Calgary Flames possess variety of talent in NCAA and Europe

By David Thicke
Jon Gillies - Providence Friars

Photo: Providence goaltender Jon Gillies was named Hockey East's Rookie of the Year for his performance in backstopping the Friars all the way to the semifinals of the league tournament (courtesy of Michael Tureski/Icon SMI)

 
The Calgary Flames have a good mix of talent amongst their prospects playing in the NCAA and Europe. The organization has eight forwards and one defenseman that possess varying degrees of speed, skill, character, physicality, size, and grit. The two goalies play the butterfly style with very different attributes to their games. These young prospects have shown improvement in their development this year and could add good overall depth to the Flames' organization in the very near future.

Prospects Nicholas Larson and John Ramage could be signed to NHL entry-level contracts with the Flames before the summer deadline. There will be some tough decisions by that deadline for General Manager Jay Feaster to make concerning the organization's 50-contract limit and which players stay or go. After an active trade deadline, it could all depend on how many more changes are in store for the Flames in the off-season.

NCAA

Ben Hanowski, C/W, St. Cloud State Huskies (WCHA)
Acquired via trade with Pittsburgh on March 28th, 2013

The 2012-13 season was a breakout year for Hanowski. The captain of St. Cloud State, Hanowski helped guide his team to the school’s first ever appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four championships. Boasting good size, skill, and the versatility to play all three forward positions, Hanowski is in his fourth season of college hockey, and finally looks the part of a player with legitimate NHL potential.

Taken in the third round of the 2009 NHL Draft, Hanowski was thought to be a player with immense potential, but had not yet physically matured. Also, having played Minnesota high school hockey prior to being drafted, there were concerns over how he would adapt to playing against a higher level of competition in the NCAA. After three solid seasons playing college hockey, those concerns would be put to rest, as Hanowski has been a mostly dominant force in his senior year.

Hanowski was recently traded from the Penguins, along with Ken Agostino and a first round pick, to the Calgary Flames for veteran winger Jerome Iginla. He will be expected to sign an entry-level deal upon completion of his senior year.

Ken Agostino, LW/RW, Yale Bulldogs (ECAC)
Acquired via trade with Pittsburgh on March 28th, 2013

Agostino has experienced excellent growth over his past two seasons with Yale, but nothing compared to the level his game has gone in 2012-13. Coming to the Bulldogs stronger and dedicated to being a more consistently dominant force on the ice, Agostino has met those expectations and then some, as he has been one of the top goal-scorers for Yale, and seems a threat to score every time he drives to the net.

The New Jersey native plays a technically sound game, and though he does not possess ideal size for an NHL prospect, he is strong, skates with a wide base, and plays tough in the corners and around the net. He projects as a top-nine NHL forward, though in order to meet that projection he must continue add strength and improve his all-around game.

Bill Arnold, C, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Drafted 4th round, 108th overall, in 2010

Arnold had a very good junior season for the Boston College Eagles and put up even better offensive numbers than last year. The quick skating centerman collected 17 goals (five on the power play and one shorthanded) along with 18 assists in 38 NCAA games. He is an excellent two-way player that has the game to be a scoring playmaker. The big centerman's strengths are his hockey IQ, defensive awareness in his end of the rink, and terrific work ethic.

Arnold has been the Eagles' shutdown center and top penalty killer for the last two seasons while also seeing time on the power play. The reliable centerman was used by his coaches in all of the important game situations this season. The 20-year-old needs to play with more physicality, shoot the puck more frequently, and work on a quicker release. The fourth round pick has the potential to be a solid second line center at the NHL level for the Flames in the very near future.

Matt DeBlouw, C, Michigan State Spartans (CCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 186th overall, in 2012

DeBlouw had a good freshman year at Michigan State University despite his team finishing last in the CCHA. Through 42 games, the talented centerman put up 10 goals (two on the power play, two game-winners in the playoffs) along with 11 assists and a minus-15 rating for an offensively weak Spartan team. He started the season on fire offensively but slowed as Michigan State struggled to win hockey games.

DeBlouw scored the overtime winner in game one of their first round series against Alaska and helped his team advance to the CCHA quarterfinals. MSU would lose the series 2-1 against the first place, Miami (Ohio) University Red Hawks. Even with a few injuries to key players, the flu running rampant through their lineup, and being severely out gunned, it was a gutsy effort by the Spartans to push the series three games. DeBlouw has gained a lot of experience in his first season at the NCAA level that will help push him to a higher level of play over the next few years.

John Gaudreau, LW, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Drafted 4th round, 104th overall, in 2011

Gaudreau had an even better sophomore season with Boston College. Through 35 games, he potted 21 goals (four on the power play) along with 30 assists to lead the Eagles in scoring. This year, the highly skilled forward has six game-winning goals, tied for third in the country, and he leads the NCAA with an average of 1.46 points per game. The diminutive winger continues to prove his critics wrong about his size and ability to compete against the big players. Gaudreau was named the Hockey East Player of the Year and a First Team All-Star.

Gaudreau played against the elite players of his age group at the 2013 WJC tournament. He was named to the WJC All-Star team along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) and Filip Forsberg (NAS). In the last three years, he has won the USHL and NCAA National Championships along with a 2013 World Junior Championships gold medal. The small winger needs to gain size and weight over the next two years of development at the NCAA level for a chance to play in the NHL.

Jon Gillies, G, Providence Friars (Hockey East)
Drafted 3rd round, 75th overall, in 2012

Gillies has played incredible in his freshman season with the Providence Friars and might be the biggest reason for his team getting to the playoffs. He posted excellent numbers with a 17-12-6 record, 2.08 goals against average, and a. 931 save percentage along with five shutouts in 35 games. The big netminder's stellar play earned him the Rookie of the Year, he was named a First Team All-Star and All-Rookie team member, and was also runner-up for Player of the Year for Hockey East.

Gillies helped his team get to the semifinals of Hockey East tournament, but they ran into UMass-Lowell, who will be competing in the upcoming Frozen Four. The athletic netminder will need to improve his stick work with the puck, closing the big holes quicker and increasing his glove hand speed in order to better his freshman season. With his poise, patience, and solid technique, Gillies has the potential to be an elite goaltender at the NHL level if this year is any indication of his development over the next several years in the NCAA.

Mark Jankowski, C, Providence Friars (Hockey East)
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, in 2012

Jankowski has performed well as a freshman in the NCAA level and produced 0.53 points per game along with two game winning goals for the Providence Friars so far this season. The talented centerman collected seven goals along with 11 assists and a plus-five rating in 34 games. He continued to improve his overall game and brought more physicality as his year progressed.

Jankowski has a quick set of hands and the ability to change speeds when carrying the puck but needs more consistency every game. He has not used his good accurate shot often enough but has set up some spectacular goals for his linemates. The lanky centerman will need to gain muscle mass over his next three years of development at the NCAA level as he is most likely to play the full four years of college hockey before turning pro.

Nicholas Larson, LW, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
Drafted 4th round, 108th overall, in 2008

Larson has struggled to regain his offensive game from his freshman year but the senior contributed to his Notre Dame team in other ways this season. The big forward did most of the work in the corners and in front of the opposition's net for his linemates. He played a better two-way game, was more physical but disciplined, and provided veteran leadership on and off the ice.

Larson has contributed offensively, four goals along with five assists and a solid minus-one rating in 40 games. The senior has collected three of his nine points in the CCHA quarterfinal playoff series against Bowling Green when the Irish swept the series 2-0 and advanced to the semifinal game against Ohio State. His strong, physical play and playoff experience helped get Notre Dame into the NCAA tournament but they fell in their first game to St. Cloud State. Larson's solid play late in the season could get him a possible NHL entry-level contract or at least an AHL level try-out.

John Ramage, D, Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
Drafted 4th round, 103rd overall, in 2010

Ramage has been rock steady for the University of Wisconsin and has improved his overall defensive game this season. The team's captain has set the example for his teammates to follow with his leadership, grit, and solid work ethic. He has put up solid numbers, scoring eight goals along with 12 assists and a very good plus-15 rating in 42 games. The senior defender was clutch with his goals, scoring two on the power play, one shorthanded, five game-winning goals, and one in overtime.

Ramage has matured into a more complete player that plays on the edge but has been much more disciplined this year. After helping his team to the WCHA tournament title and a spot in the NCAA tournament, the Badgers lost to another hot team in the first round, UMass-Lowell. The next step for Ramage is to sign an NHL entry-level deal with the Flames and become the tough, defensive defenseman that Calgary needs at the NHL level.

Europe

Markus Granlund, C, HIFK (SM-liiga)
Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, in 2011

Granlund has not played as well for HIFK without his brother, Mikael, this year and maybe the expectations were way too high for him in the SM-liiga. The talented playmaker collected 10 goals along with 20 assists and a plus-three rating in 50 games. He did play well for Team Finland at the 2013 WJC putting up an average of two points per game in the tournament and was one of the better forwards for his team.

At this time, the young centerman's game is not ready for the physical North American style of play and the smaller ice surface. His overall strength and defensive game need more improvement to be able to compete in the AHL or NHL. His contract with HIFK has been extended through the 2013-14 season and Granlund will continue his development in Europe until he feels ready to attempt playing in North America.

Joni Ortio, G, HIFK (SM-liiga)
Drafted 6th round, 171th overall, in 2009

Ortio had a solid regular season in the SM-liiga for HIFK team. He started and appeared in 54 games putting up a good 2.42 goals against average and a solid .916 save percentage while getting his team into the playoffs. So far in the playoffs, he has posted a 2.49 goals against average and a good .921 save percentage in eight games while being his team's best player.

His game has returned along with his poise and patience. The athletic goalie has played big minutes without breaking down but the question remains whether or not Ortio ever returns to North America. His game seems to thrive on the bigger ice surface as well as living in his native Finland. If there is a changing of the guard in the Flames net over the summer then Ortio's name will most certainly be in the conversation after his performance this season.

Ian Altenbaugh contributed to this article.

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