Flames CHL prospects season review

By Jared Ramsden

WHL

Leland Irving, G — Everett Silvertips (WHL)
HT: 6’1 WT: 176 lbs
DOB: 04-11-1988
Draft: 2006 (1st round, 26th overall)

Irving had a phenomenal regular season, helping lead Everett to not just the best record in the WHL, but the entire Canadian Hockey League with 54 wins and 111 points. He was at or near the top of most of the major statistical categories, including a league-best .929 save percentage and 11 shutouts. Irving also put up 34 wins and a miniscule 1.86 goals against average. The Flames first-round selection at this past summer’s NHL draft, Irving missed a portion of the season in late December and early January when he was representing Canada at the WJC. He did not appear in any games, backing up Montreal Canadiens prospect Carey Price (MTL), but the experience he gained was invaluable as Team Canada took home the gold medal.
Expectations were high for the Silvertips going into the WHL’s postseason and unfortunately for Irving and his teammates, Everett was upset in the second round of the playoffs by the surprising Prince George Cougars. Upon the culmination of the season, Irving reported to the Flames AHL affiliate in Omaha as a replacement for Brent Krahn who had to be recalled to the Calgary Flames due to the suspension of regular back-up Jamie McLennan.

Though the season ended on somewhat of a sour note for Irving, he still had a fantastic year in Everett. In an organization loaded with goaltenders, Irving is by far and away the best of the bunch and is currently slated as the heir apparent to Miikka Kiprusoff. His composure between the pipes is second to none and there really is no glaring weakness in his game at this juncture of his young career. The Flames obviously are not going to have to worry about rushing Irving through the system as Kiprusoff is currently one of the top goaltenders in the NHL. Irving will likely return to Everett next fall and look to help the Silvertips bounce back after a sub-par postseason and there is a strong possibility that he will be the starting netminder for Team Canada at the 2008 WJCs.

Matt Keetley, G — Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
HT: 6’2 WT: 189 lbs
DOB: 04-27-1986
Draft: 2005 (5th round, 158th overall)

Like fellow prospect and WHL’er Irving, Keetley was at or near the top of many of the WHL’s major goaltending statistical categories. Keetley appeared in a league-high 55 games and also won a league best 42 games for the Medicine Hat Tigers, one of the top teams in the league. He recorded six shutouts, a 2.19 goals against average and .913 save percentage. The right-catching netminder is currently leading the Tigers in battle against the Vancouver Giants in the playoffs for the WHL Championship, where he has won 14 of his 21 appearances, and posted four shutouts. Since the Giants are hosting the Memorial Cup, the Tigers have an automatic berth into the tournament where they will look to win it all after last appearing at the tourney in 2004.

A workhorse and big, daunting figure in between the pipes, the Flames have to be thrilled with Keetley’s overage season thus far. The option of him turning pro was a possibility this year, but the Flames chose the junior route for Keetley instead of the minor pro ranks where he likely would have been toiling in the ECHL. He has yet to sign a contract with the Calgary and will need to do so by June 1, otherwise he will become a UFA. The Flames have a deep goaltending pipeline, so there does remain the possibility that Keetley could be the odd man out and be left unsigned. However it’s hard to ignore the success he has had in the WHL, and if the Flames don’t sign him, he shouldn’t have much difficulty finding an NHL team that would like to bring him aboard.

Gord Baldwin, D — Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
HT: 6’5 WT: 210 lbs
DOB: 03-01-1987
Draft: 2005 (3rd round, 69th overall)

Baldwin had another solid, yet unspectacular season with Medicine Hat, his third with the Tigers. Like Keetley, he will continue to play into the month of May as the Tigers hope to win it all at the Memorial Cup tournament. In 53 regular season games, Baldwin scored 7 goals and 19 assists, modest totals, but career highs for the stay at home defenseman. He was a +12 and had 70 PIM’s. In 21 playoff games thus far, he has two goals and six assists.

Baldwin recently put pen to paper in signing his first professional contract and will likely turn pro next season. The Flames aren’t deep in defensive prospects, so there is a good chance Baldwin will start next season in the AHL, but if he has growing pains that many first-year pro players have, he may see some time with the Flames ECHL affiliate in Las Vegas. He has size that you can’t teach and is more than competent defensively, but his foot speed is still fairly sub-par and will need to improve in that area of his game before garnering serious attention for NHL employment. With the way the NHL game is played now, players of Baldwin’s physique must be able to be quick enough to not get caught flat footed and be forced to hook and hold and get called for obstruction fouls that you can’t get away with as easily anymore. Baldwin will likely be brought along slowly, but if he shows improvement in his foot speed, that would greatly speed up his development timetable.

J.D. Watt, RW — Vancouver Giants (WHL)
HT: 6’2 WT: 196 lbs
DOB: 05-25-1987
Draft: 2005 (4th round, 111th overall)

Watt’s fourth season in Vancouver with the Giants has been a memorable one thus far. He led the Giants with 34 goals during the regular season and also led the team in penalty minutes with 182. While his offensive numbers have dropped off significantly in the playoffs thus far, Watt, who wears an “A” is one of the emotional leaders on the team. His passion for the game along with his fiery attitude have no doubt rubbed off on his Giants teammates as they hope to go all the way and win the Memorial Cup right in their own backyard.

While he is never likely to be a skilled top-end type of forward, Watt is the type of agitating role player that every NHL team needs to be successful and he embodies the qualities that Flames GM Darryl Sutter craves in hockey players. The Flames seemed to become an easier team to play against this season because they lacked the grit, energy and intensity of previous seasons, and Watt brings all three of those qualities to the table. Watt isn’t going to be able to step right into an NHL job coming out of junior, but with a couple of years seasoning in the AHL, he could bring his energetic and enthusiastic style of play and contribute at the NHL level once he gains the necessary minor pro experience.

Juuso Puustinen, RW
— Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
HT: 6’1 WT: 185 lbs
DOB: 04-05-1988
Draft: 2006 (5th round, 149th overall)

By far the most pleasant surprise among first year prospects was the outstanding season Puustinen had in his North American debut in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers. The Finnish-born right winger suited up in 64 games, and was third on the Blazers in goals with 32 and second in overall points with 71. Those 71 points also had him finished tied for third among first-year WHL players. In the Blazers short-lived playoff run, he picked up three assists in four games.

The Flames may have found quite the mid-round gem in Puustinen. He was a quick learner and did not take long at all to adjust to playing hockey in the CHL, showing a willingness to get his nose dirty and work hard along the walls in the corners, traits not always common in players coming over to North America from Europe. Those traits, combined with his goal scoring and playmaking ability make him a very attractive prospect for the Flames. He will be one to keep a close eye on over the next couple seasons as he has the potential to become one of the top offensive prospects in the organization.

Brett Sutter, C
— Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
HT: 6’0 WT: 185 lbs
DOB: 06-02-1987
Draft: 2005 (6th round, 179th overall)

It was a breakout season for Sutter as he bested his offensive numbers from the previous three seasons. Sutter captained the Rebels, and centered two of the leagues’ top import rookie forwards in Martin Hanzal (PHX) and Kirill Starkov (CBJ) for the majority of the season on Red Deer’s top line. In 67 contests, Sutter scored 28 goals, which was good enough to place him second among Rebels skaters, and 29 assists. His 57 points tied him for third on the team with cousin Brandon Sutter. In Red Deer’s first-round series loss to Medicine Hat, Sutter potted three goals and four assists in seven games.

Sutter doesn’t have elite level skill, but he is a well-rounded, cerebral player, cut from the same mold as his father and current Flames GM Darryl. He did however show good offensive ability this season centering two very skilled players in Hanzal and Starkov. Sutter works hard, gives a solid effort each and every night and can be relied upon to play in any situation. He has yet to agree to contract terms with the Flames, but will more than likely have a contract in place by the time the deadline. Sutter is going to have to spend some time in the minors, likely two to three seasons, and improve his skating before he will be ready to challenge for an NHL job.

Myles Rumsey, D — Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
HT: 6’2 WT: 203 lbs
DOB: 11-05-1986
Draft: 2005 (7th round, 221st overall)

Rumsey returned to Swift Current for his fourth full season in the WHL, and captained the Broncos to another playoff berth. Though he was held without a goal for the second consecutive season, Rumsey contributed to the Broncos cause as one of the steadier blueliners on the team. In 69 games, he put up nine assists, 115 PIM’s and a solid, yet unspectacular -1 rating on a Broncos team that gave up 40 more goals against than goals for. In the Broncos’ six-game series loss to the Regina Pats in the first round of the WHL playoffs, Rumsey was +3 with one assist.

With Rumsey, he isn’t going to wow you in any one aspect of his game. What you see is what you get: a solid, physical, stay at home defenseman who excels at killing penalties. While his offensive skill set is obviously limited as evidenced by having not scored since the 2004-05 season, Rumsey moves well for a man of his size, is a decent puck handler and is usually able to make the first pass out of the zone. His ceiling as a prospect is not spectacular by any stretch but should Rumsey make a smooth adjustment to pro hockey, in a couple of years he could have a future in the NHL as a defensive-minded defenseman.

OHL

Daniel Ryder, C — Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
HT: 5’11 WT: 180 lbs
DOB: 01-12-1987
Draft: 2005 (3rd round, 74th overall)

Like a handful of other Flames prospects playing the CHL, Ryder will get a chance to compete for the Memorial Cup as the Plymouth Whalers will represent the OHL after they took out the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL final. Ryder, who came over to the Whalers in a trade earlier on in the season from the Peterborough Petes, had a fantastic regular season, and has continued to put up good numbers in Plymouth’s playoff run as well. In 57 regular season games, Ryder scored 40 goals and 52 assists and those 92 points placed him 13th in league scoring. He also posted a stellar +33 rating. His numbers declined somewhat after joining the Whalers but that was more due to the fact that he was joining a much deeper team after being the top guy with the Petes. Thus far in the playoffs, Ryder has eight goals and nine assists in 20 games.

After being named the playoff MVP of the OHL playoffs last season and getting to the Memorial Cup with the Petes last year, Ryder hopes the second time around he will be able to help lead the Whalers to the CHL championship. The brother of Montreal Canadiens forward Michael, Ryder is a quick and shifty center with a great offensive skill set and imagination. While his defensive play isn’t up to the same level of his offense, Ryder but shows a solid and determined effort every shift. He signed a contract with the Flames earlier on in the season, and will likely start in the AHL with the Flames affiliate. Ryder is one of the more gifted offensive prospects in the Flames system, but will likely need a year or two of seasoning in the minors before he is given a shot at full-time NHL employment.   

Devin Didiomete, LW
— Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
HT: 6’0 WT: 195 lbs
DOB: 09-05-1988
Draft: 2006 (7th round, 187th overall)

Didiomete contributed in a variety of ways for the Sudbury Wolves this season and continued to show great overall improvement as a player in this his third full season in the OHL. In 62 games, he put up 21 goals and 19 assists, to go along with 205 PIM’s, by far and away tops on the team. The Wolves made a deep run into the playoffs, getting all the way to the OHL finals before bowing out in six games to the Plymouth Whalers where Didiomete continued to put up strong numbers, scoring six goals and six assists in 21 games, and continued to pile up the penalty minutes with 62.

The Flames look like they have found quite the player in Didiomete as he looks to have the potential to turn into one of the Flames better late-round picks in recent memory. He has the work ethic and fearless type of attitude that GM Darryl Sutter loves, to go along with a multitude of other skills. He’s one of the OHL’s top heavyweights and does not shy away from physical play. He has decent offensive instincts, goes to the net hard, and is good skater. As noted earlier, Didiomete has improved each and every year so far, and he could be in line for a huge season next year as he returns to Sudbury for his fourth season in the OHL. He is a definite sleeper prospect to keep an eye on next year. He has the potential to blossom into a steady and effective third line player in the near future.

Kevin Lalande, G
— Belleville Bulls (OHL)
HT: 6’0 WT: 185 lbs
DOB: 02-19-1987
Draft: 2005 (5th round, 128th overall)

The last of the Flames goaltending prospects playing in the CHL, Lalande improved on all his numbers from last year and helped lead the Belleville Bulls to a division title. He also had an absolutely fabulous playoff showing, playing a major part in getting the Bulls all the way to the OHL Conference Championships before they fell to the Sudbury Wolves. He only lost one game in regulation in the playoffs, finishing with 10 wins and four overtime losses. He had a 2.55 goals against average and a mind-boggling .931 save percentage. His regular season numbers were also solid as he won 27 games, had three shutouts, a 3.01 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

Lalande is an athletic goaltender with quick reflexes and has a highly competitive mindset. He emerged as one of the better goaltenders in the OHL and had a great season. He signed a contract with the Flames near the end of the season, and though there is a chance he could turn pro next year, he might be best served to return for one more season of junior because the Flames have a glut of goaltenders and may not have room for him at the AHL level, a situation that fellow Flames goaltending prospect Keetley had to deal with this year. Lalande adds to the great depth the Flames have in goal, and though he is not at the top of the class in the Flames system, he has the potential to turn into a starting goaltender with a few seasons of minor pro experience.

Matt Pelech, D
— Belleville Bulls (OHL)
HT: 6’4 WT: 225 lbs
DOB: 09-04-1987
Draft: 2005 (1st round, 26th overall)

Pelech was dealt from London to Belleville in the offseason to give the Bulls some toughness and leadership on the blueline, and he delivered with a solid overall performance. Pelech wore an “A” all season long and was a steadying and intimidating presence on the Bulls, leading the team with 171 PIM’s. In 58 regular season games, Pelech scored 5 goals and 30 assists and posted a +4 rating. In the Bulls playoff run, Pelech put up three assists, a +5 rating and 22 PIM’s in 12 games.

The Flames top pick from the 2005 draft, Pelech has yet to sign a contract with the Flames and must do so before the signing deadline for draft picks from that year. Pelech already has NHL size and strength and for a man of his stature, his mobility and skating is not an issue as he moves up and down the ice well. Pelech’s forte is intimidation, aggressiveness and physical play, and that will be his calling card as he moves through the Flames system. Not likely a top pairing defenseman, but one of those types of players that keeps opposing players honest. Pelech could very well turn pro next season, but also has another year of junior eligibility remaining. Assuming the Flames sign him, his performance in training camp next fall will likely determine his landing spot for the 2007-08 season.

John Armstrong, C — Peterborough Petes (OHL)
HT: 6’3 WT: 198 lbs
DOB: 02-26-1988
Draft: 2006 (3rd round, 87th overall)

After another slow start to the season, Armstrong was dealt from the contending Plymouth Whalers to the struggling Peterborough Petes in a deal that saw another Flames prospect, Daniel Ryder, go the other way. The deal seemed to wake up Armstrong though as he finished the season strongly, getting a lot more minutes and quality ice time than he was getting with the Whalers. He scored at nearly a point a game clip, notching 11 goals and 13 assists in only 24 games with the Petes after only scoring 21 points in 24 games in Plymouth.

Armstrong is a very talented player, but his wavering intensity and effort some nights is a concern. The trade to the Petes did seem to wake him up though and it should be interesting to see how he asserts himself next season. When he’s on his game, the right-shooting center uses his size to his advantage and shows great all-around puck skills and offensive ability. He has yet to realize his full potential and next season could be a make or break year in terms of Armstrong earning himself an NHL contract with the Flames. He has the ability to dominate but must to it on a more consistent basis, like he did in his brief time with the Petes last season.

QMJHL

Hugo Carpentier, C –Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
HT: 6’1 WT: 204 lbs
DOB: 03-17-1988
Draft: 2006 (4th round, 118th overall)

Carpentier’s numbers dropped off quite a bit as he was not able to build off the 70-point season he had in 2005-06. In his third season with Rouyn-Noranda, Carpentier had 17 goals and 37 assists in 69 games to go along with 86 PIM’s. The Huskies did play more of a defensive style of hockey as they were one of the better teams in the QMJHL in that area, and that could explain part of the drop in Carpentier’s numbers. However to see his goal total get almost cut in half had to be disappointing for Carpentier, the Huskies and the Flames.

Carpentier plays a physical style of hockey, and has the tools to turn into a decent power forward, but he must continue to work on improving his foot speed. He brings an interesting package of skills to the table, and his effort and attitude can’t be questioned as he gives it 100 percent each shift. However, he will need to bounce back offensively next year when he returns to Rouyn-Noranda for a fourth junior season and hope to earn himself a contract with the Flames.

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