Baertschi top prospect for Calgary Flames

By David Thicke
Photo: Drafted 13th overall in the 2011 draft, Sven Baertschi debuts as the Calgary Flames top prospect. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Sven Baertschi debuts as number one on the Calgary Flames' top 20 prospects list after recently being picked 13th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and signaling a big change and improvement in their organizational depth. The Flames still have grit and character players like Chris Breen, John Ramage, Michael Ferland but they have quickly stocked up as well on offensively skilled, speedy playmaking scorers like Paul Bryon, Roman Horak, John Gaudreau, Markus Granlund. The Flames also saw big improvements in the games of Leland Irving, Max Reinhart, Patrick Holland, and T.J. Brodie in 2010-11 season. There has been such an increase of new talent with high potential that players like Joni Ortio and Lance Bouma (16 NHL games last season) have slipped to twentieth and off the list respectively. The Calgary Flames were ranked last in the NHL for their lack of organizational depth but there has been solid improvement by addition through subtraction, trades, and new draft choices. There have also been several slightly older prospects that showed solid improvements over the past year.

1. (NR) Sven Baertschi, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2011

Baertschi is an extremely talented winger who can carry the puck but really excels at getting to the open ice. He can be a creative playmaker while also having the grit and determination to play in the high traffic areas needed to be a dynamic scorer. The Swiss born winger is solid defensively and plays on both the power play and penalty killing units. He has an excellent work ethic with a real drive to work on all aspects of his game which shows his internal push to be the best. The only knock could be a little lack of physical size and strength which will be needed to compete at the NHL level.

Baertschi excelled in the playoffs with the likes of Ryan Johansen (CBJ), Cody Eakin (WAS) and Fellow Swiss, Nino Niederreiter (WAS), by putting up ten goals with 17 assists in 21 WHL playoff games. What makes him quite incredible is that he was playing in his rookie season in the WHL while being new to North American and trying to get comfortable with the smaller rinks.

Baertschi will get his first chance at the 2011-12 training camp to showcase his skills against NHL caliber players and improve the development of his solid overall game. The young winger will most likely be starring in the WHL this coming season but it is simply a matter of time before it's the NHL.

2. (3) T.J. Brodie, D, 7.0B
Drafted 4th round, 114th overall, 2008

Brodie improved his overall game in his first professional season in the AHL with the Abbotsford heat. The puck moving defenseman is an excellent skater, can control the back-end on the power play and has a hard, accurate shot. His one weakness was his defensive side but he just keeps on improving with each level. The offensive minded blueliner proved that the shutdown defensive role can also be a part of his game.

Brodie is possibly the Flames' next star defenseman in the next couple of years if his development continues at its present pace. He might even make the team out of training camp this year, if not, he will be the first call-up for injuries or any poor starts by the other younger defensemen in the starting line-up for Calgary.

3. (1) Greg Nemisz, RW, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2008

Nemisz has such soft hands in tight to the net, a quick accurate release and can play really strong down low while possessing good defensive instincts as well. The rookie power forward only scored 14 goals along with 19 assists but he didn't have the right centerman playing alongside him last season with the Heat. The big forward has improved his skating speed, stride lengths, and acceleration with hard work this past year.

For the coming season, Nemisz will hopefully see a spike in offense, playing alongside Roman Horak or Mitch Wahl at the AHL level. The burgeoning power forward will also be among the first called up if there are any injuries to the Flames' forwards.

4. (7) Leland Irving, G, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2006

Irving was clearly the AHL Heat's MVP last season. The goaltender's 30 wins was second amongst all goaltenders and his eight shutouts was an AHL league-best while posting a 2.30 goals against average and an excellent .913 save percentage in 61 AHL starts.

Irving has a calm demeanor along with a quiet goaltending style that lets the shots hit him while not overplaying the shooters which are all qualities needed to be a NHL netminder. The lanky goalie needs to play more at the top of his crease while using an active stick to be aggressive against the shooters.

Irving will play another year in the AHL as the starter and needs to improve on last year's numbers while adding more strength and weight to his thin frame. The solid goaltender is the Flames future starter but could replace Kiprusoff earlier than expected but will need to adjust to the NHL level play and the quality of the shooters. He will be called-up if either Karlsson or Kiprusoff are injured during the NHL season.

5. (10) Max Reinhart, C, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2010

The son of Paul Reinhart, an offensively gifted defenseman who played for the Flames, Max Reinhart is the total package as a center. He can score, is a set-up man and plays a two-way game while also working on the power play and killed penalties units. He has shown over the past few seasons to be very creative difficult to take out of the play. He is also a solid defensive presence and able to create offense through strong play in his own end. Reinhart was second on his team in goals, assists, points, and plus/minus rating this season. The most impressive accomplishment was that he improved on his season's points per game numbers of 1.11 to 1.45 in the playoffs. This is when the ice gets smaller, fewer penalties are called, and there is tighter competition, but he excelled right up there as one of the WHL playoff scoring leaders.

Reinhart gained confidence in his ability to score goals and showed he has another gear or two when the level of competition rises. Reinhart has the drive, passion, and hockey IQ to be a future star in the NHL with the Calgary Flames but will probably be returning to the WHL Kootenay Ice for the upcoming season.

6. (4) Ryan Howse, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2009

Howse is a pure natural scorer but needs to continue improving his defensive game to play at the professional level. He's not a playmaker, just a nose for the net and big enough to get in tight where he can excel at finding the net with his quick shot. He has a natural ability to change the shooting angle of his body and stick quickly to get his shot through the holes to score goals. Howse was the offensive leader for the Chilliwack Bruins scoring 51 goals this past season but the lack of other offensive weapons allowed the Spokane Chiefs to easily shutdown the goal scorer in the WHL playoffs.

Howse will gain good experience at the Flames' training camp but will need to show that scoring skill against NHL caliber players in order to crack the Flames line-up this season. He will probably improve and develop his overall game at the AHL level in Abbotsford during the upcoming season.

7. (2) Mitch Wahl, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2008

Wahl had a difficult rookie AHL season playing only 17 games while scoring one goal along with four assists. His season was cut short by a vicious hit to the head in which he suffered a concussion and required surgery to repair a broken cheekbone and several bones around his eye. Wahl wasn't able to recover in time to finish the 2010-11 season but is currently training and should be ready for the start of the 2011-12 training camp.

Wahl has good offensive vision, playmaking skills and a good accurate shot. The smooth skating centerman plays a solid two-way game but he excels at controlling the puck on the power play and kills penalties with good defensive positioning in his own zone. He will need to stay healthy for the entire year to recover the lost time in his development towards the NHL. The talented two-way centerman will probably get the opportunity to have a starring role for the AHL Abbotsford Heat this upcoming season.

8. (NR) Paul Byron, C/LW, 6.5B
Acquired via trade with the Buffalo Sabres, June 2011

Byron was one of the two young prospects that the Calgary Flames received in the Regher-Kotalik trade with the Buffalo Sabres. He had an excellent sophomore season with the AHL Portland Pirates collecting 26 goals along with 27 assists in 67 AHL games. The speedy centerman showed enough improvement in his overall game that the Sabres called-up him in eight games he scored his first NHL goal and added an assist.

Byron plays a solid two-way game with playmaking offensive skills and quick acceleration to get to the open ice. The small centerman does not play scared but his size could make it difficult with his defensive zone coverage at the NHL level.

The trade to Calgary has given Byron the opportunity to crack the Flames starting line-up out of this year's training camp. If not, he could be assigned to the AHL Heat for the start of the upcoming season with the possibility of call-up for an injury replacement.

9. (NR) Christopher Breen, D, 6.5B
Free agent, signed May 2010

For Breen this past year was a tale of two seasons. The first half was the rookie defenseman struggling to adjust to the professional game at the AHL level and working extra hours both on and off the ice with his coaches. The second half saw Breen flourish as a shutdown defenseman against the other team's best players while receiving the chance to play on both the power play and penalty killing units for the Heat.

Breen has a great work ethic, character, a hard accurate shot from the blue line and has pretty solid skating skills for a big man. The 6'7, 225-pounder has to play with more physicality and competitiveness to play at the NHL level. He has an outside chance on making the Flames starting line-up out of this year's training camp but will most likely be assigned to the AHL Abbotsford Heat to continue his overall development towards the NHL.

10. (NR) John Gaudreau, C/LW, 7.5D
Drafted 4th round, 104th overall, 2011

Gaudreau was named the USHL Rookie of the year and also named to the All-Rookie Team when he scored 36 goals (second in the USHL) with 36 assists and a plus-15 rating in all 60 USHL games. Because of his small 5'6 140 pound frame, Gaudreau was clearly a high risk high reward pick by the Calgary Flames in this year's entry draft

Gaudreau has really quick hands, shifty moves; explosive speed, and could stick-handle in a phone booth. He has scored goals at every level of hockey as he's a pure scorer which is an asset that can't be taught. The 18-year-old forward can make bigger players miss their checks while sliding off them with his elite edge control and quick skating. The little forward has a good attitude and determination to prove the doubters wrong over the concerns involving his small stature. He will need to add muscle mass and weight over the next few years to play at the NHL level.

He has received a release from Northeastern after the Head coach resigned to join the Toronto Maple Leafs' coaching staff. The young forward has agreed to a verbal commitment to play at Boston College if there is room on the hockey team. Gaudreau must quickly contribute offensively in order to prove his skill and heart over his small size.

11. (NR) Roman Horak, C, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with the New York Rangers, June 2011

The Flames received Horak and two second round picks in the 2011 Entry Draft, who turned out to be Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon, in exchange for Tim Erixon (first round pick) and a fifth round draft pick (Shane McColgan) in the same draft.

Horak had a solid sophomore season with the Chilliwack Bruins when he became the set-up man for Ryan Howse a 51 goal scorer. He scored 26 goals (15 on the power play) along with 52 assists in 64 WHL games.

Horak has solid offensive instincts, quick acceleration, and deceptive one-on-one moves while possessing the ability to score on both the power play and penalty killing units. He has a tendency to float around waiting for the puck instead of putting out a bigger effort defensively.

The talented centerman will need to add muscle to his thin frame and improve his overall defensive game. Horak will probably be assigned to the AHL Abbottsford Heat for the upcoming season to start his professional career with the Calgary Flames.

12. (NR) Patrick Holland, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 193rd overall, 2010

Holland was given a bigger role in his second season with the Tri-City Americans which helped him to improve his all-round play. Much improved defensively from a season ago, the winger scored 22 goals with 40 assists and a plus-10 rating in 71 WHL games. He is one of the most improved prospects for the Flames this past season and could be the real sleeper of his draft year.

Holland is one of those players who can sometimes go unnoticed but he can do it all. He sees the ice well, can set up teammates, will score the big goal and can shut-down the opposition's best players. His one weakness might be his thin frame but when he adds muscle mass to go with his high hockey IQ then Holland could be a top six forward in the NHL.

The skilled two-way winger could make the Canadian Team for the 2012 World Junior Championship and will continue gaining experience from the Flames training camp. Holland will be returned to his WHL team for his third season at the junior level to continue the overall development of his game. He will be offered an entry-level contract by the Flames sometime this year.

13. (NR) John Ramage, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 103rd overall, 2010

Ramage had a solid sophomore season for the University of Wisconsin, scoring one goal with 10 assists and a plus-seven while registering 59 penalty minutes in 37 NCAA games. He was Team USA's captain at the World Junior Championships, helping the team to win a bronze medal with leadership and solid defensive play throughout the tournament.

Ramage has excellent hockey sense in all zones of the ice, shows character and leadership qualities while exerting his physical presence. The average sized defenseman plays with patience, poise and has a strong puck moving game. He has the potential to develop into a very capable defensive-defenseman with some offensive upside at the NHL level.

Ramage has already informed the Flames' management that he has more things he would like to accomplish at the University of Wisconsin in his junior year. The physical defenseman will be playing a bigger role offensively while playing on both the power play and penalty killing units.

14. (11) Joey Leach, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2010

Leach was sidelined for 16 games in his second full season with the Kootenay Ice after undergoing ankle surgery in early January 2011. The lanky defenseman managed to score five goals along with 25 assists and a solid plus-16 rating while amassing 78 penalty minutes in 56 WHL games. Leach was given an opportunity to play on both the power play and penalty killing units with captain Brayden McNabb (BUF) this season. He was lucky enough to gain solid playoff experience when the Ice would win the WHL Championship and lose in the semi-finals of the 2011 Memorial Cup.

Leach has solid skating skills, an active stick and good defensive positioning while making smart outlet passes to his forwards. The shut-down defenseman has shown the ability to play both ends of the ice and provides a good accurate shot from the point on the power play. Leach must add more muscle mass to his thin frame which will enable him to play more physical at the professional level.

Leach will be sent back to the Kootenay Ice for his third season in the WHL where he will take on a bigger role defensively and bring some leadership. The big defenseman will play on both the power play and penalty killing units while developing his overall game in Kootenay. He will most likely be offered an entry-level contract sometime this year.

15. (13) Bill Arnold, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 108th overall, 2010

Arnold had a very good freshman season at Boston College, scoring 10 goals with 10 assists and a plus-10 rating in 39 NCCA games. He centered the Eagles' third line while being used on both the power play and penalty kill units by the season's end. The freshman was named to the NCAA (Hockey East) All-Rookie Team for the 2010-11 season.

The hard-working center plays a defensive shutdown role but has solid offensive playmaking abilities in the attacking zone. Arnold finished fifth in goals on the Eagles and finished with the most points of any freshmen on the roster, ahead 2010 first round pick Kevin Hayes (CHI). He has a great character, a good work ethic, but must continue improving his overall skating skill to reach his potential at the NHL level.

Arnold will return to Boston College for his sophomore year where he will play on one of the top two lines while improving on his offensive numbers and playing on both the power play and penalty killing units. The American-born centerman may have the chance to represent his country at the 2012 World Junior Championship after surviving the first set of cuts to the USA team. He has three more years at the NCAA level to develop his game but could turn professional at any time to fast-tract his possible NHL career.

16. (5) John Negrin, D, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2007

Negrin was sidelined for most of the season after having surgery again on October 10, to remove a screw and bone fragments from an injured left knee. The puck moving defenseman would return late in the season, collecting only six assists and a minus-two rating in 24 AHL games. He was not able to play at his normal level and was forced to change his fluid skating style to adapt to the injured knee.

Negrin makes good defensive decisions; quick strike outlet passes to his forwards and can play on the shutdown pair of blueliners or control the puck on the power play. The skilled defenseman needs to show greater consistency to his overall game, recover his smooth skating style, and must add more bulk to become a better all-around player at the NHL level.

Negrin could struggle adapting to the skating changes this year and must be healthy for the full season. He will start the season in the AHL but must play at a better level than Brodie or Breen to get a call-up for an injury replacement with the Flames.

17. (NR) Michael Ferland, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 133rd overall, 2010

Ferland started his second season with the Wheat Kings having to undergo knee surgery on October 7, 2010. His toughness is already well known but the physical forward improved his offensive numbers by scoring 23 goals along with 33 assists and a plus-three rating while accumulating 110 penalty minutes (12 fighting majors) in 56 WHL games. He showed his ability to score the big goals all season long including the playoff-clinching win by scoring in overtime.

Ferland plays the power forward role while displaying patience around the net and a quick accurate release. The rugged winger can dominate a game with his size down low or by dropping his gloves when necessary and doesn't shy away from the physical play in both ends of the rink. He must continue improve his overall skating and two-way game to reach his full potential at the professional level.

Ferland will probably be sent back to his WHL team after training camp where he will take on a larger offensive role and play on both the power play and penalty killing units. He will probably be offered an entry-level contract by the flames sometime this season.

18. (NR) Markus Granlund, C, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, 2011

Granlund scored 20 goals along with 32 assists and 49 penalty minutes in 40 games for the HIFK's U-20 team. He captained Finland's team at the 2011 U-18 World Junior Championship where he scored two goals with eight assists in six tournament games.

Granlund has solid hockey sense, excellent playmaking abilities, good vision, and is exceptional at running the power play. His skating needs improvement in speed, acceleration and stride technique. The offensively skilled forward needs to improve his overall strength and his defensive game to reach his full potential at the professional level. He will have to adjust to North American living and the physical style of play in the smaller rinks in order to make the NHL.

Granlund must play at least another year in Finland to fulfill his military duty requirements but could follow his brother, Mikael to North America to play at the professional level in the AHL or NHL.

19. (6) Bryan Cameron, RW, 6.0C
Free Agent, signed May 2010

Cameron had a difficult rookie year with the AHL Abbotsford Heat while playing fourth line minutes after scoring 53 OHL goals the previous season. The net crashing winger scored only six goals along with nine assists in 60 AHL games. After a seven game ECHL stint to regain his confidence by receiving top line minutes, he was able to score three goals along with three assists. The offensively talented player was unable to score any goals in the last eight games of the AHL Heat season.

Cameron has above average skills, hockey intelligence, good speed, and a solid overall game. The hardworking forward can be an agitating crease crasher who scores most of his goals in tight to the net while getting his nose dirty. He needs to work on his strength, agility, and add some grit to his game while adjusting to the size of the defenders at the professional level. The versatile forward could develop into a top six forward who does the dirty work along the boards, while adding some additional scoring. If his goal scoring doesn't materialize at the professional level, then Cameron has a strong enough overall game to be a depth, energy player who can add some offense. It is far too early in his professional career for the Flames to give up on a former 50+ goal scorer who had a difficult rookie year.

Cameron will be assigned to the AHL Heat for the season to continue adjusting his style to score at the professional level. He will be given the chance to play in all situations while occupying the third forward line and will need to find his niche before his contract with the Flames is finished.

20. (14) Gaelan Patterson, C, 6.0C
Acquired: 7th round, 201st overall in 2009

Patterson had a good rookie season with the Abbotsford Heat even though his offensive numbers were reduced by minor injuries to his shoulders and knees, not to mention a broken jaw along with a concussion. The 20-year-old centerman still managed to score seven goals with 14 assists and a plus-one rating in 61 AHL games.

Patterson showed a solid defensive side to his game while being one of the five players with a plus rating on an offensively challenged Abbotsford team. The coaches gave the rookie quality time on the penalty killing unit where he was able to score two shorthanded goals on the season. The stocky centerman must remain healthy while improving his offensive productivity and skills to show the Flames that he can be a solid two-way player.

Patterson will be assigned to the AHL Heat for his second season while most likely playing on one of the bottom two forward lines. He will be counted on for his penalty killing skills and continue to develop his two-way game in Abbotsford.