Could Surprise This Season
1. David Jones - He's been hurt a lot in his career. In fact, I counted them up the other day and I came up with at least 14 injuries over the past six seasons. As a result of missing over 150 games due to injury during that time, you get the sense we've yet to really see what Jones is capable of doing if he was able to stay healthy for a full season. This is especially the case in Calgary where upper body, eye and shoulder injuries limited him to 17 points (9 goals, 8 assists) in 48 games last season. What we know is he once scored 27 goals in a season so he has hands and at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he has size. As a rare right-handed shooting right-winger, he's got all the makings of being a key asset. As a healthy scratch at one point last year, Jones needs to start strong to earn back Bob Hartley's trust and if he does and if he sees plenty of power-play time, he could score 25 goals.
2. Sven Baertschi - He is no longer the team's prized prospect and you have to wonder if that will motivate him? He's still young too, just turning 22 next month. He still has the game to make an impact.
3. Deryk Engelland - Despite the huge contract the Flames gave him on July 1, expectations among the fan base are low. But in a new organization and given additional responsibilities, perhaps he demonstrates there is a reason he was highly sought after by multiple teams this off-season.
Could Regress This Season
1. Paul Byron - He was a nice story last year with 21 points (7 goals, 14 assists) in 47 games after he was recalled from the minors in November. Byron is on a one-way contract this year but it's a thrifty one at $600K so there are no assurances he won't end up back in the AHL at some point. He is a spark plug with loads of energy and plenty of heart and determination but is not gifted when it comes to physical attributes. Heck, the Flames -- known to round up such figures, criminally list Byron at just 5-foot-7, 153 pounds. There's no way he's that small. But he isn't big and there will surely be a quota on how many guys of diminutive stature the Flames will deploy on any given night. I see Byron more as an insurance policy than anything. When some of the prized rookies are ready -- whether it's October or not until February, they'll likely pass him on the depth chart.
2. Karri Ramo - Ramo shone at times last year but also looked ordinary at other times as the departed Reto Berra took centre stage. If he stumbles to begin the year, he may struggle to find playing time with veteran Jonas Hiller here as well and on a big ticket at $4.5-million.
3. Joe Colborne - I think we're all still trying to figure out exactly what Colborne is. Well, OK, he's a really nice guy. But beyond that, what is he? With his huge size, is he a 3rd/4th liner. Or with his soft hands, is he a 1st/2nd liner? He needs to carve his niche quickly.
One Player the Flames Cannot Afford to Lose to Injury
1. Mark Giordano - The team captain means everything to this team and by that, I mean e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. He had a breakout year offensively last year. Meanwhile, he was also superb defensively. It was a phenomenal year for a guy who wasn't among the 17 defencemen invited to Canada's Olympic Orientation camp last August yet by February, had nearly made the team. He plays on the power-play, the penalty kill, and is out there against all the No. 1 lines. He anchors Calgary's top defence pairing and considering the steep drop off to the second pairing, he and TJ Brodie are critical pieces.
2. TJ Brodie - Brodie, 24, is a rising star, who will be up for an enormous raise next summer. If the club was to lose him for a significant period, the result would be significantly bad.
3. Mikael Backlund - When you talk about who is the Flames No. 1 centre, it's a no-brainer. Matt Stajan's past that point and Sean Monahan's not quite there yet. It's Backlund that will be counted on to play 20-plus minutes of solid two-way hockey every night.
Organization's Comeback Player of the Year
1. Patrick Sieloff - Played just two AHL games in early October last year before a serious staph infection would result in him missing the remainder of the season. He only returned to full-contact in last weekend's rookie tournament. His second of two games in Penticton (read Sieloff's comments after his second game here) was a real nice improvement over a rusty outing in his first and he said he felt much better. He was one of the team's prized defence prospects just a year ago. Expect him to return to that status after turning in an excellent season in Adirondack, which could culminate in a promotion to the Flames late in the year just like Tyler Wotherspoon experienced last year.
2. Michael Ferland - After not playing a game since December, has battled his way back from a knee injury to look very good. There's no reason his rejuvenated play won't continue wherever he begins the year.
3. Devin Setoguchi - A one-time 8th overall draft pick, you never lose those raw skills. Still only 27 years old, after lingering on the UFA market for 54 days, he's motivated to prove 29 other NHL teams wrong. Twenty goals is possible.
Next Player In Line to Get a Letter
1. Matt Stajan - Stajan often wore an 'A' as alternate captain in the injury absences of Curtis Glencross last year. He's someone, who has re-invented himself in Calgary as a reliable checking center and leader and is well-respected in the dressing room. He would be the natural choice to replace Mike Cammalleri as one of the alternate captains, alongside Glencross. Even though his role is evolving with the influx of younger players and that potentially will lead to a reduction in ice time over the course of this year if not more so, the years to come, he's the type of person and character the team will benefit from having around.
2. Mikael Backlund - Would be an ideal choice as the elder statesman of that next generation of Flames players that have just arrived or are on the way.
3. Jiri Hudler - The veteran took Sean Monahan under his wing last year. As an older, established player and the team's leading scorer a year ago, you can see him wearing an 'A' when needed.
Most NHL-Ready Prospect
1. Markus Granlund - This is not your usual 21-year-old. Played two years in Finland's top league before shining last year in his first year in North America going 25-21-46 in 52 games in Abbotsford, having a strong playoffs for the Heat, and inbetween playing well picking up three points (2 goals, 1 assist) in seven games with the Flames before hurting his shoulder. He's crafty with the puck and plays bigger than the 5-foot-11 he's listed at. Also will impress with his determination to take the puck to the net hard. Noticeable is he isn't afraid to get to the dirty areas. Less talked but nearly as good is his solid defensive game.
2. Tyler Wotherspoon - Played well in 14 games with Flames last year. Is ready for a full-time role and to start learning at the NHL level when that first injury strikes.
3. Johnny Gaudreau - Elite skill set but a couple months in the AHL to get accustomed to the heavy traffic and banging of pro hockey wouldn't hurt.
Adirondack MVP for 2014-15
1. Joni Ortio - Was outstanding last year in Abbotsford going 27-8-0 with a 2.33 goals-against average and a stingy .926 save percentage, which was second best in the AHL. Will get a ton of work this year as the de facto No. 1 in Adirondack. Barring injury to Karri Ramo or Jonas Hiller, who are secure as the Flames pairing to start the year, Ortio will spend most if not all of the 2014-15 season with the baby Flames. However, look for this to be the Finn's last year in the minors before breaking through next season.
2. Emile Poirier - Scored 50 goals last year in the QMJHL for Gatineau in 72 regular season/playoff games. Should shine in his rookie year of pro hockey.
3. Michael Ferland - Intimidating physically but with a nice offensive skill set also. Will be a force and a fan favourite.
Darkhorse to Make the Flames
1. Max Reinhart - Was right there alongside his linemate Granlund as the best player with the Heat last year after erupting offensively to lead the team in scoring with 21-42-63 in 66 games. Feels like he's much older but he's still just 22 and with two pro seasons under his belt, would be a good bet you'd think to make the Flames to start the year as the extra forward. A longtime centre converted to left wing last year, that versatility will also help. Reinhart is less talked about having missed the exposure of playing in the rookie tournament but he should not be forgotten.
2. Michael Ferland - Led Flames in points and penalty minutes in the rookie tournament. Has a coveted blend of size and skill and almost made Calgary's roster out of training camp last year.
3. Mark Cundari - With a good camp and as a younger option to those the Flames have brought in on try-outs, he could make a case to stick as the team's extra defenceman.
Enters a Make Or Break Season
1. Karri Ramo - With Ortio waiting in the wings with a one-way contract that kicks in for the 2015-16 season and with Hiller signed for two years, the pressure is squarely on 28-year-old Karri Ramo, who is a pending UFA at the end of this season. Ramo needs to perform or else expect him to be moved at the deadline or sign elsewhere come next summer.
2. Devin Setoguchi - He's a past top 10 pick that plays a position (RW) that is in demand. Yet, he was a free agent for nearly two months before Calgary signed him. This might be his last NHL chance.
3. Ben Hanowski - Signed to a one-year deal in the summer. He will be passed on the depth chart soon with all the influx of young players. If he doesn't find himself a role to thrive in, he may not be re-signed.
First Player to be Traded
1. Jiri Hudler - With two years remaining on a deal paying him $4-million per season, the veteran winger would be a nice add, and for most teams an affordable add, if a playoff contender loses a top six winger to injury. At 5-foot-10, Hudler is on the smaller side and with more similar-in-stature forwards on the way in Markus Granlund, Johnny Gaudreau and maybe Sven Baertschi too, I can see Calgary parting with Hudler at some point during the season -- especially if they tumble out of playoff contention in the West, to open up playing time for a rookie.
2. Curtis Glencross - The pending UFA wants a big raise. Considering where the Flames rebuild is at, I'm not sure that makes Calgary the best fit. If healthy, he could be a much sought-after player.
3. Dennis Wideman - If the Flames are willing to retain a couple million of his $5.25-million salary, a market could eventually develop for the veteran right-hand shooting defenceman.
Three Best Players at Rookie Tournament
1. Johnny Gaudreau - Every time we've seen him, he's impressed. First it was his terrific third season at Boston College when he was 36-44-80 in 40 games. Then it was scoring a goal in his only NHL game. Then he went to the IIHF World Championships and racked up 10 points. Most recently, he stood out and scored a couple highlight-reel goals in Penticton. While it's his offence that makes him a frequently searched name on YouTube, his drive and determination is just as fun to watch. When he's knocked down and loses the puck, just watch him closely because he's like a pit bull after you, trying to get it back -- and he often does get it back. He'll also frustratingly pick pockets after chasing down guys on the back check. Fun to watch at both ends of the ice.
2. Markus Granlund - Played two of the three games in Penticton and stood out as a guy ready to take that next step to the big time. He's also not shy to say straight-up to you that he's ready.
3. Sam Bennett - His speed, tenacity and all-round game is going to make him a star for a long time. It's not his time quite yet but come this time next year, look out.
Three Pleasant Surprises at Rookie Tournament
1. Turner Elson - Always one of Jay Feaster's favourites, Elson was one of the top players at the Flames development camp in 2013. However, he did not produce at all in his first pro season with Abbotsford (2-1-3 in 37 games) and eventually was demoted to the ECHL. Elson rekindled his game with Alaska going 5-10-15 in 18 games and winning the league championship. He stood out for his blend of speed and skill in Penticton. He was absolutely flying around everywhere in both of his games and that included scoring a beauty of an end-to-end goal.
2. Josh Jooris - Late-blooming RW played well on the Granlund-Ferland line.
3. Garnet Hathaway - A relative unknown at camp after graduating from Brown University and signing a two-year AHL-only deal last spring, he impressed with his blend of size and skill.
Recent Related Flames Reading
- Huska and the AHL: Making Sure Players are Prepared for the NHL - Johnny Gaudreau looks like he's ready. Markus Granlund says he's ready. Sam Bennett thinks he's ready. But are they? Ryan Huska explains there's more to being ready than just on-ice skills. Also, Markus Granlund, Michael Ferland and others talk about what they learned about the AHL
- 2014-15 Flames Roster: More Opportunity Than Meets the Eye - Despite the late signing of Devin Setoguchi and Corey Potter, the training camp invites of Raphael Diaz and Sheldon Brookbank, there is still opportunity for multiple prospects to force their way into Calgary's line-up this year. I look at what the roster could be.
- Penticton 2014: Recap of Flames 6-1 Win vs. Vancouver - Markus Granlund looks like a NHL player. Sam Bennett/Johnny Gaudreau dodge injury, Michael Ferland leads the tournament in scoring AND penalty minutes. My six takeaways from Monday night.
- Penticton 2014: Recap of Flames 4-3 Loss to Edmonton - Hunter Smith rocked the city of Penticton and Sam Bennett left everyone drooling. An in-depth look at the six players/events from Saturday night that caught my eye.
- Penticton 2014: Recap of Flames 6-4 Win vs. Winnipeg - Johnny Gaudreau was a wizard, Keegan Kanzig was a monster. Casual, playful, insightful, it's my six-pack of highlights from game one.