Thursday, July 09, 2015

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Thoughts on the Flames 2015 Dev Camp Scrimmage

The only scrimmage of this year's Flames development camp took place Thursday morning at Joan Snyder Arena at WinSport and the packed crowd got what they came to see in a high-scoring game of four-on-four -- mixed with a little three-on-three -- that gave the prospects opportunity to showcase their skills in a game-like setting in comparison to the skills practice sessions held the first two days.

There was a lot to watch and my vantage point along the sideboards by the Zamboni entrance didn't cater to plays on the near boards in the far end but here's what was notable for me from the game, which if you're counting, ended 8-7 in favour of the Reds.

Eight Thoughts on the Scrimmage:

1. Jankowski Looking Like a First Round Pick

You forget that Mark Jankowski was hurt at last year's camp so this was the first time in two years that Flames fans have seen the 2012 first round pick play live and he was very, very good. Smooth, skilled and confident with the puck. This was his fourth development camp and he played like a veteran, despite still being only 20 years old.

Jankowski created a couple chances early. Later, on an odd-man rush, he made a little juke then smartly put on the brakes in the slot to shake a defenceman, then waltzed in, waited out the goalie and neatly put a shot inside the goal post. He then notched the overtime winner, which came shortly after he helped prevent a goal with a strong back-check. That sequence was fitting as it showcased the two-way game he's been quietly working on so diligently at Providence. (Read my in-depth feature on Jankowski from earlier this week.)

"I'm trying to play at both ends of the ice," said Jankowski after the scrimmage. "I jumped on the ice and they got a break and I hauled my butt as fast as I could to get there. Luckily I got there -- I had a head start -- and I poked it up and jumped into the play right after. It was a good play all around."

2. Activating the Defence

The blueprint for how the Flames want their defencemen to play has really crystalized over the last eight months. What fans in Calgary saw all season watching Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Kris Russell is what you saw on display all scrimmage. Sturdy blue-liner Rasmus Andersson, a 2015 second round pick, was constantly hopping up into the rush including scoring a pretty goal. When Ryan Culkin wasn't zipping passes up the ice, he was also jumping up into the play. Culkin then went all David Schlemko to score a dandy on a breakaway. Brandon Hickey, Brett Kulak and Kenney Morrison all demonstrated an ability to either carry the puck up ice themselves or dish it off, fly up ice to join the rush and potentially get it back.

Of course, there was nobody more mobile out there than smooth-skating Oliver Kylington. Picked 60th overall by Calgary after being touted as a top-five pick a year ago and being ranked the No. 1 international skater at the January 2015 mid-term rankings by NHL Central Scouting, you can see what the fuss is all about. His raw skill is evident too. Crisp passes, head always up. He also scored the afternoon's first goal.

"I skated the puck into the zone and made a turn, found a guy, and then he found me in the middle. That's me, I play like that, try to use my skates and my sense," said Kylington.

It is still not clear where he will play in 2015-16. His contract status with AIK, which plays in Sweden's second division, is uncertain. However, we know Brandon drafted him in the CHL Import Draft recently and on Wednesday afternoon, Wheat Kings GM and coach Kelly McCrimmon showed up at WinSport and met with Kylington. Stay tuned.

3. Silky Smooth Poirier

The goal of the game, for sure, was a filthy dangle early on from 2013 first round pick Emile Poirier, who burst down the left wing, fended off lanky d-man Jonathan Jutzi, then completed the highlight reel goal with a slick deke across the face of the net before tucking a backhand behind Mason McDonald.

Poirier -- selected with the first round pick received from St. Louis in the Jay Bouwmeester trade --  is another prospect that comes highly touted, yet is one that Flames fans haven't seen play live lately. He did get into six games with Calgary last year but all six were away games. For last development camp as well as training camp, Poirier was injured (shoulder). The 20-year-old says he feels really good this year though and is excited to be able to build towards the season instead of waiting to join it in progress, which is a challenge at any level.

How good he's feeling these days was evident in the game where he was a notable presence at both ends of the ice. Just as quick as he can be heading north, he's like a tenacious pit bull when he's chasing you on the backcheck.

At this third development camp now (still attended last year, just didn't skate), he admitted he is in a different space mentally than he was at for his first camp,

"For me, I'm more mature, I have a couple years under my belt now so it's more fun for me and less stressful," said Poirier.

4. Awesome Austin

A guy who continues to impress me in terms of his quick hands in and around the net is Austin Carroll. For a big guy at 6-foot-3, who can play a physical and rugged game, he has very soft hands and is very dangerous when he gets the puck anywhere around the net. Watching him all week, he's shown an uncanny ability to generate a scoring opportunity out of seemingly nothing through his ability to control the puck in a scramble and tuck it in the tiniest of openings.

In today's scrimmage, Carroll showed his shooting ability in scoring on a nice shot from the slot. Later on his shootout attempt, he scored on a perfectly executed deke.

He reminds you of a right-hand shooting version of Michael Ferland only less mean, but perhaps more gifted offensively.

5. Spicy Mangiapane

You can see why Calgary really likes Andrew Mangiapane and with his easy-going nature off the ice and sublime skill on it, you sense the diminutive Italian will have a legion of Flames followers in no time. With his ability to turn tightly and pivot on a dime, this kid is really slick with the puck in confined places, which is the same quality that stood out for Johnny Gaudreau at these camps.

That said, open up the throttle and he's equally dangerous. He burst in alone on an early breakaway and snapped in a goal on the blocker side. In a scintillating rush later, he neatly pulled the puck deftly through his legs while flying full-speed down the wing to dance past defenceman Christopher Dienes.

As for hockey sense? He packs plenty of that too. On an odd-man rush in which he was tight to the sideboards and had the pass taken away, you could see Mangiapane purposely aim for the far pad and low with a wrist shot to try and generate a rebound into the slot. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. It's that type of feel for the game that should excite fans about what this guy is capable of becoming some day.

Mangiapane wasn't drafted until the sixth round and 166th pick overall but as I've noted before, pick No. 166 is the same slot that Theoren Fleury was drafted so you never know. If he's a couple inches taller, the 5-foot-10 left wing would have gone way higher in the draft, for certain. Three of the six players that finished ahead of him in OHL scoring this season were drafted in the top five overall.

6. Hickey Loves Hockey

I think the Flames have a real find on their hands in Leduc's Brandon Hickey, who Calgary grabbed in the third round of the 2014 draft. Solidly built, superb skater, he perfectly fits the system they play. The blue-liner will be back at Boston University for a second season in 2015-16 but it wouldn't shock me if he's gone by next summer.

Fans are really going to love this player because he's got a personality that's infectious (Craig Conroy 2.0 in the making). Chatty, friendly, always has unlimited time to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans. He just genuinely enjoys the game and you can see that when he plays. He was the guy smiling in every drill during the first two days. He told me he just enjoys being at the rink and playing hockey.

Today he showed a nice set of hands going backhand-shelf for a nice goal on his shootout attempt. He also showcased his quickness and agility when he's defending. If he's covering you, he's awfully tough to shake. He's a dynamic player that is fun to watch.

7. Hunter and the Redwood Forrest

First of all, Riley Bruce is huge. By that, I don't mean just huge either, I mean HUGE. He's listed at 6-foot-6, one inch shorter than Keegan Kanzig but that must have been on Monday. He's now two inches taller minimum. He looks very raw too and while he will be a long-shot to pan out -- like all late draft picks -- man, would his size and reach ever be a weapon if he grows into that body of his.

But he was not alone. Hardly. There were a few skyscrapers in action on Thursday. The front of the net looked like the downtown Calgary skyline. Adam Ollas Mattson is 6-foot-4. Invitees Phillipe Myers and Julien Proulx are both 6-foot-5.

The one to be most excited about if you're a fan is bearded 6-foot-7 behemoth Hunter Smith, who showed his physical presence early today, delivering a couple heavy knocks.

Hoping to turn pro after winning the Memorial Cup last season, the 19-year-old (turns 20 in September) looks ready for the AHL and he could be a wrecking ball on the forecheck when he gets there. Heads up, defencemen. We know the impact Ferland had in the playoffs, here's yet another player that could one day turn into that type. Smith is not the swiftest skater but he has a nose for the net and seems to have a knack for getting himself open. Today he demonstrated an ability to play with faster and more skilled players but still complement them nicely.

8. Plucky Invitees

From the big group of non-organization guys that were in camp on an invite, two smaller guys that caught my eye all week and it didn't change today were right-wing Brandon Hawkins and centre Tyson Baillie. They're both similar in stature at 5-foot-10 although Hawkins is much more stocky telling me he weighed in this week at 198 pounds. (He admits his conditioning is a work in progress.)

Hawkins is an interesting case. He grew up in a farm community outside of Detroit and didn't start playing competitive hockey until he was 17. Now 21, he just completed his first year at Bowling Green University where he caught the attention of Flames NCAA scout Frank Anzalone. This was his first NHL development camp.

"It was a blast. I hadn't experienced anything like that before so it was a new kind of thing but I loved it. It was awesome," Hawkins said, while sporting a wide grin.

Hawkins, who notched the goal that made it 7-7 late in the game, displayed good hands and vision throughout the scrimmage in generating a number of scoring chances. He also showed he's not lacking confidence either. First, in a shootout attempt, he faked a slapshot, kicked the puck up to his stick, then snuck it through the pads of Jon Gillies (watch it here). Later in a rush down the wing, he hesitated before shooting then cheekily took something off his shot, nearly scoring on the change-up, which left the goalie flat-footed.

"I wanted to come in, make an impression and put down something that I hope they like," he said. "I think I've had a pretty good week."

Last year, two invitees at development camp used that opportunity to sign amateur try-outs and accompany the Flames to Penticton for the rookie tournament. While that won't be Hawkins given he's enrolled in college, Baillie might be a candidate. We might learn if any of the invitees are being brought back as soon as Friday when GM Brad Treliving will speak after the camp's final skills session.

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. Awesome thanks Darren for the detailed write up! First good news I've heard about Jankowski (aside from winning with Providence this year). Still insanely intrigued by Kylington, he seems to pass the eye test, but you always hate to be that guy thinking "wait a second...there's no way I'm smarter than the 29 other guys in the room"....Still can't shake the feeling that something's gotta give with this player....

    1. His raw skill was evident at dev camp. There is no doubt that Kylington will be an NHL player if he cleans up some of the weaker parts of his game. He's got the tools. Could be an impact player.