CALGARY, AB -- It's no secret I'm a staunch supporter of the Flames prospect pool.
While we all chip with content for Flames Future Watch, our microsite devoted to Calgary's pipeline, I handle the bulk of the workload and spend a lot of time checking in on each and every Flames prospect throughout their respective seasons.
Throughout the NHL campaign, my Twitter feed is a mash of AHL, NCAA, WHL, OHL, and QMJHL news.
The number of games I tune into during the year hits triple digits due to the fact I try to keep an eye on a multitude of CHL, AHL, and collegiate games.
Suffice to say, I'm invested.
For years, the Flames have been lambasted for a lack of depth organizationally and while, at one point, some of that criticism was warranted, the team has come a long way in the last few years. That criticism is wholly unjustified at this point in time.
Through the NHL Draft and acquiring prospects via trade, the team has bolstered their entire season, through all three positions. Are there areas that could use some more depth? Yes, but that is the case for every team.
(As an observer, I'd say the defensive corps could use a few more pieces but the likes of Patrick Sieloff, Keegan Kanzig, Brett Kulak, Ryan Culkin, Eric Roy, etc. are a pretty good mix of blueliners to have in the system.)
Going forward, the Flames will have an excellent opportunity to add some quality pieces. They hold five picks - including the fourth overall selection - in the first three rounds of the 2014 NHL Draft, seven selections overall. The excitement amongst fans continues to grow and new Flames general manager Brad Treliving can't wait to get started in Philly.
"It’s critical. Every draft is. I’ve said this many times before. Everybody talks about young players. You only get one time a year to add to that outside of trade and that’s at the draft ... We want to be a team that’s known as a draft and development team.
"You have to do it. It’s not something you choose to do. Without doing it, you have no chance."
And now, here are some points to ponder:
- There seemed to be a lot of chatter about having a Karri Ramo/Joni Ortio goaltending tandem in Calgary next season but after Ramo went on a tear when he returned from injury, it became clear that he earned the right to come in next season as the Flames starter. “I think Karri Ramo answered all the question marks, especially of late,” Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke said in his post-season address. “He had an excellent second half.” With Ramo taking the reigns in Calgary, that would leave Ortio as the back-up … a situation that isn’t going to advance his development. Practice only gets you so far, especially in the case of goalies, so he needs to play as often as possible. Being the starter for the Adirondack Flames may be the best thing for Ortio and I would put money on him quickly becoming a fan favourite in Glens Falls next year.
- With Ortio likely getting the starting gig in Glens Falls, Jon Gillies’ decision to head back to Providence College in 2014-15 is extremely wise. He’s another netminder who needs all the playing time he can get his hands on and he will definitely get that at Providence. Head coach Nate Leaman has been building some special since joining Providence and with Gillies as his backbone in net, they could be heading to Frozen Four and competing for a national championship.
- It’s ridiculously early, I know, but I’m throwing Gillies into my mix of potential Hobey candidates for next year. Call it a hunch.
- How good was Markus Granlund this year? There’s always questions about how players will adjust when they come over to North America from Europe and sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. But Granlund’s transition process was quick and he was an impact player for the Heat in no time. 46 points in 52 games in AHL earned him Heat Rookie of the Year honours and he gained a lot of fans during his tenure in Calgary, where he picked up three points in seven games. After recovering from an upper body injury, he led the Heat in playoff scoring, averaging over a point-per-game. I have no doubt he’s going to make life difficult for forwards jostling for a roster spot this fall.
- A guy who could be competing for Adirondack Flames Rookie of the Year honours in 2014-15 is Emile Poirier. The Flames 2013 first rounder is eligible to play in the AHL next year thanks to a ’94 birthdate and during his stint in the ‘A this past season showed he could handle himself at the next level. Yes, there are areas of his game he needs to clean up but the vast majority of 19-year-old’s do. If the Flames elect to send him to Glens Falls next season, the experience he would get there could fast-track his development.
- Speaking of Poirier, Burke announced that the forward had shoulder surgery recently and had played through the season with a “bad wing.” It’s a bit of a blow since he won’t be ready for the start of the 2014-14 season but once he’s fully recovered, how high is his offensive ceiling? He put up 43 goals and 87 points when he wasn’t 100 per cent.
- Defencemen Brett Kulak and Ryan Culkin are also likely bound for upstate New York next year and could be become a big part of the equation for the Adirondack Flames.
- Traditionally, defenceman take longer to develop than their counterparts up front and at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, it appeared Tyler Wotherspoon’s progression would follow that slow-and-steady path. At the beginning of his first professional campaign, he looked a half step behind the play but Troy. G Ward continued to place the young rearguard in a multitude of situations to get him acclimatized to the new pace. By the second half of the year, Wotherspoon was a top-four defenceman for the Abbotsford Heat and became a legitimate candidate for a call-up. When Dennis Wideman went down with an upper body injury in early March, Wotherspoon got the call and made the most of his opportunity. He averaged 13:27 in 14 games with the Flames and picked his first four NHL assists in that span. Shoulder surgery in early April ended his season prematurely but barring any unforeseen circumstances, he should be raring to go in September and make a push to be an NHL regular.
- In the early goings of the season, Paul Byron was an afterthought for most fans. The diminutive forward got into a mere four games during the truncated 2012-13 season and was held to just one assist in that span. His 15 points with the Abbotsford Heat that year didn’t exactly wow anyone either. There were reasons for that lackluster season – a concussion, a broken hand – but at the end of the day, when you’re known for your skill and ability to put up points, people just see the numbers on your stat line. Byron came into the 2013-14 a different man – a new father with more maturity than he had in years past. Gone were the unsavory penalties and inconsistency; everything came together for Byron last year. He put up 7 goals and 21 points in 47 games with the Flames and earned the admiration and respect of management and the coaching staff. If he can take his game to the next level in 2014-15, that offensive output could be doubled.
- Matt DeBlouw, the Flames seventh round pick in 2012, had a rough sophomore season at Michigan State. I’m betting he finds his game again this year with the Spartans.
- Looking at the Flames roster and prospect pool at the end of the 2013-14 season, 17 players who were 24 years of age or under during the campaign played in at least one NHL game. Five of those players were drafted between 2011 and 2013. Not too shabby for a team that wants to have a youthful roster.
- Right before he went down with a knee malady, Michael Ferland had seemed to turn a corner in his development. With ample time to recover and get back into game shape, he should come into training camp flying.
- No one suffered a more frustrating season than defenceman Patrick Sieloff. A staph infection kept him immobile for month and once he had fully recovered, the fitness fanatic had to start from square one to get back into game shape. It will be interesting to see how he does at development camp and training camp.
- The spotlight on Johnny Gaudreau? It's only going to get brighter this summer. The hype surrounding the slick forward reached new heights this year, following his outstanding season with Boston College and scoring his first NHL goal in his first game in The Show. Thankfully, the boy known as Johnny Hockey has plenty of experience being under a microscope and it hasn't seemed to slow him down one bit.