Sven Baertschi maintains status as Calgary Flames’ top prospect

By Brad Gardner
T.J. Brodie - Calgary Flames

Photo: T.J. Brodie turned in a strong debut with the Calgary Flames in 2011-12, but the lockout will keep the offensively-minded blueliner in the AHL for the 2012-13 season. (courtesy of Bob Frid/Icon SMI)

 
The Calgary Flames prospect pool appears to be on the upswing. A blue-chip prospect on the verge of NHL stardom like Sven Baertschi will do that for an organization, of course, but there are also a handful of prospects who earned NHL experience during the club's 2011-12 campaign. The organization boasts several high-upside prospects developing at lower levels of play as well, giving the Flames as strong a pipeline as they have had in recent years.

Three 2012 draft picks make their debut in this edition of the Calgary Flames' Top 20 prospect rankings. While the team may not reap the benefits of these picks in the near future, all three have the ability to make an impact in the NHL down the road.

1. Sven Baertschi, LW, 8.0B
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2011

If not for the NHL lockout, Sven Baertschi would likely be suited up for the Calgary Flames. Due to the current labor situation, however, the 20-year-old Swiss winger has instead had the luxury of learning the pro game with Abbotsford in the AHL. He has looked anything but out of place against professional players, not skating by anyone despite standing 5'10 and 181 pounds. Baertschi's knack for being around the puck and his excellent offensive skill-set make him one of the Heat's top offensive options. He thinks the game at such a high level that the pro game already looks easy for him at times, and through his first seven games with Abbotsford, he is tied for the team lead with eight points. The winger will have to await his NHL debut until the labor dispute is settled, but until then Baertschi is one of the players worth the price of admission in the AHL during the lockout.

2. T.J. Brodie, D, 7.0B
Drafted 4th round, 114th overall, 2008

T.J. Brodie is another prospect with a chance to stick with the Flames if NHL camps eventually open. After 54 NHL games a season ago with the big club, the 22-year-old blueliner seems poised for full-time NHL duty. The defender is effective at using his skating ability and puck skills to provide some punch to the line-up. He skated on the second power play unit for much of his rookie season, registering six of his 14 points on the man advantage. The 6'1 and 182-pound Brodie has played in all situations with Abbotsford during the lockout and leads the blueliners with six points through seven games. He has been head and shoulders above the logjam on the depth chart behind him, which includes prospects like Christopher Breen and free agent signing Brady Lamb. Brodie should benefit from the ice time in the AHL, giving him a chance to further round out his game.

3. Max Reinhart, C, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2010

Abbotsford’s center depth was bolstered with the addition of Max Reinhart to the organization following his four-year WHL career in Kootenay. Not an overly big player, Reinhart is nonetheless a sturdy centerman that can contribute in all situations. His hockey IQ is one of his most notable strengths and it translated into strong production at lower levels of play. Whether or not he produces offensively in Abbotsford over the next couple seasons and eventually for Calgary will ultimately determine whether he can hold down a top-six center spot or develops into more of a versatile, top-nine forward. The 20-year-old center has two assists through seven games to open his rookie pro season.

4. John Gaudreau, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 4th round, 104th overall, 2011

Among the most dynamic prospects in college hockey, John Gaudreau burst onto the scene in 2011-12 as a member of the National Champion Boston College Eagles. The freshman winger rarely skated with the team’s top line, but still managed a point-per-game pace with 21 goals and 23 assists in 44 games. Although he is undersized at 5'8 and 153 pounds, his balance, elusiveness, quick hands, and energetic style made his transition to the college level a smooth one. It is not hard to argue that Gaudreau may belong inside the top three on this ranking. Continuing to dominate at the college level and then taking advantage of an opportunity to play for the USA at the World Junior Championships will be the keys to gauging his development this season on the path to his much-anticipated pro debut.

5. Mark Jankowski, C, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2012

Calgary’s selection of Mark Jankowski raised a lot of eyebrows in the first round at the 2012 NHL Draft. The Quebec high school level has not been known to produce much top-end talent in recent years, but Jankowski’s massive frame and multi-faceted skill-set was too tempting for the Flames to pass up with their first pick. The lanky 6'3 and 168-pound center had a two-goal performance to kick off his college career in 2012-13 with Providence College and currently has three points through five games. His hockey IQ and playmaking ability have come in handy on the team's power play, but Jankowski's potential is as a well-rounded top-six center that can make an impact in all situations. The NCAA track will benefit him when it comes to adding strength and growing into his frame, and Jankowski should have as much time as needed to prepare for the pro game.

6. Roman Horak, C, 6.5B
Acquired via trade with New York Rangers in June, 2011

Roman Horak, acquired in the trade that sent Tim Erixon (CBJ) to the Rangers in the summer of 2011, ended up skating in 61 NHL games in his first season with Calgary. Although his ice time diminished towards the end of the season, he managed a respectable first impression with nine points through his first 24 games. As his role dwindled in the second half of the season, Horak struggled to convert any of his chances and finished the year with only 11 points. Although it was a disappointing finish to his rookie year, Horak has bounced back in the early going of the 2012-13 season. The 21-year-old center is tied with Baertschi for the team lead in points and has accounted for over a quarter of the team's goals with seven tallies through his first seven games. Far from a sure bet to stick if the NHL season gets underway, Horak will improve his chances as long as he continues to produce for the Heat.

7. Greg Nemisz, C/RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2008

The 6'3 and 197-pound Greg Nemisz is a veteran of these rankings compared to the many new faces, but he remains on track to take advantage of his next opportunity in Calgary. With two pro seasons under his belt, Nemisz has developed his defensive game and learned to use his size to his advantage. His regular season numbers may not have been eye-popping, he had a strong playoff performance with two goals and six points in eight games. Limited by injury so far in 2012-13, Nemisz should nonetheless provide another big body and some offensive punch to the Abbotsford lineup when he returns to full health. He has the potential to hold down a second or third line spot in the NHL with the right linemates, but the 22-year-old winger will have to earn it as he heads into the third year of his entry-level contract.

8. Michael Ferland, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 133rd overall, 2010

Threatening Nemisz' hold on the organization's top power forward slot is Michael Ferland, a hard-working winger who turned pro in 2012-13 out of the WHL. Ferland doubled his scoring output with 47 goals and 96 points in his final junior season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Although he does not stand much more than 6'0 and 195 pounds, Ferland is a hard-nosed player that crashes the front of the net and is fearless in traffic. His skating and defensive play are areas in need of improvement as he transitions to the pro game, but off-ice issues have delayed that debut and he has yet to suit up for a game with Abbotsford. Cracking the line-up will only get tougher when the likes of Nemisz and Paul Byron get healthy, so Ferland's playing time will be worth tracking in his first pro season.

9. Bill Arnold, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 109th overall, 2010

Boston College center Bill Arnold is not unlike Nemisz and Ferland before him in that he has displayed a versatile combination of offense, defensive reliability, and physical presence. Arnold was pegged as a checking line forward for Team USA at the World Junior Championships but wound up putting on one of the team's most impressive performances with six points in six games. After returning to BC, helped lead the team to the NCAA National Championship, skating on the team's top line and on both special teams units. The 20-year-old Arnold, now in his junior season with the Eagles, has scored two goals and three assists though his first five games of 2012-13. He can expect significant ice time in all situations through the rest of his collegiate season, with the possibility of a pro contract on the horizon as soon as next summer.

10. Patrick Sieloff, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2012

The Flames complemented their defensive pipeline in the second round of the 2012 draft with the selection of American defenseman Patrick Sieloff. At 6'0 and 192 pounds, the blueliner is mobile and an imposing presence on the ice. Skating in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires, Sieloff has a pair of goals and four points through 16 games. His biggest impact has been in the physical game as he has already put the OHL on notice with his aggressive and devastating checking ability. He does not have a flashy offensive game but can make the simple plays with the puck. The more he is able to limit his mistakes, whether it be with the puck on his stick or in getting out of position looking for the big hit, the likelier he will be of making an eventual impact in the NHL.

11. Laurent Brossoit, G, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 164th overall, 2011

The Edmonton Oil Kings run through the 2012 WHL Playoffs had everything to do with the lights out play of playoff MVP Laurent Brossoit. The 6'3 netminder won 42 games in 61 regular season appearances in his first year as the starter, but really came on in the playoffs with a 16-4 record, .933 save percentage, and 2.03 goals against average for the Ed Chynoweth Cup champions. The 19-year-old goaltender will again carry the load for the Oil Kings as both he and the team look to duplicate their success of a year ago. He has a strong record of 6-1-1-2 through ten games, but has struggled to stop pucks with a .890 save percentage so far this season. Brossoit has a chance to backstop Team Canada at the WJC and will have an opportunity to help his cause while representing the WHL at the Subway Super Series in November.

12. John Ramage, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 103rd overall, 2010

The University of Wisconsin has put the likes of Brendan Smith (DET), Jake Gardiner (TOR), and Justin Schultz (EDM) in position to succeed at the pro level. Senior defenseman John Ramage will not put up the offensive totals of some of his fellow-Badgers, but he has the well-rounded game and shutdown ability that should see him follow them to the NHL in short order. At 6'1 and 184-pounds, Ramage is strong enough to control the front of his net, and he competes so hard that he is tough to beat along the boards. The level of consistency and effort that he displays on the ice is a big reason he is serving as the Badgers' captain for the second straight year. The senior defenseman will look to lead Wisconsin back to the Frozen Four for the first time since his freshman year and will likely be in the AHL to begin the pro transition as soon as his college career is finished.

13. Joni Ortio, G, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 171st overall, 2009

Finnish goaltender Joni Ortio has had success on the international stage, earning a lot of new fans with a 1.86 goals against average and .931 save percentage in six games at the 2011 WJC.  He spent half of the following season in the AHL with Abbotsford before returning to Finland in search of more playing time. In 2012-13, he has begun to find that same level of success he had on the international stage in the SM-liiga, Finland's top professional league, as the primary backstop for HIFK. His 6-7-3 record is more indicative of the team's struggles than the play of their goaltender, who has a 2.35 goals against average, a .916 save percentage, and two shutouts through 16 contests. Even though Ortio spent a majority of his last two seasons in the SM-liiga, that total of 16 appearances is already a career-high at any level of pro hockey. With the likes of Leland Irving and Henrik Karlsson above him on the Flames' depth chart, Ortio has the chance to get the ice time he needs in Finland before returning to North America.

14. Lance Bouma, C, 6.0B
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2008

Although he may not have the upside of other players on this list, Lance Bouma displayed high-energy, versatile play in his 27 games with Calgary in 2011-12. His AHL totals may not compare to Nemisz' but Bouma may have made a more noticeable impact in his time with the big club. A winger with a well-rounded game, the 22-year-old is effective on the forecheck where he can use his skating and solidly-built, 210-pound frame. His nonstop motor and hard-nosed play has a way of not only energizing his own team but also of getting under the skin of the opposition. He not only knows his role, but is among the closest Calgary Flames prospect to sealing his spot in the NHL. Outside of the top prospects like Baertschi and Brodie who are set for full-time NHL duty, Bouma is probably the checking-line prospect with the best chance of joining the big club full time.

15. Tyler Wotherspoon, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 57th overall, 2011

The Portland Winterhawks are known more for their high-powered offense and freewheeling defensemen than guys like Wotherspoon, a 6'1 and 196-pound defensive-minded blueliner. That is not to say that Wotherspoon did not get into the action, as the blueliner finished fourth among the team's defensemen with 28 points, seven of which were goals. He is also off to a fast start on the score sheet in 2012-13 with a goal and seven assists in 11 games, but it will be Wotherspoon's size and physical play that will help him earn a spot at the pro level. His defensive positioning and footwork still needs some work, but he is a hard-working prospect that has steadily improved his game over the course of his junior career. The 19-year-old blueliner will look to help the Winterhawks finally get over the hump and into the Memorial Cup this season before likely turning pro in 2013-14.

16. Jon Gillies, G, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 75th overall, 2012

Goaltending is a strength for the Flames organization with 24-year-old Irving and 28-year-old Karlsson in line to challenge for the back-up job behind incumbent Miikka Kiprusoff. Further depth is present with prospects like Brossoit and Ortio finding success in their respective leagues, and the team added another goaltending prospect at the 2012 draft with the selection of Jon Gillies, the 6'5 and 216-pound goaltender from South Portland, Maine. Gillies kicked off his collegiate career this season along with Jankowski at Providence. Expected to challenge for number-one duties heading into the season, the 18-year-old netminder has not disappointed and has in fact started each of the team's six games with a 3-2-1 record, 1.72 goals against average, and .938 save percentage. He will be given as much time as he needs in the NCAA, but the selection of Gillies adds yet another potential NHL goalie to the Flames' system.

17. Markus Granlund, C, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, 2011

Markus Granlund had plenty of opportunities on big stages in 2011-12 but came away with mixed results. The younger brother of Minnesota Wild top prospect Mikael Granlund, Markus has often been compared to and shared the spotlight with his brother. Big things were expected of their line at the 2012 WJC, and although they came through well on the score sheet, it was the team's second scoring line featuring Joel Armia (BUF) that came through against the stiffer competition at the tournament. After returning to HIFK in the SM-liiga, Markus also lost his spot with the big club after three playoff games and finished the year with the club's J20 team. At 5'11 and 166 pounds, the younger Granlund faces an uphill battle towards the NHL despite his skills as a playmaker with good offensive awarenes. Putting together a better season in the SM-liiga in 2012-13 would help raise his stock in these rankings and improve his chances for an eventual career in North America.

18. Ryan Howse, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2009

The significant drop in these rankings for Ryan Howse was due partly to the new 2012 draft class but mostly for his struggles in his rookie pro season in 2011-12. The 5'11 and 195-pound winger was easily contained by the size and strength of the defenders at the AHL level and was limited offensively as a result. Without much in the way of a physical game or defensive play to fall back on, Howse was a nonfactor on too many occasions in his first taste of pro hockey. The depth in Abbotsford led to Howse opening the 2012-13 season in the ECHL, which is never a great sign for an offensive forward with NHL aspirations. That said, he should get plenty of ice time and have the opportunity to separate himself from the pack, which includes another highly-drafted forward prospect in Mitch Wahl also opening the season with the Utah Grizzlies. Howse has one goal through four games to open the 2012-13 season.

19. Paul Byron, C, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with Buffalo Sabres in June, 2011

Injuries forced the Flames to cycle through several forward options in 2011-12. Paul Byron played in 22 NHL with the big club, scoring three goals and five points while averaging right around 10 minutes of ice time per game. Despite his offensive success at the AHL level, the 5'7 Byron struggled to translate that production to the NHL level, particularly while playing sparingly in a checking role. He is out of the lineup due to injury as the 2012-13 season begins for Abbotsford, and will have his work cut out for him when it comes to putting himself in position to get another chance in Calgary. If he does make it back, it will likely be as a versatile, bottom-six forward that can chip in some offense from the lower lines.

20. Akim Aliu, RW, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with Winnipeg Jets in January, 2012

Akim Aliu saw significantly less time in the NHL than many of the other call-ups, but he may have had the most impressive stint. The 6'4 and 225-pound Aliu contributed to a pair of wins in the final two regular season games for the Flames, scoring a pair of goals and assisting on another while skating with the Flames second line. The 23-year-old winger is an intimidating and unpredictable presence on the ice, but whether he winds up helping or hurting his own team is a constant question. His minor-league resume may not inspire a lot of confidence in terms of offensive production in the NHL, but Aliu could be the type of player that finds more success with the more skilled linemates in the NHL rather than the grinders in the minors. The volatile winger will be worth watching in 2012-13, whether he pushes for another cup of coffee in the NHL or annoys the opposition in the AHL all season.

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