Calgary Flames prospect pool deepest in recent memory

By Brian Jung

NHL: MAR 01 Flames at Oilers

Photo: Markus Granlund returns to the AHL in 2014-15, where he is expected to produce more than the 44 points he did last season. (courtesy of Chris Austin/Icon Sportswire)

 

It has been a long time since the Calgary Flames have had a deep talent pool like the current group developing at each position. The Flames were fortunate to add four first-round picks to their system in the past two years, which includes a pair of centers from Ontario in Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, who became the highest pick in team history when selected fourth overall in the 2014 NHL draft.

At left wing, Johnny Gaudreau leads the way as the Flames’ top prospect in the lineup. Following Gaudreau is a long line of talented forwards waiting to crack the NHL such as Michael Ferland, Sven Baertschi, and Morgan Klimchuk. Meanwhile, the right wing has been bolstered by the 2014 selections of Hunter Smith and Austin Carroll.

On defense, the Flames are carrying a hard-working unit which includes Tyler Wotherspoon, Patrick Sieloff, Keegan Kanzig, and Ryan Culkin. Finally, in goal the Flames are well-positioned for the future with the options Joni Ortio, Jon Gillies, and Mason McDonald can provide.

Left Wing

Fresh from a Hobey Baker award, Johnny Gaudreau once again stood out at the Flames’ summer camp, produced at the Young Stars Tournament, made a statement at main training camp and contributed during the preseason; this earned him an opening-day roster spot with Calgary. The determination and hard work Gaudreau consistently demonstrates are reasons why the 21 year old is a special talent to have in the lineup.

With the depth at left wing, there are a number of talented players who were unable to find a roster spot in Calgary and as a result were assigned to the AHL. The assigned group of players that will suit up in the inaugural season for the Adirondack Flames could create a strong team to compete against.

As six out of the eight left wing prospects will be competing for time in the AHL, some might see time in the ECHL with the Colorado Eagles as a second option. Michael Ferland, Sven Baertschi, Ben Hanowski, and Turner Elson return for another season of action, as each will be entering crucial seasons that could determine their path with the organization. Ferland and Baertschi appear to be heading in opposite directions, with Ferland fitting the current management style more so than Baertschi. However, Baertschi still presents a valuable scoring asset that can factor into the picture. Hanowski and Elson will also have to show management reason to remain with the organization, as all four mentioned will be restricted free agents at the end of the season.

Kenny Agostino and Bryce Van Brabant are two left wingers that turn professional this year after both advancing from the collegiate ranks. Agostino completed four years at Yale and Van Brabant finished three seasons at Quinnipiac University.

The only left winger developing at the junior level this year is Morgan Klimchuk, who returns to the Regina Pats for one more season. As the 19 year old prepares to move up the ranks in the upcoming season, Klimchuk will provide another young prospect to help elevate the level of competition and overall performance of the organization.

Center

The long search for quality top-line centers could be over for Calgary with the recent drafting of Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett in back-to-back years. Both centers have the talent and leadership skills that can support the Flames down the middle for years to come.

However, to start the 2014-15 season Monahan is the only one in action, as Bennett is sidelined with a shoulder injury for at least four to six months. Once fully recovered, Bennett could remain in the lineup for Calgary or he could be assigned to Kingston to play out the remainder of the season. Regardless, it will be key for Bennett to take sufficient time to recover properly in order to return to top-level action.

Returning to the AHL for competition this season are Max Reinhart, Marcus Granlund, Corban Knight, and Josh Jooris. They will look to continue creating chemistry and offensive production, like they did last year when they produced 75 goals and 180 points between the four of them.

Max Reinhart enters his third AHL season and could be considered the veteran of the group. The 22 year old plays a strong two-way game on a nightly basis and will once again be looked upon to provide support at both ends of the ice.

Based on their performances last year, the trio of Granlund, Knight, and Jooris all have the potential to produce greater offensive numbers this season as the three get closer to NHL roles. Meanwhile, Bill Arnold enters his first professional season and will have to make an adjustment from playing at the collegiate level. Playing alongside Johnny Gaudreau last season, the 22 year old recorded 53 points in 40 games.

Mark Jankowski and Matt DeBlouw both return for their junior seasons in college, with Jankowski returning to Providence College and DeBlouw playing at Michigan State. DeBlouw will be looking to rebound after appearing in only 23 games and recording just four assists, while Jankowski will have an opportunity to elevate his game to the next level as expectations increase with another year in the program.

Right Wing

Although the depth at right wing is only four deep, there is enough size and talent to make a considerable impact on the score sheet while bruising opponents in the process. The trio of Emile Poirier, Hunter Smith, and Austin Carroll each had impressive seasons last year in the CHL, combining for a total of 184 points and 343 penalty minutes in 197 games, while Tim Harrison adds a winger who is competing in the collegiate ranks.

With the lack of scoring for Calgary on the right wing, Poirier is poised to make the eventual jump to the NHL. However, Poirier begins the season in the AHL with the Adirondack Flames after being assigned by Calgary on September 29, 2014. Poirier will first have to fully recover from a shoulder injury as he gets ready to return to action as a versatile top-six forward.

Fresh from being drafted over the summer, Hunter Smith and Austin Carroll remain in the CHL for another season of action. Both had impressive showings in their first camps with the organization and each are off to a great start to the new season in their respective leagues. Smith has seven points through six games with the Oshawa Generals in the OHL and Carroll has ten points in seven games with the Victoria Royals in the WHL.

Tim Harrison enters his sophomore season at Colgate University and should have a greater opportunity to produce numbers similar to his days at Dexter Prep when he recorded 69 points in 46 games.

Defense

The current defensive core developing for the Calgary Flames could be one of the deepest in team history; however, with the new additions of Rafael Diaz and Deryk Engelland, prospects who are knocking at the door of the NHL such as Tyler Wotherspoon and Patrick Sieloff will have to settle for the AHL in the interim.

After appearing in 14 games for the Calgary Flames last year, Wotherspoon will once again be trusted to answer the call after proving he can be a reliable defender in the NHL. However, in order to play his effective defensive game, Wotherspoon will first have to fully recover from a shoulder injury. An assignment with the Adirondack Flames will benefit Wotherspoon as he gets back to form.

In addition to Wotherspoon, Adirondack will have the presence of Patrick Sieloff, John Ramage, Ryan Culkin, and Brett Kulak on the blue line this year. The summer signing of free-agent Sena Acolatse also adds another solid defender to the group.

Like Wotherspoon, Sieloff also has the markings of a NHL defender. However after spending a season injured, starting in the AHL will benefit the 19 year old as he returns to action while bolstering the blue line for Adirondack.

As he returns for his second season in the AHL, Ramage will look to continue building on the experience he gained in his rookie year. Ramage adjusted his game throughout last year, particularly late in the season when he joined the Alaska Aces (ECHL) on their championship run and broke out offensively, recording 13 points in 20 games. By finishing the season on a strong note, Ramage should have the confidence to expand his game further in 2014-15.

Two new prospects joining the defensive core for the Adirondack Flames are Culkin and Kulak. The pair of 20-year-old defenders were offensive leaders for their respective junior teams, with Culkin recording 50 points in 69 games in the QMJHL last year and Kulak producing an impressive 60 points in 69 games in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants.

After considering the best fit for his career, Acolatse decided to sign as a free agent with the Calgary Flames over the summer after spending time developing in the San Jose system. Acolatse starts in the AHL and will provide another strong physical defender for the Adirondack Flames.

In the junior ranks, Keegan Kanzig and Eric Roy enter the 2014-15 season with focus on turning pro next year. Both defenders play in the WHL and were drafted together in 2013. Kanzig returns to the Victoria Royals for a fourth season on the West Coast, while Roy will be in the prairies, suiting up for his fifth season with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Newly drafted Brandon Hickey joins John Gilmour as the only college defenders playing in the system this year. Hickey begins his college career at Boston University, while Gilmour looks to add another year of experience as he starts his junior season at Providence College.

Lastly, the Flames have a dual of young prospects playing overseas in Rushan Rafikov and Adam Ollas Mattson. Rafikov remains in Russia for another year but has switched over to the Supreme Hockey League (SHL) after three seasons playing for Loko Yaroslavl in the MHL. Rafikov signed a one-year contract with HC Ryazan, and has recorded five assists in 11 games early in the season. Ollas Mattson returns to Sweden, where he begins his first year with Djurgården in the SEL. At 6’4 and 206 pounds, Mattson plays a solid physical game and will face tough challenges as he attempts to shut down stronger opponents in 2014-15.

Goaltender

The Calgary Flames have a trio of goaltenders developing at three different levels this year, giving ample time for each to develop their respective games.

Joni Ortio begins the new season as the starting goaltender for the Adirondack Flames. Last year, Ortio demonstrated great focused after putting together an impressive season playing across three different leagues, as the organization sorted out goaltenders. Ortio will have to maintain the same focus in order to be ready should an opportunity to return to Calgary present itself.

The decision to return to Providence College for a third year will benefit Jon Gillies and the Flames since it will give the 20-year-old netminder an opportunity to redeem last seasons’ shortcomings, while for the Flames it will buy time to negotiate room for Gillies before he turns pro.

Finally, fresh from being drafted in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft, Mason McDonald is settling into his role with the Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL), posting a 3-4-1 record in seven games with a 3.40 goals against average and .900 save percentage early in the season. McDonald is at least a few years from advancing up the ranks.

Follow Brian Jung on Twitter @brianjung80