It’s simple. Calgary Flames development camp has arrived and for this organization, a post-season spectator the past five years, this is where the future lies. Excitement, promise, hope… it's all here at WinSport in the form of 19 Flames draft picks (from 2010 to 2014), who along with 22 other young players, will be putting their skill sets on display for Bob Hartley and his coaching staff, as well as eager fans.
When the Flames finally get back to being the type of perennial playoff team and Stanley Cup contender they were back in the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s, it will be kids on the ice these next five days at WinSport that are going to be part of the core of that team. Here’s your chance for a sneak preview, a glimpse into what’s to come.
The entire Flames Development Camp schedule can be found here along with the player rosters.
Meanwhile, here are some players in particular that I will be keeping my eye on. Look for recaps next week of the two scrimmages, which go Monday at 10 a.m. and Wednesday at 10 a.m.
Ten Players to Watch
45 - LW David Wolf – You want truculence? You got it with this Duesseldorf-born German who had more penalty minutes in the German hockey league the past three years than anybody else. Rumours about him potentially signing with Calgary swirled for months before the rugged 6-foot-2, 215 pound winger finally, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Flames in May. Is the 24-year-old a legitimate threat to crack the Flames bottom six or is he here for a one-year tour of upstate New York and other scenic locales around the AHL? I’ve never seen him play so I look forward to seeing what he brings.
50 - D Patrick Sieloff – This 2nd round pick is a guy that everyone is high on. Through his year in the OHL with Windsor, his time with the U.S. national junior team and with the Flames at their camps last year, Sieloff has done nothing but impress. Thick, ornery, his NHL debut quite likely would have come at some point last season if not for a scary staph infection that ended up costing him virtually the entire year. In the end, he only played two games with Abbotsford, the last was way back on Oct. 5 so there's bound to be some rust. More importantly, where is he at physically and is the injury behind him? If you’re a forward, try carrying the puck over the blue-line with your head down and we'll all find out.
52 - LW Morgan Klimchuk – Reflecting back on the Flames trio of 1st round picks last June, Sean Monahan -- as we all know, is already a staple in the Flames line-up. Emile Poirier had a terrific season in the QMJHL last year, then followed that up by making a strong impression in five late-season appearances with Abbotsford. As a 1995 year-of-birth, Poirier's likely bound for the AHL for 2014-15. Meanwhile, Klimchuk’s career path is shaping up differently. Picked behind the other two, he’s a 1996 year-of-birth (so ineligible to play in the AHL) so as a result, he’ll be headed back to Regina for a fourth year where a 40-goal season is well within reach and he could get to 50. He's also a decent bet to play for Canada in the World Juniors.
53 - LW Johnny Gaudreau – This guy is an absolute treat to watch whenever he steps on the ice. His display at the World Hockey Championships in that one game against Germany in particular was sensational stuff. In his NHL debut in the Flames final game of the season, he scored Calgary’s only goal. Whether he’ll play this season in Calgary or Adirondack won’t be known until the fall. My guess is he will at least start in the AHL and here’s why. Regardless, never miss a chance to see this guy play live. With 33 of the 36 skaters in attendance at least 6-foot-0 and a bunch of them 6-foot-2 or taller, this week will also be a nice test for Gaudreau in terms of seeing the 5-foot-8 left winger operate in confined spaces.
61 - D Brett Kulak – WHL graduate Tyler Wotherspoon was a nice story last year. He got the call-up late in his rookie AHL season and handled himself well in 14 games in the NHL. Kulak, who is 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, may just be the next guy in line on the Flames defencemen depth chart. The 20-year-old from Stony Plain, Alberta, had a really nice 60-point season in Vancouver (WHL) last year then got into 10 games with Abbotsford after the Giants season ended and looked right at home. Calm and cool on the ice, moves the puck well, keep your eye on this kid as the Flames 4th round pick in 2012 should have a good year in Adirondack.
63 - C Sam Bennett – It’s one thing to see a guy play on TV or on the sports highlights, it’s something else to see him live and in person. Drafted 4th overall in this year’s draft, Bennett is arguably the most skilled player the Flames have ever selected in their history and it will be interesting to see what impact he has this week and whether or not he stands out as an elite player. In particular, how does his game compare with that of older college kids like Bill Arnold. Monahan made a loud statement at last year’s development camp then followed it up with a strong rookie camp, main camp, then played a full NHL season. Over to you, Sam.
(My take on the Bennett pick and how the Flames are doing it right by drafting centres.)
68 - D Adam Ollas-Mattsson – Flames fans are familiar with Craig Button from his three years as Flames GM in the early 2000s. Responsible for the fumbling away of young up-and-comers Marty St. Louis, J-S Giguere and Marc Savard, it's understandable if not too many people in Calgary are very high on his player evaluation ability. That said, he has carved himself a niche as TSN’s resident draft expert and as a point of curiosity, on his final 'Craig’s List' Draft Rankings, Button had Mattsson ranked higher (42nd) than Jake Virtanen (43rd). What unfolded in real life was Mattsson was drafted 175th while Virtanen went 6th overall to Vancouver. Could he be a steal for Calgary? His picture makes him look like a young Dolph Lundgren. The Flames size-infatuated management team can only hope he’s the on-ice version of that... whatever that might look and play like.
71 - RW Hunter Smith – Last year, Flames draft pick Keegan Kanzig was the tallest and heaviest player selected at the NHL Draft. This year, Calgary nearly did it again. Listed at 6-foot-6, Smith was the second-tallest player selected although apparently he's a far lankier kid than Kanzig as his 208 pounds was not even in the top 30. Notable about Smith is he experienced about as vast of a point progression as is possible last year in the OHL. After registering one measly assist in 30 games in an injury-mired rookie season with Oshawa, Smith’s numbers skyrocketed to 16 goals and 24 assists in 64 games last year. Then, he topped that off with three goals and 11 points in 12 playoff games.
72 - G Mason McDonald – Who is this kid, who set Twitter ablaze early that Saturday morning when the Flames had the audacity of using a second round pick on a goalie. Last week, I gave 10 reasons why I understand why the Flames chose a goalie at that point in the draft and why I agree it was the smart decision. Now it’s time to see this contentious selection live for the first time. The 6-foot-4 kid from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has many years ahead of him as the guy in the hot seat. Intense scrutiny will accompany his name for a long time -- see Leland Irving. This is an opportunity for the 18-year-old, who plays in the QMJHL, to at least leave behind a good first impression on fans. For his benefit, that would sure help.
85 – D Jason Fram – Considering 18 of the 41 players invited to development camp are on a try-out, I should be noting at least one fella from that group so this is the guy. Fram has played the last three years with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. He was Spokane’s scholastic player of the year in 2012-13. What stands out is the meteoric rise his stats took in 2013-14. After going 2-13-15 in 60 games the year before, his numbers jumped to 6-51-57 last season. Also, the 6-foot-0, 195 pound defenceman is one of those elusive right-hand shots. Is there something there? The 19-year-old was eligible to be drafted but wasn’t the last two years so there’s that. But then again, Mark Giordano also went undrafted.
Five Other Prospects on my Radar:
- RW Austin Carroll - Was at last year's camp, then was drafted this year in 7th round.
- D Brandon Hickey - Alberta kid headed to Boston U. was drafted this year in the 3rd round.
- D Eric Roy - As a 2013 draft pick, he needs a strong year to earn a contract offer.
- D Keegan Kanzig - Highly thought-of by the Flames, they kept him late into main camp last year.
- RW Tim Harrison - The 2013 6th round pick was a ball of energy at last year's camp.