Despite losing their first four games and finishing October with a lowly 3-6 record, the Adirondack Flames continue to grow stronger in their inaugural AHL season. As a determined unit, the Flames went on an incredible nine-game winning streak in November, which presently is the second-longest in the AHL this year.
The turnaround is even more impressive considering the absence of key offensive players such as Josh Jooris, Michael Ferland, Markus Granlund, Sven Baertschi, and Corban Knight, who were all recalled by Calgary. Remarkably, Adirondack sits fourth in the Western Conference after 28 games, and with support on the way in the form of players being reassigned from Calgary, Adirondack could move up higher in the ranks.
Taking over the offensive production are Ben Hanowski and Max Reinhart, who have led a balanced attack with a group of well-performing rookies that includes Emile Poirier, Bill Arnold, Bryce Van Brabant and Kenny Agostino. On defense, Tyler Wotherspoon and Ryan Culkin have stepped up their offensive contributions, while Joni Ortio is backstopping the team once again with solid goaltending.
Joni Ortio, G, 23
The performance of Joni Ortio is a major reason why the Adirondack Flames find themselves sitting in their current position. Despite an up-and-down start to the season – including a few uncharacteristic games where Ortio allowed more than five goals – he has since settled in and returned to his steady ways.
Ortio has been one of the most active goaltenders in the AHL this season, starting in a league-high 20 games, while turning out a league-best 13 victories. In his first month of action, Ortio posted a goals-against average of 4.16 while carrying a save percentage of .879. Over the course of 20 games, Ortio has progressively improved his numbers and currently holds a 2.81 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. As the second half of the season approaches, Ortio will continue to play a major role in the team’s path of success.
Emile Poirier, RW, 20
Despite having to wait until November to start his season, Emile Poirier has not disappointed with his performance thus far. Poirier has been a bright spot in Adirondack’s lineup with his speed and hard work. Even though Poirier has appeared in just 19 games, he ranks second in team scoring with 14 points. Poirier has played well in the offensive zone, and with his keen hockey sense, he is among the team leaders with a .74 points-per-game average. However, in order to maintain his average, Poirier will have to continue producing like he did in November when he recorded 11 points in 12 games. Through seven games in December, Poirier has registered one goal and two assists.
Kenny Agostino, LW, 22
Ken Agostino has fared well adjusting from the college ranks to the pro level through 24 games. As one of six rookie forwards joining the Adirondack Flames this year, Agostino has created instant chemistry with fellow rookies such as Bill Arnold, Emile Poirier and Bryce Van Brabant.
The 22-year-old winger continues to gain confidence with each game, in particular with carrying the puck into the offensive zone and taking shots on goal, which has led to three goals and six assists. As the season progresses, Agostino will face the challenge of enduring a considerably longer schedule than the 30-plus games he was accustomed to at Yale.
Ben Hanowski, LW, 24
In his second AHL season, Ben Hanowski has elevated his play and leads the team in scoring with 14 points through 24 games. The 6’2″ winger has been instrumental in generating offense, utilizing his frame efficiently to win battles in the corners, as well as driving strong to the net to create traffic and scoring opportunities.
Following up a solid rookie campaign, Hanowski has demonstrated greater confidence in his offensive game. Hanowski has taken a team-high 66 shots on goal and is on pace to surpass the 91 shots he took last year in 55 games. As a result, Hanowski has recorded his first pro hat trick, as well as registering three multi-point games already this season.
Bryce Van Brabant, LW, 23
The heavy-hitting Van Brabant brings a strong level of competitiveness to his first AHL season. Utilizing his size and skill, Van Brabant has been a force to contend with. Van Brabant has been setting the tone in games this year with his big hits, and has already dropped the gloves three times to help generate energy for the team.
As an all-around power forward, Van Brabant also brings a scoring touch to his game. The 23-year-old is tied for second on the team with six goals scored. Van Brabant uses his 6’2″ frame to play a strong offensive game, causing turnovers and scoring opportunities which has led to nine points through 23 games.
Turner Elson, LW, 22
Returning for another year of action in the AHL, Turner Elson started the season slowly, but his performance has turned up as of late. Through 23 games, Elson has four goals and five assists, which includes the game-winning goal that kick-started the Flames’ nine-game winning streak in November. Most recently, Elson has connected with Van Brabant and Reinhart to register four points early in December and appears to be gaining momentum in his play.
Max Reinhart, C, 22
In his third AHL season, Max Reinhart has been an integral part for the Adirondack Flames despite starting the season pointless in his first seven games. With the number of rookie forwards joining the team this season, the 22-year-old center has played an important role for Adirondack by providing veteran support down the middle. Reinhart has been utilized in various line combinations and has found success with any pair of wingers he has been matched up with. In 22 games, Reinhart has nine points (4 goals, 5 assists), which includes two game-winning goals.
Bill Arnold, C, 22
It took eight games for rookie center Bill Arnold to get adjusted before recording his first AHL point. The milestone spurred Arnold to record nine points in his following eight games. Coincidentally, Johnny Gaudreau, Arnold’s Boston College linemate, experienced a similar start to his NHL season, going pointless in his first five games before posting 12 points in 10 games.
The similarities continue for Arnold and Gaudreau as both are amongst the top point leaders for their respective teams. Gaudreau ranks fourth in Calgary through 30 games, while Arnold currently sits tied for second with 14 points through 28 games. Arnold also leads Adirondack with two game-winning goals and is also one of the team leaders with three power play goals. The strong play Arnold has demonstrated so far as a rookie is encouraging as the Flames head into the New Year.
Corban Knight, C, 24
As one of the older prospects in the Flames system, Corban Knight has taken on a greater role this season by earning the honor of being one of the first alternate captains in Adirondack Flames’ history. Knight has played a pivotal role at both ends of the ice, which includes recording the first short-handed goal in franchise history. In 18 games, Knight has five goals and three assists while centering various wingers throughout the season, including Ben Hanowski and Turner Elson. Knight was recalled by Calgary in November, and saw action in two NHL games before being returning to Glens Falls on December 3.
Michael Ferland, LW, 22
After a short stint to begin the season with Adirondack, Michael Ferland was called up by Calgary at the end of October to help support a lineup depleted by injuries. Before heading to Calgary, Ferland recorded six points in three games and finished with nine points through nine games. In his NHL season debut against the Nashville Predators, Ferland left the game early due to an upper body injury. After a short recovery, Ferland’s return to Calgary’s lineup yielded just one assist in 10 games. Ferland has since been re-assigned to Adirondack on December 11th.
Sven Baertschi, LW, 22
Entering his third AHL season, Sven Baertschi started off going pointless in his first seven games with the Adirondack Flames. The 22-year-old winger was able to string along three assists in three consecutive games before being recalled by the Calgary Flames on November 2nd. In 14 NHL games this season, Baertschi recorded just three assists while averaging under 10 minutes of ice time per game. Baertschi was re-assigned to Adirondack on December 9th and has recorded his first goal of the season since returning.
Markus Granlund, C, 21
With the spotlight on Gaudreau and Jooris, Markus Granlund has quietly put together an impressive 2014-15 campaign for the Flames. Starting off the season with Adirondack, Granlund recorded five points in eight games before being recalled by Calgary on October 29th. Granlund has appeared in 20 games for Calgary and has posted four goals and seven assists. The Finnish forward has appeared comfortable and confident in his NHL appearances this season, which are excellent indications of his development.
Josh Jooris, C, 24
Playing in only two games for Adirondack this year, Jooris was recalled by Calgary on October 16th as a string of injuries started to hit the team. The following night, in his first NHL game, Jooris scored his first NHL goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Jooris continued to work hard on a nightly basis, which earned him a roster position with Calgary for the remainder of the season. In 26 games with Calgary, Jooris has 13 points (8 goals, 5 assists), including a hat trick.
Patrick Sieloff, D, 20
After spending a year on the sidelines, Patrick Sieloff is back on the ice throwing his weight around and getting his game back into form. Sieloff continues to strengthen his game and is close to returning to top performance levels with his skating, positioning, and defensive awareness. Recently, Sieloff has shown that he is a force to contend with, in particular during a game on November 18th against the Chicago Wolves when hef laid out a big hit and then answered the call from 6’3″ Petteri Lindbohm (STL), holding his own during his first fight as a pro.
Tyler Wotherspoon, D, 21
In his second AHL season, Tyler Wotherspoon is developing into a leader on the blue line for the Adirondack Flames. Not only has Wotherspoon once again provided solid, reliable defense, he also sits in a tie for fourth in team scoring and is one of the leading defenders in points. Through 25 games, Wotherspoon already has 10 points, compared to last season when he registered nine in 48 games.
The 21-year-old defender continues to work on his offensive game by stepping into plays more often while mobilizing the puck efficiently. With a healthy defensive squad in Calgary, Wotherspoon remains with Adirondack, but he should be expected to be one of the first players called up to the big club if required.
Ryan Culkin, D, 21
As a first-year defender, Ryan Culkin has taken a solid position on Adirondack’s blue line with his two-way style of game. Culkin has been one of the leading offensive defensemen for the Flames this season, tallying 11 points in 19 games, with six points coming on the power play. The 21-year-old ranks sixth in scoring among AHL rookie defensemen, which includes the likes of Derrick Pouliot (PIT), Ryan Pulock (NYI), and Mat Bodie (NYR). As the team heads into the second half of the season, it will be interesting to see how Culkin’s confidence and play will develop.
John Ramage, D, 23
After completing his first AHL season and a brief stint in the ECHL last year, John Ramage looks to gain more experience as he defends the Adirondack blue line. Ramage finished off last season on a positive note, winning an ECHL Championship with the Alaska Aces while having an offensive breakout, recording 13 points in 20 playoff games.
Ramage carried over his offensive momentum to start the 2014-15 season by recording four assists in his first six games. He has since tapered off, however, going pointless over the past month. Ramage will have to continue battling this season while making the most of his available ice time.
Sena Acolatse, D, 24
The free-agent signing of Sena Acolatse has resulted in limited action for the 24-year-old defender. Acolatse was sidelined in November with an injury after playing just five games in October. Since returning on December 2nd, Acolatse has two assists in five games. As a strong, physical defender with solid puck-moving skills, Acolatse could be relied upon as Adirondack pushes forward in their drive towards the playoffs.
Brett Kulak, D, 20
Since joining the Colorado Eagles in early November, Brett Kulak has settled in with his new team and has adjusted to the pace of play in the ECHL. Kulak contributed 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) through 15 games and continues to improve his play on the blue line, particularly during the power play, where he has registered four out of his 10 points.
Non-Minor League Prospect Update
In the NCAA, Jon Gillies is having one of the strongest seasons of his career. The 20-year-old goaltender has performed exceptionally well in his junior season at Providence College, earning him Hockey East’s Goaltender of the Month for November. Gillies recorded a 5-2 record with three shutouts and an impressive 0.86 goals-against average with a .973 save percentage during the month.
While in Toronto, Morgan Klimchuk participated with Team Canada’s WJC Selection camp. As one of 29 players invited to the camp, Klimchuk received some nice recognition for a strong junior career, but was among the first group of cuts as Team Canada ramps up for an emotionally important World Juniors taking place in Montréal and Toronto.
Meanwhile, a change of scenery has benefited Keegan Kanzig, who has recorded five assists and a +9 rating in his first nine games with the Calgary Hitmen. Kanzig is averaging better numbers with Calgary than he produced in 21 games with Victoria; his point-per-game average almost doubled and he is seeing over a minute more in penalty time per game.
Calgary Flames Prospect of the Month
As the top performing prospect on the biggest stage of the game, Johnny Gaudreau takes the Calgary Flames’ Prospect of the Month award for November. With each game, Gaudreau continues to gain confidence with his elusive style of play, opening up opportunities for his teammates with his shifty moves, patience, and on-ice vision. Through 30 games, Gaudreau ranks second in NHL rookie scoring with 22 points and sits fourth-overall in scoring among the Flames.
Playing on a line with Jiri Hudler and Josh Jooris, Gaudreau recorded 11 points in 13 games during November, as the line collectively recorded 33 points for the month. The trio has played inspired hockey this season and have generated a lot of energy creating exciting plays. Gaudreau has been a major factor for the Flames’ success this season, and is on the fast-track to graduate from prospect status.
Follow Brian Jung on Twitter via @brianjung80