Flames Top 20 prospects

By HF Staff

The latest incarnation of the Calgary Flames Top 20 prospect list includes three new faces. Dustin Boyd remains on top, and throughout the rest of the list there was a fair amount of movement. The Flames have improved their prospect depth, but there still is a weakness in terms of highly skilled, top line players in the system.

Aside from possibly Mark Giordano or Richie Regehr challenging for the extra defenseman spot, the Flames roster is essentially set which gives the team the luxury of being patient with their prospects and letting them develop. A number of Calgary Flames prospects will be looking to turn heads as the team’s rookie camp officially opens on Sept. 7, 2006 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

1. (1) Dustin Boyd, C
2. (NR) Leland Irving, G
3. (6) Daniel Ryder, C
4. (2) Kris Chucko, LW
5. (7) Andrei Taratukhin, C
6. (4) Eric Nystrom, LW
7. (8) Tim Ramholt, D
8. (5) Aki Seitsonen, C
9. (9) Brandon Prust, LW
10. (10) Curtis McElhinney, G
11. (11) Mark Giordano, D
12. (14) Matt Keetley, G
13. (13) Adam Cracknell, RW
14. (12) Matt Pelech, D
15. (15) Richie Regehr, D
16. (NR) David Moss, RW
17. (16) Gord Baldwin, D
18. (20) David Van der Gulik, LW
19. (17) Brett Sutter, C
20. (NR) J.D Watt, RW

1. (1) Dustin Boyd, C
Rating: 7.5 C, Projection: 2nd line center

Boyd’s final season with the Moose Jaw Warriors was by far his best season in all categories. He had 90 points, including 48 goals and 42 assists in 64 games. His plus/minus was a solid +27 and his 18 postseason points were 14 more than his previous best. The lingering question is can he continue his development as the solid two-way player he was last season? The one thing for sure is that the 6’, 200 lbs centerman is chomping at the bit to hit the big league. And while he may not have the size of a Kris Chucko or Eric Nystrom, he has the edge in skill. Boyd will need some seasoning in Omaha, and though a call-up during the season is possible, it would best serve Boyd’s development to spend a full year in the AHL.

2. (NR) Leland Irving, G
Rating: 7.0 C, Projection: Starting goaltender

The Flames made a splash at this year’s draft by trading for scoring forward Alex Tanguay, and then drafting the No. 2 ranked goaltender of the draft, Leland Irving. Considered by most as a goaltender who is capable of stealing games, Irving has drawn comparisons to fellow Albertan Cam Ward (CAR) both for his confidence, which seems to belie his age, and his fantastic technique. He is a competent butterfly-style keeper with a quick glove hand and an unparalleled ability to protect the net down low.

Irving’s confidence and composure came at least in part from the fact that he had to contend at a young age with a battle that most of us can not manage having to endure: cancer.

After his standout performance with the Everett Silvertips last year in both the regular and postseasons we will expect to see even more pressure thrust upon this young man as he enters into this season again as the undisputed No. 1 with the Silvertips.

In August, Irving competed against Carey Price (MON), Tyler Plante (FLA), Jonathan Bernier (LA), and Jean-Phillipe Levasseur (ANA) in Team Canada’s development camp for the opportunity to attend Team Canada’s selection camp in December. He was hampered by a groin injury during his time at the selection camp, but he still stands a solid chance of wearing his country’s colors this winter.

3. (6) Daniel Ryder, C
Rating: 7.0 C, Projection: 2nd line center

In 2005, Calgary made a minor push to acquire Ryder in the draft by trading two picks to Buffalo, and now the centerman represents one of the biggest jumps made by an existing Flames prospect.

After helping the Peterborough Petes to win the OHL championship last year, he capped off the 2005-06 season by winning the Wayne Gretzky trophy as the OHL’s playoff MVP, but by no means did he take it easy after that. In mid July he suited up two more times. The first was a camp for Flames prospects, while the second was a Canadian National Junior team development camp. In September, Ryder will attend the Peterborough Petes training camp followed by Flames training camp. He’s almost certain to return to the Petes for one more year of junior eligibility.

4. (2) Kris Chucko, LW
Rating: 6.5 B, Projection: 3rd line winger

The former first rounder (24th overall) suffered a shoulder injury at the end of January 2006, from which he never really seemed to rebound. In May of this year, the Flames signed the 6’2, 200 lbs Chucko to a contract, thereby foregoing his final two years of college hockey at the University of Minnesota. This came as surprise to some considering Chucko’s struggles this past season.

Even though he never really lived up to his hype in college hockey, Chucko still possesses a desirable upside. There have been some detractors, but as the Flames’ development camp showed this year, Chucko’s skating was just fine. He played the body well and seemed, at times, to be a force.

Since he left college a couple of years early, Chucko may be a year or so away from the big leagues and seems destined for Omaha of the AHL. His upside is not huge at this point, and likely never will be. The Flames have no need to rush Chucko and will be patient with him and promote him only when he shows he is completely ready for the NHL.

5. (14) Andrei Taratukhin, C
Rating: 6.5 C, Projection: 2nd line center

It’s not only the Pittsburgh Penguins who are anticipating the arrival of a gifted Russian youngster. Though not as talented as Evgeni Malkin, the Calgary Flames’ man is Lokomotiv’s Andrei Taratukhin. He just signed a two-year deal with the Flames on Sept. 5th and will be at training camp later on this month.

Taratukhin posted 24 points playing in 40 games this season with Lokomotiv of the Russian Super League and also participated in the Olympics for Russia, quite a feat for a prospect not even playing in the NHL.

Skeptics are quick to point out his average size, and suggest that his skating and shooting skills leave a bit to be desired, but when all is said and done his overall hockey sense more than compensates for these perceived deficiencies. Taratukhin is a player with excellent vision, and is a formidable passer. He will likely start the year in Omaha, but if all the indications are true, he could be in a Flames uniform at some point this year.

6. (3) Eric Nystrom, LW
Rating: 6.5 A, Projection: 3rd line winger

Even though Nystrom slipped three spots in the top 20, he still is on the bubble to make the team out of training camp. He is an aggressive player who is hard to handle. He is solid defensively and can contribute to the offense. Nystrom’s biggest assets are his tenacity, leadership and the intangibles he brings to every game, be they a blocked shot or neutralizing an opponent’s first line.

At the team’s recent development camp this past July 2006, Nystrom was one of the more dominant players. On another team, Nystrom would likely be guaranteed a roster spot, but the Flames’ depth up front means he will have to fight tooth and nail to make the team out of camp. He could make it, but he would be better off playing in Omaha rather than sitting in the press box as the Flames 13th forward.

7. (7) Tim Ramholt, D
Rating: 6.5 B, Projection: fifth or sixth defenseman

Recently re-signed by the club, 6’1, 198 lbs Tim Ramholt is seeking a return to North American hockey from the Kloten Flyers of the Swiss League. Drafted by the Flames in the second round, 39th overall, of the 2003 draft, Ramholt played the 2003-04 season with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL, but made a financially motivated decision to return to his native Switzerland.

Now that he is back in the system, he is easily the Flames most skilled defense prospect. The young rearguard is a strong skater who moves the puck well, and with a nose for physical play will be a solid two-way player in the future. Ramholt will likely need a year or two in Omaha before being considered for full-time NHL employment.

8. (12) Aki Seitsonen, C
Rating: 6.5 C, Projection: 2nd line center

Signed by the Flames on June 1, Seitsonen, a 6’3, 206 lbs centerman, is coming off his first taste of professional hockey. With the average height of the centermen on their current roster being just a shade under 6’ and a hair under 195 lbs, he is their only center clearly over average height.

Seitsonen is generally regarded as a good skater who is difficult to knock off the puck, and he has an effective shot. He is capable of putting up some offense, but, as his average plus/minus of –11 over three years with the Prince Albert Raiders implies, he should tighten up his defensive game a bit more before he becomes a more effective two-way player.

He played seven games with Omaha last season, and will likely spend the next year or two with the Knights ironing out the wrinkles in his game.

9. (9) Brandon Prust, LW
Rating: 6.0 B, Projection: fourth line agitator/energy player

Often overlooked, the expression that best sums up Brandon Prust is “the little engine that could.” Prust was never drafted by a junior team, but was eventually picked up by the London Knights with whom he later won a Memorial Cup. One year later, he moved on to the Omaha Knights for his first season of professional hockey.

Prust is in the mold of prospects like Nystrom (albeit with less offense) and J.D Watt. While he won’t ever be known as an enforcer, he will drop the gloves to defend himself or his teammates, and he can deliver punishing body checks. He is another prospect who is the prototypical Flames player: hardworking, a good skater, and can on occasion find the back of the twine.

Prust is very close to making the jump, but with a loaded Flames roster, Prust will likely spend another year with the Knights in Omaha. Should he put together another solid season like last year he should contend for a roster spot in 2007-08.

10. (13) Curtis McElhinney, G
Rating: 6.0 C, Projection: backup goaltender

The Flames appear to be set in goal with a number of decent prospects at their disposal. The question is where do they all go. In McElhinney’s case it will be back to Omaha.

After finishing his rookie season with the Flames’ farm club in Omaha in fine style, McElhinney attended his second development camp with the Flames this past July. Expect to see the youngster between the pipes for the Knights this upcoming season.

11. (11) Mark Giordano, D
Rating: 6.5 C, Projection: fifth or sixth defenseman

A free agent acquisition in 2005, Giordano is staking a claim to be a Flame in 2006. He not only led all Knights defensemen in scoring last year, he led all Knights players in scoring. He is mobile, and strong on his skates. The team’s acquisition of Andrei Zyuzin and Brad Ference may cause Giordano a bit of a problem in getting his foot in the door with the big club, but he will challenge for the role of seventh defenseman this season.

12. (14) Matt Keetley, G
Rating: 6.0 C, Projection: backup goaltender

Matt Keetley was sent back to the Medicine Hat Tigers last year after a decent training camp, but one that saw him still in need of development. After a fantastic 2005-06 season, he’s ready for another iteration of the Flames’ training camp, and looking for a contract. Already 20 years old, Keetley can play in the minors this season, if he’s deemed ready for more of a challenge. He would most likely be destined for Las Vegas of the ECHL with the number of goaltenders currently in the system.

13. Adam Cracknell, RW
Rating: 6.0 C, Projection: third line power forward

The last player drafted by the Flames in the 2004 draft – 255 picks after Chucko, Cracknell is a big man who can score. With his numbers up right across the board with Kootenay, Calgary is hoping that he is a late bloomer. His self-admitted weakness is his foot speed and this is something he is committed to improving. The Flames showed their commitment to Cracknell by signing him in May 2006 to a contract. The Flames will closely monitor the progress of this potential diamond in the rough as he enters his first pro season in the AHL with Omaha.

14. (12) Matt Pelech, D
Rating: 6.0 C, Projection: fifth or sixth defenseman

By virtue of the fact that Pelech showed himself to be injury-prone by breaking his jaw twice and injured his leg once with the OHL’s London Knights, he slipped two positions in the top 20, but nevertheless remains a strong prospect for the Flames. He was recently traded to Belleville where he will be one of the Bulls’ leaders on the blueline. The Flames will watch the development of this player closely and certainly try to mitigate his propensity for injuries.

15. (15) Richie Regehr, D
Rating: 6.0 C, Projection: fifth or sixth defenseman

Another free agent acquisition by Calgary prior to the 2004-05 season was Richie Regehr. The 23-year-old played in his second season of professional hockey with the Flames farm club last year, and posted 30 points in 48 games. He also saw a cup of coffee with the big club when injuries struck the blueline.

Regehr is fast and has a great shot. As is the case with Giordano, Regehr certainly did not benefit from the Flames’ acquisition of Zyzuzin and Ference, but he and Giordano will push one another for that opportunity to be the Flames seventh defenseman.

16. (NR) David Moss, LW
Rating: 5.5 B, Projection: third line forward

Signed out of the NCAA last season, Moss had a memorable rookie campaign with Omaha. Despite missing the final few games of the season due to injury, he finished on top of Omaha’s stats page in power-play goals, and will look to do more of the same this year. Another potential late-round gem like Cracknell, Moss is a capable skater with fairly quick hands. Given his performance in his rookie season, he should make training camp difficult for fellow left winger Marcus Nilson. He may need one more year on the farm, but could challenge for a regular role with the Flames in 2007-08.

17. Gord Baldwin, D
Rating: 6.0 C, Projection: fifth or sixth defenseman

Baldwin, a huge defenseman with the ability to clear the front of the net needs to improve his foot speed, but if he can improve on this while packing more pounds onto his frame, the Flames will have a pretty decent defenseman for years to come. He will return to the Medicine Hat Tigers this season.

18. (20) David Van der Gulik, LW
Rating: 5.5 B, Projection: skilled agitator

Another college player looking to put his stamp on the professional league this year, Van der Gulik had a tough go of it last year with an unusual groin injury, but recovered towards the end and competed so brilliantly in helping the Boston University Terriers to a championship (their first since 1997) that he was named to the All-Tournament team. He was also nominated the Pure Hockey/Bill Flynn Tournament MVP. Van der Gulik’s efforts and accomplishments were rewarded with a contract in May of 2006, and will most likely spend his first pro season with Omaha.

19. (NR) Brett Sutter, C
Rating: 5.5 C, Projection: fourth line center

The 2005 NHL Entry Draft was a fruitful one for the Calgary Flames as that year produced six of the team’s top 20 prospects. Brett Sutter, the 179th pick for the Flames, is a solid workhorse centerman. He is not a goal scorer, but he can pot a few. His skating can get better as can his overall strength, but his work down low, cycling the puck, is his best asset. He’ll return to the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL this season.

20. (NR) J.D Watt, RW
Rating: 5.5 C, Projection: skilled agitator

The Flames drafted Watt 111th overall in the 2005 Entry Draft. The young forward topped his exceeded his previous WHL best by 24 points in eight fewer games last year with the WHL league champion Vancouver Giants.

Watt, a native Calgarian, is an aggressive forechecker that loves to get under his opponent’s skin. He is the type of player who will do whatever is necessary and his unbridled enthusiasm just might help him out. Still quite a few years away from challenging for an NHL job, Watt could develop into an effective energy player for the Flames down the road.

Jon Hagan and Jared Ramsden contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.