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Flames youth serving Calgary well

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Among his leaderboard, Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving can spot a 20-year-old sophomore, a 21-year-old freshman and a 24-year-old rookie pacing the way in several offensive categories.

He'll admit it may not have been what he expected to see midway through his first season at the helm.

But Treliving will take it.

“I’d be lying if I said at the beginning of the year we’d be sitting here and saying that I thought those numbers would be attainable,” he said.

Those numbers featuring 15 goals from Sean Monahan, the sophomore, and Johnny Gaudreau, the rookie. Gaudreau’s 37 points place him just four off the team lead and six ahead of Monahan. Josh Jooris, 24, has led the way with four game-winning goals for the Flames.

After a rookie season that saw Monahan net 22, the expectation of something similar -- if not improved -- was there.

For the other pair, the standard might not have been so high.

“Listen, Sean Monahan we knew coming in had a terrific first season last year. Coming in as a second year player there was high expectations. When you look at what Johnny and what Josh have done as rookies in this league and really with the expectation level of maybe they need to feel their way through it, it has surprised me. There’s no question.”

The names of Gaudreau and Jooris were anything but penned into Calgary coach Bob Hartley’s lineup in the summer.

But their contributions alongside Monahan’s have an emerging, youthful core helping power a potential playoff push.

“That was part of our plan,” Hartley said. “Obviously the results, you’re never sure of them. That’s the beauty of the game. You have to drop the puck and play the games. Last year we made a commitment to ourselves, to the organization and to our fans that we would turn the page and we would start something new. Great scouting, great development before they’ve got to us is giving us a chance to be a playoff team right now.”

They were contributions not necessarily counted on by Hartley and Treliving six months ago.

They’ll gladly take them.

Just the same way that the likes of Jooris and Gaudreau wrestled jerseys away from veterans to shine bright in Calgary this season.

“With Josh, quite frankly, he’s been talked a lot about,” Treliving said. “There wasn’t a lot of expectation coming into the season. He’s a shining example of a guy who grabbed hold of a spot and wrestled it away and said ‘I’m not giving it up’.

“We’ve talked a lot about Johnny. He has a special skill set. I’ll be honest, I thought there was going to be a longer time for him to adapt and see his game translate to the NHL level. He’s figured it out very quickly.

It’s given both Gaudreau and Jooris an opportunity to stay long term.

It’s one, Hartley reminds, that was earned, not given.

“I can’t say it’s a surprise because obviously there is no way to know but at the same time those guys fought to get a jersey, they earned a jersey and they’re earning their ice time,” he said. “It’s not given and especially in our situation right now that we’re in the playoff picture, you’re on the ice because you deserve it.”

That playoff picture offers the next challenge for the likes of Gaudreau, Jooris and Monahan.

Calgary finds itself holding down the second of two wild-card slots in the Western Conference.

The Flames are the hunted, not the hunter.

“The challenge now going forward is these games do get tougher and harder and tighter but both those rookies and obviously Sean as a second year player have surpassed even my expectations,” Treliving said.

It’s a slightly different challenge for those looking to follow the lead of Calgary’s emerging youth.

Sam Bennett, for example, continues to face shoulder rehabilitation after undergoing surgery in mid-September. It was expected to keep him out 4-to-6 months, meaning he’s nearing a return.

But there’s no public plan as to when or where that might be for Calgary’s first pick (No. 4) in the 2014 NHL Draft.

“The plan, we’ve got a pretty good idea where we’re going to go with Sam,” Treliving said. “We’re keeping that close to the vest at this point. We want the focus being on his recovery. I think if we get too far ahead and get talking about this, that and the other thing…he’s gone through a significant injury. It’s a significant healing time and this is a very young player who we feel is going to be a very, very important player here for a long time.

“Right now we want the focus for Sam specifically being on lets focus each day on how we get better. You don’t have to push him. This is a driven young man who is chomping at the bit to be back and playing. This is just a little bump in the road for us. We think this guy is going to be a real big part of this team for a long time.”

Calgary has three options for Bennett.

They can simply play him in the NHL, and have a nine-game cushion before the first year of his entry-level contract kicks in. Should they decide he’s not ready anytime before that, he can be reassigned to his junior club, the Kingston Frontenacs. He can also be ushered to the American Hockey League with a conditioning stint with the Adirondack Flames.

The latter is where Emile Poirier has spent the 2014-15 season.

He too underwent shoulder surgery, those the timeline differs from Bennett.

There was no development camp for Poirier in July. No YoungStars Tournament in Penticton or training camp in September. No hockey games to suit up for in October, either.

But since, the first round pick in 2013 has, for all intents and purposes, led Adirondack in scoring and was an AHL All-Star at 20 years old.

He, much like Bennett, should be chomping at the bit for an opportunity to contribute the way Monahan, Gaudreau and Jooris have seized their chance.

Again, Treliving preaches patience.

“A lot of people see the production that Emile puts up and he’s been very good,” he started. “Unfortunately for him he didn’t get to touch all the steps at the start of the year. He wasn’t able to go through training camp. He didn’t get a rookie camp. He didn’t get those preseason games. In a lot of ways it’s even more remarkable in terms of the year he had. He just sort of jumps in after missing the first nine or 10 games and takes off.

“His progress and his development is on course. It is not outside the realm of seeing him here. His play and our situation here with injuries will dictate but this is a good young player that I think when he does get here will be here for a long time.”

In a similar fashion Treliving and the Flames envision the likes of Monahan, Gaudreau and Jooris, no doubt.

One that will have Calgary’s youth serving the Flames well in the immediate and long-term.

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