CALGARY, AB -- Calgary Flames General Manager Jay Feaster has had a week to evaluate the 44 players attending the organization's annual development camp and one word can sum up his feelings on the depth of the team's prospect pool.
"Certainly, it was the best we've had since I've been associated with the club," Feaster said on Tuesday. "A lot of good, young talent out there. I thought the coaches did a great job in terms of the pace, the kids worked hard; it was a very, very productive week. Again, when you have that much more talent and that much more depth, the competition level is good.
"You could see, I think, the guys recognize that there is an opportunity with the big club."
The camp, which was facilitated by Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward, Flames associate coach Jacques Cloutier, Flames assistant coach Martin Gelinas, Heat goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet and Domenic Pittis, offered different things for different players.
For prospects pushing for a roster spot in Calgary in the fall, this camp gave them a head start in showcasing their talent to members of hockey operations and helped set the stage for the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton in September. It also offered them a chance to review their off-season training regimen and make any necessary changes.
For players potentially making the leap to the pro ranks and starting the year in Abbotsford, it provided a opportunity to get to know Ward and understand what he expects from his charges. It also allowed for players to size up some of their competition, as the fight for roster spots with the Heat will be an intense battle.
For the 2013 NHL Draft picks, development camp was their first taste of the organization and their first look at how an NHL club operates. They also spent the week going head-to-head with several players that have professional experience, giving them a chance to gauge their skills against a higher level of competition.
"There are a lot of great players here and you can see what it takes to play at that next level," 2013 seventh round pick John Gilmour told CalgaryFlames.com, noting he was putting a big emphasis on strength training going forward. "There are some big boys here, guys weighing 230 lbs. I've got to be able to get bigger, much stronger lower body and I've got to be able to be just as physical as the next guy."
College players are in a different situation than prospects playing in the CHL, USHL or overseas. While most players have their trip to Calgary paid for by the organization, prospects playing at American universities and colleges come to camp on their own dime. Flights and hotel costs are their responsibility, as dictated by the NCAA, and in years past, it was rare to see collegiate players attend NHL camps.
That, however, has changed. Every Flames prospect that is in the midst of a college career attended this year's camp and according to Feaster, that is a testament to what this past week offers them in regards to their development.
"Number one, they recognize that this is a worthwhile experience. This camp isn't just for us to evaluate them. It's a chance for them, because of the testing we do and the things that we communicate with them, the information we give them, it's a chance for them to see where they measure up.
"Look at a guy like Johnny Gaudreau. Johnny, he recognizes the progression he's made every year. It's easier for him to look at it and say, 'I think I need to gain 'x' pounds. I think I need one more year and I'm ready to go.'"
For collegiate players attending camp on a try-out agreement, they have a risk-free opportunity to play their way into a contract.
"If they don't earn a contract, they still have college eligibility and they go back to school."
No matter what the player's situation is, Feaster and the rest of hockey operations are tremendously pleased with the effort put forth by all 44 players over the past week and expects several players to give veterans a push in September.
"There is real competition," he stated. "We're wide open. As we said to the guys, there is no situation where we're saying, 'Well, we weren't planning on you.'
"It's like we told (Patrick) Sieloff - we don't have a lot of players in the organization that play the way you play and we're going to give you an opportunity in camp. We're going to give you pre-season games and see if you can knock the door down ... it was a good week, it was a productive week. We were pleased with the guys."