The Abbotsford Heat have so far had a successful 2011-12 campaign. After a disappointing year in 2010-11, they find themselves not only in the upper echelon of their conference, but vying for their second playoff appearance in franchise history.
Though most of the Flames prospects playing for the Heat are of the "grinder" mold there are several who are showing top end potential.
Greg Nemisz, RW, 21
After showing great potential in his rookie professional season expectations of Greg Nemisz were high going into 2011-12. Many had even pegged him to potentially earn a spot with the Flames out of training camp. His solid play in Abbotsford has earned him a pair of calls up and has allowed him to play in a pair of games with Calgary, although so far he has remained pointless in the NHL. He has however managed to continue his offensive production in the AHL, managing eight goals and 11 assists in 32 games. His offensive production has not come at the expensive of his defensive play either, which has steadily progressed as the season has gone on.
T.J. Brodie, D, 21
After a strong start to the 2011-12 season in Abbotsford T.J. Brodie got his NHL break and hasn't looked back. Since receiving a call up to Calgary thanks to an injury to Anton Babchuk, Brodie has not looked out of place. His strong skating skills and offensive awareness have brought him two goals and nine assists in 35 games. He has also played solid defensively for a team riddled with minus ratings. Don't expect Brodie to be returning to the Heat lineup any time soon.
Christopher Breen, D, 22
Chris Breen has so far been unable to improve on his performance from his rookie season. Expected to have an increased role this year Breen has neither improved offensively, scoring his first and only goal of the year on December 20th, nor dominated defensively. Considering his stature, at 6'6 and 227lbs, Breen should be capable of being a strong physical, force on the back end. Thankfully Chris Breen is still young for a defenseman, and will be given plenty of time to grow and mature at the AHL level.
James Martin, D, 19
Though not originally drafted by any team, James Martin showed enough ability at the WHL level that the Calgary Flames signed him to a contract on September 22nd. The offensive poise he showed at the CHL level has not yet translated to the AHL however as he has managed only one goal and a minus-three rating in 11 games played. Thankfully for James Martin he is still young and has the physical tools to be a solid professional defenseman. Something of a long shot for the NHL the Flames will give Martin plenty of time in Abbotsford to develop his game.
John Negrin, D, 22
Known in the past for being injury prone and inconsistent, little has changed this year for John Negrin. After a short stint in Utah, Negrin was recalled to the Abbotsford Heat and has little to show for the opportunity. In 26 games with Abbotsford this year Negrin has managed only one assist and a minus-three rating. Negrin is on his last legs as an NHL prospect and will likely have to show something spectacular in the back half of the 2011-12 season to ever have a shot of playing in the NHL.
Leland Irving, G, 23
The Calgary Flames 2006 first round pick and top goaltending prospect has been the backbone of the Abbotsford Heat. Expected to play the bulk of the playing time in Abbotsford this year, with an AHL rookie as his backup, Irving has not disappointed. Arguably the most consistent player for the Heat this season, Irving received a nod as AHL player of the week in November and has even gone so far as to drop the gloves against an opposing goaltender. The only obstacle that has stopped Irving from continuing to be a dominant goaltender at the AHL level is injuries at the NHL level. Called up to Calgary December 5th due to a major injury to backup goaltender Henrik Karlsson, Irving finds himself now as the understudy to Miikka Kiprusoff. It is still unclear whether or not Irving will return to Abbotsford in time for a playoff run. The play of the Calgary Flames, as well as Karlsson's rehabilitation, will likely determine that.
Joni Ortio, G, 20
Ortio entered his first full professional season with little in the way expectations. The Flames organization has no need to rush the young goaltender, and even with the call up of Leland Irving to the Calgary Flames, the Abbotsford Heat have leaned heavily on journeyman goaltender Danny Taylor rather than give Ortio too big of a workload. Starting in only a handful of games so far, expect Ortio to continue his job as backup this season with the potential of an increased role next season.
Ryan Howse, LW, 20
Coming off of a brilliant offensive year in the WHL, in which he scored 51 goals for the Chilliwack Bruins, the start of the 2011-12 season has been disappointing for Ryan Howse. He been a no-show offensively in the 17 games he played at the start of the year and also sports a minus-five. A bad rookie pro season turned worse when Howse was sidelined by injury at the start of January. Some time off will hopefully give Ryan Howse some time to re-focus on turning around the back half of his season.
Lance Bouma, LW, 21
The former Vancouver Giant has never been called upon to be a big time offensive player. If Lance Bouma is to be successful at any level, it will be his grinding defensive play that will lead the way. This season, as in every season previous, Bouma's consistent play has shone through eventually earning him another call up to Calgary. Only time will tell if he can show enough tenacity at the NHL level to retain a permanent spot in the NHL.
Carter Bancks, LW, 22
A very similar player to fellow left winger Lance Bouma, Carter Bancks is a hardworking, character player. Unfortunately for Bancks his offensive production has disappeared this year, managing only one goal and one assist in 22 games. In danger of dropping further down the depth chart Bancks will need to take advantage of the increased role that will be expected of him with the large number of players being recalled to the Calgary Flames. If major steps aren't taken soon he may find himself labeled as a career AHL depth player.
Paul Byron, C, 22
Paul Byron can easily be considered the Flames most successful prospect of the first half of 2011-12. Starting out the year in Abbotsford after a strong training camp in Calgary, Byron was suspended for three games early on for a boarding infraction. After returning from the suspension, Byron's strong play eventually earned him a call up on November 10th to the offensively starving Flames. Though returned to Abbotsford two weeks later, it only took three more weeks before Byron was back in a Calgary Flames uniform. Expect the diminutive forward to split the remainder of the season between the AHL and NHL.
Mitch Wahl, C, 22
Once considered to be a talented offensive prospect, Mitch Wahl has yet to show that ability outside of the Junior level. After a slow start with the Abbotsford Heat, Wahl was reassigned to the Utah Grizzlies where he managed to produce an impressive five goals and two assists in six games. This improvement earned him a recall to the AHL, but not with the Abbotsford Heat. Loaned to the Hamilton Bulldogs for 22 games, Wahl managed to show some of the offensive ability expected of him but more importantly, he has managed to stay healthy. Returned to the Abbotsford Heat on the 20th of January, and apparently with his injury woes behind him, Wahl's development hopefully can get back on track.
Gaelan Patterson, C, 21
In his second full season with the Abbotsford Heat Gaelan Patterson has picked up where he left off last year. Managing to avoid injury, which has been an issue in the past, Patterson continues to bring his responsible defensive play to the Abbotsford Heat. A major component to the Heat penalty kill, the only complaint with Patterson is offensive production. If Patterson is going to make the big jump to the NHL level, he is going to need to show some kind of offensive ability to earn a thirrd or fourth line center job in Calgary.
Roman Horak, C, 20
A long shot to make the Calgary Flames out of training camp, Roman Horak managed just that. After a hot start at the beginning of the season, Horak's offensive play has cooled off considerably. Roman Horak has still brought enough to the table to earn a regular shift at the NHL level. Outside of a two day stint back down with the Abbotsford Heat, Horak has played 41 games with the Calgary Flames earning two goals and seven assists to go along with a plus-four rating.
Logan MacMillan, LW, 22
Yet another grinding left winger in danger of disappearing as a legitimate Flames prospect is Logan Macmillan. Other than a pair of short stints with Abbotsford at the start of the season, Macmillan has spent the bulk of his time in Utah. Formerly a first round selection in the 2007 draft, Macmillan is on the verge of becoming a legitimate NHL bust.
Ryley Grantham, C, 24
After finishing last year with the Utah Grizzlies, the 6' 200lb enforcer has started this year on loan to the Gwinnett Gladiators. A victim of the depth of role players in the Flames system, Grantham will need to show something much more than a willingness to fight in order to ever have a shot at the NHL. In 31 games with Gwinnett this year, Grantham has two goals, two assists, and 72 penalty minutes.
Bryan Cameron, RW, 22
Much like Ryley Grantham, Bryan Cameron finds himself playing in the ECHL after spending the bulk of last year with Abbotsford. Called upon to mainly provide offense, Cameron has scored seven goals and four assists for the Utah Grizzlies this season. Unfortunately he hasn't shown much of the two-way ability that the Flames organization places such value on. If he is to earn his spot back with the Abbotsford Heat, he will need to continue his offensive production along with a renewed focus on defensive responsibility.
Article was written by Kevin Mattinson.