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Nemisz burns bright among Flames prospects

Friday, 08.29.2008 / 9:00 AM / Prospects

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

With many under the impression that the 2008 Entry Draft was the deepest in years, the Calgary Flames desperately wanted to make the most of their first-round selection.
 
But there was just one problem -- they dealt their pick (No. 17) to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for forward Mike Cammalleri. General Manager Darryl Sutter worked the phones until he was able to get back into the first round, as he sent forward Alex Tanguay and a fifth-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for the No. 25 selection and a second-round pick in 2009.
 
Once Calgary's turn came up in the first round on the night of June 20 at Scotiabank Place, the Flames did not waste any time in grabbing Windsor Spitfires center Greg Nemisz, who had 67 points in 68 games in 2007-08.
 
"He's a big kid. He's got good hands and he likes to go to the net," the Flames' GM said. "We're looking forward to seeing him develop and hopefully, sooner than later, see him playing for us."
 
Here is a look at the Flames' top prospects heading into the 2008-09 campaign.
 
FORWARDS
 
Greg Nemisz -- The 18-year-old center brings plenty of size (6-foot-3, 197 pounds) and skill to the organization, as the Ontario native scored 34 goals for Windsor last season. It was a huge jump in production for Nemisz, as he found the back of the net just 11 times in 62 games in 2006-07.
 

"He got through last season healthy. This will probably be his most productive summer in quite some time. He's not NHL ready yet, but we see definite signs of progress." Duane Sutter on Flames' prospect Matt Pelech

While it's more than likely Nemisz will return to Windsor for a third season, he could arrive on the scene sooner rather than later in Calgary if his development continues to accelerate the way it did last season.
 
"I like to go to the scoring areas, but I don't score very many pretty goals," Nemisz said.
 
Mitch Wahl -- The California native was inspired by Wayne Gretzky's ability to put hockey on the map in Los Angeles during his time there in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The gritty center is coming off a Memorial Cup championship with the Spokane Chiefs (Western Hockey League), where he had six goals and eight assists in 21 playoff games. That followed a tremendous regular season that saw the playmaker score 20 goals to go along with 53 assists. Wahl also showed that he plays with a chip on his shoulder, evidenced by his 63 penalty minutes.
 
"He's a good kid and a really clever hockey player," said Duane Sutter, the team's new director of player development. "Obviously, he has a little bit of a feather in his hat, being on the Memorial Cup champion. Anytime you win a big team award like that, it certainly is something you can draw on and reach back on. Just to experience the adversity you go through, it'll be something he can draw back on for a long, long time."
 
Mikael Backlund -- The Swedish center was Calgary's first-round selection in 2007 and turned heads at the team's recent rookie camp. The 6-foot, 194-pound Backlund had 13 points in 37 games for Vasteras IK in Sweden last season.
 
"He's a talented, talented kid," Duane Sutter said. "He'll come into the main camp and try to make the big club. He's good with the puck and a really smart player. He's a good skater. He's pretty much the whole package. He'll make some noise in camp."
 
Juuso Puustinen -- The Finnish forward saw a bit of a dip in scoring production in his second season with the Kamloops Blazers (WHL), as the 6-foot-1 right wing posted 53 points (27 goals, 26 assists) after notching 71 points (32-39) in his rookie campaign.
 
Puustinen, who was Calgary's fifth-round choice in 2006, will need to work on becoming more physical in his third year of junior hockey, as he registered only 26 penalty minutes last season. Clearly, it is his ability to create offense that will determine how far he goes in his career.
 
Kris Chucko -- The Flames' first-round selection in 2004 has been slow but steady in his development. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound right wing is coming off his second full season in the American Hockey League, as he posted 15 goals and 15 assists in 80 games with the Quad City Flames.
 
Chucko is at his best when he brings his physical game, as he is not afraid to go to the net. However, his 30 points in the AHL last season will likely translate into a third or fourth-line role in Calgary at some point in the future.
 
John Armstrong -- The 20-year-old enjoyed a breakout season with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) in 2007-08, as he notched career highs in goals (21), assists (36), points (57) and penalty minutes (77).
 
Can Armstrong -- Calgary's third-round choice in 2006 -- make the jump to the AHL next season? It's possible, given his success in junior last season. In order to make a name for himself in training camp, Armstrong must use his tremendous slap shot to his advantage.
       
David van der Gulik -- Calgary's seventh-round choice in 2002 is already 25, but is coming off another solid season with the club's AHL affiliate. In 80 games with Quad City, van der Gulik tallied a career-high 19 goals, three more than the previous season. The right wing plays with an edge, and with hard work could land on the Flames' fourth line at some point next season. He was called up during the Stanley Cup Playoffs but did not see any action.
 
DEFENSEMEN
 
John Negrin -- He is a solid skater who nearly tripled his offensive production in his third season with the Kootenay Ice (WHL), as he went from 16 points in 2006-07 to 42 (one goal, 41 assists) last season. Negrin's 41 helpers were the third most in the WHL among defensemen.
 
Despite his impressive campaign, Negrin was not invited to try out for the Canadian World Junior team. That could change by the end of the year.
 
"He's a pretty talented kid," Duane Sutter said. "For the life of me, I can't figure out why he was not invited to the initial tryouts with the World Junior team with Team Canada. He's trying to change their mindset, and hopefully he'll get another look come Christmas time."
 
Matt Pelech -- After five seasons of junior hockey, the Flames' first-round choice in 2005 made the jump to the AHL in 2007-08. In 77 games with Quad City, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound blueliner had three goals, six assists and 141 penalty minutes.
 
While Pelech will never be relied upon to provide offense, he could develop into a solid, stay-at-home defenseman for the Flames. Pelech will most likely play a second season in the AHL before Calgary brass considers a promotion.
 
"He went through his junior career with a lot of injuries," Duane Sutter said. "He got through last season healthy. This will probably be his most productive summer in quite some time. He's not NHL ready yet, but we see definite signs of progress."
 
T.J. Brodie -- The 18-year-old was taken in the fourth round by the Flames in 2008 after becoming a reliable defenseman for the Saginaw Spirit (OHL) last season. In 68 games, the 6-foot-1 Brodie had four goals, 26 assists and 73 penalty minutes.
 
"I'm more of an offensive defenseman," Brodie said after being drafted by the Flames. "I like to join the rush and skate up into the play. I concentrate a lot on defense, and I'm trying to improve on that aspect of my game."
 
"He's a good skater," Duane Sutter said. "I've seen him play in Saginaw, and he's got good rink awareness. He moves the puck well. I don't think he'll be a big point-producing type guy, but I think he'll be a solid first-pass guy. He's capable of carrying the puck out of trouble." 
 
Keith Aulie -- Another hulking defenseman, Aulie (6-foot-6, 218 pounds) contributed more offensively in his third season with the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL), notching five goals and 12 assists to go along with 81 penalty minutes. He also posted three assists in six postseason contests.
 
It is more than likely that Aulie -- Calgary's fourth-round selection in 2007 -- will return to Brandon for another season.
 
"We're pretty excited about him," Duane Sutter said. "He's a big defenseman, a stay-at-home guy."
 
Alexander Deilert -- A seventh-round selection in this year's draft, the Flames are very high on the 5-foot-11 defenseman who had six goals, 12 assists and 70 penalty minutes for Djurgarden in Sweden last season.
 
"He's a talented, young guy," Duane Sutter said. "He's very competitive. He's a heck of an athlete. He has a good chance to play for Sweden in the World Junior tournament."
 
GOALTENDERS
 
Leland Irving -- After completing another solid season with the Everett Silvertips (WHL), the Flames' first-round pick in 2006 is ready to tackle the AHL in 2008-09.
 
This past season was Irving's fourth with Everett, and he did not disappoint. In 56 games with the Silvertips, the Alberta native went 27-24-3 with a 2.45 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Overall, Irving won 107 games during his time in Everett.
 
"I'm ready for a new challenge and ready to move on and play pro hockey," Irving said. "We've got so much depth here in Calgary that it's hard to say where I'll end up. But I'm not going to worry about that right now. That's something for management and coaches to decide. All I can do is stick to my thing on the ice and try not to over-complicate things. I just have to play my game, and I'm sure everything will sort itself out. But it'd definitely be nice to be in Quad City next year."
 
Matt Keetley -- Calgary's fifth-round choice in 2005 spent the 2007-08 season as the backup netminder in Quad City, and posted highly respectable numbers. In 26 games with the AHL Flames, Keetley went 10-8-3 with a 2.33 GAA and a .912 save percentage. He got into one game with the big club and stopped the two shots he faced during a nine-minute performance.
 
Keetley will likely share the goaltending duties with Irving in Quad City, as Curtis McElhinney is expected to move up to Calgary to be Miikka Kiprusoff's backup.
 
Kevin Lalande -- The 21-year-old made his mark with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL last season, where he helped the club reach the Kelly Cup Finals. In 27 regular-season games with the club, the Flames' fifth-round choice from 2005 went 17-5-4 with a 2.05 GAA and a .932 save percentage. Lalande would then go on to win 13 postseason games in Sin City, where he'll likely return next season as the team's No. 1 netminder.
 
"Anytime you can battle for a league title, obviously something's going pretty good," Duane Sutter said. "A lot of times, you can do your homework and find out pretty quickly it's got a lot to do with goaltending. I didn't see any of that finals series, but from what I'm told he had a pretty good run."


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