Flames Top 20 prospects

By Jared Ramsden

Though Dustin Boyd, Leland Irving and Daniel Ryder remain at the top, there was plenty of movement by others both up and down the Flames Top 20 prospect list. Juuso Puustinen and Aaron Marvin are the new faces to the list as both players made big splashes in the WHL and Minnesota High School leagues respectively.

While the Flames system still remains underfilled, things have drastically improved since Darryl Sutter took over the general manger duties and there are a few prospects, including some late-round draft picks, who are already making an impact with the big club and a handful of prospects who have shown a lot of potential for the future. The Omaha Knights have emerged as one of the top clubs in the AHL and much of that is due to the influx of top-notch talent into the organization. Goaltending depth is easily the strength of the team as the club boasts three prospects in the Top 20.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (–) Dustin Boyd, C, 7.5 B, 20
2. (–) Leland Irving, G, 7.5 C, 18
3. (–) Daniel Ryder, C, 7.0 C, 20
4. (+1) Andrei Taratukhin, C, 6.5 B, 23
5. (+6) Mark Giordano, D, 6.5 B, 24
6. (NR) Juuso Puustinen, RW, 6.5 C, 18
7. (+3) Curtis McElhinney, G, 6.5 C, 23
8. (-2) Eric Nystrom, LW, 6.0 B, 24
9. (-2) Tim Ramholt, D, 6.5 C, 22
10. (+6) David Moss, LW/RW, 6.0 B, 24
11. (+1) Matt Keetley, G, 6.0 C, 20
12. (-3) Brandon Prust, LW, 5.5 B, 22
13. (NR) Aaron Marvin, C, 6.0 C, 18
14. (+1) Richie Regehr, D, 6.0 C, 24
15. (-11) Kris Chucko, LW, 6.0 D, 20
16. (-8) Aki Seitsonen, C, 6.5 D, 21
17. (+1) David Van der Gulik, RW, 6.0 C, 23
18. (-1) Gord Baldwin, D, 6.0 C, 20
19. (+1) J.D. Watt, RW, 5.5 B, 19
20. (-6) Matt Pelech, D, 6.0 C, 19

Key: Rank (Rank Change), Name, Position, Grade, Age

1. (–) Dustin Boyd, C, 7.5 B, 20

Boyd’s first pro season has been terrific. After a fantastic training camp and preseason performance, Boyd carried that momentum over to the AHL with Omaha and currently sits seventh overall in rookie scoring and is second on the Knights in scoring, averaging nearly a point a game (50 in 52 games). A rash of injuries to the Flames during mid-season saw Boyd shuttle back and forth from the farm, and is the only real reason he is not leading the team in scoring. During his time in Calgary, Boyd got more comfortable each and every game, and in 13 games with the big club, scored two goals and two assists for four points. The 6’0 188 lb centerman is hands down the most skilled prospect in the system and has had no difficulty at all adapting to the pro level of hockey. A great skater blessed with above average puck skills, Boyd has progressed a lot faster than many in the organization anticipated and he now appears ready to challenge for a full-time role in Calgary next season.

2. (–) Leland Irving, G, 7.5 C, 18

Don’t be fooled by the fact the Irving plays on the defensive-minded Everett Silvertips of the WHL. His numbers may be slightly better because of it, but he is the real deal and in an organization loaded with goaltending prospects he is easily the best of the bunch. The Flames top pick at the 2006 NHL draft, Irving finished at or near the top in almost every major goaltending statistic, lead by his sparkling .929 save percentage and 11 shutouts. He won 34 games and posted a miniscule 1.86 goals against average and is a major reason why Everett led the WHL this season with 111 points. The calm, cool and positionally sound goaltender backed up Carey Price for Team Canada at the World Juniors this past winter and looks poised to assume the starting job at next season’s tourney. Irving won’t be needed in Calgary for quite some time with all-world goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff manning the nets, but at this point he is the Flames future No. 1 goaltender.

3. (–) Daniel Ryder, C, 7.0 C, 20

Despite a 10-game mid-season suspension for bumping an official, Ryder has been producing all season long in the OHL. Ryder, who was dealt at mid-season from the struggling Peterborough Petes to the contending Plymouth Whalers, still has posted some great numbers as the OHL season comes to a close. In only 56 games, Ryder has 40 goals and 52 assists for 92 points. A little undersized at 5’10, 192 lbs, Ryder uses his exceptional speed and offensive skill set to put fear into defenders and goaltenders. He has the mindset of a sniper and seems to always be in the right spot at the right time in the offensive end of the rink. Ryder is unquestionably in the long-term plans for the Flames as he signed his first pro contract with Calgary during the season and will most likely spend a year or two in the AHL with the Knights before he gets his first crack at the NHL.

4. (+1) Andrei Taratukhin, C, 6.5 B, 23

Though it took him a little bit of time to adjust to the AHL and the North American lifestyle, Taratukhin has really come on like gangbusters as the season has progressed, including a scorching month of December that saw him rack up 16 points, including his first career hat trick. He currently leads the Knights in scoring with 16 goals and 36 assists for 52 points in 66 games. His 52 points are sixth best among first-year AHLers. If not for the difficulty of getting the rest of his family over to North America from Russia, Taratukhin more than likely would have received a call-up to Calgary because his stellar play thus far has definitely merited an NHL audition. With the strong offensive numbers Taratukhin has posted to date, it’s easy to overlook the fact that he is just as competent defensively. The strong-skating 6’0, 200 lb Russian centerman has above average hockey sense and is very active and adept at forcing turnovers in the defensive zone. Taratukhin is perhaps the most well-rounded prospect in the organization and though the Flames have quite logjam of centers in Calgary, he appears to be ready for full-time NHL duty and GM Darryl Sutter will likely find a spot for him even if it means trading a proven commodity off the NHL roster.

5. (+6) Mark Giordano, D, 6.5 B, 24

Giordano has rocketed up the Flames prospect list after a great preseason that saw him earn the job as Calgary’s seventh defenseman. As the season has progressed, Giordano has slowly and steadily earned the trust of the Flames coaching staff, and though he has been in and out of the line-up down the stretch, he has established himself as a sure-fire NHLer. He has suited up in 45 games with the Flames recording seven goals and eight assists for 15 points thus far. The former undrafted free agent is a great fit in the new, more wide open NHL. Giordano possesses fantastic mobility and great skating skills and he has shown both the confidence and aptitude to lead the rush up the ice. His pinpoint passing and ability to pinch in at the right time has earned him plenty of power-play time as well. Though his defensive zone play is not nearly as strong as his offensive ability, he has shown good progress and improvement in that area over the course of the season. With the likely departure of either Roman Hamrlik or Brad Stuart as unrestricted free agents at season’s end, Giordano should see a regular shift in the Flames top six group of defensemen next season.

6. (NR) Juuso Puustinen, RW, 6.5 C, 18

The Flames look to have unearthed quite a find in Puustinen. A fifth-round pick of the Flames at this past summer’s NHL draft, the hard-working Finn had a fantastic first season in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers. Puustinen finished in a tie for fourth overall in rookie scoring in the WHL with 32 goals and 39 assists for 71 points in 64 games. He finished second on the Blazers in points and his +23 rating as ranked him second on the club. Puustinen’s willingness to play physical and battle in the trenches and along the walls played a big part in the smooth adjustment he made to the CHL. Puustinen is an above average skater with good puck skills. He has a good shooting arsenal including a powerful slap shot that he is not afraid to unleash. Puustinen has definitely put himself into the Flames long-term plans with the season he had in Kamloops and at only 18 years of age, he is only going to get better with more experience.

7. (+3) Curtis McElhinney, G, 6.5 C, 23

There is no doubt who the Knights No. 1 goaltender is this season. After rotating with Brent Krahn for most of last year, McElhinney has taken the starting goaltender job and run with it. An AHL All-Star this year, McElhinney’s numbers have been phenomenal to this point. He has won 28 games, good for second best in the league and is near the top in all the other major goaltending statistics with a 2.24 goals against average, .916 save percentage and six shutouts. He took home the AHL’s Player of the Week honors in late February. The Knights are challenging the Wolves for top spot in the West Division and McElhinney’s stellar play in net is a big reason for that. McElhinney has good size for a goalie standing at 6’2, 207 lbs and uses that size to his advantage, often leaving shooters little to shoot at. While a starting job in the NHL may not yet be in his future, McElhinney could earn a longer look in training camp next season and could be a darkhorse to claim the backup job in Calgary.

8. (-2) Eric Nystrom, LW, 6.0 B, 24

It has been a very frustrating season for the Flames former first-round pick back in 2002. After suffering a shoulder injury during the preseason, Nystrom stayed back to rehab the injury in Calgary and upon his return to the AHL, he re-injured the shoulder and was forced to undergo season-ending surgery. He only managed to suit up in six games for Omaha, notching a pair of goals. With the amount of injuries that struck the big club early on in the season, Nystrom likely would have been the first choice for a recall from the farm. This injury is no doubt a setback as Nystrom is going to have to fight to re-establish himself in the organization. While not blessed with great offensive talent, Nystrom is more than competent defensively, will play physically and gives it his all each and every night. Next season, assuming he recovers fully from his shoulder injury, Nystrom will likely again challenge for regular NHL duty.

9. (-2) Tim Ramholt, D, 6.5 C, 22

While Ramholt has not excelled in his first season of professional hockey in North America, the Swiss-born defender is slowly but surely making progress. After completing a year in the QMJHL with Cape Breton back in 2003-04, Ramholt decided to return to his native Switzerland for two seasons which moderately hurt his development. Ramholt is blessed with great mobility and skating skills and appears to have a good feel for the game at both ends of the rink. His 6’1, 210 lb frame combined with his strong all-around game appears to have him on the right path towards a future career in the NHL, though he may need another full season in the AHL with Omaha before being ready to challenge for a job in Calgary.

10. (+6) David Moss, LW/RW, 6.0 B, 24

Probably the most pleasant surprise among all the Calgary prospects so far this season has been the play of Moss, a former seventh-round pick of the Flames all the way back in the 2001 draft. Solidly built at 6’3, 200 lbs, Moss appears to have established himself as a full-time NHLer. Each and every game, Moss appears to be more and more comfortable and the coaching staff has shown faith in the rookie by playing him regularly in the Flames top six group of forwards. Moss does all the dirty work in the corners and in front of the net and is always in position to pounce on loose pucks in the goal crease, which is how he has scored the majority of his nine goals thus far. He will take punishment in front of the net and has great hand-eye coordination, tipping pucks with ease. In 37 games, Moss has 17 points with the Flames. Moss thinks the game very well, works hard at both ends of the rink and plays a physical style of game. While he may be overachieving somewhat at this point, Moss looks like he is going to turn into a very effective role player for the Flames.

11. (+1) Matt Keetley, G, 6.0 C, 20

The Flames had the option of sending Keetley to their ECHL affiliate in Las Vegas, but they figured that sending him back to one of the WHL’s strongest teams in Medicine Hat for an overage season of junior would be in the best interest for his development. It appears to have been the right move, as Keetley helped lead Medicine Hat to the second best record in the WHL behind Everett with 107 points. Keetley was a workhorse for the Tigers, appearing in 55 games and led the league with 42 wins. His other numbers were equally impressive as he posted a dazzling 2.19 goals against average, .913 save percentage and six shutouts. Standing at 6’2, 215 lbs, Keetley poses an imposing figure for shooters and take up a good chunk of the net with his large frame. He moves well between the pipes, has fairly good rebound control and puck-handling skills. The Flames are loaded with goaltending prospects and that will give them the luxury of being patient with Keetley by letting him hone his skills in the AHL. Keetley may not have as big an upside as Irving or McElhinney, but he appears to be rounding into a solid prospect nonetheless.

12. (-3) Brandon Prust, LW, 5.5 B, 22

Prust has slid a little down the list, but that is due more to the fact that the prospect depth in the organization has improved greatly this season and the fact that Prust’s overall upside is more limited than others above him. Despite all that, Prust appears almost ready to carve himself out a spot at the NHL as an antagonistic, in-your-face checker. Solidly built at 5’11, 190 lbs, Prust earned a 10-game recall early on in the season and played his fourth line role perfectly. He asserted himself physically and was not afraid to drop the gloves as he racked up 25 PIM’s. Back on the farm with Omaha, Prust has put up 189 PIM’s and has also contributed on the score sheet with 14 goals and 10 assists for 24 points in 53 games. Though his future will be limited to that of a role player, Prust has shown the ability the past two years in the AHL to put up points, something that should help him in reaching the NHL as soon as next season.

13. (NR) Aaron Marvin, C, 6.0 C, 18

Marvin is perhaps the most intriguing prospect in the organization because he is only 18 and just recently completed his senior season of high school hockey for Warroad in the hockey hot bed of Minnesota. The Flames third round choice at the 2006 NHL draft, Marvin put up some mind-boggling numbers to finish his high school hockey career in style. In 30 games, including playoffs, Marvin racked up an astounding 32 goals and 38 assists and has been nominated for the Mr. Hockey award given to the most outstanding senior high school hockey player in the state of Minnesota. At the conclusion of the season, Marvin reported to the Tri-City Storm of the USHL, which is where he will spend the 2007-08 season before moving on to St. Cloud State University. The 6’3, 180 Marvin plays a physical, up-tempo style of hockey. The future power forward also possesses a wide array of remarkable tools including great speed, puck-handling skills, shooting ability and hockey sense. Marvin is still very raw at this stage of his career, but he appears to have unlimited potential and should only get better as he matures and fills out physically. He is one to keep an eye on in the coming seasons.

14. (+1) Richie Regehr, D, 6.0 C, 24

Signed as an undrafted free agent at the same time as Mark Giordano, Regehr lost out to Giordano in the training camp and preseason battle for the seventh defense spot on the Flames. Regehr didn’t sulk upon his return to Omaha though as he scored five goals and nine assists for 14 points in only 22 games to go along with a +16 rating. He earned a recall to Calgary when the Flames ran into injury problems and scored his first career goal as he suited up for six games. However, he sustained a concussion back in December and has yet to return to action since. With Regehr, what you see is what you get. He’s steady at both ends of the rink, and can play it any way, be it physical or finesse. He also boasts a solid and accurate slap shot. Assuming he fully recovers from his concussion, Regehr should be able to challenge for a larger role with the Flames next season depending on potential free agent defections over the summer.

15. (-11) Kris Chucko, LW, 6.0 D, 20

The Flames top choice at the 2004 draft, Chucko took quite a tumble down the prospect ranking this time around, but much like fellow prospect and AHL teammate Brandon Prust, his fall is mostly due to improvement throughout the system and his lack of overall upside. The 6’2, 190 lb. Chucko came out of college early, and his style of game seems much more suited for the pro game. Though his skating is still a major weakness, Chucko’s pro debut has been steady, yet unspectacular. In 66 games with the Knights, Chucko has scored 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points to go along with a decent +6 rating and 61 PIM’s. Chucko plays a power forward type game, a style of play that he will become much more effective at once he gets stronger. Chucko is still a long way from reaching his full potential, and it’s still questionable at this point what type of role he will assume once he gets to that point in his career. If Chucko can improve his skating, it will no doubt go along way in determining his future at the next level, assuming he gets there.

16. (-8) Aki Seitsonen, C, 6.5 D, 21

Seitsonen has spent the majority of his first pro season with the Flames ECHL affiliate in Las Vegas. With the Wranglers, Seitsonen has scored 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points in 52 games. He has seen a handful of games in the AHL, suiting up for 13 games. There he scored once and added three assists for four points when the club lost a few players to injury and recall to the Flames. Seitsonen is solidly built at 6’3, 206 lbs, and he may need a couple of years to develop in the AHL before he is fully able to realize his potential. He moves well for a player of his stature, competes hard and has a decent set of offensive skills. The next step for Seitsonen in his young career is to claim a full-time job in the AHL, something that he should be able to do next season.

17. (+1) David Van der Gulik, RW, 6.0 C, 23

Van der Gulik has been another pleasant surprise among Flames prospects as the former Boston University Terrier has made a good impression in his first pro season of hockey in Omaha. In 66 games, Van der Gulik has 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points good enough for fourth best on the team. He leads the Knights and all AHL rookies with a + 20 plus/minus rating and also leads the Knights in short-handed goals with four. As evidenced by his four short-handed tallies, Van der Gulik is very sound defensively and anchors the Knights fourth-ranked penalty-killing unit. He has strong hockey sense, and though he only stands at 5’11, he is solidly built and works hard each and every shift. He is not as skilled as other forwards in the organization, but his sound defensive play and his ability to put the puck in the net should put him in the good graces of the organization. Should he continue on this good development curve, he could see a few looks with the Flames as early as next season.

18. (-1) Gord Baldwin, D, 6.0 C, 20

In Baldwin’s third full season with the Medicine Hat Tigers, he had another steady season as one of the Tigers top defensemen. Though he doesn’t stand out in any one area, Baldwin knows how to use his 6’5 frame to his advantage and plays a safe, stay-at-home game. In 53 games this season, he scored seven goals and 19 assists for 26 points. He’s solid in his own end and is a good defender who is tough and assertive around the net and in the corners. Once he packs on a few more pounds, he will become even harder to play against. Baldwin’s main weakness is his sub-par skating, something that he will have to improve upon is he wants make it at the next level. The Flames will be patient with Baldwin and let him learn the ropes at the AHL level before further evaluating his status within the organization.

19. (+1) J.D. Watt, RW, 5.5 B, 19

Watt broke out offensively and has had a standout WHL season thus far with the Vancouver Giants and will look to help lead the host team of the Memorial Cup to the CHL championship. He led the Giants with 33 goals and finished fourth on the team with 51 points in 69 games. He also continued his agitating ways in leading the team with 182 PIMs. Watt is a swift skater who plays a gritty, intense style of hockey that rubs off on his teammates. He’s a physical, high-energy player who is able to contribute at both of the rink. His rambunctious style of play will need to continue in order to move up through the ranks.

20. (-6) Matt Pelech, D, 6.0 C, 19

Pelech is built in the same mold as Gord Baldwin. The only difference is that Pelech has much better mobility and is much more abrasive and physical at this stage in his career. An imposing figure at 6’4 and 225 lbs, Pelech is a menace in his own end and as his team-leading 171 PIMs attest, is not afraid to punish any forward that dare venture into his territory. Pelech is likely never going to pose much of a threat offensively, though his five goals and 20 assists in 58 games for the OHL’s Belleville Bulls are nothing to be ashamed of. The Flames former top pick in 2005 does not have a high ceiling and likely never will, but he is the type of complimentary, enforcing type of blueliner who could develop into a solid bottom-pairing defenseman in the future.

Missing the Cut

Brett Sutter, C, 5.5 C, 19
John Armstrong, C, 6.0 D, 19
Kevin Lalande, G, 6.0 C, 20

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.