Mix of grit and skill found in Calgary Flames prospect awards

By David Thicke

Sven Baertschi - Calgary Flames

Photo: Flames winger Sven Baertschi, who possesses great instincts and determination with the puck on his stick, took home the award for the Best Offensive Prospect (courtesy of Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI)

The Calgary Flames 2013 Hockey's Future prospect awards are based on the 2012-13 regular season performances in all the leagues in which they have played this year. The award winners are selected by the HF writers and decided on after all the tabulations of the opinions from the HF staff.

Hardest Worker: Carter Bancks, C, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)
Bancks is not the most talented player but he will do anything for his teammates. This undrafted prospect works so hard every day just to stay in the Heat's lineup and he brings it every shift. The smaller forward plays his heart out and never quits in a game. He is a coach's dream player that kills penalties, blocks shots, and makes the necessary sacrifices trying to win games. The Flames actually had to ask him to dial back his aggressive play for fear of more injuries and worries over his health by the season's end. Bancks is a little warrior.

Other prospects considered for the hardest worker are Bill Arnold, Christopher Breen, Ken Agostino, and Turner Elson.

Hardest Shot: Mark Cundari, D, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)
Even though Cundari arrived in Abbotsford at the NHL trade deadline, his shot was already considered one of the hardest on the Peoria Riverman for the last two seasons. The stocky defender uses excellent leverage and puck positioning to launch some real missiles that do not miss the net very often. The other prospects mentioned have hard shots but not with the heaviness of Cundari. As Cundari matures, it is possible his shot could get much harder.

Brady Lamb, James Martin, Ryan Culkin, and Breen also have excellent shots and were considered for the award.

Best Offensive Prospect: Sven Baertschi, LW, Calgary Flames (NHL)
Baertschi has all the tools to be an elite first line player for the Flames as early as next season. When he is fully healthy and confident, his offensive game comes alive. The 20-year-old might have taken a step back this season but this adversity will only motivate the young talent to work even harder at his overall game in the off-season this summer. He seems already to have responded with eight points in his recent six-game scoring streak.

The other candidates have good skills but not the high-end potential of Baertschi, with the possible exception of John Gaudreau, who is a long-term project and is still considered a longshot to play at the NHL level due to his smaller size. Gaudreau, Mark Jankowski, Max Reinhart, Coda Gordon, Elson, and Arnold were all under consideration.

Best Defensive Prospect: Tyler Wotherspoon, D, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

Wotherspoon took his overall game to another level this season and was his team's best plus/minus defender. He improved his puck moving, makes a better first pass, and has a good point shot. The big mobile blueliner can play the shutdown role and on both specialty team units. His hockey sense and overall talent makes him one of the most NHL-ready of the defense prospects except maybe Breen. The other candidates have played well this season but not up to Wotherspoon's two-way level.

Other considered include Patrick Sieloff, Breen, Ryan Culkin, Lamb, and John Ramage.

Fastest Skater: Paul Byron, RW/C, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

Byron is a real burner that needs to use his explosive speed to create opportunities to score and openings for his linemates. He is not the biggest player, so his excellent skating skills are what will get him to the NHL level and can keep him there. The quick forward has been set back this season by injuries but could fit nicely into coach Hartley's up-tempo game. The other prospects are all quick skaters but they just do not have the same acceleration or high end speed of Byron, at this time.

The other candidates considered were Agostino, Baertschi, Arnold, Elson, Bancks, and Matt DeBlouw.

Prospect of the Year: John Gaudreau, LW, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)

Gaudreau received many accolades at the NCAA level this season, won a gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Championships with Team USA, and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. He is small but defies all the odds against much bigger players by being smart, skilled, and a clutch goal scorer. It could be very interesting to see what he will do as an encore in his junior year at Boston College. The other prospects just were not as good as "Johnny Hockey" this year.

Baertschi, Reinhart, Wotherspoon, Jankowski, Laurent Brossoit, and Jon Gillies also had excellent seasons.

Breakout Player for 2013-14: Max Reinhart, C, Calgary Flames (NHL)

Reinhart has shown the ability to play a solid two-way game at the pro level and his late season call-up is proving that he might be ready for a breakout 2013-14 season with the Calgary Flames. He has great hockey sense, is responsible defensively, and plays with determination along the boards and around the opposition's net. He has shutdown capabilities on the penalty kill and is a smart distributor on the power play. The centerman has the potential to play in Calgary's top-six forward group as early as next year.

The other prospects considered, Baertschi, DeBlouw, Sieloff, Ramage, Gordon, Lance Bouma, and Ben Hanowski, could also have breakout 2013-14 seasons as well.

Most Improved Prospect: Laurent Brossoit, G, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

Brossoit really improved his consistency issues and overall game this season. He has shown the mental toughness to bounce back from the adversity of being cut from Canada's 2013 WJC team and has not allowed soft goals to upset his game. The big goalie seems to be a man on a mission to prove the doubters wrong about his goaltending abilities and is maturing into a potential starting NHL netminder. He put up outstanding numbers both in the regular season and so far in the WHL playoffs for the Oil Kings.

Culkin, Wotherspoon, Agostino, Lamb, Breen, Gillies, Jankowski, and Bryan Cameron also showed real improvement in their overall game this year.

Overachiever: Jon Gillies, G, Providence College Friars (NCAA)

Gillies simply surpassed all expectations as a freshman goaltender for Providence College this year. He posted excellent numbers and was the main reason for his team's playoff run this season. He was so consistent and poised under heavy fire while started most of the games for the Friars. His achievements were recognized by the NCAA and Hockey East with numerous awards. He has significantly overachieved in comparison to the other prospects considered for this award.

The other prospects considered were Wotherspoon, Brossoit, Elson, Culkin, and Jankowski.

Underachiever: Greg Nemisz, RW, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

Nemisz has really underachieved this season after having shown good improvement in his overall game towards the end of last season. The Flames' first-round pick has struggled with injuries and failed to spark his offensive game at the AHL level. It has kept him from receiving a call-up to Calgary when this year would have been a great opportunity for him to take the next step in his development as an NHL player. Perhaps the high expectations for the potential power forward are just too high due to his draft position and not his actual skill-set. The other prospects considered do not have the high upside potential of Nemisz.

Akim Aliu, Ryan Howse, Gaelan Patterson, and Bouma have all underachieved as well this season. Bouma is only amongst these players because he was likely going to play in the NHL for the Flames but tore his MCL and ACL just three games into the season ending his year.

Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Turner Elson, C/LW, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

Elson is an undrafted free agent that was signed by the Flames because he showed good potential to the Red Deer Rebels' owner and then Calgary coach, Brent Sutter. The speedy center has not let Sutter down and really took the next step in his development this year. The Rebels' captain did everything for his team; played the shutdown role, was his team's offensive engine, played on both specialty teams, and defended his teammates when it was required. His work ethic and complete two-way game could take him all the way to the NHL level in the near future as he is the type of player that helps teams win championships. Elson is a gamer that will battle to the very end.  

Breen, Bancks, David Eddy, Howse, and DeBlouw are also high risk/high reward prospects considered this year.

Most Perseverance: Christopher Breen, D, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)

Breen was an over-age junior player that went undrafted and had to impress the Flames on an amateur try-out contract in order to get an NHL entry-level contract from Calgary. The 6'7 defender has been a work in progress, improving his skating speed and balance, his overall defensive game, and his offensive skills. He has spent hours on and off the ice with his coaches working on all aspects of his game. The big blueliner’s work ethic and perseverance is finally starting to show that he might get an opportunity at the NHL level as early as next season. He might have been a late-season call-up if the defenseman had not suffered a season ending injury. Breen will continue trying to defy the high odds against him making it to the NHL.   

Others prospects considered were James Martin, Cameron, Bancks, and Elson.

The Unsung Hero: Bill Arnold, C, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)

Arnold goes mostly unnoticed because the two-way center has played for a top program at Boston College, where in his last three seasons he has played with high profile players like Chris Krieder (NYR), John Gaudreau (CGY), and Kevin Hayes (CHI). The speedy forward has been the Eagles' shutdown center and top penalty killer for the last two seasons while also seeing time on the power play. The playmaker's strengths are his hockey IQ, defensive awareness in his end of the rink, and a terrific work ethic. The reliable centerman was used by his coaches in all key situations and was an important part of his team's success, which includes the 2012 NCAA National Championship. His complete game allows his offensively skilled linemates to capitalize off the centerman's abilities to recover the puck in the defensive zone and feed it to them in the open ice. Bill Arnold is this year's recipient of the Unsung Hero award winner for the Calgary Flames prospects.

Bancks, Breen, Elson, and Ramage were all excellent nominations for the award.