Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ben Hanowski: A Sign of Positive Change with the Flames

The Ben Hanowski signing by the Flames on Saturday to a one-year, two-way deal (valued at $67,500 in AHL, $850,500 in NHL) didn't come with a lot of fanfare and that in itself is testament to how far Calgary has come in just the last couple years when it comes to building up depth in the organization.

There was a time not that long ago where the kind of year Hanowski just had in the American Hockey League -- 13-18-31 in 55 games, would have made him one of the Calgary's top prospects. However, that isn't the case any longer.

To the credit in particular of former general manager Jay Feaster and his shrewd drafting during his three years at the helm, the days of looking in the Flames prospect cupboard and having not much to choose from other than Kraft Dinner are in the past. Suddenly, there is depth, there are options, there are plenty of reasons for fans to get excited, and a guy like Hanowski -- a former third round pick by the Penguins, who was acquired in the Jarome Iginla trade, can be looked upon as a fringe prospect. Perhaps he does blossom into a full-time role in the NHL but it's not as if the Flames are in trouble if he doesn't. They have other options now, which has not always been the case, especially recently.

2013-14: The Restocking Begins to Show

Among Flames prospects, which I define for the purpose of this article as players age 23 and younger and on NHL contracts (so excluding journeymen like Ben Street, Brett Olson, Blair Jones), Hanowski ranked fourth on Abbotsford in scoring last season. He was behind:
  • Max Reinhart - 66 gm, 21-42-63
  • Markus Granlund - 52 gm, 25-21-46
  • Corban Knight - 70 gm, 18-26-44

While he did play 14 additional games, it's worth noting that Hanowski had the same number of goals as former first round pick Sven Baertschi and finished with two more points.

If you look back, you realize it's been a long time since Calgary has had such riches in the minors (again, I'm excluding non-prospect minor league veterans like Krys Kolanos, Ben Walter, Matt Keith, Jon Rheault). In fact, during the two AHL seasons prior to last year, 31 points would have made Hanowski the Flames highest scoring prospect.

Here are Calgary's top-scoring prospects with Abbotsford over the previous four years:
  • 2012-13 - Roman Horak - 59 gm, 16-14-30
  • 2011-12 - Greg Nemisz - 51 gm, 13-16-29
  • 2010-11 - TJ Brodie - 68 gm, 5-29-34, Greg Nemisz - 68 gm, 14-19-33
  • 2009-10 - Mikael Backlund - 54 gm, 15-17-32

It's surprising how closely Hanowski's AHL numbers -- in his first professional season after graduating from St. Cloud State, resemble Backlund's in his first pro year in 2009-10. Although, Backlund was two years younger. I wouldn't read too much into it, it's just interesting.

A Make-or-Break Season

To have a shot at having a long NHL career or at minimum, to earn himself another contract with the Flames at the expiration of his current deal, skating is an area that Hanowski acknowledges he needs to get better at. He showed last year that he is a more than capable AHL player and will be even better in his second pro season. But is there enough there considering he turns 24 in October to stay long term in the NHL? Specifically, can he score enough to play a third line role or bring enough belligerence for the 6-foot-2 winger to eventually secure a fourth line role? We'll have to wait and see.

In this piece from Wes Gilbertson today in The Calgary Sun, Hanowski acknowledges there are inefficiencies in his skating stride. One can assume he's already been in contact with newly hired Troy Crowder, who in his player development role with the Flames, is all about improving a player's skating. I would guess Hanowski will become one of his projects.

Hanowski had two stints with the Flames last year. He played a total of 11 games amassing just two assists. That gives him three points in 16 career NHL games.

My guess is Hanowski plays a majority of the 2014-15 season in Adirondack. Again, as a reflection of how much better stocked the pantry is now, it's quite possible he won't even be in the top seven or eight scorers amongst Flames prospects. Others in the mix I'd expect to finish ahead of him if they are in the AHL would be guys like Emile Poirier, Corban Knight, Kenny Agostino, Bill Arnold, Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart, Johnny Gaudreau, Sven Baertschi and Michael Ferland. A few of those guys may end up in Calgary but still, you can see the positive direction this organization is headed.

This is not so much a slight on Hanowski as it is a tribute to the Flames and how quickly they've turned things around, with even more organizational help on the way in the next couple years in the likes of Morgan Klimchuk, Sam Bennett, Hunter Smith and a high draft pick in 2015.

A Final Thought

The best case scenario for Calgary and for Hanowski is he has a great year and becomes an asset that the Flames can work with. Whether he becomes something of value the Flames can include in a trade or if his emergence makes someone else expendable, nothing bad comes from young players developing into good, solid hockey players.

They may not end up realizing their full potential in the organization in which they were groomed, but that team can end up better off as a result. Young, legitimate prospects are currency and the more you have of them, it gives you leverage and that's how you continue to improve a hockey team, especially a rebuilding one. Better yet, it can even shorten up the length of said rebuild and playoff-starved Flames fans can only hope that will be the case in Calgary.

Related Flames Reading
  • Flames Scrimmage No. 2 - Eight observations from a wild and woolly 30-minute game at WinSport in which many prospects stood out -- and in a good way.
  • Flames Scrimmage No. 1 - Five players that looked good in the first of two Flames scrimmages planned for development camp. In short, Calgary's best prospects -- Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett -- were their best players.


  1. I like Hanowski's level of compete in his limited Flames starts, but his skating is a glaring weakness in his skill-set. I don't see him as a guy who will make this team, since there are just too many guys that are better prospects than him. As you've mentioned however, if he does become an asset it's a win for the Flames and maybe they can get something useful back.

    Darren is there any chance we could see a write-up on Michael Ferland? He's a prospect I have great hopes into rounding out into a bottom 6 guy, but there has been very little news on him, since he got injured last season.

  2. Thanks for the note. I agree Hanowski is up against it in terms of the prospect depth chart but I am not prepared to rule him out altogether yet. If he continues to work on his quickness and can find it within him to be more physical and 'prickly' to play against, perhaps he could fill a fourth line role in the future. He wore the captain's 'C' in college at St. Cloud State and that's a quality that you like to have in players.

    As for Ferland, he was close to making the Flames last training camp and has become somewhat of a forgotten man in the mix and partially the result of his season-ending injury. When he reported to the AHL last year, he struggled offensively but really had his game turnaround and he was going pretty good when his season came to a sudden end. I will definitely look into doing something on him in September when the young guys check in for rookie camp.