CALGARY, AB -- The first step towards the next step for Calgary Flames hopefuls begins Thursday.
And who steps up at the 2016 Young Stars Classic tournament in Penticton, BC is of particular interest to Flames assistant general manager Brad Pascall.
“I think you’re going to have some players, on our team and other teams ... but hopefully not … that are dipping their toe in the water,” Pascall said. “For those that have been to Penticton before, their focus is to impress and do well but ultimately impress enough that it maybe gives them an extra look at main camp and really turn the heat up as they progress.
“Main camp is really what it’s all about for everybody. You’re competing for spots and jobs. The road to main camp starts the first day in Penticton.”
A total of 29 players, including four goaltenders, nine defencemen and 16 forwards, will compete in an exhibition series against prospects from the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks.
Last year, Brett Kulak used the Young Stars tournament to propel himself into main camp, where a continued strong showing helped launch the 22-year-old into a six-game audition to start the season in Calgary.
In all, Kulak played eight games with the Flames in 2015-16. He was one of six players to participate in the tournament and play an NHL game with Calgary last season.
It’s not just those on the cusp that has Pascall interested, though.
“As an organization we’re excited to see all of our players, whether it’s the players we drafted in June, or players that have attended two or three development camps over the years to see where they’re at in their development,” Pascall said.
“It’s an exciting time. You see your prospects’ names on the board and you talk about them and see them at development camp. All summer when you know they’re training, and then to get them back in one group and see them on the ice … it’s exciting just to see where there their progression is and where they fit in the organization.”
The roster features Matthew Tkachuk, selected sixth overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, and Mark Jankowski, who will be participating for the first time after finishing up a four-year career at Providence College. Jankowski was selected in the first round (No. 21) of the 2012 NHL Draft.
Goaltenders Jon Gillies, Mason McDonald and Nick Schneider, defencemen Ryan Culkin, Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Anderson, and forwards Austin Carroll, Morgan Klimchuk and Andrew Mangiapane are among those competing after representing the Flames in the tournament last year.
Goaltender Tyler Parsons, defenceman Stepan Falkovsky, and forwards Eetu Tuuola, Matthew Phillips, and Dillon Dube -- all selected in 2016 -- will be playing for Calgary for the first time.
“It’s obviously a kickoff for the season for each of these guys as individuals,” Pascall said. “It gives you a good gauge on our player development side on where they are at now, where they’re at in their summer training, and where they’re at with the goals and objectives we set with them from the time their season is done through development camp and up to now.
“It really gives us an idea of where they’re at. You have a look at your prospect group against peer groups of the other teams, and get a sense of where they’re at, and where they’re at within your own organization.”