Calgary Flames minor-league system remains thin

By Kent Wilson
Photo: Greg Nemisz has been one of the few bright spots on a Abbotsford team that has dealt with injuries and a lack of scoring. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

Despite the graduation of some solid prospects in Greg Nemisz, Mitch Wahl, Lance Bouma, and T.J. Brodie this season, the Calgary Flames minor-league affiliate the Abbotsford Heat are facing some familiar issues: a lack of scoring and a rash of injuries. John Negrin, Kris Chucko, Ryley Grantham, Wahl, Gaelan Patterson, Cam Cunning and Carter Bancks have all spent significant amounts of time on injured reserve thus far.

That said, coach Jim Playfair has been able to mold one of the youngest teams in the league into a competent defensive squad, which has allowed the Heat to stay competitive through the first half of the year.

Greg Nemisz, RW, 20

It’s been a relatively solid professional debut for the former first round pick. He is currently tied for the team lead in scoring with 20 points in 43 games and is second on the club behind AHL veteran Matt Keith with 11 goals. Nemisz’s numbers aren’t overly impressive on an absolute level (his output ties him for 146th overall in AHL scoring), but that is partially a function of the Heat’s general lack of firepower.

Nemisz has suited up for all 43 games so far this year, a feat matched by only a few other Heat players. He has switched between playing right wing and center based on circumstances and demand, which highlights his utility as a forward. He has also been featured on both the penalty-kill and power-play.

Nemisz is one of the best forward prospects in the Flames organization, but he’s nowhere near NHL ready. Look for him to spend at least a season or two ripening on the farm.

Leland Irving, G, 22

Another one of the few bright spots has been Leland Irving. Like Nemisz, Irving is a former first round choice, although he struggled in his sophomore season to reliably grab the starter reins (to the degree that he was usurped by free agent signee David Shantz by the end of the year). This season, however, Irving has been the best puck stopper on the farm, appearing in 37 of the Heat’s 43 games, winning 17 and posting a respectable .909 save percentage. His win total is good for second in the AHL behind Brad Thiessen (PIT) and his save rate is good for 18th overall amongst goalies who have appeared in 20 or more games.

Irving is still not quite NHL ready, but his performance so far is a solid step forward.

T.J. Brodie, D, 20

The only rookie to break camp with the parent squad this year was T.J. Brodie. After a dominant training camp, Brodie struggled a bit during his cup of coffee in the NHL and he was subsequently sent down to the farm, partially due to the Flames boasting an already crowded blue line. The smooth-skating, puck-moving defender posted some impressive results initially, but the points have been harder to come by lately with just a single assist so far in January. In addition, Brodie was recently a healthy scratch owing to some rather erratic defensive zone play. Coach Jim Playfair said the young blueliner was trying to do too much and needed to calm his play down to be more effective.

That said, Brodie still boasts one of the best point-per-game paces on the club with one goal and 14 assists in 36 games and was recently named the Heat’s only AHL all-star.

Lance Bouma, C, 20

The former captain of the Vancouver Giants has been a solid addition to the Heat this year, managing nine goals and 16 points so far. A strong and tenacious forechecker, Bouma can play in all situations and also co-leads the team in power-play goals with four.

A third round choice in 2008, Bouma was picked more for his style of play and character than ability to put up points. Whatever offense he offers should be considered a bonus.

Keith Seabrook, D, 22

The Flames co-leader in points from the back-end, Brent’s younger brother Keith continues to be mostly a power-play presence on the Heat, although the Heat’s injuries and inexperience have meant lots of minutes in all situations for him this season. Smaller at 6′ and 197 pounds, Seabrook sometimes has problems in the defensive zone, but is fairly capable when it comes to the offensive end of things. His four goals (three on the power-play) are the best on the Heat from the back-end and his 15 points tie him with Brodie in terms of overall production.

Like many others on the team, Seabrook missed some time this year due to injury in December. He returned early in that month, however, and continues to log big minutes for the club.

John Armstrong, C, 22

For the first time in his pro career, John Armstrong has remained healthy for the entire season (so far). A late cut from the Flames training camp two years ago, Armstrong has struggled to live up to those expectations ever since, in no small part because of ongoing injury concerns. He even suffered a facial laceration during Calgary’s most recent training camp thanks to absorbing a puck to the kisser during one of the exhibition games.

Armstrong’s been able to stay out of the infirmary, but his results are fairly disappointing. He’s managed just five goals and 12 points in 43 games. The organization may have expected more out a center with the speed and shot of Armstrong, although he has never really put up noteworthy offensive numbers at any level. At this point, Armstrong might eventually develop into fourth-line, call-up material, although there’s a better chance he’ll top out as an AHL vet.

Bryan Cameron, C, 21

A free agent signing this past off-season, Cameron was coming off a career high 53 goal season with the OHL Barrie Colts. A prolific scorer in the junior, Cameron was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, but concerns about his size (5’10") and lack o
f foot speed caused LA to allow him to re-enter the draft where he was never reselected.

So far, the Kings scouts have been proven right. Cameron has had a lot of problems trying to translate his junior scoring ability to pro hockey. In 38 games his year, he has garnered just four goals and eight points. Those numbers are not good enough for a player whose primary strength was supposed to be his offensive acumen.

Mitch Wahl, C, 20

It’s been a very rough rookie season for Mitch Wahl, who managed an impressive 96 points in his final year in the WHL before turning pro. The slick centerman began the year struggling in October and even spent some time in the press-box as a healthy scratch. When he finally made his way back into the line-up, Wahl absorbed a dangerous hit to the head from Vancouver Canuck prospect Aaron Volpatti. The hit broke bones in Wahl’s face and he still remains out of the line-up. In 17 games played, Wahl scored just one goal and five points.

Matt Pelech, D, 23

After a disappointing pre-season in which he failed to adequately press for a spot with the Flames, Matt Pelech had his entire November wiped out by yet another shoulder injury. He returned in December and continues to be a defensive stalwart for the Heat, although it’s an open question whether Pelech will ever be able to take the next step or not. Selected in first round in 2005, Pelech is in his fourth pro season and hasn’t shown signs of significant development yet. The window for him to be considered a "prospect" rather than a bust is rapidly closing.

Logan MacMillan, LW, 21

Acquired in the off-season for team leading scorer Jason Jaffray, former Anaheim first round pick Logan MacMillan has been a nominal contributor for the Heat so far. With just three goals and seven points in 38 games, MacMillan has one of the worst point-per-game paces amongst regular skaters on the club. He has also sports one of the worst plus/minus ratings at minus-12.

MacMillan was a low-risk gamble by the organization, who seemed interested in the player thanks to his draft pedigree and his performance for the Heat when he was lent to the club last season.

Gaelan Patterson, C, 20

The former seventh round pick began his pro career on the right foot, managing three goals and 11 points in his first 21 games. Unfortunately, the Abbotsford Heat injury curse felled Galen Patterson this year as well, limiting him to just 24 games thus far. He recently returned to the lineup, and has tallied one goal in three games.

J.D. Watt, RW, 23

Pest and pugilist Watt wasn’t seeing much time on the Heat this season and subsequently requested a trade or release from the organization. The Flames granted him a release in January and he was immediately picked-up by the San Antonia Rampage.

Watt doesn’t have the requisite skills to make an impact that the AHL or NHL levels, so his loss is not a big one to the Flames organization.

Kris Chucko, RW, 24

Appearing in just two games before falling to injury, this will likely be Chucko’s last season in the Flames system. The big winger turns 25-years old in March and has consistently failed to live up his first round draft pedigree since turning pro in 2006-07 due to a mix of injuries and inconsistency.

Matt Keetley, G, 23

Like Chucko, Matt Keetley is likely playing in his final season as a member of the Calgary Flames organization. The 23-year old puckstopper has been passed completely by Leland Irving this year and has appeared in just eight contests, winning none of them a posting a ghastly .858 save percentage.