CALGARY, AB -- Micheal Ferland is just starting to scratch the surface.
Ask around and those that know the 23-year-old, who had a breakout performance for the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, is on the cusp of figuring out how to be an impact player in the National Hockey League.
“He’s still young. Every game’s a learning curve, but he’s a kid that comes in and wants to learn,” defenceman Kris Russell said. “He listens well, works hard in practice, stays late. He’s a kid that’s going to benefit from that and he’s only going to get better.”
Ferland had three goals, five points, and a team-leading 50 hits, in nine playoff games and was a key contributor in Calgary’s first round victory against the Vancouver Canucks last spring.
Russell has seen Ferland’s progression first hand.
He witnessed the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder run roughshod against Vancouver’s defence in the opening round of the playoffs, and he’s been on the receiving end, albeit the toned-down version, in practice.
Even that, Russell suggested, isn’t a pleasurable experience.
“It’s not fun. It’s not,” Russell said. “He protects the puck well, he’s got a good shot, he’s got a good sense. He’s a very hard player to contain and when he’s playing his game, moving his feet, he gets in other team’s heads. He’s very effective.”
It was on display Friday.
Ferland had the game-winner and set up Sean Monahan’s insurance marker as the Flames beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 in pre-season action at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“He’s a force out there,” coach Bob Hartley said. “This kid is so strong. He’s such a great skater. What we’re missing with [Ferland] is he has unbelievable hockey sense. His reads are great. His hands are great. This kid can make plays. You look at the pass he gave [Monahan], then his shot. They’re great NHL plays.”
Jake Virtanen opened the scoring on the power play for Vancouver at 4:29, but the Flames responded to take a lead into the first intermission.
A couple of firsts helped the cause.
Sam Bennett scooped up a rebound on Michael Frolik’s sharp-angle shot and beating Canucks starter Richard Bachman over the glove for his first of the pre-season to tie the game 1-1 at 15:26.
Ferland, also with his first of the pre-season, beat Bachman with 1:57 remaining in the frame. On the power play with former Calgary forward Brandon Prust in the penalty box for hi-sticking, Dennis Wideman’s cross-crease pass was deflected into the slot, where Ferland quickly corralled and beat Bachman between the legs for the 2-1 Flames lead.
“With my goal, I think [Wideman] was just trying to get the puck back door,” Ferland said. “I got a lucky bounce and it landed right on my stick.”
It was extended to 3-1 with another first.
Moments after Dougie Hamilton’s tripping minor expired, Ferland found Monahan behind the Vancouver defence on a quick break. Monahan, who had 31 goals in 2014-15, beat Bachman over the blocker at 8:19 for his first on the pre-season docket.
“[Ferland] does everything pretty well,” Monahan said. “He can skate, he can hit and he’s skilled. He found me there. It was a great play. I enjoy playing with him. He brings something different. Ferly, he wants to make an impact game-in, game-out. Having him there, he did a good job for us.”
Frolik broke the first goal string, adding his second of the pre-season after taking a no look backhand pass from Jiri Hudler in the slot and beating Jacob Markstrom, on for Bachman, to give Calgary a 4-1 lead with 3:51 remaining in the second.
It held up as the final.
Hiller stopped 25 shots in the victory. He’s allowed just two goals on 42 shots through a game and a half of pre-season action.