Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Penticton 2014: Flames 6, Canucks 1 - My Post-Game Six-Pack

Future Flames stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett were both in the line-up to start the Flames final game of the Young Stars tournament on Monday night. Neither of them finished it.

But you can exhale, Calgary, both are just fine.

What appeared to be a couple of injury concerns that had Twitter all aflutter, were instead just precautionary moves on behalf of the coaching staff with Calgary's main training camp coming up in just a few days.

Bennett said he was kept in the dressing room for the third period due to a very slight groin strain that was causing some minor discomfort. He really wanted to go out and play the third, but the coaching staff wouldn't let him.

Gaudreau, after being caught along the boards with a dirty forearm shiver by Canucks defenceman Frank Corrado in the third period (watch it here), was also held out of the rest of the game -- along with Markus Granlund, for what was essentially security reasons. With the game well in hand at that point -- it ended 6-1 for Calgary, there was simply no reason to stick any of Calgary's prized possessions back on the ice.

As I compiled for both game one and game two also, here are my six takes from my perch 40 feet above the ice at the South Okanagan Events Centre. It's a blend of what I saw and also what I heard in talking with the players afterwards.


Post-Game Six-Pack

1. Granlund: From Good to Great  

Just 21 years old, Granlund continues to impress every time he's on the ice. The more you see him play, the more convinced you are that he'll force his way onto the Flames season-opening roster.

But really, should anyone be surprised? While he may not come with the same hype as Gaudreau and Bennett, and he is very quiet off the ice, I think he's the best player of that group right here, right now. Remember, his resume already boasts two years in the Finnish elite league before coming over to North America a year ago. Last season, he was arguably the best player with Abbotsford and when he was called up by Calgary in February, he looked right at home with two goals and an assist in six games before injuring his shoulder.

Granlund told me a couple times this week that he's ready to play in the NHL and so far, his play on the ice has backed up those words.

In the short time he's worked with Granlund, coach Ryan Huska says there's one attribute that stands out.

"Intelligence, that's the one thing you see from him. He's a smart hockey player," Huska said. "Sometimes you'll think 'well, maybe he could be skating harder' and you're thinking in your head 'he could doing a little bit more' but then bang, he's in the right spot where the puck comes to. His hockey sense or intelligence are the first things you notice."

Granlund's final stat line in his two games in Penticton: 2 goals, 2 assists, 9 shots, plus-3

He says the two games served their purpose.

"The first couple games after summer, it's always tough getting your timing and your legs back. But a couple good games and I think I'm ready."

Make no mistake. Penticton was a nice few days and all but now it's on to what Granlund is really focused on and that is Flames main training camp.

"That's the next step, NHL games are coming -- more speed, better players, this was a good tournament but I have to be better."

Against the Canucks, Granlund showed off his scoring touch, snapping a perfect shot past goaltender Austin Lotz from the slot. He also showed his play-making skills all night including starting the passing sequence that led to the tying goal from Michael Ferland. Lastly, in part of his game that doesn't get nearly the same attention but is just as good, he had another strong night defensively. Good on face-offs, solid penalty killer, this is a guy that plays the full 200 feet.

"Most Finnish players that I've seen are all pretty good defensively," said Huska. "I think they probably teach them that over there. He's a guy that I felt, over this weekend anyway, can handle himself defensively. Very smart with where he puts his body and that's probably one of the reasons he can play in his own zone."


2. Oh, Johnny, No No No 

It's quite evident that the arrival in Calgary of Johnny Gaudreau is going to turn the collective Flames fan base into a nervous hockey mom. And on this night, she had every reason to look away in fear.

Off the ice, Gaudreau is everything the Flames could have hoped for in a star player. He's cute, he's charming, he's friendly, he's polite, he's smart, he's funny, he's engaging, he's always smiling. Just like your grandma always did with you, you just want to reach out and pinch his cheeks...  and buy him Spiderman pajamas for Christmas.

It's these qualities that is going to make Calgary adore him but also watch with trepidation every time he steps on the ice for fear that somebody is going to concuss him with a cheap shot..

"Johnny's fine, so we're fortunate," reassured Huska. "Nothing to worry about, which we're thankful for."

After first losing Bennett to an injury of undisclosed severity (at the time) and then seeing Gaudreau appear to get hurt one period later, safe to say there was a lot of nervousness and a lot of angst across Flames nation. And Huska gets it.

"They're important players. They're a big part of the picture whether it be this year, down the road, or in a few years time and they're good hockey players," Huska said. "People know them too, they have a following, and I think that's probably one of the big reasons."

Looking none-the-worse for wear, Gaudreau spoke about the play after the game.

"You're going to get hit, it's hockey. Being a smaller guy, you have to keep your head on a swivel and make sure you're aware of your surroundings and aware of the players around you. I had my head down there and I should have kept my head up."

Blaming himself rather than the guy assessed a game misconduct comes as no surprise after having a chance to really get to know Gaudreau this week.

"This is probably one of the bigger hits of my career," Gaudreau said. "You just have to get right back up and get ready for the next shift.

"It happens all the time when you're more of a skilled player. Players are coming after you and you're one of the main focuses in trying to get you off your game."

Gaudreau was also appreciative of Michael Ferland and his team-mates immediately jumping in to his defence.

"It's awesome. In college when you have a big hit or a dirty hit, you can't really do anything about it, there's just words. That's why you have your team-mates here and I'm really thankful that a ton of guys stepped in and helped me out right after that hit."

With some practice, Huska chalked it up as a play that Gaudreau can help avoid in the future.

"The intelligent players are able to made adjustments to make sure they're not in those positions again so I don't foresee that really being a problem," Huska said. "But it is a good lesson to make sure you're always aware on the ice at all times because the next phase of this, they're going to be bigger, they're going to be faster and they're going to be stronger guys.".


3. Bennett Says 'Bring On Main Camp' 

Much like the coaching staff had the Flames main training camp in mind when they pulled Bennett from the game to rest him, Bennett himself is also looking forward to this Friday and the opportunity to see how he stacks up against NHL players.

"I really can't wait to get on the ice with the pros and see how they play and see how fast the pace is," Bennett said. "It was faster here and I expect it to be even faster there and I'm prepared for that."

Bennett said his first rookie camp, in which he had 1 goal, 2 assists, and finished plus-2, was a success. 

"I just hoped to get a little more confidence and feel more comfortable out there and I really do feel like I got that out of this tournament," Bennett said. "I'm feeling good and feeling confident going into main camp."

Reflecting back on the uncertainty of draft day and who would select him, and then on everything else that's happened over the three months since, Bennett says he couldn't be happier.

"This whole experience has been unbelievable. It's been a whirlwind but it's been a lot of fun," said the fourth overall pick. "Looking back on the draft and not knowing what's going to happen there. It really couldn't be any more perfect. I'm in the most perfect situation that I could be in."


4. In Defence of the Defence 

Much has been made of the Flames lack of depth on the blue-line. There's an obvious top six in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell, Ladislav Smid and Deryk Engelland. Beyond that, there are a bunch of short term fill-in options in Corey Potter and Mark Cundari, who could potentially be joined as well by training camp invitees Raphael Diaz and Sheldon Brookbank.

Then there's Tyler Wotherspoon, who is the best of the rest and will probably be the first up when the Flames need a long-term injury replacement.

But then there's a precipitous drop-off before you get to the next tier and the likes of Patrick Sieloff, Brett Kulak, Ryan Culkin, Keegan Kanzig and John Ramage.

The first two games in Penticton did nothing to quash this concern. In fact, the sloppy defensive play probably made the situation worse.

But Monday was a much better night for Kulak and Sieloff in particular.

Kulak was all over the ice on Monday, aggressively pinching up into the play, crisper with his passes, His four shots was double what he racked up the first two games combined. You saw the qualities that could make him this season's Wotherspoon if he can go to the AHL and be one of Adirondack's top blue-liners and perhaps get a late call-up.

Sieloff is also looking good as he continues to work his way back into game-shape after a serious staph infection ended his season and resulted in him not playing in a game for over 11 months prior to Friday's tournament opener. He said Monday night he felt so much better.

"I'm feeling more comfortable with the puck, I had more time out there to make decisions and I just wasn't in a rush with everything. I was more relaxed," Sieloff said

As for his overall health? No issues at all.

"I feel great. I felt better after this game than last game, maybe because it was the first game back and I knew I was going to feel it the next morning and I did. I'm sure I'll feel it a little bit more tomorrow but I feel good."

Sieloff did not play Saturday, which was understandable given how busy Friday night ended up being after Eric Roy got hurt early in the game

"Three shifts in and we jumped into five D and I was like, oh man, here we go. I ended up playing 20 minutes in my first game back, which is alright but I felt it the next day. It was good to have a nice rest day and I felt great today."

Now it's time to focus fully on main camp.

"It will be good. I'll go in there and play my game and build confidence on the ice. No matter where I start the season, I just want to stay on the ice playing and eventually I'll be okay."


5. Plenty of Belligerence with Burke in the House

At the same time the Flames Calgary coaching staff and other front office personnel were returning to Calgary on the weekend, President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke was on his way out to Penticton.

In the building for Monday night's spicy affair with the Canucks, Burke had to be impressed with the physicality displayed by the Flames and in particular from the guys you'd expect to show that kind of pugnacity.

There were a couple of spirited scraps. Keegan Kanzig, second in tournament penalty minutes with 18, got into a spirited heavyweight fight with Klarc Wilson, both of them repeatedly throwing rights.

Later in the game, massive Hunter Smith squared off with Jonathon Martin. Martin got in the first six or seven blows, but Smith roared back with a barrage of consecutive punches after that.

Ferland, the tournament's penalty minute leader with 19, was right there in the mix also, whether that meant constantly looking out for his linemate Granlund or stepping up to send a message after Gaudreau was drilled.

Bryce Van Brabant, Austin Carroll and Garnet Hathaway, all big and strong kids, all played that way also.


6. Ferland Flying High 

Most everybody except Michael Ferland thought he had a good game on Friday. Considering it was his first game since December, it was not a huge surprise when Ferland struggled playing again on the next night.

But after a day off, Ferland looked rejuvenated on Monday night scoring two goals and nicely complementing his linemates Granlund and Josh Jooris. That same trio was reunited after a dominating effort Friday and they were good again versus the Canucks.

Impressively, Ferland finished as the tournament's leading scorer with six points (3 goals, 3 assists). while Jooris was right behind him with five points (2 goals, 3 assists). In one fewer game, Granlund had four points.

"I felt really good today. After every day that has gone by, you just keep feeling better and better and that's what I wanted," said Ferland, who looked really stoked after the game..

Now it's time to hit the ice with all the big boys.

"I'm really happy, I've got my legs back underneath me. I feel like I'm back. My timing feels good, everything feels good. I'm just really excited to get going into camp."


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4 comments:

  1. I really loved the spider man PJ part of the piece. Still laughing. Now, my 2 cents. My flames 5 starts of the tournament: Granlund, Gadreau, Ferland, Elson and Bennett. I believe Granlund and Gaudreau will push hard on main camp. And I still believe that at least one of them will earn a spot in the beginning of the season.
    About the defense: now I understand why we have invitations to the main camp. It is not that our kids are bad. It is just they need more development before to jump to NHL level.

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    1. Yes, the defence is an area of need right now. If they don't finish low enough this year to draft the stud forwards Eichel or McDavid, a top-notch defenceman would be a good way to go.

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  2. Great article yet again, do you think Gaudreau will be part of the NHL squad based on these 3 games? I've read the other articles you wrote on him, just interested to see where your opinion is at now. I for one love watching the kid, but he didn't look as "slippery" as some have described him when avoiding getting hurt. He got hit and knocked quite a lot, even excluding the dirtyish one in the last game. Would a start in the AHL help him get ready for this and learn how to evade these kind of hits? Or are the hits just as hard in the AHL.

    Personally liked the look of Bennett (although can do too much at times, you can tell he's the best player on his junior team), Granlund, Sieloff (in his second game), Ferland, Arnold (didn't offer a huge amount offensively though, thought he was brilliant defensively), Klimchuk (I know no one has said he played that well I just think he plays really smart, and played well defensively like Arnold) and was also a bit impressed with Carroll (despite thinking he was atrocious in the first game). Disappointed with Smith (project is an understatement), Kanzig (but just for his game against Edmonton - maturity was meant to be one of his attributes), and didn't notice too many of the defenders for good play :/ Was hoping to see more of Fram too.

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    1. Great comments, thanks for sharing. I've been 50-50 with Gaudreau thinking they'd rather start him in the AHL and bring him up rather than risk needing to go the other way if he starts in the NHL but struggles. The jump from a 40-game schedule to an 82-game schedule is going to eventually catch up with him and I suspect he'll hit the wall -- especially being so small, once we get into Jan/Feb. But every day that passes, it's going to be hard for Calgary to justify sending one of their most talented players (not just prospects) to the minors. I still think a month in the AHL would be a nice way to go, especially if there are limited options with the Flames up front anywhere. If I had a choice, I'd keep Granlund as he's done his year in the AHL and centre is a legit need with Backlund out at the moment.

      Your other comments are all bang-on. Bennett will be a star here for a long time although not this season. One more year of junior then an impact player starting next year. Smith is a long time away but for his attributes, blend of scoring prowess and enormous size, I see what the team saw and why they would be excited at the possibilities. Worthwhile gamble in my opinion.

      Next up is developing some d-men to close the game after Wotherspoon. Nobody is ready beyond Tyler so the organization needs Brett Kulak and Patrick Sieloff to really take a big stride this year and I wouldn't rule it out. I like both.

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