Flames Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Andrew Walker

The top three prospects in the Calgary Flames system, Dustin Boyd, Leland Irving, and Daniel Ryder, all enjoyed solid campaigns in 2006-07.  Boyd especially impressed in Omaha, tying for the team lead in scoring, while not looking out of place in a stint with the big club.

New to the fold is center Mikael Backlund, Calgary’s top pick this past June. The only other player making his debut on the list is winger Brett Sutter, the son of General Manager Darryl Sutter.

Overall, the list is populated by 13 forwards, four defensemen, and three goaltenders.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Dustin Boyd, C, (7.5 B), 21
2. (2) Leland Irving, G, (8.0 C), 19
3. (3) Daniel Ryder, C, (7.5 B), 19
4. (NR) Mikael Backlund, C, (7.5 B), 18
5. (10) David Moss, LW, (6.5 B), 25
6. (4) Andrei Taratukhin, C, (7.0 C), 24
7. (6) Juuso Puustinen, RW, (7.0 C), 19
8. (5) Mark Giordano, D, (6.5 B), 24
9. (7) Curtis McElhinney, G, (6.5 C), 24
10. (8) Eric Nystrom, RW, (6.5 C), 24
11. (12) Brandon Prust, LW, (6.0 B), 23
12. (17) David Van der Gulik, RW, (6.0 B), 24
13. (11) Matt Keetley, G, (6.5 C), 21
14.  (9) Tim Ramholt, D, (6.0 C), 23
15. (20) Matt Pelech, D, (6.0 C), 20
16. (15) Kris Chucko, LW, (6.0 D), 22
17. (NR) Brett Sutter, RW, (5.5 B), 20
18. (19) J.D. Watt, RW, (5.5 C), 20
19. (18) Gord Baldwin, D, (5.5 B), 20
20. (13) Aaron Marvin, C, (6.0 D), 19

Key: Rank (Rank Change), Name, Position, Age

1.  Dustin Boyd, C, 21

After a standout junior career with the Moose Jaw Warriors, including a 90-point season as a 19-year-old, Boyd did not take a step back after turning pro at age 20.  In 66 games with Omaha in the AHL, Boyd scored 27 goals and added 33 assists for 60 points, good for second on the team, and seventh among all league rookies.  Boyd also fared well in his initial NHL foray, scoring twice and adding two assists in 13 regular season games.

A third-round pick of the Flames in 2004, Boyd is a great skater with above-average offensive instincts.  Boyd is back in the AHL this season and has a goal in three games.

2.  Leland Irving, G, 19

The future between the Calgary pipes, Irving will look to put disappointing WHL playoffs behind him in 2007-08, and returns to the Everett Silvertips as one of the top goaltenders in the league, if not the entire CHL.  Drafted in the first round, 25th overall, in 2006, Irving has put up fantastic numbers in his two years as the Silvertips No. 1 netminder, albeit playing behind a staunch defensive system.  Last season, Irving ranked among the league leaders with a 1.86 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.  He also served as the backup to Carey Price (MTL) on Canada’s World Junior squad, and has a legitimate shot to backstop the Canadian entry this Christmas.

More than likely, Irving is still a few years away from the NHL, but his rapid development curve has already drawn comparisons to Cam Ward.  The only thing left to prove on the junior level is the ability to win when it counts.  That opportunity should come shortly.

3.  Dan Ryder, C, 19

A third-round pick of the Flames in 2005, Ryder is starting to get plenty of recognition in the hockey world, especially over the last year.  The younger brother of Montreal Canadiens sniper Michael Ryder, Daniel won’t dazzle, but has above-average speed, and the skill to contribute offensively.  In his 19-year-old season in the OHL (2006-07) Ryder posted a career-high 40 goals and 52 assists for 92 points with Peterborough and Plymouth.  After a solid postseason with the Whalers, he served notice at the Memorial Cup in Vancouver that he is one the top skaters in the Calgary system.

Ryder is a rookie with Quad City this fall, and could follow a similar development curve to Boyd.

4. Mikael Backlund, C, 18

Backlund was the Flames first-round pick, 24th overall, at the 2007 entry draft in Columbus.  Rated highly heading into the draft, a knee injury seemed to scare off some teams, and Backlund slipped.  Confident that his knee is now 100 percent, the Flames are hopeful the Swede can become one of the better picks of the draft.

A two-way centerman and above average playmaker, Backlund showed plenty of promise at the World Under-18’s, leading the tournament in goal scoring.  Backlund has returned to Sweden for the 2007-08 season, where the desire for a full, injury-free year is certainly front and center.

An option for 2008-09 could possibly be the WHL.  Backlund was selected in the 2007 CHL import draft by Kelowna.

5.  David Moss, LW, 25

Moss is the perfect example of a player who may be better suited to the NHL game than a lower level of pro hockey.  Originally taken out of high school in the seventh round of the 2001 draft, the Michigan native got off to a great start in 2006-07.  In his second pro season, he racked up 21 points in Omaha’s first 28 games, and was a mid-season call-up by the Flames.  Once in Calgary, Moss never looked back, scoring 10 goals and eight assists in 41 games.  Over the course of an 82-game season, Moss would have been on pace for 20 goals, and the big club is certainly excited to see what he can do in a full campaign.

A versatile winger checking in at 6’3, Moss can use his frame to dig in the corners, go to the net, and contribute on just about any line he plays on.  Moss signed a new two-year deal with the Flames this summer.

6.  Andrei Taratukhin, C, 24

Six months ago, it looked like everything was coming up roses for the Flames when it came to Andrei Taratukhin.  Not only did they manage to lure him overseas, but he adapted well to the language, his surroundings, and endeared himself to teammates.  By the end of his first AHL season, he had also found his offensive groove, tying for the team lead in points with 60.  However, in early September, Taratukhin surprised the organization by signing with Salavat Yulaev in Ufa of the Russian Super League before completing his entry-level NHL deal.

With 12 forwards on one-way contracts this season, Taratukhin was definitely in the mix for a roster spot this season, and his defection came as a surprise to many.  While not physically imposing at 6’0, he has the ability to make up for it with good hockey sense, and a two-way style that grew on Flames management. Calgary retains Taratukhin’s rights, but the 2001 second-round pick is playing in Russia.

7.  Juuso Puustinen, RW, 19

One of the more pleasant surprises in the organization last season was Jusso Puustinen, who thrived in his first season with the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL.  His drop in the rankings has little to do with his development, but more the addition of first-rounder Mikael Backlund to the list.

A fifth-round choice in 2006, the 6’1 winger broke out in a big way with Kamloops, scoring 32 goals and 71 points in 64 games.  The coming-out party was a bit unexpected, as Puustinen’s offensive numbers were less than stellar as a 17-year-old junior in Finland. However, once he arrived in North America, he displayed a rocket-like shot and good acceleration for almost the entire season.

Calgary will keep a close eye on the Finn this season in the WHL, where he’ll not only look to build on his numbers, but show he’s up to the task of playing a complete 72-game season.

8.  Mark Giordano, D, 24

Like Andrei Taratukhin, Mark Giordano had management and fans alike scratching their heads this summer, as he left North America to sign overseas.  After turning down a two-way deal from the Flames, the puck-moving rearguard signed with Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Super League.

With the additions of Adrian Aucoin, Anders Eriksson, and Cory Sarich in the offseason, Giordano was likely set to be cast in a No. 7 role, despite showing considerable promise in his rookie season of 2006-07.  Signed as a free agent in 2004, Giordano had seven goals and 15 points in 48 games with the big club before adding another goal in four playoff games.  The good news for the Flames is the fact they retain Giordano’s rights, and could still be in the mix to have his services in 2008-09.

9.  Curtis McElhinney, G, 24

Curtis McElhinney was another nice surprise for the Flames in 2006-07, putting up great numbers with Omaha of the AHL, and stating his case for an NHL backup role in 2007-08. 

A sixth-round pick in 2002, the Calgary native went 35-17-1 with seven shutouts in Omaha. His 35 wins were tops in the league, while his GAA of 2.13 ranked second. While splitting games with Brent Krahn the past two seasons, McElhinney gradually passed him on the depth chart after Krahn missed time with a knee injury.  McElhinney is serving as backup for Calgary now, but has yet to see NHL action, due in part to his own knee injury.

10.  Eric Nystrom, RW, 24

Taken in the first round, 10th overall in 2002, it doesn’t look like Nystrom will ever reach the level Flames brass hoped he would.  However, the book is certainly not closed on the winger, despite once again dropping in the rankings.

After a solid rookie pro season with Omaha in 2005-05, Nystrom battled a shoulder injury for almost all of 2006-07, playing in just 17 games, regular season and playoffs.  According to many, his return at the end of the Knights season was premature, and his lack of production (two goals) seemed to back it up.

The Flames are of the mindset Nystrom’s shoulder is fully recovered, as evidenced by the new deal signed over the summer.  But the clock is running out on the 24-year-old.  If he doesn’t crack the roster in the next two years, he likely never will.

11.  Brandon Prust, LW, 23

Sandpaper.  The word has defined Brandon Prust in his career with the London Knights of the OHL, or the Omaha Knights of the AHL.  Prust has carried his tireless energy into both levels, and with 26 and 27 points, respectively, in his first two pro seasons, he has shown he’s not without some offensive instinct as well.  But Prust’s true calling card is his Sean Avery-like instigator skills that have translated into over 500 penalty minutes over the last two seasons.  Prust found his way into the Calgary lineup for 10 games in 2006-07, making his mark with 25 penalty minutes.

After undergoing hip surgery in mid-August, Prust began the season on time with Quad City.

12.  David Van der Gulik, RW, 24

Originally a seventh-round selection back in 2002, David Van der Gulik has always been a longer-term prospect of the Flames, but appears to be coming into his own.

After four years at Boston University, Van der Gulik finally turned pro in 2006-07, registering 16 goals and 43 points in 80 games with Omaha, good for fourth on the team in scoring. Another attractive stat as far as the Flames are concerned was his team-leading +27.  His biggest knock is his size.  At 5’11, he’ll have to prove he can battle at the next level.  However, Van der Gulik could be a wild card to challenge for a look on the big club’s roster in the next year or two if he continues to display aggressive, two-way ability.

13.  Matt Keetley, G, 21

At times, Matt Keetley gets far too little respect, both in the WHL, and in the Calgary system.  He has always played behind juggernaut teams in Medicine Hat, and seems to be buried behind other goaltenders such as Irving, McElhinney, and Krahn on the NHL depth chart.  There was so little room for advancement in 2006-07, the Flames sent him back to junior as a 20-year-old, where he again put up terrific numbers in a very competitive division.

Keetley was an absolute workhorse for the Tigers, backstopping the club to 42 wins, including six shutouts.  In the playoffs, he did what fellow Flame Leland Irving could not, put the team on his shoulders.  Keetley was named MVP after Medicine Hat captured the WHL Championship in Game 7 against Vancouver, and was brilliant again at the Memorial Cup, where the Tigers lost to Vancouver in the final.  The biggest knock on Keetley has always been his inconsistency.  Mistakes and so-so games have almost always been overshadowed by a great Tiger defense.  The Flames hope the 2006-07 playoff version of Keetley is here to stay.  He’s in Quad City this season, but was called up to Calgary due to McElhinney’s knee injury.

14.  Tim Ramholt, D, 23

Swiss defenseman Tim Ramholt drops in the rankings, but remains a true wild card in the Calgary system.  A second-round choice in 2003, the 6’1, smooth-skating rearguard played one season with Cape Breton in the QMJHL, before returning to the pro ranks in Switzerland in 2004-05 and 2005-06.  Ramholt’s first pro season in North America in 2006-07 had its share of ups and downs.  It took him a while to get acclimatized to the faster game and smaller ice surface, and his penchant for poor on-ice decisions was well documented.  However, as his first season wore on, Ramholt seemed to get the hang of things, and finished the season with two goals and 12 points in 67 games, adding 61 penalty minutes in the process.

While he doesn’t boast a lot of high-end offensive potential, Ramholt could end up being a serviceable top-six regular with some more seasoning.  The 23-year-old is at least two years away from the big club, and the Flames will expect a marked improvement in 2007-08.

15.  Matt Pelech, D, 20

Another first-round draft pick on the list, Matt Pelech is a 6’2, bruising defensive defenseman who perfectly fits the mentality of a Sutter blue line.  Drafted 26th overall in 2005, Pelech has played for three different OHL teams, most recently with the Belleville Bulls in his 19-year-old junior season.  Toughness is his true calling card, but it’s also hindered his development after missing parts of two campaigns with a broken jaw.

While probably never destined for big offensive numbers, Pelech still has the ability to make a decent first pass, and more than tripled his career-high numbers last season.  In just 58 games, Pelech scored five goals and 35 points, while adding 171 penalty minutes.  The hulking blueliner is assigned to Quad City, where he’ll be tested by the faster pace of the AHL.  Pelech is more than likely three years away from a full-time spot, but is expected to eventually fit into Calgary’s top six, provided his injury woes are behind him.

16.  Kris Chucko, LW, 22

Slowly falling down the prospect rankings is winger Kris Chucko,  The first-round pick, 24th overall, of the Flames in 2004, Chucko made the crossover into the AHL ranks in 2006-07 after two years at the University of Minnesota.  In his first pro season with Omaha, he managed 14 goals and 28 points in 80 games.  Standing 6’2, Chucko plays a physical, power game that opens up space for himself and his linemates.

Still just 22 years of age, Calgary appears willing to wait on his development, although judging by the last three years, Chucko may be hard pressed to reach the level expected of his draft position. In his second season in the AHL, Chucko could possibly follow in a David Moss style development curve.

17.  Brett Sutter, RW, 20

The son of General Manager Darryl, Brett displays all the traits of the Sutter clan.  A tireless worker, leader, and consummate team player, Sutter gets the most out of his limited skill set each and every game.  Thought to be an NHL long shot just a year ago, Brett’s offensive game took huge strides in 2006-07 while serving as captain of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. Sutter posted a career-high 28 goals and 57 points, and hit a new level in a seven-game playoff loss to Medicine Hat, putting up seven points.  At best, Sutter is destined for a third or fourth-line role with the Flames, but with his work ethic, don’t count him out.  Sutter is a rookie in the AHL with Quad City.

18.  J.D. Watt, RW, 20

One of the most hated players in the WHL to line up against last season, Watt has the ability to change a game with his offense or his punishing body checks.  While he did slide into somewhat of a smaller role during the Vancouver Giants Memorial Cup run, Watt still had a monster regular season, notching career highs with 34 goals and 53 points in 70 games, while also adding a career-low 183 penalty minutes.

A fourth-round pick in 2005, Watt signed his first NHL deal midway through the 2006-07 season, and seemed to use it as motivation down the stretch.  Watt’s biggest strength can also be his biggest detriment.  While notorious for getting rival teams off their games, Watt can easily lose his own composure, taking three, four, or even five bad penalties in a game.  He has the aggression a coach loves, but still needs to learn how to reel it in.  Acquired by the Red Deer Rebels in the offseason, Watt is back in the WHL for his 20-year-old season.

19.  Gord Baldwin, D, 20

Standing 6’5, Baldwin has great size, and unlike many young defensemen, is willing to use it.  A third-round pick in 2005, he fits the rugged, playoff-hardened style that has become synonymous with Sutter draft picks.  Baldwin fit nicely into the Medicine Hat Tigers top two pairings in 2006-07, and played a key defensive role in all 23 playoff games en route to a WHL championship.

He’s certainly not noted for his offense, but has shown an ability to make a quick outlet pass, and was able to use his one-timer on the second power-play unit.  Like many big men, Baldwin’s skating could still use some work, but if that comes around, he should have a long career as a steady defenseman, eventually fitting into the Flames top six.  Baldwin signed his first NHL contract during the WHL playoffs, and is on the Quad City roster.

20.  Aaron Marvin, C, 19

A third-round pick in 2006 out of high school hockey in Minnesota, Marvin is the definition of a long-term project, an extremely long-term one.  Blessed with good size that he’s not afraid to use in the corners, (6’2, 191 lbs) his glaring weakness is his skating.  An obvious step behind the other prospects at development camp, Marvin has a long way to go. However, time is on his side.  2007-08 is his first full season outside of the high school ranks.  He’s a freshman for St. Cloud State and has an assist in two games played.

Missing the cut

John Negrin, D
Aki Seitsonen, F
Tomi Maki, F

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.