Calgary - December 8, 2011 - With the World Junior Championships right around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to focus on the future of the Calgary Flames organization moving forward. After struggling over the past decade to produce NHL talent through the draft, it now appears that the Calgary Flames are starting to notice the importance that drafting can have on an NHL club in today’s game. I will point out what I believe to be the top ten prospects currently playing within the organization and the impact each player could possibly have in the future.
Sven Bartschi (Left Winger)
Selected 13th overall in the 2011 draft, The 5’10, 185 pound left winger from Langenthal, Switzerland has done nothing but impress since being selected last June by the Calgary Flames. A very creative player who reads the game at an extremely high level, Sven can both shoot and pass the puck with equal precision. What excites the Flames brass the most about Bartschi’s future is his work ethic and passion for the game. To this point in his second season in North America, Bartschi leads the entire CHL with a staggering 2.33 PPG (Points per Game). Sven will be looked upon by his country to lead team Switzerland as he gets ready for the World Juniors this month in Calgary.
NHL Comparable (In terms of play style)- Marian Hossa
Upside- Top Line Forward
T.J Brodie (Defensemen)
Now a mainstay on the Flames blue line this season, Brodie has come a long ways since being drafted in the 4th round, #114 overall in 2008 NHL entry draft. The smooth skating defenseman from Chatham, Ontario possesses the puck moving ability that is so highly sought after in the NHL today. After bursting onto the scene in last year’s training camp, Brodie spent just three games up with the big club before being sent down to Abbotsford in order to work on his defensive game. A successful year of tuning down with the Heat has proved to be just what he needed, as he has shown that he has the ability to be an everyday player in the best league on earth.
NHL Comparable (In terms of play style)- Kevin Shattenkirk
Upside- Top Four Defensemen (Primarily a good #3 Defensemen)
Roman Horak (Center)
After being acquired in a trade that saw former top rated Flames prospect Tim Erixon leave the organization, most had no clue who Roman Horak was or what he could offer to this team. Boy, we were in for a treat as Roman impressed everyone from development camp on through training camp. What Roman brings to the ice is far beyond his years, he has a top notch understanding for the game that allows him to succeed on both sides of the puck. The one thing that amazed me the most about Horaks game was his poise with the puck under pressure situations; he seemingly has a way of slowing the tempo of the game around him. If you are getting praise from Brent Sutter for your abilities on the defensive side of the puck at just twenty years of age, you know you are doing something right. I personally feel that as he continues to grow more comfortable at the NHL level, his offense will begin to show.
NHL Comparable (In terms of play style)- Tomas Plekanec
Upside- Second Line Center
Max Reinhart (Center)
Son of former Flame defensemen Paul Reinhart, Max was drafted in the third round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. A gritty player who excels at both ends of the rink, Max had his coming out party last season as he helped lead his Kootenay Ice teammates to the Memorial Cup Finals registering 27 Points (15 goals, 12 Assists) in just 19 games along the way. His steady development over the past few seasons in Kootenay has earned him the opportunity to play for Canada this month as it was announced this past week that he was invited to participate in the preliminary camp in hopes of making the final roster. Max will be in tough to make such a highly competitive team, but what he can bring however is a strong defensive presence that can be relied upon late in games whether that be on the penalty kill or in the faceoff circle. He has proven time and time again that he is a player that will raise his game when under pressure.
NHL Comparable (In terms of play style)- Joe Pavelski
Upside- Second Line Center
Leland Irving (Goaltender)
As a highly touted goaltender coming out of juniors, The Calgary Flames selected Swan Hills, Alberta native Leland Irving in the first round (26th) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. After four magnificent seasons for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, Irving had a very good rookie season as the starter in Quad City. His only struggles so far as a pro came during his second season, as he battled with consistency issues and ended up playing a stint in the ECHL. However he did not let that affect him as over the past few seasons he has proven himself to be among the best goaltenders in the AHL. He has no doubt been the most valuable player for the Abbotsford Heat these past two seasons and is well on his way to playing in the NHL one day. Not an overly large goaltender, Irving relies upon his technique and calmness between the pipes to stop the puck. Leland Irving will look to get into his first NHL game in the upcoming weeks as he has been called up as the backup to Miikka Kiprusoff due to the injury Henrik Karlsson sustained Sunday night.
NHL Comparable (In terms of play style)- Jimmy Howard
Upside- Starting Goaltender (45-50 starts a year)
I will now go on to round out my top ten list. A few notable prospects who showed considerable upside in Junior’s have struggled to translate their game to the professional ranks, and as a result now find themselves on the outside looking in. Such players include the likes of Mitch Wahl, John Negrin, Bryan Cameron and John Armstrong.
Greg Nemisz (Center/Right Wing)
Former line mate of first overall draft pick Taylor Hall in Windsor, Greg Nemisz has shown signs of steady improvement over the course of his first two professional seasons in Abbotsford. Drafted 25th Overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the big 6”3, 200 pound forward from Courtice, Ontario possesses a nice blend of size and skill. In his first season with Abbotsford, Nemisz quickly earned the trust of the coaching staff as he found himself playing in all situations. In fact he even managed to lead the offensively challenged Heat squad in points before earning a call up that resulted in a short six game stint with the Flames at the end of last season. After a very solid showing in training camp, Greg was sent back down to the minors as a result of being caught in a numbers game here in Calgary. An impressive 7 goals and 11 Assists in 25 games to start the year has Nemisz knocking on the door for a call up should an injury take place.
NHL Comparable (In terms of play style)- Troy Brouwer
Upside- Third line winger (He does however posses the skill for the 2nd line should his skating continue to improve)
Michael Ferland (Left Wing)
Michael Ferland appears to be the perfect example of a late bloomer in hockey, as he found himself playing recreationally up until trying out for his local midget team. It did not take him long however to gain attention as his hometown Brandon Wheat Kings offered him an opportunity to make the team. After just one year in the WHL, the Calgary Flames drafted Ferland in the 5th round, #133 overall. Having earned a reputation for being among the best fighters in the CHL, Ferland has since focused more of his efforts on the offensive side of the game as he saw his point totals nearly double in the season following his draft year. What he provides is a physical presence on the ice that can protect the puck along the side boards incredibly well. Don’t let his toughness fool you however as he can put the puck in the net, In just 29 games this season Michael has recorded 17 goals and 25 Assists for 42 points. His breakout season has not gone unnoticed as he will join fellow Flame prospect Max Reinhart at the preliminary WJC camp in early December for Team Canada.
NHL Comparable (In terms of play style)- Ryan Clowe
Upside- Third line winger (Capable of 20 goals a season)
Bill Arnold (Center)
Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Bill Arnold was first projected by scouts as a player that would give a nonstop effort every time he touched the ice. Originally thought to be a player that brought intangibles such as shot blocking and strong board play, Arnold has developed a strong offensive game to this point in his stint with Boston College. After a solid freshmen year that saw him post 20 points in 39 games, Bill has now earned an opportunity to play a more offensive role for his team after a few key departures in the offseason. Through just 17 games into his sophomore year Arnold has managed to score 10 times while tallying 9 assists for 19 points. The general consensus that I could find seems to suggest that his skating ability has really improved over the past two seasons. Unlike the two Canadians in Reinhart and Ferland, Arnold seems to be a lock to play for team USA in the upcoming world junior championships.
NHL Comparable (In terms of play style)- Brandon Sutter
Upside- Third line center
Markus Granlund (Center/Left Wing)
The brother of highly touted and successful star Mikael Granlund, Markus was selected by the Calgary Flames in the 2nd round, 45th overall in the 2011 NHL draft. Markus is an above average playmaker that reads the offensive side of the game very well, although not a terrible defensive player there is certainly room for him to improve in that regard. He is currently playing for HIFK in the SM-liiga (Pro league in Finland) and has registered an impressive 15 points in 24 games to start his career. Due to his small frame (5”10, 165 pounds) Markus will likely spend another year or two in Finland before attempting to come over to North America. At the most recent world under 18 hockey tournaments Granlund recorded an impressive 10 points in just 6 games for country Finland. He will look to carry that over as he gets set to play on the world stage yet again this upcoming month in Edmonton and Calgary.
NHL Comparable (In terms of play style)- Ville Leino
Upside - Second line center
John Gaudreau (Left Wing)
Listed at just 5”7, 150 pounds one might be quick to overlook this diminutive winger as he was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 Entry Draft. Johnny Gaudreau may be small, but he certainly makes up for it with his all world skill and tenacious play. He is clearly not a player that will shy away from contact, and will take a hit to make a play, that is if you could hit him. Gaudreau is a very slippery player in the way that he has the ability to move freely around the ice while dodging the oncoming checks of a player twice his size. A very impressive season for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, saw Gaudreau win rookie of the year while managing to score 72 points in 60 games last season. Having nothing more to accomplish at that level he committed to Boston College during the summer. He impressed the coaching staff in Dubuque so much so that his head coach at the time (former NHL player Jim Montgomery) suggested that Gaudreau was the most skilled player he had seen come out of the league in over a decade. This year with Boston College, Gaudreau has started out of the gate on fire alongside Bill Arnold as he has recorded 14 points in 17 games to start the season as a freshman. Having just turned 18, he will have four years at Boston College to grow into his frame while adding some much needed muscle.
NHL Comparable (In terms of play style)- Patrick Kane
Upside- Top six left winger
Honorable Mentions - Patrick Holland(RW), Tyler Wotherspoon(D), John Ramage(D), Joey Leach(D), Joni Ortio(G), Ryan Howse(LW) and Lance Bouma(C/LW)