The Calgary Flames have been able to quickly assess whether or not a number of their prospects are ready for NHL action over the last few years. With Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland, and Joni Ortio playing a role in the team’s recent success, there are a number of players behind them working to do the same.
The Flames prospect pool is interesting because skaters who play professionally outnumber those who play junior or amateur hockey by a decent margin. The Flames’ penchant for patience, both in preferring older CHL players and allowing their collegiate prospects to play out their four years, results in an older and more experienced prospect pool.
Because of this, the Flames depth chart has been rearranged and some newer prospects have slotted in as the Flames start to graduate some of their older prospects. There’s plenty of talent to go around, and with rumors swirling about the Flames making a splash in the trade market, now is a great time to assess where the organization stands at each position.
The Calgary Flames have a number of advanced left wingers that are already playing professionally. The most notable of them is Micheal Ferland, who was an integral part of the Flames’ postseason run. Ferland’s aggressive nature and physical prowess famously rattled the Vancouver Canucks during their playoff series, proving that the West isn’t won just with skill alone.
Closest in style and stature to Ferland is Kenny Agostino, who at 23 years old has become a polished byproduct of the Calgary Flames system. His season is already underway with Stockton, where he is expected to lead the way on both sides of the puck and could perhaps be the first call-up.
Joining Agostino in Stockton are Bryce Van Brabant, Turner Elson, and Morgan Klimchuk. Of those three, Klimchuk has the most upside and should see consistent playing time in the AHL on a scoring line.
One of the standout prospects from this summer’s development camp, Andrew Mangiapane is back in Barrie for another year in the OHL. After finishing with 104 points last year, Mangiapane might be hard-pressed to duplicate or exceed those numbers, but is nevertheless an up-and-coming prospect who on pace to get close.
Heading into the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Sam Bennett couldn’t perform a single pull-up during the draft combine. It was a big deal to some then, but Bennett’s performance to date puts that mishap in the rear view mirror. Far and away the Flames’ top prospect, Bennett battled through significant shoulder injuries to score three times in the playoffs last season and is earning his icetime again this year. While in theory it remains to be seen if Bennett will be kept for the full season, his explosive offensive ability and tenacious forechecking skills will make that decision easy.
Narrowly missing out on a roster spot in training camp, Markus Granlund is again on the outside looking in. Granlund is in a difficult situation in the final year of his entry-level contract. Blocked by a number of other centers, Granlund either will experiment at wing, benefit from an injury or trade, or will need to blow up the AHL in order to earn the trust of Flames brass to give him playing time in the NHL.
Granlund will be joined in Stockton by Bill Arnold and Freddie Hamilton, both who are capable scorers at the AHL level. Arnold, a former Boston College letterman, will hope to improve from a 38-point campaign in his first year in the AHL. If he makes it to the NHL again this year, Freddie Hamilton would be reunited with his brother, Dougie, for the first time since the duo played together in Niagara of the OHL in 2012.
The Flames have a pair of centers playing collegiately, one certainly more prominent than the other. Mark Jankowski was the talk of the town when the Flames took him with the 21st overall pick in 2012, but since then he has rounded into a trustworthy and consistent option at Providence College. Also in his senior year, Michigan State University’s Matt DeBlouw is a veteran two-way forward who excels in the faceoff circle but has a limited offensive upside.
The lone junior-level player at center, Pavel Karnaukhov has a long way to go in his development path and will need to add size and strength in his second year with the Calgary Hitmen.
Outside of Emile Poirier, the Flames depth chart on the right side of the ice doesn’t scream NHL futures, at least in a scoring capacity. Poirier was among the leading scorers for the Flames’ affiliate last year, and will be given every opportunity in Stockton to continue to develop and work towards his first taste of the NHL.
One of the older Flames prospects in Stockton, Garnet Hathaway put together a respectable 2014-15 season, finishing with 36 points over a full 72-game season. He was added to the Heat’s leadership group this year, and is a reliable two-way presence that uses his size properly.
Two other sizable right wingers in Stockton are Hunter Smith and Austin Carroll, who will add some muscle to the lineup. Smith, who recently won the OHL Championship and Memorial Cup with the Oshawa Generals, brings 6’6”, 210 pounds of mean to the team. Carroll, at 6’4”, 205-pounds, also has pugilistic tendencies and, like Smith, has better than average offensive ability.
Entering his third year with Colgate University, not much is expected from Tim Harrison, and any additional offense he can provide beyond his career-high point total of 11 will be a surprise.
On the blueline, the Flames have a number of young prospects with varying degrees of talent lining up in Stockton. Among them, Oliver Kylington is not only the youngest, but is also the player with his highest potential ceiling. Once considered the best prospect for his age group in Europe, Kylington has all the tools to succeed in the NHL eventually, but will need to work on other aspects of his game in order to make it there.
Brett Kulak began the year with the Calgary Flames and certainly didn’t look terribly out of place through six games. He was outmatched in a couple games, but still showed a ton of potential and was replaced by 27 year-old European veteran Jakub Nakladal. Kulak will have plenty of chances to earn playing time and further separate himself from the crowd in Stockton.
One of the top free-agent signings from the spring of 2015, Kenney Morrison possesses a dangerous shot and could end up being a weapon on the power play. Already an advanced prospect at the age of 23, his transition to the AHL should go smoothly, especially considering he was afforded 10 games at the conclusion of last year.
Stockton’s stockpile of young defensemen will feature a number of players who are going to rotate in-and-out of the lineup. Tyler Wotherspoon figures to be the cream of the crop, but he will have to fend off a physical blueliner in Patrick Sieloff. Nursing a shoulder injury, Ryan Culkin is expected to join the group around the holidays.
In the OHL, the Flames have recent signee Rasmus Andersson joining fellow Flames prospect Andrew Mangiapane in Barrie. Andersson is a puck-moving defender with a mean streak, and will hope to rebound from a slow start to again be among the league’s leading scorers from the blueline. Riley Bruce is plying his trade in North Bay, and has a long way to go, as he is just learning how to effectively use his 6’6”, 210-pound frame. Keegan Kanzig started the season with Stockton before being returned to the Calgary Hitmen for a final season of juniors.
Another pair of teammates working together, John Gilmour joins Mark Jankowski at Providence College, where they are entering their final year together as seniors after being a part of the same recruiting class. Gilmour can move the puck, and has been a steady presence and a big part of why the Friars won the National Championship last year. Another puck-mover, Brandon Hickey is hoping to duplicate his impressive freshman numbers at Boston University. In addition, Hickey could be in the mix to play for Canada in the upcoming World Junior Championships.
The Flames have a pair of defensemen still in Europe, both of whom are rather limited offensively, but capable in their own zones and without the puck. Adam Ollas Mattson is playing his first full season in the SHL with Djurgardens, and Rushan Rafikov is in his first year with Admiral Vladivostok of the KHL, after coming up through the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl system.
The Flames have a complicated situation in goal that was further complicated when Karri Ramo passed through waivers when the team decided to stick with Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio. Ortio was unlikely to make it through waivers, and rather than risk losing him to another team, Ortio will back up Hiller full time in Calgary. He carried the load last year in the AHL, and looked stellar in his late-season NHL call-up.
With Ramo back in the AHL, he may even have a hard time finding regular playing time if Jon Gillies has anything to say about it. One of the premier goaltenders last year, Gillies carried the load for Providence College and was awarded the NCAA Championship and Tournament MVP last year. Though the sample size needs to be considered, Gillies is off to a hot start in the AHL and looks almost unbeatable early on.
The Flames have a pair of goalies in the CHL this year as well. Mason McDonald is back with the Islanders in Charlottetown for his second full-year as a starting goalie. McDonald has been a pillar of success for Charlottetown, and barring an injury or unforeseen circumstances, should also be a part of Canada’s World Junior Championship’s team this holiday season.
An interesting story due to how his entry-level contract recently materialized, Nick Schneider is the newest Flames prospect in goal. With a number of goaltenders nursing injuries, Schneider was asked to stick around after prospect development camp to help out with the big club and performed well enough to earn an entry-level contract. He will be the go-to guy this year in Medicine Hat, where he will attempt to rebound from early season struggles.