The Calgary Flames may be under the guidance of General Manager Jay Feaster, but there is still a powerful Sutter influence on the prospect pool. Although lacking in top end talent, the Calgary Flames can at least boast that their depth chart is full of players showing strong character, as well as promising two-way ability, in particular amongst the forward positions. Still even more heartening is the recent impact of some of the young players on the big club early in the season, notably T.J. Brodie, Paul Byron, and Roman Horak.
The Flames seem to be concentrating most of their scouting efforts in western Canada, since 18 of the 30 players currently considered notable prospects were drafted from the WHL. It should also be noted that from those 30 players, 12 are currently in the Flames farm system, either playing for the Abbotsford Heat or the Utah Grizzlies.
By far the player in the Flames organization with the most offensive upside is Sven Baerstchi. Their first round selection in 2011 had a respectable showing in training camp and even had some people convinced that he would stay with the team. The Flames organization thought it would be best however that he went back Portland, where he would have an opportunity to develop and grow. Since returning to his junior club he has been flat out dominant on the scoresheet, leading the WHL in points per game. Baerstchi is a gritty, offensive-minded forward with excellent playmaking skills and a nose for the net. Although not big, or overly physical, he does not shy away from physical play. His work ethic is also impressive, often staying on the ice well after practice in order to continue to improve.
Ryan Howse has had an altogether different start to his season. Howse is known as a natural goal scorer, especially after scoring 51 goals with the Chilliwack Bruins in 2010-11. The problem is, due to an apparent lack of attention to fitness and nutrition, Howse arrived for his first year with the Abbotsford Heat overweight and out of shape. If he wishes to continue his development and have a shot at being a solid pro, he will need to improve his discipline.
Easily the smallest player in the Flames organization is John Gaudreau. At 5'7 and 140lbs, Gaudreau shows an impressive offensive package squeezed into a small frame. Explosive speed, quick hands, amazing stick-handling, and a pure scorer's mentality have drawn comparisons to other small wingers such as Martin St.Louis and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Like every small player before him Gaudreau will need to prove at each step of his development that he is capable of competing against larger competition. From the reports so far, he has the determination to do so.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Michael Ferland. Ferland is a physical winger, who drops the gloves when called upon. He will need to improve is skating and two-way game to have a future in the pro ranks.
Rounding out Calgary's impressive depth at left wing is a number of players who all show potential and ability to be serviceable third and fourth-liners one day. Playing in Abbotsford are Lance Bouma, Carter Bancks, and Logan Macmillan. Nick Larson is currently in his senior year at Notre Dame, and Turner Elson continues to play in the WHL for the Red Deer Rebels.
After having an impressive prospects camp in Penticton, Max Reinhart suffered what appeared to be an allergic reaction which kept him out of the remainder of the Flames' training camp. Sent back to the Kootenay Ice Reinhart is already on pace for a career year, as well as recently being chosen to play for Team WHL in the Subway Super Series. A solid two-way player with good speed and playmaking abilities, as well as the added benefit of NHL bloodlines, Reinhart shows the potential to be a solid top six forward.
To say that injuries have slowed the development of Mitch Wahl is an understatement. In what little action Wahl has seen with the Abbotsford Heat in the last two seasons, he has shown to have the two-way ability and offensive tools to be a great player. All he needs to move forward is an injury free season.
Paul Byron has managed to parlay a solid start in the AHL with an NHL call up early on in 2011. Another player with size concerns, he brings a solid two-way game and good playmaking skills. Byron has exactly the speed and determination that the Calgary Flames are currently looking for.
Another player who's managed to have an early season try out with the Calgary Flames is Roman Horak. In the past there have been questions about Horak's work ethic, however he has managed to bring much needed offense and consistency to an aging Flames team.
Mostly known as a shutdown player, Bill Arnold is having a surprising year at Boston College. Currently ranked second in team scoring behind New York Rangers top prospect Chris Kreider, Arnold brings a great deal of character and work ethic along with a solid defensive game. He projects to be a solid bottom six forward.
Taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Markus Granlund is remaining in Finland for at least one more season. Granlund has the hockey sense and playmaking ability to be a top six center in the NHL. Before he crosses the ocean to learn the North American game in however, he must fulfill his military service obligations in Finland.
Depth center Gaelan Patterson returns to the Abbotsford Heat hoping to build off his rookie season.
Back for his second year in Abbotsford, it is only a matter of time until Greg Nemisz gets an opportunity to play for the Calgary Flames. Nemisz had a great rookie season with the Heat last year finishing fourth in team scoring. A potential power forward, Nemisz shows soft hands and a willingness to drive the net to go along with a good two-way ability.
Patrick Holland is a shutdown winger who is at his best when matched up against star players. Playing with the Tri-city Americans, Holland also has a knack for scoring big goals and the ability to play in all situations.
The Flames hope they've found a late round steal in T.J. Brodie. The swift puck-mover is rounding out to be a solid two-way player with offensive upside. Brodie is yet another player who's been given an early season call up after a great start with the Abbotsford Heat. If he continues to round out his game, he could be seen patrolling the Flames blue line full time soon.
Standing 6'7 and weighing in at 224lbs, Christopher Breen's size hides a quiet, laid back demeanor. He has a nice combination of size and work ethic but also possesses surprisingly mobility. The Flames hope that he can continue to improve his aggressiveness and competitiveness with the Abbotsford Heat this year.
John Ramage will never be called upon to put points on the board. What he does bring to the University of Wisconsin is good hockey sense, strong character, and work ethic. Currently the captain of his university team as a junior, Ramage projects as a future defensive defenseman with leadership potential.
Cut from the same mold as and drafted one round before Ramage, Joey Leach is a smooth skating shutdown defenseman. He will be in his third year with the Kootenay Ice.
The offensively gifted James Martin will continue to improve his defensive game in the AHL with the Abbotsford Heat after signing with Calgary as a free agent in 2011.
Tyler Wotherspoon is yet another strong defensive defenseman drafted from the WHL. He will play for the Portland Winterhawks.
By far the most shallow position depth wise in the Flames organization is in goal.
Currently the heir apparent to Kiprusoff is Leland Irving. A positionally sound goaltender with a calm demeanor, Irving is currently playing the starting role in Abbotsford. He will not be rushed in his development, and will be given plenty of time to grow and improve in the AHL.
The two other notable goaltenders in the Flames system are Joni Ortio, a Finnish goaltender currently backing up Irving in Abbotsford, and 2011 sixth round draft choice Laurent Brossoit who currently plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Article was written by Kevin Mattinson.