With a healthy squad and key new additions, the Calgary Flames have a promising group of prospects ready to start the 2014-15 season. The organization has addressed the shortage of certain positions with the recent draft picks, and prospects have accumulated over the past few seasons. One could even argue that the current group of young players that includes such forwards as Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Markus Granlund and now Sam Bennett could form one of the strongest units in team history.
While the offensive core is shaping up to be a quality group of forwards, the Flames also have a well-rounded defensive unit and a trio of solid goaltenders competing in the ranks. The following are a few key prospects at the various levels that will make for an interesting 2014-15 season.
Top Pro Prospect
Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames (NHL) / Adirondack Flames (AHL)
After three seasons as one of Boston College’s top scorers, Johnny Gaudreau takes the lead as the top pro prospect in the Flames system. The Flames have a special talent on their hands with Gaudreau, who is the only player in history to win a Hobey Baker Award, a USHL Title, a NCAA Championship, and a gold medal at the World Junior Championship. He has the potential to win even more hardware with the start of his professional career in front of him.
Gaudreau is a natural goal scorer who combines skill, character, and hard work into a potent package. For a Flames lineup that ranked 23rd out of 30 teams in goals scored last season, Gaudreau would be a welcomed addition. In the recent Young Stars Tournament, the New Jersey native turned heads with highlight reel goals and shifty moves while playing alongside Sam Bennett.
Gaudreau leaves Boston College as the 10th leading scorer in program history with 175 points in 119 games. At 5’7 and 155 pounds, the 21-year-old forward has illustrated he can be the best player on the ice despite his size. Gaudreau can draw inspiration from Martin St. Louis and Paul Kariya as smaller offensively skilled collegiate players that went on to have successful careers in the NHL. Gaudreau has the potential to find similar success with his talent.
Markus Granlund, C, Adirondack Flames (AHL)
Markus Granlund took the challenge of playing his first professional season in North American head-on and produced an impressive rookie campaign in the process. The Finnish forward earned recognition from all corners of the organization with the maturity and talent he brought to the team. Considering it only took one season in the AHL for Granlund to score 25 goals (compared to taking two seasons with HIFK Helsinki (SM-Liiga) to score the same amount), it will be interesting to see how Granlund will respond when placed in a position to make a bigger impact this year given the experience he already has in North America.
Having played just seven games in the NHL last year, Granlund will once again have an opportunity to earn more time in the NHL this season due in part to his offensive skillset. The 21 year old has already shown signs of the strong mental and physical attributes required to endure the demand of not only playing but being successful in the NHL.
Bounceback Pro Prospect
Patrick Sieloff, D, Adirondack Flames (AHL)
Eager to get back in action, Patrick Sieloff will look to make up lost ground after being sidelined last year with a staph injury. Sieloff took an opportunity to join fellow prospects at Flames development camp in July; however, for precautionary reasons, Sieloff did not participate in any physical contact. Nevertheless, the green light has been given to Sieloff to return to full contact action, beginning with the Young Stars Tournament against prospects from other Western Conference teams and then followed by the Flames’ main camp.
Sieloff can bolster the blue line with the physical game he plays and will be a welcomed addition this season. Sieloff, however, will have to remain healthy and in top condition to effectively play his style of game. The competition Sieloff will face prior to the start of the season will provide a good tune-up as the Michigan native gets ready to once again start his professional career.
Top Junior Prospect
Sam Bennett, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
The addition of Sam Bennett brings an elite talent with grit and scoring capabilities to the Calgary organization. Given the amount of prospects competing for a roster position this year, however, Bennett might have to exercise some patience before jumping into the Flames lineup. The 18-year-old centerman would also benefit from the extra playing time he can receive in the junior ranks in 2014-15 as opposed to seeing limited action in a rushed promotion.
Given the talent in the OHL this year, Bennett could use the competition to his advantage as he prepares for the NHL. Last year, the Kingston Frontenacs finished third in the Eastern Conference, with Bennett leading the team in scoring with 91 points in 57 games. However, a strong regular season did not carry over into the playoffs, as the Frontenacs were eliminated in seven games by the Peterborough Petes. With the qualities and leadership skills Bennett possesses, an additional year in the OHL to strengthen his game and compete for a championship would be the best path to take before he turns pro.
Hunter Smith, RW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Drafting Hunter Smith adds another right wing prospect to the Calgary system who has the potential to turn into a solid scoring force. With a 6’6 and 210 pound frame, Smith is a big, physical winger who recorded a career best 40 points and 100 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Oshawa Generals in 2013-14. Prior to last year, Smith recorded only two points and 41 penalty minutes over the course of 45 games in his first two seasons in the OHL.
Smith not only had a career-best regular season, but he also carried over his offensive production into the playoffs, where he finished fourth in team scoring with 11 points in 12 games. The fact that Smith continued to produce in the playoffs could indicate the trend will follow him as the 2014-15 season opens up. The additional confidence a player receives after being drafted tends to lead to an increase in their production, as illustrated last year by Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk, which could also factor into whether Smith has a breakout season in 2014-15.
Mason McDonald was traded halfway through the 2013-14 season, making 2014-15 his first full season with Charlottetown. McDonald was acquired from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in an overhaul that will give the 18-year-old goaltender an opportunity to earn the starting time he has been seeking in order to showcase his potential in goal.
The new season will give McDonald a fresh start with the Islanders after posting just five wins in 16 games. The Halifax native did record a career best 3.35 goals against average and a .907 save percentage in those same 16 games with the Islanders. With the support of his new teammates, coaching staff, and management in Charlottetown, McDonald should gain the confidence to take his game and new team to the next level.
Top Amateur Prospect
Jon Gillies, G, Providence Friars (NCAA)
Taking over the position as top amateur prospect, Jon Gillies leads the way as he enters his junior year at Providence College. Gillies, along with fellow Flames prospects Mark Jankowski and John Gilmour, are a trio of Providence Friars ready for another season to grow together in pursuit of a championship. Gillies provided solid support in goal the past two seasons with his aggressive play and composure, which resulted in part in him posting 36 wins and nine shutouts in 69 appearances. Gillies also recognizes there is room for improvement in his game, and although he had a quality sophomore season, the decision to return for another year will most likely pay dividends for the 20-year-old netminder.
Gillies possess the physical attributes and skills of an upper-echelon goaltender and also understands the importance of how the mental side of the game plays a major role in success. Remaining with the Friars for another season presents an opportunity to respond to the challenges of a season with a familiar team, which will help Gillies succeed when he moves up the ranks as a pro.
Bounceback Amateur Prospect
Mark Jankowski, C, Providence Friars (NCAA)
The Calgary Flames saw something in Mark Jankowski that caused them to use their 21st overall pick in 2012 to select him in the first round, which also included the likes of Nail Yakupov, Tomas Hertl, and Tanner Pearson.
Jankowski has the talent and the size that is worthy of a first-round selection. In his first two seasons with the Providence Friars, however, he has recorded only 43 points, which is just 12 more points than his teammate and fellow Flames defensive prospect John Gilmour has recorded in the same period of time. Prior to Providence, Jankowski attended Stanstead College where he put up an impressive 53 goals and 93 points in 57 games. Jankowski even posted a nine-point game (six goals, three assists) in his minor league career.
Jankowski will have to improve his performance as he recovers from a hip injury while increasing his production by utilizing the ice time he receives this season. Nevertheless, Jankowski can draw upon the experience from his first two years at Providence as he looks to bounce back.
John Gilmour, D, Providence Friars (HE)
Entering his junior season with the Providence Friars should increase the confidence John Gilmour possesses as he looks to continue producing from the blue line. Already with a solid overall defensive game, Gilmour has the potential to greatly increase his offensive output with the skillset he has demonstrated in his first two seasons. The Montreal native reads the ice well in order to anticipate plays to develop scoring opportunities, much like a forward would do. Gilmour has the speed to pinch into the offensive zone while having the hockey sense to retreat when he feels the play is turning back the other way.
Gilmour continues to improve his offensive production, recording 13 points and 18 points respectively over the past two seasons. Gilmour should continue this uptrend in production, which would lead to an offensive breakout in 2014-15.
Top European Prospect
Rushan Rafikov, D, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
Rushan Rafikov will look to continue developing both sides of his game as he begins his fourth season with Loko Yaroslav. Rafikov completed a career-best season in 2013-14 in which the 19-year-old defenseman recorded 20 points in 47 games, including a career high eight goals. Rafikov’s offensive breakout last season could set the stage as to what to expect from the Russian blue liner this year.
Rafikov is already off to a quick start through two games, scoring a game-winning power play goal. Whether Rafikov will eventually bring his game over to North America is yet to be seen. Unavailable to attend summer develop camp in Calgary this year and unable to attend last year’s camp as well, the possibility that Rafikov remains playing in Russia in the future is a realistic option.
Bounceback European Prospect
Adam Ollas Mattson, D, Djurgården (SHL)
While the Calgary Flames have limited exposure with European prospects, the drafting of Adam Ollas Mattson adds another defenseman developing overseas for the organization. Mattson joins Rushan Rafikov as the only two prospects for the Flames playing in Europe. At 6’4, Mattson has a big frame and long reach that can bolster the blue line with his physical presence.
Mattson has been sidelined with a foot injury and will have to fully recover in order to make the most impact on the ice. When Mattson returns to action he intends to improve his footwork while also improving his skating, as he is dedicated to become a more effective and mobile defenseman. The 18 year old recently signed a contract with Djurgården for the upcoming season where he will be looking to elevate his game to the next level.
Follow Brian Jung on Twitter @brianjung80