The struggles of the Calgary Flames in the 2015-16 season have been high-profile. They have failed to build upon a Cinderella run last year that saw the team beat the analytics and crash out after getting to the Division Finals. With struggles coming from the big club, you would like to at least see some good coming from their AHL affiliate in their inaugural season in Stockton, California. Unfortunately, it that has not been the case.
The Stockton Heat find themselves mired in mediocrity, and stuck at the bottom of the Pacific Division and fourth to last in the Western Conference by point percentage. It has not been an easy go for the Heat. They have had goaltending troubles, and are finding it difficult to score on a nightly basis despite some decent talent at the forward position. There are a few bright spots on the roster, but overall it has been a season of unfulfilled potential thus far.
Kenny Agostino, LW, 23
Agostino has had an admirable season offensively for the Heat. As of January 25 he was second on the team in scoring and third in point per game pace. He is also third on the team in shots taken. More often than not he has been playing left of Freddie Hamilton, and the duo have linked up on a number of occasions throughout the year thus far.
From a purely evaluative standpoint, Agostino has a nice skill set but still leaves a lot to be desired. He has pretty good instincts in all three zones, has a good stick defensively, and works nicely on gap control when defending. His transition game, however, has holes. Agostino seems to have good offensive instincts, and can make plays, but he is often muscled off the puck by opposing forwards and defensemen. When he is given the space he can punish you, but the pro game has certainly closed down the amount of time he has to do so. Physically, the 23-year old will have to get stronger to take another step. His passing, defensive zone work, and shooting are all nice assets, but he will have to take a step in creating space and gaining space with foot speed or physical development. Both are a step behind currently.
Bryce Van Brabant, LW, 24
The former Quinnipiac forward is a buzzy bottom six player for Stockton. His energy and work ethic is often noticeable. He is physical without going over the line, but his often aggressive style of play can leave him out of position or scrambly in the defensive zone. Offensively though there is a lot of jam to his game, and the 24-year old has picked up seven goals on the season by driving the net hard and winning battles in front. Not a complete player by any means, but has exhibited good work ethic and energy line grinding offensively this year from Stockton’s bottom lines.
Bill Arnold, C, 23
More could have been expected of the former Boston College standout. So far in 2015-16 he has slumbered. He has 16 points in 29 games, but has been very hit or miss game to game. Like Agostino, Arnold seems to be struggling with the lack of space and the increase of physicality in the AHL versus the NCAA. His ability in board battles has been spotty, as has driving the net regularly. There has also been some rough defensive zone work. He has decent all-around hockey sense, but everything still very much looks like a work in progress.
Joni Ortio, G, 24
There are only so many ways to say “bad”, and Ortio has been just about all of those this season for Stockton. Once considered an option for the NHL by the Calgary Flames, the Finn has completely gone off the rails since his strong 2013-14 AHL debut and his subsequent NHL call up that year and the following years.
He has played in 17 games with the Heat in 2015-16, logging a .890 save percentage and a 3.45 goals against average. If not for the injury to Jon Gillies, he may not have a number one job with Stockton. His rebound control has been noticeably poor, as has been his work in traffic. Ortio remains an aggressive goaltender, which is good given his size of 6’1”. He is often out at the top of his crease to make saves. However, when it comes to navigating through traffic, he is often disjointed and visibly flustered. It does not help that his fundamentals have seemed to go by the wayside on more than a few leaky five-hole and glove-side goals this year. It has been a season to forget, and with Mason McDonald, Gillies, and the young Nick Schneider on the way, he may play his way out of relevance soon if things do not turn around.
Tyler Wotherspoon, D, 22
The lanky 22-year old had an altogether unexpected breakout offensive season last year with Adirondack with 24 points in 61 games. It was a curious outburst given his relatively low production in the WHL, as well as his low-scoring 2013-14 AHL rookie season. Things seem to be back on a normal level for Wotherspoon, and that’s disappointing if Calgary fans were expecting an elevation from the 2011 second-round pick. He has just three assists on the year and is Stockton’s lowest scoring regular defenseman.
Wotherspoon plays an exceptionally cool and collected game, with little offensive risk. He has been top-four with Stockton, paired up with the uber-aggressive Pat Sieloff most of the season. In that regard, he does his job competently in staying back, moving the puck, and skating when need be. There isn’t much to Wotherspoon, but if you do not notice him it is probably a good thing.
Patrick Sieloff, D, 21
Sieloff is active in a lot of ways. It does not often contribute to points, but as far as skating the puck or going out of his way to make a big hit, the 21-year old is there. He is flashy and attempts to be noticeable with his style of play. Big hits, physicality, and rush attempts up ice are a fairly regular occurrence this year. However, that style has a downside. He leaves his position regularly and can exposed defensively. He is also doing so without logging many points to show for it. The aggressive physicality has also come with a fair share of penalties. He is noticeable, but maybe not in the best ways.
Morgan Klimchuk, LW, 20
You would have to really put in time and watch games to see the good in Klimchuk’s game this year. Looking at his three goals and six points through 26 games this year is not fair to the rookie forward. His awareness and hockey sense are strong assets overall. He is constantly aware of his surroundings, his teammates, and the opposition in all three zones. Rarely does he lose his assignments or get caught flat-footed defensively. He is also a very good skater and a strong passer. The offense has yet to come around but he is showing altogether promising signs of being a decent two-way forward. Again, a stat sheet might be deceiving in that regard. There is a lot to desire offensively, but given more time in the AHL it should start to show.
Émile Poirier, W, 21
Poirier is definitely a big solid kid, and he has bulked up a bit since his junior days. He is physical and has some offensive jam to his game, which was previously a concern in his style of play. In the offensive-zone he hangs around the higher scoring areas with a nice goal scoring sense and a plus wrist shot to go with it. He has 18 points and seven goals in 32 games. Defensively he has a long way to go. The former Q winger has been caught napping and puck-watching in his own zone more than a few times this season. The hockey sense that drives his offensive game has yet to seep into his defensive zone work. He has the physical tools and the brain to do it, and with more time Poirier could yet turn into a good two-way winger.
Oliver Kylington, D, 18
Kylington (pronounced “Shill-ington via Stockton media guide) is hands down the rock star of Stockton this year. When you watch the young Swede play his skills are evident as his maturity level. It is startling to realize he is just 18 and in his rookie season of the AHL. He is an extremely good skater, and reads the play well enough to know when and when not to be aggressive up ice and on transition. He can make his fair share of mistakes by trying to force difficult plays, but at the AHL level so far he has rarely been punished for it. He has laser guidance on his passes, and a decent slap and wrist shot as well. Both of these skills have been prominent in quarterbacking the Stockton power play. The only potential downside is his size, which is becoming less and less of a concern in the modern day NHL. It is particularly less concerning with Kylington when you take into account the skill he has despite his size. He is also willing to engage physically.
Hunter Smith, RW, 20
Smith may have had more of a chip-in offensive role with the Oshawa Generals in his junior days, but in Stockton he has settled into a steady role of fourth line play. This fourth line play has been filled with heavy grinding style offense and the occasional face-beating fisticuffs. There is not much offensively or defensively to Smith. He has played low-quality and low amount of minutes, and is generally out there to be a threat and deterrent to opposing players.
Freddie Hamilton, C, 24
Hamilton has had a bit of an interesting journey in the last 12 months. He has gone from San Jose to Colorado in the NHL, while visiting each of those team’s AHL affiliates in Lake Erie and Worcester on the way. This year he has settled in with the Flames system, and done quite well with their AHL affiliate.
The 24 year-old is a pretty bread and butter centerman, and has been one of Stockton’s more regular contributors offensively. He is currently third on the team in scoring behind lineman Kenny Agostino and AHL veteran Derek Grant. While the upside and flash to his game is pretty low, Hamilton is often noticeable for both his offensive and defensive efforts. He is a hard worker on both sides of the puck and has been given power play, penalty kill, and high-stress minutes by coach Ryan Huska. He puts together more good games than bad on a regular basis, and the effort level is always there. He lacks in overall offensive punch, but has proven to be a good passer, good skater, and an all-around effective AHL top-six forward this season.
Jon Gillies, G, 21
Gillies looked very strong in his limited seven games with the Stockton Heat. Unfortunately for all parties involved, the former Providence College standout had to undergo season ending hip surgery, leaving the starting goaltending duties in the hands of the struggling Joni Ortio and Kevin Poulin.
Austin Carroll, RW, 21
The former Victoria Royal has had a healthy diet of bottom-six minutes with Stockton this year. He has a bit of a nasty streak to him and has played a grinder, enforcer style game this season. There is not much to him in terms of upside, except he does show flashes of some potential chip-in offense beyond his role as an intimidating force.
Garnet Hathaway, RW, 24
The free agent pick-up has been given some decent offensive looks this season in the Stockton top-six. He has also chipped in with eleven points and five goals in his 24 games this season. Is there much to Hathaway outside of an average player? Not really, but he has been a decent two-way depth forward so far.
Kenney Morrison, D, 23
Morrison has been up and down, which is to be expected of a rookie AHL player. His high highs have been coupled with low lows, and thus he has landed out of the lineup on more than a few occasions. At his best he exhibits some pretty good offensive instincts and skating ability, but his defensive zone play could definitely use some work. He has had troubles staying with opposing forwards and assignments in his zone this year which has landed him in the press box recently.
Brett Kulak, D, 22
Overall Kulak has been a pretty strong defender for Stockton in 2015-16. He exhibits good skating ability and situational awareness in both zones. He can be victim of some spotty decision-making at times, but with more experience that might grow within his game. For a fourth-round selection he is an intriguing pick with some potential upside as a bottom-pairing defenseman. He has exhibited some good all-around skills and should continue to get time in the Stockton top-four along with special teams minutes.
Turner Elson, LW, 23
Elson is on a decent follow up to a 17-goal 2014-15 season. While the goal totals aren’t there, he is on pace to top his 30 points from the 2014-15 season. For a smallish player he exhibits pretty good body position on opposing defenders and a willingness to engage physically. He has proven to be a somewhat shifty skater and stickhandler as well. While the goal totals are down, he has been more of a passer this year alongside team-leading goalscorer Derek Grant. The former Red Deer Rebel has been one of the more positive skaters for the team this season.
Prospect of the Month
The fourth overall pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, 19-year-old Sam Bennett is rapidly approaching graduation from prospect status. More importantly, he has been establishing himself as a go-to NHL player and an important part of the Flames this season. Though the team is out of a playoff berth, if he continues his recent production, it could help the team into the post-season. With eight goals, including a four-goal outing against the Florida Panthers, Bennett is starting to ease into his eventual role as a dangerous presence on every shift.