When an organization undergoes a rebuilding process, it is essential to have in place a system of prospects that can provide quality support at each level. With the recent rash of injuries, the Calgary Flames find themselves in a fortunate position to have a system of prospects that can be relied upon when required.
A major component of the current system stems from the junior ranks, where over the past two drafts, Calgary has selected nine out of fourteen picks from the CHL. Most recently, general manager Brad Treliving utilized the 2014 NHL Draft to add top prospect Sam Bennett and power forward Hunter Smith from the OHL, a promising goaltender in Mason McDonald from the QMJHL and from the WHL Austin Carroll, who is a gritty winger that can score.
Mason McDonald, G, Charlottetown Islanders
Acquired: 2nd round (34th overall), 2014
The Calgary Flames were the first team in the 2014 NHL Draft to select a goaltender when they opted to draft Mason McDonald 34th overall. As the only prospect in the Flames’ system representing the QMJHL this year, McDonald opened up a new chapter in his career this season when he earned the starting goaltender position for the Charlottetown Islanders. The trust instilled in McDonald has propelled his confidence to new levels.
At 6’3 and 190 pounds, McDonald possess quick reflexes with the ability to stretch out to make sprawling saves. The 18-year-old netminder also utilizes excellent positioning to challenge opponents by remaining square to shooters and having patience to react until they commit, limiting the exposure of getting beat. Seven out of the ten wins McDonald has posted have been earned by allowing only one goal per game.
Through 23 games, McDonald ranks as one of the top goaltenders in the QMJHL. The Halifax native has recorded a career best 3.03 goals against average and .907 save-percentage and continues to develop consistent play on a nightly basis, while steadily improving his numbers month-to-month. If McDonald continues his current performance, he will be on track to set career numbers across all categories and will solidify the decision by Calgary to select him.
Sam Bennett, C, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: 1st round (4th overall), 2014
The excitement that circled Sam Bennett during his head-turning preseason action prematurely ended before he could play his first regular season game in the NHL. After playing through a shoulder injury during the summer, Bennett was sidelined early in October to undergo shoulder surgery requiring at least four to six months to recover.
Bennett made a statement during his first appearances in a Flames jersey and would have earned at least a nine-game tryout with Calgary before management had to decide whether or not to keep the 18-year-old in the lineup or return him to the Kingston Frontenacs.
Based on the numerous injuries to veteran players in the lineup, Bennett would have most likely been given the opportunity to play his rookie season in the NHL this year, similar to how Sean Monahan was retained last year. However, taking the necessary time and measures to properly heal the shoulder injury early in his career will help Bennett down the road endure a long NHL career.
Hunter Smith, RW, Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 2nd round (54th overall), 2014
After an impressive 2013-14 campaign, Hunter Smith has continued his offensive output in his third season with the Oshawa Generals. Smith follows the pattern of right wing prospects recently drafted by Calgary with his size and style of play. At 6’6 and 210 pounds, Smith brings a physical, hard-hitting presence, along with a scoring touch that is a rare combination to find in a player of his size. Smith has the potential to turn into a valuable piece for the Flames with his various attributes.
In 64 games last year, Smith recorded 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) while adding 100 penalty minutes and a plus-11 rating. This year through 21 games, Smith already has 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists), 49 penalty minutes and a plus-five rating. Playing alongside top prospects Cole Cassels and Michael Dal Colle has helped Smith enhance his game and expand his offensive production. Smith recorded his first career hat trick on October 19 and has posted five multi-point games early this season. The ability to execute plays with such talent like Cassels and Dal Colle will benefit the 19-year-old as he progresses with his career.
Morgan Klimchuk, LW, Regina Pats
Acquired: 1st round (28th overall), 2013
Despite a late start to the season due to a wrist injury, Morgan Klimchuk has returned to posting a point-per-game average in 15 games with the Regina Pats. The 19-year-old winger has recorded six goals and nine assists, while being held off the score sheet only three times.
The 2014-15 season will present an opportunity for Klimchuk to further push himself and his expectations as a player as he prepares to turn professional next year. Over the past two seasons in Regina, Klimchuk has compiled 66 goals and 88 assists in just 129 games. At his current pace of play, Klimchuk is on track to continue adding significant points to his totals.
Klimchuk possesses the hockey sense, skill and character to make an impact for any team he plays for, which earned Klimchuk a second invitation to represent Team WHL in the 2014 Subway Super Series, where he recorded one assist and one shootout goal in two games. Klimchuk could also be considered for a roster position with Team Canada for the 2015 World Junior Championship.
As one of the leaders for Regina, Klimchuk will have to help carry the Pats back into the playoffs. Last year, after finishing second in the Eastern Conference, the Pats suffered a disappointing first-round sweep by the seventh-ranked Brandon Wheat Kings.
Keegan Kanzig, D, Calgary Hitmen
Acquired: 3rd round (67th overall), 2013
Off to a strong start with the Victoria Royals, Keegan Kanzig has recently been traded to the Calgary Hitmen along with a 2016 second round draft pick in exchange for forward Greg Chase, a fifth round pick in 2015 and an eight round pick in 2016. One year removed from being drafted 67th overall by the Calgary Flames, Kanzig will bolster any lineup he plays for with his 6’6 and 242 pound frame.
Kanzig is the type of player who will defend his teammates at all costs. He carries an intimidation factor that forces opponents to think twice before laying out a big hit against one of his teammates. For the Flames to have a player with a presence like Kanzig in the lineup, he would be a valuable asset to help shield skilled players such as Johnny Gaudreau, Bennett and Monahan.
Kanzig is a warrior that will battle every night for his team. Through 24 games, Kanzig has already dropped the gloves six times and could be on track to have the heaviest fight card of his career if he can surpass thirteen bouts. As the 19-year-old continues to develop in his career, it will be important to master the art of playing a disciplined physical game. Considering the frequency he is penalized, Kanzig will have to limit the amount of man-advantages given to opponents.
The Athabasca native continues to make positive strides in other areas of his game and although he still has to register his first goal of the season, Kanzig carries a plus-six rating to go along with six assists.
Eric Roy, D, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: 5th round (135th overall), 2013
Eric Roy will have one last opportunity to make an impact for the Brandon Wheat Kings playing in his fifth and final season, while fine-tuning his game before turning pro next year. As one of the fixtures on the blue line for the Wheat Kings, Roy continues to deliver solid and reliable defense while providing stability for an organization experiencing a youth movement in their defensive corps.
However, with the departure of his long-time defensive partner Ryan Pulock, Roy has experienced a slower start offensively this year. Through 19 games, Roy has recorded one goal and nine assists. Roy currently carries a .53 point-per-game average, which is lower than the .67 average he posted beside Pulock last year. Fortunately for the Wheat Kings, they have other sources of offensive production and do not have to rely on Roy like he has been previously. However, as the season progresses, it will be interesting to see if Roy can generate similar offensive production from the blue line to match numbers he tallied playing alongside Pulock.
Austin Carroll, RW, Victoria Royals
Acquired: 7th round (184th overall), 2014
With their final pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, the Flames selected Austin Carroll, who has been one of the most productive prospects in the system this year. Carroll embodies the power forward role with his mix of scoring abilities and physical style of play, which was apparent last season when he led the way for the Victoria Royals with 34 goals and 114 penalty minutes. Not too many players are able to lead a team in both categories and this season is no different for Carroll, as he is once again one of the leaders for the team in goals and penalty minutes, with 15 and 59 respectively.
Among those playing in the WHL, Carroll ranks 10th overall in scoring and sixth in penalty minutes through 25 games. Carroll also leads the league in power play goals with nine, and ranks fifth in game winning goals with four. The Flames have bolstered the right wing position with the addition of Carroll, and if he is able to maintain his current pace of play, he could turn out to be a late-round surprise for Calgary.
Calgary Flames Prospect of the Month: October
There are numerous players worthy of taking home top prospect honors for the month of October such as Johnny Gaudreau, Josh Jooris, and Hunter Smith; however, the elevated play of Austin Carroll has earned him the recognition.
Through 11 games in October, Carroll was on a scoring-spree and recorded a goal in six straight games while being held pointless only once. The 20-year-old winger also currently owns the third longest point streak in the WHL, compiling eight goals and four assists in a span of eight games from September 28 to October 12. Carroll finished the month with a four-game point streak that extended for two more games in November.
As a main source of support and production, Carroll made a significant impact by scoring three out of his four game-winning goals in October to help the Royals post a 7-4 record.
Follow Brian Jung on Twitter at @brianjung80