Calgary Flames have several exciting prospects to watch in 2012-13

By David Thicke

Laurent Brossoit - Edmonton Oil Kings

Photo: Laurent Brossoit, vying for a chance to represent Canada at this winter's World Junior Championships, will look to duplicate his success from the Oil Kings' WHL title run last season. (courtesy of Terry Wilson / CHL Images)


The Calgary Flames have improved their organization’s long term depth and talent pool during the off-season through the draft and some free agent signings at the AHL level. The team has four prospects starting their professional careers in Abbotsford for the 2012-13 season. The Heat will be a good mix of young and veteran talent and a team with a lot of players trying to make their mark while hoping to return to the AHL playoffs again this season.

There will also be a huge amount of focus on 2012 first round draft pick Mark Jankowski, who was considered by most hockey people as a surprise pick and a very long term project. A prolonged NHL lockout will bring even more exposure to the Flames’ prospects pool as the Calgary fans look to lessen their NHL hockey withdrawal symptoms.

Below are some of the Flames' prospects to watch more closely headed into the 2012-13 season.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Sven Baertschi, LW, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

Baerstchi is a good two-way player with high end offensive talent. The playmaking winger has really improved his skating explosiveness while learning to change speed to throw off the defender. Since being drafted in 2011, he has really improved his vision and hockey sense as well as his overall game. In his short stint with the Flames last season, the first rounder show just a little of what he can do at the NHL level and clearly projects as a top line forward. His work ethic, passion, desire and attitude to be the best are top notch. The talent winger has jumped out to a hot start with the Abbotsford Heat, scoring three goals along with five assists and plus-three rating in seven AHL games.

With an extended lockout looming, he will have the chance to stay in the AHL and showcase his offensive talents at the professional level. If the NHL can salvage the 2012-13 season then the 20-year-old will mostly likely make the jump into the Flames' starting line-up. Injuries could be the only thing that stops Baertschi from being a star player with the Calgary Flames in the next few years.

Offensive Breakout
Max Reinhart, C, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

Reinhart was the star player on a weaker Kootenay Ice team this past season while shutting down the opposition's best forwards and still leading his team in scoring. The Ice's captain was the main cog in the team's power play and penalty killing units while finishing the season with 79 points in ten fewer WHL games than the previous year. At the end of the season with the Abbotsford Heat, the two-way centerman played very well and really impressed the Flames' management with his overall game. The playmaking centerman's excellent hockey smarts and vision should quicken his transition to the professional level.

Prospects Paul Byron, Roman Horak, Greg Nemisz, and even Ryan Howse could have offensive breakouts this season if they can put their games altogether. Only injuries could derail Reinhart's chance of showcasing his solid two-way game and his abilities to perform in the clutch.

Unsigned for 2013-14
Greg Nemisz, C/RW, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

The 2008 first rounder is entering the third and final year of his NHL entry-level contract. Nemisz has slight improvement in each of his first two seasons at the AHL Level with the Heat. The big winger drives the net hard while showing his soft hands in tight and has solid decision-making skills along with good defensive instincts. He has become a more physical player and finally saw time in the NHL last season playing on a checking line with Tom Kostopoulos before returning to the Heat.

Nemisz will need to elevate his game in his third season with the Heat. He has been sidelined with a lower body injury since training camp and has yet to play an AHL game this season. The big forward must increase his offensive output when given the chance to play with Baertschi or Reinhart in the Heat's top-six forwards if he's going to get a longer new contract for next season. If the NHL lockout is settled in time for the 2012-13 season then good offensive results could help Nemisz obtain another chance to play in the Flames' starting line-up this year.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Patrick Sieloff, D, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Sieloff is a physical, stay-at-home defenseman with some offensive upside to his game. The solid defender is quickly making a name for himself with his devastating bodychecks and will drop the gloves when needed. He is an effective penalty killer and has some leadership skills to go along with his grit. The tough blueliner is already a very good defender in his end of the rink and can make a good first pass up the ice. The American-born defenseman should be representing his country at the 2013 World Junior Championships tournament after making it through Team USA’s evaluation camp in early August.

Sieloff was slated to play for Miami University in the NCAA but shortly after being drafted by Calgary decide to sign with the OHL Windsor Spitfires. He grew up watching the OHL in his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan and felt that the Spitfires were his best option for getting to the NHL in the near future. The second-round pick is out to good start with some highlight reel hits, scoring two goals along with two assists and an even rating while taking 31 penalty minutes (one fighting major) in 16 OHL games. The Flames have definitely selected a prospect that will be fun to watch and make the oppositions' forwards think twice when coming across his blue line.

Offensive Breakout
Coda Gordon, LW, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

Gordon has solid hockey sense, poise with the puck and is an excellent finisher who makes the most out of his opportunities. The 18-year-old battles hard in the corners and getting to front of the opposition's net. The Flames' sixth-round pick needs to improve his four-step acceleration, stride width, and push extension to become a better skater. If Gordon gains more weight and strength while learning to play with a chip on his shoulder, then the natural goal scorer will be extremely difficult to contain in front of the net.

The second year winger is off to a good start with the Swift Current Broncos, scoring five goals along with 11 assists and a minus four rating in 17 WHL games. The playmaking winger will need to improve his two-way game but his nose for the net and ability to find the open spots will always overshadow his defensive play. He is not a flashy player but he should have a breakout year offensively now that Flames' prospect has adjusted to the level of play in the WHL. Calgary's fans might be surprised by Gordon's high point totals by the end of the 2012-13 season.

Unsigned for 2013-14
Laurent Brossoit, G, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

Brossoit is a strong, athletic, and agile goaltender who has a long reach and can extend his large frame to fill the upper section of the net. The butterfly goalie can be at times brilliant and get on a hot streak but is prone to letting in a weak goal on a harmless-looking shot when he is fighting his game. His biggest weakness is that he can be susceptible to letting in soft goals and losing his mental focus. After such a successful WHL playoff run last season with the Oil Kings, the young netminder struggled with his game at the Memorial Cup and later at the Canada-Russia Challenge in early September. He has gotten off to a slow start this season but the 19-year-old has improved his record to 6-1-3, with a 2.93 goals against average and a poor .890 save percentage in 10 games.

If Brossoit can put all of his physical tools together and get stronger mentally as he matures then the talented goalie could become a dominant NHL goaltender. The risk with the raw netminder is whether he can overcome his mental consistency issue to play goal at the pro level. His boom or bust potential makes him an excellent sleeper pick for the Calgary Flames. The late-round draft pick will be trying to play his best this season in order to obtain an NHL entry-level contract from the Flames.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
John Gaudreau, LW, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)

Gaudreau has high end offensive skills, hockey sense, and can see the whole ice very well. His elite skating edge control allows the small winger to slip off bodychecks on his outside leg and continue past the defender without slowing down. He is so shifty on his skates, making it very difficult to check or take the puck away from him. The offensive talent can score in the clutch and makes his linemates better players. The sophomore is off to his usual hot start with Boston College, scoring three goals along four assists in the first five games for the Eagles.

Gaudreau showed that his size will not stop him at the NCAA level but he needs to get heavier and stronger to play at the professional level. After a freshman season where he won Hockey East MVP, the NCAA national title and the Beanpot tournament, the little winger can no longer be considered a long shot to make the NHL. All Gaudreau does is put up big points and score goals, but most importantly, he helps teams win championships.

Offensive Breakout
Mark Jankowski, C, Providence College Friars (ECAC)

Jankowski is a highly skilled two-way centerman with a high hockey IQ that sees the ice very well and can make his linemates better players. The playmaking centerman has an outstanding work ethic and plays hard every shift. He is really raw but has all the tools and will only get better at the NCAA level. The lanky forward will need to fill out over his four years at Providence. The Flames' first-round pick is off to a good start, scoring two goals along with one assist and a minus-two rating in six NCAA games.

The freshman center will struggle at times to adjust to the older and stronger players at the NCAA level but should progressively improve his overall game over the year. Other Calgary prospects who could have breakout offensive seasons are Bill Arnold, Nicholas Larson, and Matt Deblouw in the NCAA.

Freshman to Watch
Jon Gillies, G, Providence College Friars (ECAC)

Gillies is a big goaltender who comes out to challenge the shooters and does a good job of playing the angles. The butterfly goalie needs to work on his rebound control, lateral speed, and improve his footwork. The 6'5 netminder will need to become more comfortable in his body and get stronger over his four years at the NCAA level. He is off to a solid start at Providence with a 3-2-1 record, a 1.72 GAA and an excellent .938 save percentage in six games.

The freshman goalie will be asked to play the majority of the Friars games this year as the team lost their starting and back-up goaltenders to graduation. The third-round pick should be up to the task of holding down the fort for Providence and gaining invaluable experience at the same time. Gillies might end up being one of the top goaltenders from his 2012 NHL Draft.

Bounce back
John Ramage, D, University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)

Ramage plays physical but smart in all zones of the ice and gives a maximum effort while exerting his presence throughout the game. The defensive defenseman plays with patience, poise, and has a strong puck-moving game. After a difficult junior season at Wisconsin, he decided to return for his senior year with the Badgers and captain his team to a better year.

Ramage has really improved his off-ice attitude towards becoming a professional and might make the Flames out of training camp next year. The physical defender has the defensive game to play in the NHL but it is just about his maturing into the overall player. The tough blueliner is not going to bring a lot of offensive upside but he should be a very difficult to play against all over the ice and the type of player that a team needs to win in the playoffs. Ramage is looking to have his best season this year and obtain an NHL entry-level contract from Calgary before the deadline this coming summer.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Markus Granlund, C, HIFK (SM-liiga)

Granlund has good hockey sense, excellent playmaking abilities and sees the ice well. The 19-year-old centerman was exceptional at running the power play but needs to improve his overall strength and skating to play at the NHL level. He will be playing without his brother, Mikael, who left Finland to play in the North America with the Minnesota Wild organization, and he needs to show what the talented center can do on his own. He is off to a bit of a slow start to his year, scoring only three goals along with seven assists and a good plus-three rating in 17 SM-liiga games.

Granlund and Ortio are the Flames only prospects playing in Europe this year. Ortio could be the top prospect if Granlund cannot improve his overall offensive game over last season's numbers. The Flames' second round forward should get another chance to represent his country and shine at the 2013 WJC tournament this year.

Bounce Back
Joni Ortio, G, HIFK (SM-liiga)

After playing just nine game in Abbotsford last season behind Leland Irving and Danny Taylor, Ortio returned to his native Finland in January to play for TPS in the SM-liiga. The acrobatic goalie has good reflexes, rebound control, and quick lateral movement while playing with a calm demeanor. The young netminder can at times show flashes of brilliance but needs improvement in his positioning, footwork, and puck control. He is off to a good start to his year with HIFK with a 2.27 goals against average and an excellent .918 save percentage in 17 SM-liiga games.

The sixth-round pick is looking to regain some of his lost confidence and play as a starter in Europe instead of a back-up at the AHL level. The Flames' fans could see Ortio return to play in North America in the near future if he can learn to play a more aggressive style against the shooter and has the chance to be a starter in Calgary's organization.