After years of patching holes, hoping to land a bottom-tier Stanley Cup Playoff spot and not succeeding, Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster has opted to start over, putting more emphasis on player development. One step in that process was acquiring three first-round picks at the 2013 NHL Draft and using all of them. After years of struggling to develop talent, Calgary has drafted and traded its way into a solid pipeline of young talent.
With veterans Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and Jay Bouwmeester gone (Iginla, Bouwmeester) or very unlikely to return (Kiprusoff), there are going to be jobs available for the Flames' young players, now and in the near future. The question is whether they're ready to grab them.
Here's a look at Calgary's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Sven Baertschi, LW: The Flames are counting on Baertschi, their first-round pick (No. 13) in 2011, to become one of their top guns on offense. The 20-year-old Swiss forward teased the Flames and their fans during an emergency call-up in 2011-12, scoring three goals in five games, then had three goals and 10 points in 20 games with Calgary last season, after getting 10 goals and 26 points in 32 games with Abbotsford, the Flames' American Hockey League affiliate. He's speedy, capitalizes on his offensive chances and has gotten better defensively. The only question is his size -- he's listed at 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds. The Flames are hoping he'll turn into their first-line left wing, but he's taking nothing for granted.
"For me, it's going to be similar to last year," he said after the team's rookie camp. "I've got to make sure I get my spot. As a player, you never want to give up your spot. Last year I got sent down. With that, I gave up a spot. I don't want that to happen again."
2. Sean Monahan, C: Feaster wasted little time getting Monahan's name on a contract after selecting him with the sixth pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. He's a big two-way center (6-2, 187) who offers solid defensive skills to go along with the ability to put the puck in the net. The 18-year-old will have to work on his skating, but he's got a good chance to start the season in Calgary.
"From our very first interaction with him, Sean has demonstrated a seriousness of purpose and a steadfast resolve to be the very best player he can be, and his character and work ethic have continued to shine through in his preparation this summer," Feaster said after signing Monahan. "Not only is Sean a very good hockey player, but he is a great person as well."
3. John Gaudreau, LW: The Flames know they won't have Gaudreau, 19, when they hit the ice at training camp; he's committed to a third season at Boston College, where he was a Hobey Baker Award finalist last season.
Don't be surprised, though, if the Flames try to talk him into signing after BC’s season is over. Gaudreau's size (5-6, 141 pounds) is a concern, but there's no questioning his skill. He was a key to BC's 2012 NCAA title and led all scorers with seven goals to help the United States to the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in January. He's electric offensively and competes hard for his size.
4. Maxwell Reinhart, C: The oldest of former Flames favorite Paul Reinhart's hockey-playing sons made his NHL debut late last season, scoring a goal and adding two assists in 11 games. He doesn't have his father's scoring touch, but the third-round pick (No. 64) in 2010 can be a gritty defensive center with enough offensive ability that opponents can't ignore him. Reinhart's skating may need some work, but the 21-year-old has decent speed, will compete along the boards, and at 6-1, 180 could end up as a shut-down center (or wing) who can be a decent playmaker and offensive contributor.
5. Corban Knight, C: Knight, a big center (6-1, 180) acquired from the Florida Panthers in the spring, was a fifth-round pick (No. 135) in 2009 who turned into a point-a-game player during his final three seasons at North Dakota while going plus-15 or better in all three of those seasons. He capped his college career with 49 points in 41 games last season. Knight, 22, might have to work on his skating but can play the kind of two-way game coaches love. He's the type of center who can be used in a shut-down role while contributing offensively.
6. Morgan Klimchuk, LW: The Calgary native, the third of the Flames' three 2013 first-round picks (No. 28), had a fine season on a weak Regina team in the Western Hockey League, scoring 36 goals and finishing with 76 points in 72 games for a club that won 25 times. He has a good shot, decent speed and a lot of offensive ability, and was a key member of Canadian teams that won gold at the Ivan Hlinka and World Under-18 tournaments. Klimchuk, 18, is solid defensively and willing to play the body, a tendency that may grow as he does; he's listed as 5-11 and 180 pounds.
7. Mark Jankowski, C: Jankowski, the Flames' first-round pick (No. 21) in the 2012 NHL Draft, made the big jump from Canadian high school hockey to NCAA Division I last season, and had seven goals and 18 points as a freshman at Providence College. The Flames love his height (6-3) and are expecting him to add strength to his 175-pound frame as he matures. The 18-year-old has the long arms and soft hands to become an excellent playmaker and a center who can contribute in the puck-possession game.
8. Tyler Wotherspoon, D: Wotherspoon finished his junior career on a high note, posting a career-best 37 points during the regular season then helping lead the Portland Winterhawks to the WHL title and the finals of the Memorial Cup. A 2011 second-round pick (No. 57), Wotherspoon, 20, always has been solid defensively, but his offensive game has emerged in the past two seasons. He's still capable of being physical at 6-1, 196, but has learned how to pick his spots while improving his positioning and his ability to get the puck out of his own zone.
9. Jon Gillies, G: A teammate of Jankowski's at Providence, Gillies was a major reason the Friars were one of the most improved teams in college hockey last season; he was a First-Team All-Star in Hockey East as a freshman after posting a .931 save percentage in 34 games. At 6-5, 215, Calgary's third-round pick (No. 75) in 2012 covers a lot of net, but he's also athletic, has excellent reflexes and plays a calm style that doesn't force him to waste a lot of effort. He's still raw, but made tremendous strides as an 18-year-old and should continue his development at Providence this season.
10. Bill Arnold, C: Arnold, 21, is the kind of player Calgary fans and coaches could grow to love: a hard-working, 6-foot, 218-pound center who can contribute at both ends of the ice and gives everything he's got on every shift. The fourth-round pick (No. 108) in 2010 is a year ahead of Gaudreau at BC, where they were members of the Eagles' 2012 NCAA championship team. He's had 17 goals in each of the past two seasons, has improved his skating, and can play against the opposition's top forwards.
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