After completing an exceptional regular season and never giving up, the Calgary Flames have found a way to win and return to the playoffs after six years without a post-season appearance. Coincidentally, Lance Bouma and TJ Brodie were drafted the last time the Flames were in the playoffs. Since then the Calgary Flames have stockpiled a group of talented prospects which includes Michael Ferland, Markus Granlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and most recently, Sam Bennett. Collectively, they have been an integral part of the team and the success found this season.
Calgary could also be following a pattern of recent Stanley Cup Champions and the amount of time they have spent away from the playoffs drafting key prospects and rebuilding their franchises. The Chicago Blackhawks took a five year lay off from the post-season, while the Los Angeles Kings took six years to build into a champion. The Pittsburgh Penguins only required four years away from the playoffs to draft key players before eventually winning a Stanley Cup.
As the Flames continue to work towards the ultimate goal, a trio of Providence Friars recently won the school’s first NCAA Championship. That group includes Jon Gillies, who recently signed with Calgary after winning the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award and Mark Jankowski, who also joins the following group of prospects who have won the 2014-15 Hockey Future’s Prospect Awards.
Wolf has been a beast this season for the Adirondack Flames and has worked hard on every shift at every facet of the game. The 25-year-old German ranks among the top scorers for Adirondack with 36 points in 56 games, including a team high 19 goals and 152 penalty minutes. Wolf utilizes his 6’3 and 215-pound frame to his advantage at both ends of the ice. Offensively he can provide a big body in front of the net, as well as dig in the corners to generate scoring opportunities. On the defensive end, Wolf is effective in containing opponents, as well as laying out big hits to cause turnovers. Wolf appeared in three games for Calgary this year and could be part of the next batch of prospects to move up to the NHL.
Playing in his first professional season, Brett Kulak saw split time between the ECHL and AHL this season. Initially, Kulak started off with Adirondack in the AHL. However a crowded blue line saw the 21-year-old assigned to the ECHL. Through 39 games with the Colorado Eagles, Kulak provided offensive contributions with his strong and accurate slap shot as he recorded 9 goals and 21 assists. In 23 games with Adirondack, he recorded four goals and six assists. As a reward for a solid campaign this season, Kulak was called up by Calgary to play his first NHL game to close out the regular season for the Flames.
Best Defensive Prospect: Tyler Wotherspoon, D, Adirondack Flames (AHL)
When it comes to defense, Tyler Wotherspoon is currently the best defender in the system and should be poised to take on a greater role in the NHL in the upcoming season. In his second AHL season, Wotherspoon continued to strengthen his defensive game while improving his offensive numbers as he recorded a career-high 24 points in 61 games for Adirondack this year. The 22-year-old is a solid shutdown defender who plays a responsible game that could bolster a Flames blue line developing into an up-and-coming top tier unit.
Fastest Skater: Emile Poirier, RW, Adirondack Flames (AHL)
Defending his title from last year, Poirier returns as the fastest skater in the Flames system. Utilizing his speed and a quick first step, Poirier made an impact in his first AHL season earning his first All-Star appearance as a rookie. Poirier participated in the CCM Fastest Skater Competiton and fell short by .155 seconds from winning the tight race against Colin Miller (LAK) of the Manchester Monarchs. Poirier ranks among the top scorers for Adirondack with 17 goals and 22 assists in 52 games, and was called up by Calgary for his first NHL experience where he recorded one assist in six games this year.
Prospect of the Year: Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames (NHL)
Without a doubt, Johnny Gaudreau has been an important figure for the Flames this season. The 21-year-old finished the regular season tied with Ottawa’s Mark Stone for the rookie scoring lead with 64 points in 80 games. Gaudreau also ranks among the top ten all-time rookie scorers for the Flames and is a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy.
Although some expected Gaudreau’s play to subside over the course of the season, the New Jersey native not only maintained his level of play but also increased it as the push for the playoffs intensified down the stretch. Playing alongside Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan, Gaudreau added a shifty playmaker to a trio that have developed into a potent line for Calgary. During the final crucial stretch of the season, Gaudreau scored 20 points in 19 games, including five multi-point games to help Calgary return to the playoffs.
Breakout Player for 2014-15: Brandon Hickey, D, Boston University (Hockey East)
Adjusting to a new team and level of play can affect a player as they adapt to their first season in a new league, however Brandon Hickey was able to not only adjust relatively quickly, he was also able to make an impact and provide solid defense and offensive contributions for Boston University this year.
Paired with fellow freshman Brandon Fortunato, Hickey found instant chemistry and the two formed a solid defensive tandem for the Terriers. Hickey finished the regular season with 17 points in 41 games and had an opportunity to play in the NCAA Frozen Four, where he recorded a key goal against North Dakota.
Most Improved Prospect: Michael Ferland, LW, Calgary Flames (NHL)
The past few seasons have been a test for Ferland, who had to deal with off-ice issues along with injuries which sidelined him for periods of time. The Manitoba native played in only 26 games for the Abbotsford Heat last year before requiring season ending knee surgery. Prior to that injury, Ferland received a concussion in his first NHL game and was placed on the IR for a short period of time. The season prior, Ferland was bounced between the AHL and ECHL, and was discouraged to continue playing based on his performance.
However the determination of the 23-year-old to respond in a strong way was evident this season as he made an impression in the Flames’ lineup with hard-nose style of game. For Ferland to battle back from all the adversities he has faced over the past few seasons and to earn a spot in a tightly competitive Flames lineup, he rightfully deserves the Most Improved Prospect award this year.
Overachiever: Austin Carroll, RW, Victoria Royals (WHL)
Playing in his fourth WHL season, Austin Carroll elevated his game to become the leading scorer for the Victoria Royals this year with 77 points in 69 games, which is a career high for Carroll and surpasses his total from last year by 20 points and the previous season by 35. With a limited number of right wing prospects for Calgary, Carroll brings a complete package of scoring, physical play and leadership. Carroll recently celebrated his 20th birthday with a special milestone in his career by signing his first NHL contract with the Calgary Flames. Despite the occasion, Flames GM Brad Treliving said that “we want him focusing on his playoffs.” Carroll posted one goal and eight assists in ten playoff games before the Royals eventually fell to the Kelowna Rockets.
Underachiever: Max Reinhart, C, Adirondack Flames (AHL)
Max Reinhart initially started the season with a very slow uncharacteristic pace. After posting a 63 point campaign in 66 games last season, Reinhart started this year with a seven-game pointless streak and recorded only 15 points in the following five months, far off the 43 points he recorded in the same period last year.
However despite the slow start, Reinhart has picked up his game during the second half of the season, in particular since the start of March, where he has recorded 21 points in the past 20 games.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Mark Jankowski, C, Providence Friars (Hockey East)
There are certain expectations that are placed upon first round draft picks to perform at certain levels in their respective leagues and eventually the NHL. Jankowski produced a career best season with 27 points in 37 games, which concluded with a NCAA Frozen Four Championship. The 20-year-old turned in a quality performance for Providence during their title run and recorded two goals and two assists in four games, including a game-tying goal in the final game against Boston University.
However time is approaching to determine whether or not it was a smart move for the Flames to trade down from the 14th overall pick in order to select Jankowski with the 21st pick in the 2012 NHL draft. If Calgary kept the original pick, the team could have selected Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), Cody Ceci (OTT), Tom Wilson (WAS), Tomas Hertl (SJS), Teuvo Teravainen (CHI), Andrei Vasilevskiy (TBL) or Scott Laughton (PHI), all of whom were drafted before Jankowski and have appeared in the NHL already. The wisdom of the selection still remains to be determined.
Prospect of the month
To return to action after a shoulder surgery and competing at the end of the season when battles intensify is a feat in itself, however to return like Sam Bennett has, demonstrates the type of special player he is. With a fully rehabilitated shoulder, Bennett first returned to the Kingston Frontenacs on February 25th where he recorded one goal and two assists. In the following 11 games, Bennett recorded 24 points and was held scoreless for only one game during that span. Despite being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the North Bay Battalion, Bennett still recorded three assists. Upon the early exit, Calgary called up Bennett, where he recorded his first NHL point in his first NHL game with an assist on a goal by Michael Ferland during the last game of the regular season. He continued his strong play into the playoffs. In Game Three of the series against Vancouver, Bennett slammed home his first NHL goal, one which would stand as the game-winner.
Bennett’s ability to step into the NHL playoffs with only one NHL game under his belt and to keep pace with players who have played all season illustrates why he is considered one of the top prospects from the 2014 draft.
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