Calgary’s 2013 draft class improved organizational depth for Flames

By Brian Jung

Laurent Brosoit - Abbotsford Heat

Photo: Recently recalled to the AHL, Laurent Brossoit will open his rookie pro career in a timeshare with Reto Berra in Abbotsford (courtesy of John Rivera/Icon SMI)

A year can surely make a difference for an NHL organization, and for the Calgary Flames, 2013 could prove to be their lucky year as the team changes directions. Calgary was fortunate enough to acquire eight valuable prospects in the 2013 NHL Draft to build a new foundation.

Previously, the Flames had a pattern of trading away draft picks, prospects, and the future in exchange for veteran pieces with hope that it would propel the team back into Stanley Cup contention. This management style did not work out as expected and ultimately did not leave the organization in a competitive position for the future.

With the repetitive shortcomings of running the organization in this manner, management decided to bring in General Manager Jay Feaster, who has been instrumental in reconstructing the current system. During his two year tenure thus far, GM Feaster has been able to change the dynamic of the organization by transforming a bare prospect pool into a system that could continually develop talent properly for the future. The Flames restocked with quality prospects playing in different leagues and levels in all positions.

Left Wing

The left wing position in Calgary is vastly deeper in talent compared to the right wing, and with the extra depth comes increased competition among the prospects. Some of the prospects are NHL ready and will be making the leap at some point this year, while other prospects are still in their development stages.  

Leading the way as the top left wing prospect would be Sven Baertschi. The 21-year-old Switzerland native will most likely see himself as a steady fixture in a Flames jersey in 2013-14. Baertschi has the skill set and development to play in the NHL, however his desire and dedication to stay in the lineup will be tested. The shifty and speedy winger will have a full season to produce significant numbers in order to remain in the lineup. If Baertschi is able to prove to the organization that he deserves to stay in the lineup, then Johnny Gaudreau follows Baertschi as the next top left wing prospect in the system.

Gaudreau possesses similar speed and scoring abilities as Baertschi, however he plays a more assertive game that comes with being only 5’6 and 165 pounds. The smaller stature has not impeded any success for Gaudreau, and the New Jersey native is considered to be one of the top collegiate players. Gaudreau has excellent skating skills and speed, which is valuable in today’s fast-paced game. He has the ability to create space for himself and elude opponents to create scoring opportunities for his teammates and himself. Defensively, Gaudreau effectively utilizes his speed to back check and ensure that no odd-man rushes are created. Gaudreau is a responsible player on both ends of the ice and has the potential to be an effective and productive player for the Flames.

Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowski were new faces late last season after being acquired in the trade for Jarome Iginla. Both Agostino and Hanowski have the upside and potential to become quality left wingers in the system. Agostino will be playing his final year in college, while Hanowski will have an opportunity to play his first full season as a pro with the Heat.

Calgary has a trio of left wingers currently in the system looking to have a breakout season this year, which includes Michael Ferland, Coda Gordon, and Tuner Elson. Each of these wingers enter the new season with higher expectations to elevate their play as they advance in their careers.

A late season trade from the Brandon Wheat Kings to the Saskatoon Blades helped Ferland turn around his game. The 21-year-old rediscovered his scoring touch, notching 29 points in 26 games, after being traded to the Blades. Ferland will start 2013-14 in the Heat’s lineup and it will be seen if he can once again find the same success he had with the Blades.

Elson split time between Red Deer and Abbotsford last season, and in 2013-14, he finds himself in the starting lineup for the Heat. Elson brings tenacity to the team and can be considered a spark plug with his up-tempo game, aggressive style of play, and scoring capabilities. The 21-year-old will provide great energy for the Heat this season and has the potential to bring it to Calgary one day.

Gordon will be entering is third season with the Swift Current Broncos and looks to continue his steady offensive production. The 19-year-old has produced surprisingly well for the Broncos over the past three seasons, recording 112 points in 137 games. If Gordon continues to increase his offensive numbers, the Alberta native could be in line for a career season with the Broncos.

The only new face joining the group of left wingers would be Morgan Klimchuk. Klimchuk is a highly skilled winger and has all the facets to become a valuable player for the Flames. Selected 28th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, Klimchuk is a gifted scorer and natural leader. The 18-year-old will return to the Regina Pats (WHL) for another season as he tries to achieve his goal of winning a WHL championship and a bid to the Memorial Cup.

Center

The center position was considered for a long time a weak spot in Calgary. The Flames lacked a number one center who could play top line duties with former all-star right wing Jarome Iginla. However, with the drafting of Sean Monahan, the Flames have a potential number-one center on their hands.

Monahan started his nine-game NHL tryout period red hot in a Flames’ jersey. He had six points in his first five games, which included his first NHL point in his first game and got his first NHL goal out of the way in his second game with the Flames. With his incredible start to the season, Monahan made the decision difficult for Flames management to send him back to the Ottawa 67’s. During a four game road trip, Monahan solidified his position on the roster and the team announced he will remain in the NHL for the season. The 19-year-old demonstrated that he belonged in the lineup with impressive games against San Jose and Los Angeles, where he registered his first two power-play goals of the season. The Flames’ first round pick so far leads the team in goals (6) and shooting percentage (26.1), which can be attributed to his maturity and hockey sense to capitalize on scoring opportunities. If Monahan is able to continue with his remarkable production, he will definitely make a strong case for the Calder Trophy.

Following Monahan in the depth chart would be Max Reinhart, Mark Jankowski, and newly acquired Joe Colborne. Reinhart has the potential to become a center on the Flames’ roster in the near future. He has been developing into a quality two-way center with the Abbotsford Heat and will be in consideration for a roster position should a spot open. Reinhart fits the style of play and dedication the Flames are generating in the new system with his hard work and commitment.

Jankowski is set to enter his second season at Providence as he continues to develop as a center. Although Jankowski’s progression has not been as fast as Monahan, he still has the skill set and size to become an impact player. Jankowski is still a few seasons away from being considered a legitimate starter. In the meantime, Jankowski can work on getting stronger both physically and mentally as he continues with his collegiate career. 

Feaster recently took an opportunity to bolster the center position by acquiring Calgary native Joe Colborne from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Colborne found himself the odd man out in Toronto as the depth at the center position was considerably deeper than in Calgary. The 6’6, 216-pound center definitely adds some size to the lineup. Colborne will be in the mix for the Flames this season as the team decides how to utilize his size and skill.

Calgary is also in a fortunate position to have a second squad of quality centers, including Lance Bouma, Corban Knight, Markus Granlund, and Bill Arnold. Bouma has played games in a Flames jersey already this season, while Granlund and Knight are preparing in Abbotsford, and Arnold enters his senior year at Boston College.

Bouma is currently on the Flames roster and has proven with his style of play that he belongs in the lineup. Bouma is a hardworking, grinding center that can be of value on the penalty kill. His tenacious defense and hockey IQ are two attributes that the Flames can benefit from. If Bouma continues to work hard and keep playing his style of game, he will be a fixture on the roster this season.

Corban Knight has demonstrated that his game is ready for the NHL. However with the amount of prospects and limited roster positions, Knight finds himself in Abbotsford for the time being. Knight is a crafty center that was originally drafted by the Florida Panthers, however unable to come to terms on a contract with Florida, the Flames acquired the Calgary native last season. The organization will give Knight serious consideration for a roster position whether it be sometime this season or next.

Granlund enters the 2013-14 season as one of the few European players in the Flames system. The Finnish center will have to adapt to the smaller ice surface and different style of play as he competes for a roster position. Granlund has started the season in Abbotsford and the team will follow his progression to monitor his transition from Europe to North America.

Bill Arnold is a collegiate center in the system like Jankowski. Arnold is a highly effective and productive center that can play the two-way game properly. The 21-year-old finds himself in his final season at Boston College. Arnold will join forces with fellow Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau on a strong BC team.

Rounding out the group of centers in the Flames system would be Matt DeBlouw. The 20-year-old will play his sophomore season at Michigan State in 2013-14. 

Right Wing

Over the past few years the right wing position in Calgary was on the weaker side for prospect depth. The Flames had no urgency to replace all-star Jarome Iginla as the top right winger on the team, which led to Calgary passing up on talented right wingers in previous drafts. Former management groups emphasized the focus on acquiring players to play alongside Iginla rather than finding his protégé.

Prior to the 2013 season, Calgary did not have a right wing prospect that stood head and shoulders above the rest to be considered the number one right wing prospect. After the 2013 NHL Draft, Calgary can definitely consider Emile Poirier as their number one right wing prospect. The 22nd overall pick in the 2013 draft has all the makings of a top line winger. Poirier is an extremely fast skater, with excellent hands and an exceptional hockey IQ. His versatility to be a talented scorer, an effective penalty killer, and a defensively responsible player definitely lines up Poirier to make an impact on any team. The 18-year-old returns for another season with the Gatineau Olympiques and is off to an incredible start already with 22 points in 13 games. Poirier could also be presented with the special opportunity to play for Team Canada in the 2014 WJC. Poirier made an impression at the Team Canada evaluation camp this summer and could be selected to represent his country. 

Greg Nemisz and David Eddy are wingers that are already in the system and will have another season to continue developing their game in Abbotsford. Both could possibly see a call up from the Flames should a player go down with an injury. Nemisz had stints in a Flames jersey already and knows what to expect should he get called up to the NHL. Eddy saw time in the ECHL last year due to a demotion for underperforming and understands what it takes to stay with the Heat. 

Tim Harrison is a right winger that is a few years removed from any consideration as he enters his first year at Colgate University. Harrison plays a physical style of game that can only get stronger as he fills in his 6’3, 175-pound frame. The 19-year-old is a promising right winger in the Flames talent pool.

Defense

The Flames continue to develop a solid defensive corps while producing quality defenders from the system. Following the path of standout defensive prospects Dion Phaneuf, Mark Giordano, and T.J. Brodie are Patrick Sieloff and Tyler Wotherspoon. Sieloff and Wotherspoon lead the new group of defensive prospects for the Flames organization and both find themselves in the starting lineup for the Abbotsford Heat as the 2013-14 season starts. Both defenders play a similar type of game, with the Michigan native Sieloff playing with more of an offensive flare to his game, while the Surrey, British Columbia native Wotherspoon is more of a stay-at-home defender. The blueliners could form a tandem that resembles a former Canadian and American combo that played for the Flames back in the day, in Al MacInnis and Gary Suter. 

After completing a successful career with the Portland Winterhawks, Wotherspoon joins the Abbotsford Heat for his first season as a pro. The 20-year-old defender will be depended on for his solid defensive play and ability to shut down top line players. Wotherspoon plays smart defense and can be an anchor of support on the blue line. The experience and maturity Wotherspoon has gained over the years will help make the transition to pro a successful one.

Sieloff also starts off the 2013-14 campaign on the blue line for the Abbotsford Heat. His first season as a pro will be a pivotal one for the 19-year-old, as his play impressed Flames management over the summer and in preseason games. Sieloff has developed into a solid defender with NHL caliber traits that could possibly see him cracking the Flames lineup sometime this year or next. 

Joining Sieloff and Wotherspoon in Abbotsford in his first year as pro is John Ramage. Ramage is making the transition from the collegiate level to the pro ranks, and based on his maturity and style of play, the leap should be seamless for the 21-year-old. Ramage has the hockey sense to provide solid defense to shut down top line players. Ramage adds to the talented core of defenders in Abbotsford developing into future Flames.

The Flames also have a squad of veteran defenders in Mark Cundari, Chad Billins, and James Martin. Cundari was acquired in the Jay Bouwmeester trade with St. Louis and has the experience to become a fixture in the Flames lineup. He is a smart defender with excellent play making skills and on ice awareness. The 23-year-old has a NHL-caliber game that could see time in a Flames jersey this season. However to start the 2013-14 season, Cundari will play in Abbotsford.
Joining Cundari in Abbotsford is Billins. The 24-year-old will be part of the defensive mix for the Heat competing for playing time. If unsuccessful in securing a position, Billins could be assigned to the Alaska Aces (ECHL), where James Martin starts off his 2013-14 campaign. Martin finds himself assigned to the ECHL once again due to the influx of defenders in Abbotsford, similarly to last season when numbers increased during the lockout.

Brett Kulak and Ryan Culkin returned to their respective junior teams for another year of development to work on their overall game and defensive play. Kulak will see action in his third season with the Vancouver Giants (WHL), while Culkin returns for his fourth season with the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL). Both will be looked upon for their leadership skills and stability on the blue line, specifically Culkin, who was named captain of the Remparts this season.

Feaster utilized four of the eight draft picks in the 2013 draft to stock up on promising defensive talent for the future. The decision to select four defenders could prove to be a valuable move for the organization considering the upside of the prospects selected. Keegan Kanzig was the first of four defensemen selected in the third round, and he is also the largest player selected by the Flames at 6’7 and 241 pounds. Kanzig has the presence of an enforcer, however other parts of his game are developing quite impressively, specifically his skating and offensive upside for a player his size. The Alberta native will be joining the Victoria Royals for another season in 2013-14.

Eric Roy and John Gilmour play a similar type of game. Both play a solid defensive game while providing the offensive upside to produce from the blue line.

Eric Roy will be entering his third season with the Brandon Wheat Kings and will be one of the veterans on the blue line. Roy could potentially have a break out season offensively if he is able to rediscover his scoring touch from 2011-12, where he recorded 53 points in 69 games.  

John Gilmour returns to Providence for his sophomore season and will look to make an impact as an effective quarterback on the power play unit and as a solid defender. Despite his smaller frame, Gilmour utilizes his speed and hockey IQ to frustrate forwards with his effective defense.

The only European defender in the Flames system is Rushan Rafikov. Rafikov was also the only European drafted by Calgary in the 2013 draft and remains in Russia for the 2013-14 season. Rafikov has committed to playing with Loko Yaroslavl (MHL) for another season before deciding his next course of action.

Goaltending

After almost a decade of having Miikka Kiprusoff as the Flames’ number one goaltender, Calgary enters the 2013 season searching for a new starter. However, the Flames find themselves in a good position with the prospects competing for the role, despite the departure of Kiprusoff. Calgary did not select a goaltender with any of their eight draft picks in the 2013 draft, which indicates that they are satisfied with the amount of quality goaltenders already in the system.

While Joey MacDonald and Karri Ramo handle the short term goaltending duties for Calgary, the Flames have a trio of quality goalie prospects in the pipeline that will be coming up in the near future. Joni Ortio and Laurent Brossoit will be competing for ice time with the Abbotsford Heat, while Jon Gillies continues to improve his game at Providence College. Each of the three goaltenders are highly skilled and have the potential to become a starting goaltender for Calgary.

Joni Ortio finds himself in Abbotsford in his second stint on North American ice and will have to outperform Brossoit and Reto Berra in order to secure a goaltending position in Abbotsford. Ortio has been the odd-man out since mid-October, having been assigned to the Alaska Aces before he appeared in a game for Abbotsford.

Brossoit is a goaltender in the Flames system that has found success early in his career. The 6’3 goaltender plays a solid game and stays square to shooters making it hard to score on. The BC native started the season playing for the Alaskan Aces due to the backlog of goaltenders, however Brossoit has recently been called up to play in Abbotsford. Brossoit is determined to play in the NHL one day, and based on his progression and dedication, he will most likely achieve his goal one day.

The 2013-14 season will present Jon Gillies an opportunity to elevate his play to the next level both at college and for Team USA at the upcoming WJC tournament. Gillies will most likely secure the starting goaltender position for Team USA as they defend last year’s gold medal. Gillies will also be looked upon by his teammates at Providence College as they pursue an NCAA championship. The 19-year-old will greatly benefit from playing in these important roles as it will help Gillies continue to mature as a goaltender and increase his composure in high-pressure games. 

Follow Brian Jung on Twitter @brianjung80