While the Calgary Flames’ NHL season did not end on much of a positive note, and their AHL affiliate Stockton Heat also missed a playoff berth, it is still a franchise very much in transition and trending the right direction. Despite a difficult year as an organization in the standings, there are a number of young talents to be excited about at all levels. When you go over the list of prospects and young players the Flames currently have in the fold, the feeling is that these difficult years are being put behind them. It has been an altogether difficult season for some, but for others there is recognition that is deserved.
So with that, let’s take a look at the 2015-16 Calgary Flames prospect awards and see who made the list.
Hardest Worker: Garnet Hathaway, RW, Stockton Heat/Calgary Flames (AHL/NHL)
The agitating 6’2” winger has definitely earned his way to the NHL through hard work and determination. As an undrafted college free agent, Hathaway signed a professional contract with the Flames at the end of last year (April) after playing with Adirondack on an amateur contract for a season. His high intensity, hard-working, north-south game that he played at Brown University carried over to his initial season in Adirondack, and again in 2015-16 as an official Flames prospect.
When the Calgary Flames looked all but certain to be out of the playoffs, Hathaway got his shot in the NHL in March. While the offense is never going to be truly there with a player like Hathaway, he looked altogether capable as a responsible, physical, bottom-line forward. He registered three assists in 13 games and was above 50% in Fenwick (52.3), and at an even 50% in corsi-for percentage. With the Flames looking to retool from within, Hathaway might have played his way into relevance as a fourth-line forward on the starting roster next season.
Hardest Shot: Kenney Morrison, D, Stockton Heat (AHL)
There is a lot of improvement needed in various facets of former Western Michigan standout Kenney Morrison’s game. However, his point shot is definitely not one of them. When Morrison gets an opportunity to put his cannon of a shot on net, he does so without hesitation. Despite standing just 6-2 and 200 pounds, Morrison’s technique allows him to really lay into his snapshot with extreme prejudice. He played in 42 games with Stockton this season, registering 70 shots on goal. Due to his shooting he logged some decent time on the Stockton power play when he suited up this season.
Best Defensive Prospect: Brett Kulak, D, Stockton Heat (AHL)
The Flames have a lot of really good defensive prospects. Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson, Pat Sieloff, and Brandon Hickey are all names to be excited about, but when it comes to an all-around defensive game, Brett Kulak might be the best they have. He is not big by modern standards, standing 6’1” and 200 pounds, but he is a tenacious defender who will make you pay if you have your head down. He can also skate fairly well and is aggressive in stepping up at the red and blue lines. Late in the year the 22-year old got a call-up and put a couple of games under his belt, bringing his season total to five. However, he should be considered one of the favorites for a bottom-pairing spot with the Flames starting next season.
Fastest Skater: Oliver Kylington, D, Stockton Heat (AHL)
The Swedish defenseman can flat out fly. He is not only the fastest defenseman on Stockton, he might be one of the quickest skating players in the Western Conference of the AHL. He is agile, with excellent straight line speed, edging, and lateral movement. He is also aggressive and uses his speed to jump into the play frequently. When it comes to speed with or without the puck, Kylington is definitely the best skater in the Flames system.
With the departures of Brendan Lemieux and Joey Blandisi there was probably a number of pundits that felt Mangiapane would take a step back from his 43 goal, 104 points season from 2014-15. Fast forward a year, and not only was Mangiapane again over 100 points, he broke the 50 goal barrier and earned himself an entry-level contract with the Flames. Mangiapane’s 51 goals on the year were second only to Arizona prospect Christian Dvorak, and tied with highly rated 2016 draft-eligible prospect Alex DeBrincat. In the OHL Coaches’ Poll, Mangiapane took home three awards, including Most Underrated Player, Best Skater, and Best Shootout Player. Instead of taking a step backwards, the Barrie native took a step forward and is now giving Flames fans a lot of reason to be excited.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Hunter Shinkaruk, LW, Stockton Heat (AHL)
It is really hard to believe that the Calgary Flames were able to pick up Hunter Shinkaruk the way they did. In his rookie season in the AHL, Shinkaruk posted 16 goals and 31 points in 74 games and certainly felt the growing pains of pro hockey. In 2015-16 though he was a massive cog in the Utica machine, scoring a near point per game pace with 21 goals and 39 points in 45 games. This is why when the Canucks dealt him for Markus Granlund it came as such a shock. Shinkaruk was actually the Comets’ leading scorer at the time. He played 14 games with Stockton, scoring 10 points and earning a call up to Calgary for the end of the year. At this point Shinkaruk looks like a penciled-in player for the 2016-17 roster, and many are still scratching their heads in neighboring British Columbia.
Pollock came across in the trade that sent defenseman Kris Russell to the Dallas Stars, and the Flames have to be happy with the return. While there was no massive spike in production at the WHL level with the Oil Kings for Pollock, he did jump up a bit in scoring but also added some much needed defensive consistency. The big center was a huge piece for the Oil Kings this year and is looking like an excellent piece in the Russell trade. He made his way to Stockton after the conclusion of his junior season and has not looked out of place.
Overachiever: Keegan Kanzig, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Kanzig’s overage season with the Hitmen ended with a disappointing 4-1 series loss at the hand of the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL playoff’s first round. Overall though, the towering defenseman had a season of improvement when compared to his 2014-15 season. Most noticeably, the usually defensive leaning rearguard potted 13 goals, up from 3 in the previous season. However, some of this has to be attributed to Kanzig being in an overage year playing more promising minutes. Should people expect that kind of offensive contribution to continue onto the next level? Probably not. It was a nice little bump for his final junior season, but it should not be counted on moving forward.
Underachiever: Morgan Klimchuk, LW, Stockton Heat (AHL)
Hard to imagine that just a year ago, young Morgan Klimchuk scored 34 goals and had 80 points over 60 games in his final junior season. In his rookie year in the AHL, Klimchuk got to experience the full meaning of the words “growing pains.” The 2013 first-round selection played in 52 games, scored just three times, and had eight points total. The offense, clearly, did not come around in his rookie season – which is disappointing.
However, he has shown excellent defensive promise and remains one of the Heat’s better penalty killers and two-way forwards. His offensive underachievement is somewhat lessened by the intelligence he plays with and the potential for him to turn into a nice, responsible winger. He is still young, and the pro game is rarely an easy adjustment for rookie players. The offense could still definitely come around, but as far as 2014-15 goes, chock it up to learning.
Now that “Jankowski Watch” is officially over and the 21-year old has signed with the Flames, everyone can now start theorizing about his potential impact. What kind of player will Jankowski be? Will he live up to the first round billing? Will the Flames keep in the minors or give him a shot at the NHL next year? There are a lot of questions that remain to be answered about one of the more controversial first round selections in recent Flames history. For what it is worth, Jankowski has looked fairly strong in his first few AHL games, and he is coming off a marvelous final season with Providence College in the NCAA. That first round tag will forever hang on his shoulders, and time will tell whether the Flames rue that selection or look back on it as a dynamite pick. For Jankowski, he just needs to go out and play and try not to listen in on the chatter.
Prospect of the Month
The Barrie Colts are still going strong in the OHL playoffs, and puck-mover Rasmus Andersson is doing his darnedest to keep it that way. Andersson is currently first in OHL playoff scoring among defensemen, having moved ahead of Kyle Wood with North Bay and Roland McKeown with Kingston. He has 13 points in 11 games, and has failed to register a point in only two games so far in the playoffs. He had nine points in the opening seven game series against Mississauga, including a massive three point night in Game 4, and a secondary assist on fellow Flames prospect Andrew Mangiapane’s game winning goal on the power play in Game 7 of the series. With his production from the back end, Andersson has been a pivotal player for the Colts as they look to advance to the OHL Championship.