Flames AHL/ECHL prospects season review

By Jon Hagan

There were a few bright prospects burning for the Calgary Flames this season in both the American Hockey League and the ECHL. The farm clubs did have solid seasons from a number of players including Omaha’s Mark Giordano. Giordano was exceptional when it came to special teams, as his 31 power-play assists were good for eighth overall in the AHL. Through the course of the season, the defenseman played seven games overall for the Flames, and finished the year as Omaha’s leading point producer.

While Giordano’s 58 points make him look like an offensive juggernaut, Tomi Maki posted a miserable plus/minus of –20. Only 20 players in the AHL had a worse differential. Maki was the only player to suit up for all 80 Knights games.

Of Giordano’s 31 passes, quite a few had made their way to first year winger David Moss, who lead the team in power-play goals. Of Moss’s 21 goals, 16 were on the power play, placing him 15th overall in league scoring with the man advantage. Along with fellow Knights Carsen Germyn and Brent Krahn, this first-year player celebrated his 24th birthday last season and will no longer be considered a prospect by Hockey’s Future next season.

As far as top 20 finishers in the league go, both Omaha goaltenders managed exceptional seasons. Krahn finished the year tied for third with a goals against average of 2.50, and was tied for 10th with a save percentage of .912. Finally, his 26 wins were good for seventh overall. Curtis McElhinney, the second half of the Knights’ goaltending tandem, parlayed his first year into a top 10 finish in both goals against (2.52) and save percentage (.912).

Another top 20 finisher, albeit in a completely different category, was Brandon Prust. Prust, a player of average size, plays like a big mean forward, and he doesn’t back down. His total penalty minutes for the season were a testament to his aggressive style of play and good for fifth overall in the AHL.

Eric Nystrom, tied for fourth in Knights’ goal scoring with 15, is slowly becoming the steady and reliable power forward that Calgary projected him to be. While his rookie season only saw him suit up for two games with the Flames, it should only be a matter of time before he begins to assert himself and become more comfortable with the NHL game. Considering the Flames seem to be short on the left side, Nystrom’s opportunity to make an impact will be in the upcoming training camp.

The other left winger, largely considered a longshot to make the NHL, is Cam Cunning, an eighth round draft pick in 2003 who split the season between Omaha and the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. Cunning posted six points and was –4 in 30 games with Omaha.

As far as right wingers go, Adam Cracknell is by far the gem. After a standout regular season and an abbreviated post season with the Kootenay Ice, Cracknell made the jump to the pros with Omaha, and, by posting three points (1 goal, 2 assists) in six games, the recent signee of the Flames may have turned some heads.

Twenty-two-year-old Derek Couture was signed as a free agent in 2005, and the intense power forward put up 19 points (7 goals, 12 assists) in 60 games. He may be another longshot, but if his intensity carries through fans may seem him in a Flames uniform one day. Thomas Bellemare, like Couture, is big, but unlike Couture, is not a big producer, and will no doubt be relegated to being a career minor leaguer.

While not overly stocked with prospective centermen, the Flames have a couple of big men and a diminutive pivot in their stable. Justin Taylor, a 6’4, 210 lbs giant, more than tripled his offensive output in just 11 more games in this his second year than his first, and his 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) made him the highest scoring center on the Knights’ roster this season. The other center is the young Finn Aki Seitsonen. Drafted in the fourth round, 118th overall in 2004, Seitsonen is a very capable player, and Calgary did the right thing in bringing him to Omaha to get a taste of minor pro hockey. It is quite possible he could challenge for a job on the big team, but it is more than likely that he will have at least one more year to mature on the farm.

Along with Giordano and Richie Regehr, Calgary’s stable of young defensemen is stocked with the likes of Steve Marr (32 games with Omaha and 23 with Las Vegas), Adam Pardy (24 Omaha and 41 with Las Vegas), and Brett Palin (64 games with Omaha). Besides the first two names, none of these is a true standout among his peers, and each will have to bring his “A” game to training camp because with Calgary’s defense the only room will be if unrestricted free agents’ Bryan Marchment and Cale Hulse move on, and even if that happens the inside track goes to Giordano and Regehr. Therefore, the majority of these players are destined for another year in the minors.

Pardy, a 6’4, 218 lbs veteran of 144 QMJHL games with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, was a sixth round draft pick by the Flames in 2004. In his 24 games with Omaha he did not register any points, but his size adds a set of intangibles that are not immediately quantifiable.

Aside from a few players, there are no real immediate stand-outs, but nevertheless with free agent movement inevitably taking place, we could see players like Moss, Nystrom, Krahn, Giordano and/or Regehr challenge for spots on the team come training camp.

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