The Flames have concentrated a lot of their scouting and draft picks in the CHL under GM Darryl Sutter’s watch, which means most of their organizational strength lies there, specifically in the WHL.
The Flames had seven prospects in junior hockey this season.
Mitch Wahl, C – Spokane Chiefs
Acquired: 2nd round, 48th overall 2008
1990-01-22, 6’0′, 200 pounds
The Flames only second-round choice during Sutter’s reign took a favorable step forward in his final junior season this year, managing career bests in assists (66) and points (96). That total was nearly 30 points better than last year and was the seventh best amongst WHL skaters. Wahl also managed four goals, nine points and a +5 rating in seven playoff games before his club bowed out in the first round. His plus/minus rating of +23 during the regular season marked his third straight year in the black, bringing his cumulative plus/minus over that period to an impressive +98.
Once the Chiefs were eliminated from the postseason, Wahl was immediately assigned to the injury-ravaged Abbotsford Heat. Despite being the youngest player on the team, Wahl scored four points in four regular-season games, and two points in four games in the playoffs, which is an encouraging sign for an organization generally lacking in offensively-skilled prospects.
The speedy, two-way center is certain to turn pro next year. There’s little chance he will be in the mix for a spot on the parent club, but should be in the running for a top-six position in Abbotsford.
Lance Bouma, LW – Vancouver Giants
Acquired: 3rd round, 78th overall 2008
1990-03-25, 6’01”, 210 pounds
Bouma also experienced a career season in terms of points, although his gains were far more modest. In 57 games, Bouma scored 14 goals and 43 points while captaining the Vancouver Giants. The tenacious checking forward also added 134 penalty minutes (another career high). In addition, Bouma is putting together a fine postseason, garnering three goals and 16 points in just 13 games. His play has helped Vancouver advance to the WHL’s Western Conference final, where they face the Tri-City Americans.
Bouma lost the last 13 games of the season to a partially torn MCL. Despite the injury, he was able to jump right back into the line-up for the Giants first-round match-up versus the Kamloops Blazers, where he and linemates Craig Cunningham and Brendan Gallagher dominated to the tune of 26 points during the four-game sweep. They are Vancouver’s top three scorers in the postseason thus far with 21, 20 and 16 points respectively.
Expect Bouma, who has already signed a pro contract with the Flames, to appear in Abbotsford Heat colors next fall. If the Heat can prolong their own postseason long enough, Bouma may join Wahl in the line-up, depending on how long the Giants playoff run lasts.
Ryan Howse, LW – Chilliwack Bruins
Acquired: 3rd round, 74th overall 2009
1991-07-06, 5’11”, 195 pounds
Despite questions about his size and defensive game as well as a relatively lackluster supporting cast, Howse took a giant leap this season and became one of the most dangerous snipers in the WHL. Not only did he lead his team in points (72), goals (47) and power-play goals (15), he was also second on the Bruins in shorthanded tallies (four) and was one of only four players in the black in terms of plus/minus (+9). Howse’s 47 goals was good for third most in the league behind Kyle Beach (52) and Jordan Eberle (50), both of whom are a year older.
On top of the offensive improvement, Howse saw all aspects of his game lauded. He went from a defensive liability to being featured as the lone forward during five-on-three penalty kills. The improvement is reflected in his plus/minus rating, which was 30+ points better relative to last season’s -24.
Howse will turn 19 in July and will no doubt be the centerpiece of the Bruins attack next season.
Gaelan Patterson, C – Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: 7th round, 201 overall, 2009
1990-08-22, 6’0′, 205 pounds
Nineteen-year-old Patterson made some modest gains this year, after the big gains he made last season. This year, he finished with career highs in goals (26) and points (59) and was fourth on the Blades in scoring. He also added four goals and six assists in 10 postseason games before Saskatoon was eliminated.
Not excelling in any one area, Patterson projects as more of a utility forward at the next level, albeit one with above-average hands around the net. He is currently travelling with the Heat, but has yet to dress. Like Wahl and Bouma, Patterson may be in the mix for a place on the Heat next season, although the Flames may elect to give him more time to ripen in the WHL.
Spencer Bennett, LW – Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 5th round, 141 overall 2009
1990-10-31, 6’03”, 185 pounds
Although he will turn 20 in October, this year was Bennett’s rookie season in the WHL, after spending his 17 and 18-year-old seasons in the BCHL (where he put up relatively uninspiring results). Big and rangy but not overly physical, Bennett has a good shot and can be a handful down low and on the power play. His skating, however, is average at best and it prevents him from being a top-flight offensive weapon.
This year, Bennett managed 19 goals and 41 points in 70 games for the Winterhawks, good for seventh on the club in scoring. However, he also garnered one of the team’s worst plus/minus ratings with a -4. To put that in context, every other Portland player with 40 or more points boasted double-digit pluses.
Bennett has a long way to go before he’ll be able to press for a job at the pro level. He’ll need to improve all aspects of his game over the next season or two in junior.
Greg Nemisz, RW – Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 1st round, 25th overall 2008
1990-06-05, 6’04”, 200 pounds
The Flames biggest (and perhaps best) forward prospect was on his way to building a career best season before a leg laceration cut his year short. The fluke injury limited Nemisz to 51 games during the regular season, where he totalled 34 goals, 70 points and a +22 rating for the powerhouse Windsor Spitfires. Nemisz also appeared for Canada in the World Junior Championships, where he played mainly a third or fourth-line role. In nine postseason games thus far, Nemisz has added two goals and 11 points.
Projected as a power forward due to his impressive frame and relatively soft hands, Nemisz is also capable at both ends of the ice and can kill penalties as well as play on the power play. He’s tough to move from the front of the net and down low, although he tends not to be overly physical. His skating is perhaps his primary weakness, with merely average quickness and acceleration. With little left to prove at the junior level, it’s all but guaranteed that Nemisz will make the jump to pro hockey next year with Abbotsford. Look for him to occupy one of the top two lines.
T.J. Brodie, D – Barrie Colts
Acquired: 4th round, 114 overall 2008
1990-06-07, 6’01”, 175 pounds
A revelation last year after the Flames selected him in the fourth round, Brodie continued to add to his post-draft resume this season by putting career bests in points (56), assists (49) and plus/minus (+33) between the Saginaw Spirit and Barrie Colts. His notable results have followed him into the postseason, where he’s managed one goal, 12 points and a +13 rating through 13 games.
Although not possessing the ideal frame for an NHL defender, Brodie is highly mobile and confident with the puck. He’s dangerous on the point during the power play and has above-average vision. He made a strong impression during his first couple of Flames training camps and will certainly be in the mix for a spot on the Heat roster next year, despite the preponderance of defensive prospects in the system.