Optimism surrounds Calgary Flames prospect pool going into 2013-14 season

By Brian Jung

Max Reinhart - Calgary Flames

Photo: Center Max Reinhart will return for his second pro season with Abbotsford, a team that will receive a new injection of talented prospects at every position (courtesy of Ian Harding/Icon SMI)

As the 2013-14 season kicks off, the Calgary Flames find themselves with a restocked arsenal of quality prospects in the system. The Flames have promising talent developing in various leagues which is resulting in players moving up the ranks of the organization.

The Abbotsford Heat will welcome an injection of new prospects to their lineup, which will be key in developing the next core group of players for the Flames. The Heat expect to have European prospects Joni Ortio and Markus Granlund in the lineup as they make the transition to North America. Junior prospects that will also join the Heat this season include Laurent Brossoit and Tyler Wotherspoon. Likewise moving along to Abbotsford are college graduates John Ramage and Corbin Knight as they advance to the next level in their careers.

Optimism is emerging in Calgary and as the foundation continues to develop, there are numerous players in the system to keep an eye on in their respective leagues. Below are a few storylines of key prospects to follow as they look to thrive and make an impact in the upcoming 2013-14 season.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Sven Baertschi, LW, Calgary Flames (NHL)

Baertschi and the Flames start off the 2013-14 season with a lot of promise of generating a win-win situation for both parties. The Swiss native is more than poised to make a positive leap in the NHL, and the Flames are in the position where they could greatly benefit from the offensively gifted forward. Baertschi has built up his game the past few seasons to the point where he is considered to be the overall top prospect in the Flames organization. The soon to be 21-year-old, can draw upon the experience gained from playing in Portland and Abbotsford, as he finds himself in Calgary.

After being sidelined with a hip flexor injury for a good part of last season, Baertschi will have a full season in front of him to showcase his talents. The highly skilled forward will have to utilize his ice time to generate scoring opportunities as he previously did for the Winterhawks. If Baertschi can replicate his impressive offensive numbers from Portland, where he tallied 179 points in 113 games, the Flames will have a quality building block and possible corner stone to add to the foundation in Baertschi. 

Bounce Back
Lance Bouma, C, Calgary Flames (NHL) / Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

After a 2012-13 season that did not develop into the season Bouma had envisioned, the 23-year-old enters the new season with promise of picking up where he left off before a knee injury sidelined him for the majority of last year. Bouma took the appropriate time to recover from the injury and strengthen his body to endure the rigors of the NHL. The Alberta native finds himself in the mix of young prospects vying for a roster position with the Flames this season.

Bouma has been impressive with his play early this season and appears to be determined to finalize a roster spot with the Flames. Ultimately coaching and management will have the final decision in regards to his role with the organization, however the hardworking Bouma could fit in nicely with his aggressive style of play and energy he can bring to the team. Regardless of where he plays this season, a healthy Bouma will have the opportunity to find success this year.

NHL Bound
Max Reinhart, C, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

Reinhart has the maturity and understanding of the game to find success in the NHL. The 21-year-old center plays a versatile game with the capability of scoring either by finesse or grit. The possibility of obtaining a roster position has been a result of his hard work and dedication. Reinhart’s work ethic and character is one the Flames can benefit from on and off the ice as he follows the footsteps of his father and former Flame, Paul Reinhart, as an integral part of the organization. Reinhart is NHL ready and will be considered for a roster position should an opening become available.   

With the increased competition in Calgary, Reinhart will start the 2013-14 season in Abbotsford. Reinhart can take this opportunity as a veteran leader to help the new Heat prospects adjust to the pro level. Assisting with the newcomers will also help enhance Reinhart’s already strong leadership skills but more importantly are the bonds created between prospects, which will translate to better chemistry on the ice and in the system. Although the center position got more crowded with the Flames' acquisition of Joe Colborne, Reinhart is a complete player that can potentially be a permanent fixture on the Flames roster.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Sean Monahan, C, Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

The sixth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Sean Monahan leads the way as the top junior player in the Flames organization. The Brampton native will also become the Flames’ next top prospect as soon as current top prospect, Sven Baertschi, graduates to the Flames lineup. Monahan has been able to demonstrate his offensive talents and leadership qualities in his short time with the Flames thus far this season. The center had an excellent Flames development camp, scored twice in the Young Stars tournament, impressed at Team Canada’s WJC invitation camp, and had a successful pre-season in a Flames jersey.

Monahan is shaping into a valuable cornerstone for the future of the franchise. As a natural leader, Monahan brings maturity beyond his years to his game. Should the Flames decide to keep Monahan on the opening day roster, it will help the first round pick gain valuable firsthand experience at the NHL level. However sending Monahan back to Ottawa for one more season could benefit the forward as it will give him an opportunity to grow stronger and hungrier to return to the NHL. In the meantime, Monahan will have the honor and opportunity to be one of the leaders for Team Canada in the 2014 WJC. Playing for Canada will provide a big game environment where Monahan can gain a valuable experience while providing the possibility to win a gold medal for Canada. The future is bright for both Monahan and the Flames as they commence the rebuild process together.

Offensive Breakout
Emile Poirier, RW, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)

Poirier enters the 2013-14 season with the potential to become a highly offensive threat for the Gatineau Olympiques. Although many questioned if Poirier was appropriately drafted by Calgary with the 22nd pick in the 2013 draft, Poirier has done nothing but answer the critics with his play thus far. The Montreal native was involved in the Flames development camp, was invited to Team Canada’s WJC camp, played in the Young Stars Tournament, and finished off a busy summer with his first NHL experience playing in pre-season games for Calgary. In each of these events, Poirier demonstrated that he can excel and produce at all levels with the potential to become an elite forward.

The 6’1 winger has the versatility to play on either wing, which results from his incredible speed and puck handling skills. Last season in Gatineau, Poirier led the Olympiques with 70 points in 65 games. Poirier has already started his third season in Gatineau by recording three goals and three assists in four games. The confidence and experience gained this summer should provide Poirier with the boost required to take his game to the next level and perform to his full potential.

Bounce Back
Eric Roy, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Roy is optimistic of rediscovering his scoring touch entering 2013-14 season after seeing a dip in offensive production last season. The 6’3, 190-pound defender saw a drop in his assists last year recording only 22 compared to 42 in the 2011-12 season. Playing in his third season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Roy was paired with a different blueliner and did not find the success he had playing alongside top prospect Ryan Pulock (NYI) the year before.

Entering his fourth season in Brandon, Roy will have the opportunity to be a veteran leader on the blue line and in the locker room. His development and maturity will have the defender depending on his skills and hockey sense to contribute this season by generating offensive opportunities for his teammates. The 18-year-old has the talent to become a quality two-way defender, and in four games this season, Roy has already recorded one goal and seven assists. If this is any early indication of the success Roy will have this year, then the defender might be back on track for a highly productive season.    

Amateur

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

Gaudreau leads the way as the top amateur prospect in the Flames system. The 19-year-old winger will seek continued success as he enters his third year at Boston College. In his first two seasons at BC, Gaudreau was able to post impressive offensive numbers, with 44 and 51 points in 44 and 35 games, respectively. The New Jersey native was also successful acquiring championship hardware. In his freshman season at BC, Gaudreau was a key component of the 2011-12 National Championship team and in the following year, Gaudreau won the gold medal with Team USA at the 2013 WJC.

The highly skilled forward will take advantage of the upcoming season to further develop as a player and increase his physical strength. Gaudreau attended the Flames development camp over the summer and appeared to make huge steps forward as a player. Regardless of stature, Gaudreau has the natural talent and drive to become an offensive force for the Flames in the near future.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Kenny Agostino, LW, Yale Bulldogs (ECAC)

Agostino enters the 2013-14 season looking to have a successful final year at Yale. The 21-year-old forward brings an all-around style of game to the table. With his 6’1 and 200-pound frame, Agostino can play the physical side of game while having the offensive awareness to generate and make the most of scoring opportunities. Agostino has steadily increased his point total year after year at Yale and will be looking to better last year’s total of 41 points in 37 games.

The New Jersey native was a key member of the 2013 NCAA Championship team and will be an integral part in defending the title this season. Agostino will also be in the position as a senior to graduate with his law degree, which is an important goal for the forward to achieve. The 2013-14 season will be an important year for Agostino as he tackles the many goals and challenges in front of him. Taking on these challenges will only help Agostino build confidence and mature as a player as he seeks to impress the Flames organization.

Freshman to watch
Tim Harrison, RW, Colgate Raiders (ECAC)

After completing an impressive senior year at Dexter Prep in Massachusetts, Harrison will be entering his first year at Colgate University. The 6’3 and 185-pound right winger possesses the skill set and style of play to be considered a solid power forward. In 28 games at Dexter, Harrison compiled an impressive 24 goals and 27 assists.

The Massachusetts native will be looking to extend his scoring success at the collegiate level this season. Harrison can use his solid frame to deliver crushing hits and agitate opponents in order to draw penalties or create scoring opportunities. If Harrison can continue his style of play and find success at Colgate, Harrison will be another quality collegiate prospect developing in the Flames pipeline.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Rushan Rafikov, D, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)

With Joni Ortio and Markus Granlund making the move to North America, Rafikov finds himself as the lone prospect in the Flames system that is currently playing in Europe. The 18-year-old defender will be entering his third season with Loko Yaroslavl in Russia’s junior league and there will be expectations to elevate his play after being drafted by the Calgary Flames. Rafikov is a physical stay at home defender, however he has shown flashes of an offensive side to his game.

During the 2013 U18 WJC, Rafikov was one of the top point getters for defensemen in the tournament notching five assists in seven games. The 6’1 and 185-pound blueliner has the skating and handling skills to carry the play into the offensive zone, while being defensively responsible to not get caught out of position. Rafikov will have an opportunity to continue to mature as a player and develop his skills as the new season begins. The progress of Rafikov will be monitored in the upcoming season by the Flames to determine the next course of action for the Russian defender.

Follow Brian Jung on Twitter @brianjung80

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