The Calgary Flames are just now beginning to reap the rewards of patience with the prospect group. After three consecutive quality drafts, there are a number of quality prospects already signed with the team that are either on the verge of playing in the NHL or already there. Among them, Sam Bennett is at the top of the heap, and for good reason.
Elsewhere in the organization, there are numerous prospects that have yet to earn a professional contract and are using the 2015-16 season as a springboard towards earning one. Whether the patience shown in waiting for Mark Jankowski to finally arrive pays off, or the pair of interesting European prospects worth keeping an eye on adds up to anything, there are a number of quality prospects plying their trade in hopes of being a difference-maker for a Flames organization that has raised expectations.
Sam Bennett, F, Calgary Flames (NHL)
Without question, Sam Bennett is the Calgary Flames’ top prospect. He earned top billing with his performance last year, and is expected to maintain a roster spot in Calgary full-time.
Bennett fought through a difficult shoulder injury suffered in training camp last year. After he returned from surgery and rehabilitation, Bennett was among the best players in the OHL last season. With the Kingston Frontenacs, Bennett put up 24 points in just 11 games down the stretch. After his OHL season ended, the 2014 fourth overall pick returned to Calgary and picked up three goals and one assist in the Flames’ surprising playoff run.
Bennett had a strong training camp and showed that he is capable of playing anywhere in the lineup. To date, Bennett is being given another opportunity to maintain a regular NHL job within the Flames forward corps. His consistent work ethic and high compete level equates to significant playing time as Bennett has earned the trust of Flames Head Coach Bob Hartley. Moving forward, Bennett will need to shed the injury label and continue to produce in order to stick with the big club.
From one Flames first-round pick to another, Emile Poirier is hoping to join Bennett following a quality 2014-15 campaign. Poirier spent most of the year with Adirondack, the Flames’ former AHL affiliate, and tallied 19 goals and 23 assists, good for second on the team in scoring just one point behind Kenny Agostino. Poirier’s transition from the QMJHL proved to be a success, enough so that he earned his first NHL action last year. Working to become the Flames’ top recall option, Poirier’s offensive ability is matched by his intelligence on the ice. Formerly known as an offensive option, his recent success in playing a more complete game will certainly help him earn more games in the NHL should the Flames need help.
Unsigned for 2016-17
Markus Granlund, F, Stockton Heat (AHL)
Competing with Poirier to be among the first recalled to Calgary is Markus Granlund, who narrowly missed out on a roster spot after a strong training camp. Granlund has not been able to stick full-time in the NHL to date, but last season’s success has to be replicated if Granlund is hoping to earn another contract. Caught in a bit of a logjam down the middle, he will need to demonstrate an ability to play in different situations, both on special teams and perhaps as a winger. The young Oulu, Finland native scored eight times and assisted on 10 others in 48 games with the Flames last year, but unless there is an injury or trade to shake up the Flames lineup, the 2015-16 season will be a critical one if he hopes to stick in the NHL.
Rasmus Andersson, D, Barrie Colts (OHL)
One of the most polarizing defenders in the OHL, Rasmus Andersson did enough during the Flames prospect development camp to earn his entry-level contract from the club. Much more than just a typical offensive defenseman, Andersson has a mean streak and a developing reputation for being a difficult player to handle. He was one of the breakout stars in the OHL last year, and finished fourth in scoring by a defenseman with 12 goals and 52 assists.
Things look a little different in Barrie this year, with 100-point pivot Joe Blandisi (NJ) off to the professional ranks. The Colts still have high expectations and are relying on Andersson to carry the load on defense. He has had a frustrating start, and is currently sitting with a minus-seven rating and just two assists in seven games. That said, Andersson won’t be held down for long behind a still potent offense in Barrie, and will look to continue his assault on the scoring leaderboard after he shakes off this slump.
Riley Bruce, D, North Bay Battalion (OHL)
Late in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Calgary Flames took a flier on 6’6”, 210-pound defenseman Riley Bruce. The Flames main reason for taking him should be obvious, as defenseman with his size and skating ability have the raw tools to succeed in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference. Bruce himself knows that often it takes longer for a defenseman to learn the trade and how to apply it. Under the direction of long-time OHL Head Coach Stan Butler, Bruce is already showing signs of developing as more than just a defensive stalwart. With just seven points in 109 career games coming into this year, Bruce finally notched his first goal and is on pace for a career year offensively. With a number of his former peers playing elsewhere, playing time is ample and opportunity abounds.
Entering his second season in the WHL, Pavel Karnaukhov is facing a critical make-or-break season. His first season in North America was filled with difficult obstacles to overcome on and off the ice as he attempted to adjust to life overseas. He did just enough in the regular season to merit attention, scoring 42 points in 69 games, but it was his penchant for clutch playoff goals that rocketed him up draft boards. Taken in the fifth round in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Karnaukhov’s two-way play will be key in his development if he hopes to earn an entry-level contract from the Flames.
Mark Jankowski, F, Providence College (Hockey East)
Immediately after he was drafted, Mark Jankowski unfairly took a lot of criticism as a perceived “off-the-board” pick. Since then, Jankowski has been a consistent performer and has shown glimpses of that first-round draft pedigree in his three years with Providence College. Jankowski has improved his overall point totals in each consecutive season, but his two-way play and penalty killing ability have the Flames faithful hoping he can continue to develop into what is typically expected of a first-round pick.
Jankowski is entering his senior year and is already off to a torrid start. Through his first three games, the Hamilton, ON native has two goals and five assists and already has the Friars thinking about back-to-back NCAA Championships.
Unsigned for 2016-17
John Gilmour, D, Providence College (Hockey East)
Joining Jankowski in the Friars’ 2012 recruiting class is John Gilmour, one Flames prospect that has been an under-the-radar acquisition. Gilmour has been a consistent performer on the blueline, and is a big reason why Providence won the NCAA Tournament Championship last year. As a puck-moving rearguard, Gilmour’s influence on the offense can’t be ignored. With 13 goals and 29 assists in 107 collegiate games coming into the year, he has proven that he can help lead an offense and will need to continue to pick up points if he wants to earn a contract from the Flames.
Rushan Rafikov, D, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)
On paper, Rushan Rafikov’s stats don’t look all that impressive. That said, there is so much more to Rafikov’s game that has him squarely on the Flames radar. After drafting him in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Flames watched as Rafikov went on to rack up accolades. Rakifov was an alternate captain for Russia during the 2014-15 World Junior Championships, a tournament where he picked up one goal and two assists in seven games. Russia finished the tournament with a silver medal, which was enough to put him on Lokomotiv’s radar for KHL competition.
The former Russian Selects captain is a fierce defender but does have some offensive ability to make a quality outlet pass and contribute on special teams in the offensive zone. Rafikov is six games into his tenure in the KHL, and is making a rather big jump from junior-level competition. He is splitting the year between Lokomotiv, where he is given sheltered minutes, and HK Ryazan of the VHL, where playing-time is plentiful.
Unsigned for 2016-17
Adam Ollas Mattson, D, Djurgardens (SHL)
One Calgary Flames prospect that has quietly gone about his business in Europe is Adam Ollas Mattson. Standing at 6’4”, Ollas Mattson has the reach, size and steadying influence to be able to stick with Djurgardens’ SHL squad for the full season. Last year, he split the season between the SHL team and his SuperElit team, where the defensively-sound Swede was a major influence in their J20 SuperElit Gold Medal-winning season. He has done enough at that level to earn regular playing time in the SHL and is currently underway with Djurgardens. With just this year remaining on his contract, the 19-year-old will be an interesting name to keep an eye on heading into next year.