Of the seven players either assigned to Adirondack or released from their try-outs, which leaves Calgary with 20 forwards in training camp, the closest thing to a surprise would be Max Reinhart, who coming into camp I had earmarked for a role as the extra forward. While he played well at times and looked like a player with more confidence, he didn't stand out as much as I expected, and as much as he needed to, apparently.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is a fellow still remaining in Calgary and battling to open the season in the NHL and that is the unheralded Josh Jooris, a personable 24-year-old from Burlington, Ontario, who many fans likely hadn't even heard of just a month ago.
So, Who is Josh Jooris?
Undrafted, one year removed from being lured away from the juggernaut hockey program at Union College to sign with the Flames, the right-handed shooting right-winger is starting to make people take notice.
He's got decent size at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, decent speed, and he's not afraid to get in aggressively on the fore check and play the body. He's also got decent offensive tools. We saw that in Penticton when in two of the games, he played the wing with Markus Granlund and Michael Ferland on what was arguably the Flames top line that tournament.
While goal scoring isn't necessarily his forte, last year as a rookie in Abbotsford, Jooris had a decent year with 11-16-27 in 73 games.
"On the plane ride (to Penticton), I was sitting with Sam Bennett and a bunch of this year's draft picks, all 1996 birth years. When I asked them them how old they were, it's like... oh... okay then... maybe my time here is running out a little bit," said Jooris, with a chuckle. "Obviously there are younger guys coming in and I am getting to the brink here where I have to make the most of my chance."
With 20 forwards left in camp, there are two questions that will factor heavily into the make-up of the Flames season-opening roster when it is declared next Tuesday afternoon. For the purpose of this article, note that I'm assuming Calgary will open the season with 14 forwards.
1. Of all the players on the limp, who ends up on Injured Reserve to begin the year?
2. Will Bennett begin the year with the Flames and get in some regular season games and if so, how many?
The Injury Situation
It's starting to look more and more like the IR is where Mikael Backlund will begin the season. Recovering from an abdominal strain, it's a tricky injury and I just can't see the Flames rushing him back. He's just too important of a player. Morgan Klimchuk (sprained wrist) will hit the IR also but he's not in the roster conversation anyway as he'll be bound for Regina in the WHL as soon as he's healthy. The other name to likely add to the IR but hopefully for his sake only for a short period is Granlund, who is currently undergoing the NHL's concussion protocol.
The two bigger question marks are David Jones and Mason Raymond, both of whom are nursing lower body injuries described as short-term, yet both of whom are still not practicing with the club as of Wednesday.
The Sam Bennett Situation
The general consensus around the league, the indications if you read between the lines from what Flames management is saying, and my opinion -- although the latter -- especially, is worth nothing, is that Bennett will be returned to the OHL for this season. The question is when? Considering he got a late start to main training camp due to a groin strain, it would not be surprising if his time with Calgary is extended into the regular season so he can get more NHL experience to take back with him. This scenario looks even more plausible if you look at the Flames injured list.
I don't see Bennett playing more than nine games but my gut says he'll get into a few and the number may hinge on when some of the bodies like Backlund, in particular, return to health.
Here are a couple variations of what the final decisions at forward are and what the Calgary Flames opening night forward group could look like. The two scenarios differ significantly by what happens with the injured guys.
Scenario 1 - Injuries: Worst-Case Scenario
In this example, Backlund, Granlund, Klimchuk, Raymond, and Jones all land on the IR to start the year.
Personnel Decision - Left with only 15 healthy forwards, that means only one player is cut.
- Safe (9) - Bollig, Bouma, Byron, Colborne, Glencross, Hudler, McGrattan, Monahan, Stajan,
- Bubble (keep 5 of 6) - Baertschi, Bennett, Ferland, Gaudreau, Jooris, Setoguchi.
In this scenario, I see Bennett remaining with the Flames and the player that gets shipped out will be either Baertschi or Jooris. For sake of argument, I'll say Baertschi as rather than sitting in the press box in Calgary, the organization needs him playing full-time.
On that note, opening night on Oct. 8 against Vancouver could consist of these lines:
Note that I only see Bennett on the Flames until Backlund is healthy. If it starts closing in on that nine game mark that Calgary won't exceed with Bennett, then they'll change course and use either Lance Bouma or Paul Byron at centre for the short term until Backlund is good to go.
Scenario 2 - Injuries: Best-Case Scenario
In this example, only Backlund and Klimchuk are out to start the year. That leaves 18 forwards of which only 14 can be kept.
- Safe (11) - Bollig, Bouma, Byron, Colborne, Glencross, Hudler, Jones, McGrattan, Monahan, Raymond, Stajan,
- Bubble (keep 3 of 7) - Baertschi, Bennett, Ferland, Gaudreau, Granlund, Jooris, Setoguchi.
In this scenario, I say Bennett goes back to the OHL immediately so you're left to pick three from the other six. Stubbornness from Flames management to make the Setoguchi signing a success or at least give it a longer chance means he's probably on the team. I will also include Granlund as the team needs a centre and he's looked NHL-ready.
For the final spot between Baertschi, Ferland, Gaudreau or Jooris, I'm going to take Ferland not because Ferland is a better hockey player than Gaudreau is, but I think he gives Calgary something that's really coveted in his size and strength. Also, Ferland has played in the AHL while Gaudreau has not. The hope is Baertschi and Gaudreau both go down and pile up the points with Adirondack and earn a call-up in the next few months.
On that note, opening night against Vancouver could consist of these lines:
Firstly, the hierarchy of the depth chart of the players on the bubble is fluid. There's another game on Thursday and that's another opportunity for someone to grab one of the spots with a standout game. That chance comes up again on Saturday also.
Secondly, you may not agree with who I have as "safe" and who I have as "on the bubble" and that's fine. It would be boring if we all agreed. One name in particular that some may have on the bubble but I have as safe is Byron. I've liked his camp, I liked what he did last year and I see no way he doesn't make the team. Perhaps he's the 13th or even the 14th forward but he's on the roster in my opinion. He can play wing or centre if pressed, can play 1st line or 4th line, he brings versatility that is handy.
Lastly, if the true spirit of the often-mentioned term 'meritocracy' was to truly prevail, the rosters of forwards as listed above and especially the starting line-ups, could look quite a bit different. However, if you've been unimpressed so far and are holding out for extreme moves by the team in respect to Jones, Setoguchi or Brandon Bollig, you will likely be disappointed.
The other thing to keep in mind is what a team's roster to open the season looks like is one thing, what that roster looks like for a majority of the season need not be the same thing. As early as November, the landscape at forward for the Flames could start to look quite a bit different and by March, post-trade deadline, I'd expect a bunch of kids to be getting auditions as Calgary gets an early start on taking stock of what they have, or what they could have in 2015-16.
And let's not kid ourselves, that's the year where Calgary's ascent back up the standings should really kick in.
- Eight Lingering Questions as Training Camp Winds Down - With a week to go, there are a lot of questions still to be answered. I weigh in on a bunch ranging from how many NHL games will Sam Bennett play, to the situation in goal, to the topic of traditional jersey numbers and which one might be issued next.
- Bennett, Gaudreau and Monahan: Be Excited About the Flames Bright Future - These are exciting times in Calgary and my message to all those long-suffering hockey fans is enjoy it, damn it. Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan make up the most exciting forward trio the Flames have had in over 25 years so enjoy it!
- Book of Lists: A Flames-themed Assortment of Top 3's - Who could surprise this season? Who could regress? Which prospect is most NHL-ready? Who will be Adirondack's MVP? Who enters a make-or-break season? Who could be the first player traded? Predictions for all of these questions and more as training camp gets underway.
- Huska and the Role of the AHL: Preparing Players 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, Granlund, Michael Ferland and others talk about what they've learned about the AHL.