the WHL.