In the universal improvement model of 'take one step backwards to go two steps forward', they're very much still in phase one, despite the fact they haven't tasted post-season hockey this decade.
But, just like driving an old, dilapidated car -- passenger door doesn't open, rust everywhere, cracked windshield, dents in the fender, when you put a really hot new stereo in it, it makes getting in your car exciting again and others want to jump in the car and go for a ride also.
Calgary's annual development camp, which begins this week with fitness testing at the U of C on Wednesday followed by on-ice sessions at WinSport starting Thursday, make no mistake, this is the Flames shiny new stereo. This is a glimpse into the future that will capture the excitement of fans, who can't wait to pump up the volume and hear for themselves how good it sounds.
A total of 44 prospects are attending the camp including 19 of the 20 players Calgary has selected in the past three NHL Entry Drafts -- only 2013 7th rounder Rushan 'The Russian' Rafikov will be absent. Among the invitees are 11 players on try-outs. The full list of participants along with practice/scrimmage times is listed here on the Calgary Flames website.
It should be an interesting week and a time for coaches, management and fans alike to see what the future holds. While you're watching, squint your eyes just a little bit and try to imagine what the Calgary Flames line-up will look like three, four, five years down the road, because many of them will be on the ice in front of you.
Ten Prospects I'm Most Interested to See:
10 - C Corban Knight - When they gave him jersey No. 10 and not a number in the 50s, 60s or 70s as nearly every other prospect will be toting, the secret was out as to how highly the Flames think of the local kid from High River, drafted by Florida in the fifth round of 2009 and acquired by Calgary in June in exchange for a fourth round draft pick. He's a centre, which of course, is the position the Flames are in desperate need of so the opportunity for Knight, who turns 23 in September, is about as good as it will ever get. It will be interesting to see if he shows an NHL-ready game this camp to go with the big league number on his back.
23 - C Sean Monahan - Fair or not fair, as the first of the Flames much ballyhooed three first round picks in the Flames roller coaster 2013 draft, Monahan is the face of the rebuild and what better way to test the kid's mettle than to heap those types of enormous expectations on his shoulders. Calgary had other options at pick No. 6 including dynamic 6-foot-4 Russian winger Valeri Nichushkin, who has already signed his entry level contract, and that itself is fuelling a spattering of 'what if' murmurs. But Jay Feaster and company like Monahan's two-way game, his size, and also his leadership abilities and although his pro career is just getting started, one would expect to see those traits on display this week.
37 - G Joni Ortio - Along with Ryan Howse, they are the two representatives from the Flames 2008 draft class. Ortio has been the forgotten man in conversations about Calgary's goaltending but he could help change that with a strong showing at this camp where he'll be going head-to-head with his primary competition of Reto Berra and junior graduate Laurent Brossoit. He sports one of the most decorated resumes of all the prospects in terms of his international experience playing for Finland, now it's time to assess how North America-ready his game is.
40 - G Reto Berra - Many have been quick to anoint Karri Ramo as the Flames starting goaltender for 2013-14 based on his one-way contract and the fact Ramo's $2.6-million salary for the upcoming season is three times what Berra will earn. However, I don't necessarily agree. Berra, who I wrote about after his sterling showing at World Championships, is coming off a great season in the Swiss League and I would not be surprised if by season's end, if not before, he's the No. 1 guy. At 26, he's comparably the old man at this camp and that's an interesting dynamic as well.
47 - LW Sven Baertschi - The Flames leading scorer over last season's final 10 games, Baertschi boldly declared last year after Iginla was traded away that he wanted to become the new face of the Flames franchise. There's a lot of things to like about Baertschi's slick offensive game as well as his make-up off the ice. Where he's at right now in terms of his experience and credentials -- was the Flames first round pick, 13th overall in 2011, I expect him to be the most dominant player at this camp and that is just a small taste of the expectations coming soon for this young man from Switzerland, who turns 21 in October.
56 - D Tyler Wotherspoon - There won't be any room on the parent club's blue-line to start the year but that could change as the season unfolds and the first guy to get a look in Calgary when a need emerges could be this solid blue-liner from Portland (WHL), who is coming off a very long but impressive year that included a fine showing for Canada at the World Juniors and a trip to the Memorial Cup. He was a remarkable plus-62 with the Winterhawks last year and has seen his stock rise considerably since being drafted in the second round, 57th overall in 2011.
58 - RW Ben Hanowski - Until Morgan Klimchuk came along -- drafted this year by the Flames with the 28th pick inherited from the Penguins in the Iginla deal, it was Hanowski that initially carried the burden of being the guy the Flames got in return for Calgary's all-time greatest player. After memorably scoring a goal against Minnesota in his NHL debut last year, foot speed came into question as his NHL sample size grew to five games. This will be Hanowski's first official pro season and while likely destined for Abbotsford, the former third round pick does have an opportunity to win a job at training camp and a solid impression at this camp would go a long way.
64 - RW Ryan Howse - The Flames second pick in 2008 behind Tim Erixon, Howse was selected in the third round, 74th overall. As one of the older prospects at this camp, Howse has a lot to prove. A prolific scorer in junior who scored 47 and 51 goals his final two years with Chilliwack (WHL), the transition to the pro ranks has been a struggle. In two seasons split between the AHL and ECHL, Howse has managed just eight goals in 79 games. At 22, it's not too late, but surrounded by 18, 19, and 20 year-olds at this camp, there's not much sand left in the hourglass either.
73 - D Keegan Kanzig - The Flames had just one pick from rounds 2 through 4 in this year's draft and by passing on skill and speed and opting to use their selection on the gigantic Kanzig, listed by the NHL at 6-foot-7, 241 pounds, it says a lot about what Calgary's scouting team thinks about the bone-crushing stay-at-home defenceman, who is one inch taller and 13 pounds heavier than any of the other 210 players drafted this year. Foot speed is the obvious concern with Kanzig, who played last year with Victoria (WHL) and this camp will be a great chance to see where he's at, matched up against the speed that will be flying down the wing at him in drills and scrimmages.
77 - C Mark Jankowski - Forever this first round draft pick will be a polarizing conversation topic. At the 2012 draft, the Flames traded down from 13th and selected Jankowski 21st overall. How far off the board they went with that selection is subject to widespread debate -- some teams reportedly saw him as third or fourth round guy while I've also heard other teams projected him as last first round and right where the Flames drafted him. While those views may differ, what everyone does agree on is he's a long range prospect that is still many years away. Drafted out of high school but now coming off his first season at Providence, it will be interesting to see how he compares so far, matched up side-by-side with the club's other prospects.
Five Others to Watch
In addition, here are five other players that pack some intrigue for me:
- 50 - D Patrick Sieloff
- 57 - RW Emile Poirier
- 60 - C Markus Granlund
- 70 - C Johnny Gaudreau
- 97 - C Tim Harrison