PENTICTON, British Columbia -- The rebuild may be in its early stages, but the Calgary Flames are already reaping the rewards of their burgeoning prospect pipeline.
After being chosen sixth in the 2013 NHL Draft, all eyes are on 18-year-old Sean Monahan while the Flames compete at the 2013 Young Stars Classic.
The 6-foot-2, 187-pound center spent the 2012-13 season co-captaining the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League; he scored 31 goals (15 on the power play) and had 78 points in 58 games.
In addition to his prowess offensively and on special teams, he's an ace on draws, a defensive-zone force, and a high-level performer in pressure situations.
For a team in need of a top-line center to build around, Monahan could earn a spot on the Flames' opening-night roster.
"I'm working my butt off to make that a reality," Monahan said after Friday's practice here. "I know there are certain things I need to work on to make it, but I've dedicated my summer to ironing those things out. I was in the gym six days a week working on my conditioning, which I know is huge at the next level. I was mostly focusing on my core strength, which worked out well because I've gained some solid muscle mass since the draft. On the ice, I focused on my explosiveness, and I got an excellent chance to work on that when we had our development camp earlier this summer.
"I feel like I'm a much better and more refined player than I was a few months ago."
Monahan, from Brampton, Ontario, has made a strong impression on general manager Jay Feaster and Flames brass. In the tournament-opening game Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers, Monahan scored an insurance goal early in the third period of a 5-2 Flames victory.
"I was really nervous before the game, but I think that's normal. Everyone was," he said. "As the game went on, I began to get more and more comfortable out there. The overall experience was a thrill, and capping the night with a win made it that much sweeter.
"I'm trying to do whatever I can to make a good impression here, so it was nice to get involved on the score sheet. Still, I can't be satisfied with my performance, not yet. I know I can be better and I'll definitely show that over the next couple games."
Since their run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, the Flames have struggled to develop talent through the draft (Monahan was their earliest selection since Rico Fata was the No. 6 pick in in 1998).
But with an aging core and the failure to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past four years, the Flames have assembled a formidable pool of prospects poised to make the jump. Monahan, Sven Baertschi, Michael Ferland, Patrick Sieloff and Ben Hanowski are the future of for Calgary.
Hanowski, a 22-year-old captain of St. Cloud State University (WCHA), was acquired as part of a trade that sent longtime Flames captain Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins in March. Finishing the season in Calgary after leading St. Cloud to a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four, Hanowski made an immediate impact in his NHL debut.
"As someone who grew up in Little Falls (Minnesota), it was an incredible moment," Hanowski said. "As a kid, you always dream about playing in the NHL and scoring your first goal. Usually it's an end-to-end rush or something fancy like that, but I'll certainly take it.
"Getting the chance to suit up late in the season, to get some experience and contribute like that was huge. Just seeing what [the NHL] was all about and how guys go about their business, and what it was going to take for me to get to that level, meant a lot. I'm very grateful for that opportunity and I think it's given me a leg up coming into camp this year."
Appearing in five games last season, Hanowski emerged with a more complete understanding of what it takes to stick at the NHL level.
"Obviously the speed is different and most guys are bigger, stronger, but I think the biggest thing is the conditioning. It's insane," he said. "Some guys are playing upward of 20-25 minutes a night and they're not even tired. So after see that, watching how they keep rolling and rolling, I knew I wanted to focus on my conditioning and stamina over the summer."
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound right wing has had a strong start to the Young Stars Classic. Though he wasn't credited with any points Thursday night, Hanowski played a pivotal role helping set up goals by linemates Markus Granlund and Emile Poirier.
Monahan and Max Reinhart capped the scoring; it was a balanced effort from start to finish.
"I think we have a lot of good young guys here, a lot of talented players that can put the puck in the net," said Hanowski, who scored 17 goals and 14 assists last season with St. Cloud. "It's exciting when you have that kind of future. It's fun to be around and it's a good culture for the young guys to learn from.
"I'm thrilled to be a part of it."