Bright future apparent after strong 2013-14 season for Calgary Flames prospects

By Brian Jung

Emile Poirier - Gatineau Olympiques

Photo: Emile Poirier, Calgary’s 22nd overall pick in 2013, led Gatineau in goals (43) and points (87) in 2013-14 before debuting in the AHL with Abbotsford (courtesy of Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

The 2013-14 season provided a bright glimpse of what the future holds for the Calgary Flames. With the emerging amount of talent in the pipeline, the Flames are getting stronger in their development.

Calgary welcomed twelve new faces to their line up this season as they got their first taste of the NHL, including Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold

The number of prospects with a positive season is a welcomed sight for the franchise, indicating the Flames are heading in the right direction. A group players stood out this year and have been recognized with the following awards.

Prospect of the Year: Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)

No other prospect in the Flames system collected as many individual awards in 2013-14 as Gaudreau did in his junior season at Boston College. The New Jersey native received the Hockey East Player of the Year award, along with being named to the All-Hockey East First Team and AHCA East First-Team All-American. As one of the premier players in the collegiate ranks, the 20-year-old led the nation in goals, assists and points, and ultimately took the Hobey Baker Award as the best NCAA player. With 80 points in only 40 games, Gaudreau separated himself from his peers with his superb skillset and hockey IQ.

Gaudreau played exceptionally well this season and was able to put together an incredible 31-game point streak, which included 29 goals and 61 points in the stretch. Although falling short in attempts of winning a NCAA championship, the year concluded on a high note for Gaudreau by signing a contract with the Calgary Flames and scoring on his first shot in his first NHL game on April 13th against the Vancouver Canucks.

Most Improved: Joni Ortio, G, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

Starting the season as the third ranked goaltender behind Laurent Brossoit (EDM) and Jon Gillies among Flames prospects, Joni Ortio remained focused on his game, and persevered as the cards played out in his favor. After four games with the Alaska Aces (ECHL), where he posted a 3-1 record with a 1.01 goals against average and .944 save percentage, Ortio was assigned to Abbotsford. Ortio did not disappoint in 37 games as he posted a 27-8 record with two shutouts and a career best 2.33 goals against average and .926 save percentage. As a result, Ortio was named Heat MVP for the 2013-14 season.

However the success for Ortio did not stop in Abbotsford as he was called up by Calgary in late February. The Finnish goaltender looked confident in his first nine NHL games, posting a respectable 2.51 goals against average and a .891 save percentage. Ortio has improved his overall game to the level where he can generate success at any level.  

Best Defensive Prospect: Tyler Wotherspoon, D, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

Wotherspoon will be a quality defenseman for many years to come. With his steady and smart defensive play, the 21-year-old suited up for his first professional year with the Abbotsford Heat. One could not however tell that it was his rookie season, as Wotherspoon played like a veteran on the blue line. At 6’1” and 203 pounds, Wotherspoon is physically strong enough to hold his own even at the NHL level, where he appeared in 14 games for the Calgary Flames. Wotherspoon demonstrated a seamless transition from the junior ranks to the professional levels and carried over his reliable shut down play from Portland to Abbotsford to Calgary, earning him the best defensive prospect award.

Fastest Skater: Emile Poirier, RW/LW, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)

Emile Poirier definitely utilized his speed this season to help produce 87 points in 63 games for the Gatineau Olympiques. The 19-year-old easily covered both ends of the ice with his lethal combination of speed and anticipation. As a result, Poirier was a threat on the penalty kill, leading the QMJHL with eight short-handed goals. The Montreal native kept up his speed when he was called up by the Abbotsford Heat. In his first appearance as a pro, Poirier quickly recorded four points in two games. It was a tight race with Gaudreau, Chad Billins, Kenny Agostino and others in contention for the award, however Poirier held on to take it.

Hardest Shot: Mark Cundari, D, Abbotsford Heat/Chicago Wolves (AHL) 

Cundari defends his title from last year for having the hardest shot in the system. At 5’9” and 195 pounds, Cundari maximizes his size to fire heavy shots from the point. The 24-year-old had nine goals and 23 points in 56 combined games between the Abbotsford Heat and the Chicago Wolves. There was increased competition this season from Keegan Kanzig, Brett Kulak, and James Martin, however Cundari takes the honor with his big shot from the blue line.

Overachiever: Markus Granlund, C, Abbotsford Heat (AHL) 

As one of the top four scorers for the Abbotsford Heat in 2013-14, Markus Granlund posted career best numbers in his rookie season. The younger brother of Mikael Granlund took no time to settle into his comfort zone and was one of the top rookies in the AHL. In 52 games, Granlund notched the most points out of all the rookies in Abbotsford with 25 goals and 21 assists. The Finnish forward adapted to the North American style of play with ease and established himself as one of the up-and-coming prospects to watch out for in the future for the Flames.  

Underachiever: Sven Baertschi, LW, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

There were very few prospects in the Flames organization that took a step back this season. For Sven Baertschi the first step back was finding himself in the doghouse in Calgary. After illustrating lackluster effort and not fully buying into the system, Baertschi took another step back and was demoted to Abbotsford. With the talent to become a top offensive producer, Baertschi could not follow through in solidifying a regular roster spot his third attempt with the Calgary Flames.

In 41 games with the Heat, Baertschi posted 29 points, which is only three more points than his stint with the Heat in 2012-13, when he only played 32 games. Baertschi takes the category due to falling short on expectations and effort.

Highest risk/reward: Mark Jankowski, C, Providence Friars (Hockey East)

Prospects selected in the first round generally carry higher expectations than those in later rounds and even though Jankowski produced better numbers than last season, he did not take his game to the next level as expected. The 19-year-old center ranked third in team scoring with 13 goals and 25 points in 39 games. Considering his size and potential, Jankowski only posted seven more points than fellow sophomore teammate and Flames defensive prospect, John Gilmour.

While Jankowski did not beat expectations, his play did not falter. Time might be the only factor that plays a role with Jankowski taking his game to the next level as a first round pick.

Hardest Worker: Max Reinhart, C, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

It was a year where Max Reinhart turned in a triple score season. The third year pro posted three times as many goals and assists this season compared to last year, and ultimately tripled his point total. Reinhart provided the Heat a total package in his play and was one of the key figures that led the team into the playoffs. Hard work resulted in Reinhart recording 21 goals and 42 assists for 63 points in 66 games. He was a reliable call-up for Calgary once again this season and averaged over ten minutes a game in a Flames jersey.   

Breakout player for 2014-15: Markus Granlund, C, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

Markus Granlund made quite the impression in his first pro season and silenced any skeptics that he would struggle with the transition to North America. Granlund played so well that he earned the Heat’s top rookie of the year honor. As a result, the bar has been set for next season as Granlund is poised to build upon his incredible rookie year. Granlund gained confidence by creating instant chemistry with the likes of Max Reinhart, Corban Knight and Emile Poirier. The Finnish forward also found his spot in the Flames roster during a seven game stint, recording two goals and one assist. Granlund jumped over all the first year hurdles with ease, and he is now set to break out next season with his maturity and skillset.

Follow Brian Jung on Twitter: @brianjung80