Flames Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Jon Roe

The Flames top prospect remains Mikael Backlund, who seamlessly transferred his game from the Swedish Elite League to the WHL late in the season. Backlund is as close to a sure thing as the Flames have in their system, which still lacks the depth of other teams.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Mikael Backlund, C
2. (2) Greg Nemisz, RW
3. (3) Keith Aulie, D
4. (5) Leland Irving, G
5. (NR) Tim Erixon, D
6. (4) Mitch Wahl, C
7. (6) John Negrin, D
8. (9) T.J. Brodie, D
9. (10) Aaron Marvin, C
10. (NR) Ryan Howse, LW
11. (13) Kris Chucko, LW
12. (NR) Keith Seabrook, D
13. (15) Kyle Greentree, LW
14. (16) Matt Pelech, D
15. (NR) Henrik Bjorklund, RW
16. (NR) Alexander Deilert, D
17. (NR) Hugo Carpentier, C
18. (7) Matt Keetley, G
19. (17) Jordan Fulton, LW
20. (11) John Armstrong, C

1. (1) Mikael Backlund, C, 20, 8.5C
Acquired first round, 24th overall, 2007

After four years of hockey in Sweden, Backlund finally made the jump to North America in the middle of last season. He didn’t disappoint. After a one-game appearance with the Flames, he joined the Kelowna Rockets who were headed for a run to the Memorial Cup final. During his stint with the Rockets, Backlund scored 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 28 regular-season games and another 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists) in 19 playoff games. Though he was held without a goal in the Memorial Cup tournament, he potted four assists to help the Rockets to the final where they eventually bowed out to the Windsor Spitfires. Backlund also wore his country’s colors for the WJCs for the second year and scored seven points in six games for the silver medal-winning Swedes. Backlund is well on his way to becoming an NHL player and has a fair shot at a roster spot for the 2009-10 season.

2. (2) Greg Nemisz, RW, 19, 7.5C
Acquired first round, 25th overall, 2008

After another productive season in the OHL with 77 points (36 goals, 41 assists) in 67 games, Nemisz, an alternate captain, stepped up with a great playoffs. He notched 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists) for the eventual Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires. During that tournament, he scored seven points (one goal, six assists) in six games. Though he’ll get a hard look at camp this year, Nemisz will likely be heading back to another season with the Spitfires.

3. (3) Keith Aulie, D, 20, 7.0C

Acquired fourth round, 116th overall, 2007

Another year with the Brandon Wheat Kings, another year of improvement for Aulie. He improved offensively (jumping from 17 points to 33 points), defensively (going from +3 to +7 in the regular season, and was a rock in the post season with a spectacular +15 in 12 games) and played solidly for Canada’s gold medal-winning squad at the WJCs. The 6’6" defenseman is likely to make the jump to the AHL this next season where he’ll get a chance to hone his game against older players.

4. (5) Leland Irving, G, 21, 7.0B
Acquired first round, 26th overall, 2006

Irving split time with Matt Keetley with the Quad City Flames early in the season in the AHL before stealing the starting job with some superior play. Irving had a 24-18-2 record, a 2.23 goals against average and a .912 save percentage compared to Keetley’s 8-18-4 record, 2.85 goals against average and .892 save percentage. Though the baby Flames missed the playoffs, Irving’s stellar play to close out the season (including a 4-1 record, 1.58 goals against average and .932 save percentage in March) is promising. With the Flames locking up Curtis McElhinney for the year, Irving will move with Quad City to Abbotsford and have a full-time role with the Heat.

5. (NR) Tim Erixon, D, 18, 7.0C

Acquired first round, 23rd overall, 2009

The smooth-skating defenseman was the Flames first overall choice in the recent draft and has spent time at the top level of competition in Sweden. Last year, he played 45 games with Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League, scoring two goals and collecting five assists. He’ll likely return there for the upcoming season, though he’s physically ready for the NHL already.

6. (4) Mitch Wahl, C, 19, 7.0C

Acquired second round, 48th overall, 2008

Wahl continued to put up numbers for the Spokane Chiefs this past year, scoring 67 points (32 goals and 35 assists) in 63 games, good for second on the team. He also tied for the lead in playoff scoring with 13 points in 12 games. He wasn’t too shabby on the defensive end either, leading his team with a +42 rating, good for seventh in the league last season. Wahl has another year in the WHL to keep piling on offensive numbers before he will make the jump to the AHL.

7. (6) John Negrin, D, 20, 6.5C

Acquired third round, 70th overall, 2007

It was a season of travel for Negrin. He was traded to the Swift Current Broncos midway through last season after spending parts of five seasons in the WHL with the Kootenay Ice and spent three games as a call-up for the injury-riddled Flames in April. He made the best of his time with the Broncos, picking up 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) and was a +14 in 25 games before his defensive play diminished in the playoffs. Negrin was -7 in a seven-game loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers in the opening round, including a combined -4 in the final two losses as the Tigers came back from 3-2 down to win the series. He was solid with the Flames during his brief stint though, including a 14-minute, one-assist performance against the Oilers on April 11. He’s proven he can compete short term against older opponents and will need to be able to do it over a full season next year with the Heat.

8. (9) T.J. Brodie, D, 19, 6.5C

Acquired fourth round, 114th overall, 2008

With the Saginaw Spirit, Brodie picked up 20 more points in five fewer games this season compared to last. Brodie’s 50 points (12 goals, 38 assists) lead all Spirit defensemen. He followed that up by placing third on the team in playoff scoring with nine points (three goals, six assists) in eight games. However, much like Keith Seabrook, Brodie’s offense came at the expense of his defense. He was third for Spirit defensemen in plus/minus with +8 and was a minus in the playoffs for the second year in a row with minus-three. He has one more year in the OHL to put together his defensive game.

9. (10) Aaron Marvin, C, 21, 6.5C

Acquired third round, 89th overall, 2006

Marvin finished fourth in scoring for a St. Cloud State team with 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) and led the team with a +8 for the season. The team lost in the first round of the playoffs after finishing sixth in the WCHA. After lighting it up in high school in Minnesota, Marvin seems to slowly grasping the offensive game at the NCAA level. He still has a few years of eligibility left to keep working it out, barring an unlikely early leap to the pro ranks.

10. (NR) Ryan Howse, LW, 18, 6.5C

Acquired third round, 74th overall, 2009

Though still early in his WHL career, Howse stepped up as a leader on a bad Chilliwack Bruins squad last year. He led the team in points with 44 and goals with 31 while picking up just 12 penalty minutes, a pretty impressive total for a 17-year-old. The Flames are looking for him to blossom even more offensively in the coming years and as he continues taking the lead for the growing Bruins.

11. (13) Kris Chucko, RW, 23, 6.0B

Acquired first round, 24th overall, 2004

Chucko has hung around the Flames system for a long time and he finally got a shot at a spot on the big ice this past season when he was called up for two games. He only picked up two penalty minutes and no points in 14 minutes of playing time, but he didn’t look entirely out of place. Chucko also made good use of his AHL time, finishing fourth in scoring on the Quad City Flames with 51 points (28 goals, 23 assists). He was signed to another contract this summer and he’ll get a decent shot at a third or fourth line spot at camp, but he’s likely to spend next year as a utility player shuttling back and forth between the Heat and the Flames.

12. (NR) Keith Seabrook, D, 20, 7.0D

Acquired for future considerations from the Washington Capitals

The Flames picked up Seabrook from the Washington Capitals this summer for future considerations, when the Capitals made no moves to sign him. Seabrook played two seasons with the WHL Hitmen, so he should be comfortable with his surroundings in Calgary. Seabrook has high offensive upside, as shown by his 55 points (15 goals, 40 assists) in 64 games last year, but is also prone to defensive errors. Seabrook was fourth among Hitmen defensemen last season with a +21 on a team that featured Paul Postma’s league-leading +67. The pro game will be a new test for him.

13. (15) Kyle Greentree, LW, 25, 6.0B

Acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers for Tim Ramholt

In his short AHL career, Greentree has proven he can score. His first season in the AHL he led the Philadelphia Phantoms in goals and last year he led the Quad City Flames with 76 points and 39 goals, earning himself a two-game call-up. He played 18 minutes in total, registering a -1. Like a lot of the Flames older prospects, Greentree will likely get a decent shot at a third or fourth-line role with the club in training camp. But with the Flames glut of players with one-way contracts, Greentree will likely face a similar fate as Chucko as an AHL starter and occasional NHL call-up.

14. (16) Matt Pelech, D, 21, 6.0B

Acquired first round, 26th overall, 2005

Pelech had an extended stay in Calgary after the Flames went through a rash of injuries late in the season. In a five-game stretch, he picked up three assists, was a plus-one and played more than 15 minutes in three games. He didn’t have too shabby of a season in the AHL either, with three goals and six assists, a -3 rating and 130 penalty minutes in 59 games. Though there is unlikely any room on the NHL roster at the start of the season for the 6’3 220 lb defenseman, Pelech will be at the top of the call-up list after proving he can skate big minutes at the highest level.

15. (NR) Henrik Bjorklund, RW, 18, 6.5D
Acquired fourth round, 111th overall, 2009

The young Bjorklund has shown he has a scoring touch at the lower rungs of the Swedish league ladder, but has been held scoreless so far in 12 games split over three seasons with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League. Last year with Skare BK, a division 1 squad, Bjorklund notched 21 goals and 35 points. If he can find a way to convert at the next level, he has a high offensive upside.

16. (NR) Alexander Deilert, D, 20, 6.5D

Acquired seventh round, 198th overall, 2009

The Flames late-round choice has spent time at the top level in Sweden, but has spent a lot of time jumping between divisions in the past few years. In six games last year with Djurgardens, Deilert was held off the score sheet and was even, but did pick up 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 19 games with Djurgardens’ junior squad. He’s also represented Sweden in several international tournaments. A whole season at the top level in Sweden will be a test for Deilert, who is still undersized at 5’11 and 179 lbs.

17. (NR) Hugo Carpentier, C, 21, 6.5D

Acquired fourth round, 118th overall, 2006

Carpentier completed his tour of the QMJHL and split last year between the AHL and the ECHL. In 45 games with the Las Vegas Wranglers, Carpentier has 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) and in 17 with the Quad City Flames, he had four points (two goals, two assists). With some roster shuffling, Carpentier is likely to spend more time in the AHL next year and will continue to adapt his game to the pro level.

18. (7) Matt Keetley, G, 23, 6.0C
Acquired fifth round, 158th overall, 2005

Keetley began the season splitting time with Irving before the younger Irving took over the starter’s job halfway through the season. In 2007-08, Keetley had a respectable 10-8-1 record with a 2.33 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. Last year, his stats nosedived. Keetley was only 8-18-4 with a 2.85 goals against average and .892 save percentage before he was shuffled to the ECHL. With the Wranglers, Keetley improved to a 2.66 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. He will need to pick up his play and challenge Irving for the No. 1 spot with the Abbotsford Heat because Keetley’s stock has certainly fallen in the last year.

19. (17) Jordan Fulton, LW, 21, 6.0C

Acquired sixth round, 179th overall, 2006

In Fulton’s third year with the University Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, he continued his steady offensive improvement and registered career highs in goals (12) and points (17) and was second on the team in penalty minutes with 60 in 46 games. In 116 career games in the NCAA, he’s amassed just 41 points (20 goals, 21 assists). He’s still hanging around the Flames system and he has a few more seasons in the NCAA to pick up his play, but he is a ways away from being able to compete at the AHL level.

20. (11) John Armstrong, C, 21, 6.0C

Acquired third round, 87th overall, 2006

After rounding out his final year in the OHL as a point-producing player, Armstrong started out strong in his first season in the AHL. However, after putting up nine points in 12 games in October, Armstrong only tallied 11 points for the rest of the year, including a stretch of 27 games without a goal and long periods of time without any points at all. He’ll need to be more consistent next season.