Monday, July 13, 2015

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Reflections on the Calgary Flames 2015 Development Camp

Summer in Calgary can officially begin.

A whirlwind of activity in the span of 15 days concluded for the Calgary Flames on Friday. It was a stretch that began June 24 with the NHL draft, or better known around these parts as the day of the Dougie Hamilton trade. It included free agency on July 1, highlighted by the signing of Michael Frolik and the re-signing of Karri Ramo, and this hectic stretch concluded with the close of development camp, which ran Monday to Friday last week at WinSport.

In case you missed the camp due to Stampede or the more liver-friendly alternative of escaping the city and heading out on vacation, or if you simply weren't privy to what Brad Treliving had to say on Friday as he met with a few media and reflected on the week, here's a quick look back at what unfolded with some thoughts from the Flames general manager.

1. Fan of the New Format

While this was the second development camp under Treliving, it's the first one that had his fingerprints on it as by the time he was hired by Calgary in April 2014, the format for last year's camp had already been set. But in observing the camp as it was a year ago, this year he was able to tweak it to what he thought the camp should be. The most noticeable difference was one less day and one less scrimmage.

What we saw, especially during the first day on the ice, was a focus on Flames-isms, traits that are expected of players from coach Bob Hartley. Included was going over how to properly block shots, stick positioning while defending in various scenarios, and an emphasis on doing drills at high tempo, pace being such a key ingredient to Calgary's success last year.

"To me, this is what a development camp is about, it's development," said Treliving. "The on-ice portion is dedicated to skill development. What are the areas that we can help? What are the areas we do well? What are the areas we don't do well and how can we figure those out and put a plan in place to improve those."

Treliving sees the off-ice portion as just as important.

"We try to to communicate to these guys that we feel we are the fittest organization and team in the league and we want to maintain that," said Treliving. "To be a pro, it's the lifestyle you lead. It's the way you train, it's the way you take care of yourself and it's 365 days a year. So that's where we really put a lot of energy into making sure they understand that and giving them the tools the rest of the summer so they're prepared -- whatever camp they go to -- to have success."

The off-ice also contains an education component that Treliving sees as key.

"We're dealing with people that are turning pro or just turned pro and all the challenges that come with that. We've seen in our game and in other sports some of the bad headlines that have taken place in recent days. We want to educate them about not only the things that you need to do to be a pro, but the things you need to do and the way you need to act and live when you are a pro and some of the challenges that come with it."

Given his NHL playoff experience last year, there was some surprise to see Sam Bennett on the attendee list but as you listen to Treliving talk about his philosophy around the camp, you realize why he was here.

"You're building that connection. You're not trying to turn this into a boot camp, but everything has a purpose. They may not realize it but there's an underlying goal with all the things that you do here," he says. "Whether it's in October, a year from now or five years from now, a lot of these guys are going to be teammates together so you want to start building those relationships amongst the group."

2. Bolstered Defence Depth

Brad Treliving was frank about it at his season-ending address two months ago. He wanted to improve the Flames depth on the back end.

Well, that's what he's done. In terms of new blue-line personnel, he's signed Kenney Morrison out of college, Jakub Nakladal from the Czech Republic, traded for Dougie Hamilton and used three out of his five picks at the draft were used to select defencemen Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington and Riley Bruce.

Five of the new bodies were on display this week. Add in returning AHLers like Ryan Culkin -- who was having a breakout season when he got hurt, Brett Kulak and Patrick Sieloff -- who continues to work his way back from missing nearly the full season a year ago, and Boston University's Brandon Hickey, who looks really good and the depth on the blue-line isn't looking as bleak as it was not that long ago.

"It's tough when you're sitting there and there's so many D," said AHL assistant coach Todd Gill, who worked closely with the defencemen all week. "But you pick out who's skating because you have to be able to skate as a defenceman in today's game and from there you look at puck handling and there were some kids out there that showed that they were capable."

Treliving addressed Kylington and Nakladal in particular:

  • Kylington:  "You can see he's a world class skater. He looks different than everybody else, the way he moves. He has some world class skill and ability. But like a lot of guys, there are areas that need to be cleaned up and need to be worked on.
  • Nakladal:  "He's a fit guy, a personable guy, he's excited for an opportunity and that's what we told him, we said there's going to be opportunity here and he will decide where and what he does with it. A real, good young guy, which we knew. He was an excellent teammate over there, a good character guy, we look forward to seeing him in training camp."

By the way, I asked Nakladal to clarify the pronunciation of his last name and he said it "na-KLAW-dal" with the emphasis on the middle syllable.

3. Kylington's Status for 2015-16 Still Unknown

We may not know any more than we knew before about where Kylington will play this season, but what we do know is it is not necessarily a certainty that he will be back with AIK, which is where he apparently is under contract.

Kylington had three stops in 2014-15. He played in Farjestad with their junior-aged team, spent time with the big club in the Swedish hockey league, then was loaned to AIK, which is a team that plays in Sweden's second division.

By Canadian lingo, you could essentially say Kylington played some major junior, NHL and AHL last year.

"I'm going to talk to his representatives. Right now, he has a contractual obligation back in Sweden. We'll see if there are any other options," said Treliving. "We wanted to spend some time with him here this week and then circle back and see where it goes over the next few days."

It's about as clear as mud right now.

“Once you’re under contract, you’re under contract. You’d have to be released from your current agreement (in order to sign a new contract). You can’t be under two contracts, so that’s No. 1. We want to find out if there’s an opportunity for that to happen. Then, the NHL-Swedish agreement -- If you’re a first-round pick, you don’t have to be offered back to your Swedish team first. If you don’t get drafted in the first round, you do. There’s another twist to it. There’s a couple of steps. So we’ll see. There are some webs to it.”

Adding to the intrigue was a couple weeks ago, Kylington was selected by Brandon in the CHL Import Draft. On Wednesday I spotted Wheat Kings coach and GM Kelly McCrimmon arriving at WinSport and going for a meeting with Kylington.

"Traditionally, I've always said with European players, there is no harm in them going back. In a lot of cases, it's really good for them to go back," said Treliving. "If you look at him, he's played against men for two years now. At some point, you transition to a North American game but it's not by any stretch a requirement right after to come over here. There are good leagues over there. It's a good level.

"But we'll see. A lot of it's going to depend on what are the options and if there are options, then we'll evaluate them and see what's best for him."

4. Good People

One of my takeaways from development camp is that Calgary has a lot of upstanding young men coming up in the organization. I didn't meet with all of them but I chatted with most and it's impressive how polite, professional and personable they are.

The Flames place a big emphasis on character when acquiring players and you can tell.

Garnet Hathaway (who did not participate on-ice as he is still recovering from a foot injury), Sieloff and Hickey were especially engaging. Jon Gillies is another level-headed and well-spoken player, who seems more like he's age 31 and not 21.

Even a guy like Kylington, who is a harder guy to read, was pleasant in the couple exchanges I had with him including a casual chat about his plans for the rest of the summer (flying back to Sweden for a day or two then off to Spain for a couple weeks with NHL veteran and close friend Johnny Oduya, where they will train out of a house Oduya has built over there.)

5. Insightful Prospect Features

What I enjoy most about development camp is the opportunity to meet the newest prospects for the first time and to get to know some of the returning players better as they establish themselves in the Flames organization. They all have a story to tell and I try to dig it up and then share it with you.

What makes this event work so well for crafting some more in-depth player profiles is firstly, the atmosphere is fairly relaxed. Also, these players are young, often new to being in a big market and are not yet suffering media fatigue.

I've written four profiles so far and I think you'll enjoy them. I've heard nothing but good feedback from readers on these vignettes that give you some insight into who these players are, their background, their journey and how they got to where they are today:

  • Mark Jankowski - Talked about his desire to turn pro this summer and why he did not. Also got into his improved 200-foot game and his prowess in face-offs
  • Kenney Morrison - Six years ago had you asked him, he thought he'd be playing Junior B and driving a gravel truck by now. Instead, he's playing pro hockey. A classic late bloomer.
  • Mason McDonald - Candid about how much he wants to play for Canada in the World Juniors, he also tells a story about robbing Sidney Crosby last summer. 
  • Tyson Baillie - It was 10 minutes after he went undrafted again that Calgary invited him to development camp. Once touted as a mid-first round pick, he's out to prove people wrong. 

These are just a start too. I will be unveiling other player features through the rest of the summer leading up to September and training camp.

Others I have planned to write over the rest of the summer include Brandon Hickey, Garnet Hathaway, Austin Carroll, Hunter Smith, Patrick Sieloff, Keegan Kanzig and the newest addition to the Flames staff -- skating consultant Dawn Bride.

6. First Impressions of the 2015 Draft Class

As we all know, Treliving went to Florida armed with nine draft picks and he only ended up using five of them. Three picks were shipped to Boson in the Hamilton trade, two picks were shipped to Arizona to move up and grab Kylington at No. 60.

The five picks he did make were all in attendance at camp though and here's a first impression.

  • Rasmus Andersson (Round 2) - Loves to jump up and join the offence. Stocky build although stockier than he'll ideally be (admitted he was not in good shape). Looks like a dynamic defenceman and good puck distributor.
  • Oliver Kylington (Round 2) - NHL skill set offensively already -- superb wheels and shoots and passes like a big leaguer. Defensive play probably the area that needs some attention.
  • Pavel Karnaukhov (Round 5) - At 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, he is a big presence on the ice. Coming off a 20-goal season in his first year in North America, the Calgary Hitmen left winger looks like a guy that could become a useful, big-bodied skilled forward.
  • Andrew Mangiapane (Round 6) - It's a name that's unfair to mention but as a small but very skilled player with the ability to stickhandle in traffic and tight places, Mangiapane looked like a lite version of Johnny Gaudreau at times. Has loads of skill for a guy drafted in the sixth round. Looks like a shrewd pick.
  • Riley Bruce (Round 7) - He's listed at 6-foot-6 but seems taller. OK, way taller. There's a gangliness to his movement as can be the case with guys that tall that are still growing into their bodies. Has a long reach and there could be some potential down the road.

7. Tremendous Fan Engagement

I said it last week and it's worth repeating, I was impressed by the crowds that came out to watch the Flames prospect practice and was also impressed how willing the players were every day to sign items, pose for photos, etc.

Bennett, for example, did not play in the scrimmage on Thursday but he signed items right up until there was nobody left that day. Players were continually mugging for photos -- re-takes when the first one didn't turn out, and this included even a guy like Jon Gillies. There on the floor lied his stick, blocker and trapper as he signed autographs in full gear and did so for a long time.

It was impressive interaction with the fans and it's a tremendous way for these players to endear themselves to the fans and generate a following already.

8. Looking Ahead to the Rookie Tournament

The Young Stars Classic rookie tournament in Penticton goes September 11-14.

So far, we know one participant for sure and that's Baillie, who was at development camp on an invite. Treliving confirmed on Friday the 5-foot-10 Kelowna Rockets centre had been invited back to Calgary's rookie camp in September.

While we're on the topic, how might the rest of the Flames roster look for that tournament? We won't know for sure for another 7-8 weeks but here's an educated guess at what the Calgary roster could look like. There will be a few more names of guys on try-outs that will inevitably added for depth but this should be the majority of the team:

Goalies (2): Jon Gillies, Mason McDonald

I suspect Joni Ortio will sit this one out due to his accumulated pro experience so far. Lacking an obvious ECHL starting goalie in the organization at this time, if the Flames sign a younger free agent for that spot, he might be the third as the team will surely bring three. Or, they may bring someone in on a try-out.

Defence (9): Rasmus Andersson, Riley Bruce, Ryan Culkin, Keegan Kanzig, Brett Kulak, Oliver Kylington, Kenney Morrison, Patrick Sieloff, Tyler Wotherspoon,

Kylington's appearance, of course, would hinge on him playing in North America this season.

Forwards (13): Kenny Agostino, Bill Arnold, Tyson Baillie, Sam Bennett, Austin Carroll, Turner Elson, Garnet Hathaway, Pavel Karnaukhov, Morgan Klimchuk, Andrew Mangiapane, Emile Poirier, Hunter Smith, Bryce Van Brabant

I don't think Bennett's appearance in Penticton is a lock. However, much like they used the development camp to put some leadership responsibilities upon Bennett, this tournament -- with much of his peer group in attendance age-wise -- would be another opportunity to do that.

As for guys on the brink of the NHL like Markus Granlund and Micheal Ferland, they're no longer NHL rookies so doubt they'd be at a rookie tournament. Newly signed centre Derek Grant also has too much pro experience, presumably.

By the way, I'll be on the ground in Penticton with lots of Flames coverage so don't touch that dial.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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  1. This has become my favorite of the Flames blogs, check up on it daily. Keep it coming!

    1. The volume of content right now isn't sustainable so while I appreciate the daily check-in, I just want to temper your expectations. But I appreciate the kind words and am glad you're enjoying them. So much to talk about these days.