That’s as long as it took after the 2015 NHL Draft concluded before Tyson Baillie’s phone rang with an invitation to attend Flames development camp.
Interestingly, the call came from Calgary's WHL scout Rob Sumner, who 25 years ago was a 10th round draft pick by the Flames. You never know, if this NHL draft had gone 10 rounds instead of seven, perhaps Baillie also would have been selected and that phone call would never have happened.
As a 19-year-old, Baillie racked up 37 goals and 76 points in 68 regular season games last year with Kelowna. He followed that up with a strong playoffs for the Rockets, notching 10 goals and 24 points in 19 games. The only two teammates with more points in the post-season were both first round picks – Leon Draisaitl (2014) and Nick Merkley (2015). Baillie kept it going at the Memorial Cup with one goal and six points in five games as Kelowna reached the final, losing 2-1 in overtime to the Oshawa Generals.
“It feels great that Calgary showed interest right away,” says Baillie, who hails from Fort Saskatchewan. “It's the same step as the guys getting drafted. I come to development camp and I'm going to go to the prospect camp.”
Baillie admits he was less surprised he went undrafted this time compared to the disappointment a year ago.
Two summers ago, draft publication Future Considerations had Baillie ranked 16th overall in their preliminary 2014 draft rankings. At that time, that was just seven spots behind Sam Bennett. When NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings came out in January 2014, Baillie ranked 90th among North American skaters. He then fell to 141st in Central Scouting's final rankings.
Sorry Kid, You're Too Small
“People are always criticizing my size and my skating,” says the right-hand shooting centre, who is only 5-foot-10 but is a solid 195 pounds.
There are a couple reasons why Calgary could be a good fit. First, there's the organization's motto of ‘Always earned, never given’. Secondly, there's the proof in the pudding that they walk that talk in forward Josh Jooris, who came out of nowhere last year to play nearly the full season in the NHL.
“That definitely excites me. They don't care if you're a first rounder or not drafted. As long as you work hard and compete and you continue to improve, that's what they care about here,” Baillie says.
Baillie is the only one so far out of 17 non-organization players invited to development camp, who we know will be returning for the Flames rookie camp in September.
General Manager Brad Treliving confirmed this when he met with the media Friday afternoon at WinSport, after the camp’s final on-ice session.
“We call him Pigpen,” says Treliving. The Peanuts character reference is in regards to how, "Everything may not look great," when you first see Baillie. “But it just ends up that he does a lot of things that impact a game. He's around the net, he's making plays.”
Baillie earned the extended look thanks to his body of work this week, which was made up of fitness testing, three on-ice skills development sessions, and a scrimmage that took place on Thursday (My eight thoughts on the scrimmage can be read here.)
While he didn’t score, he nearly did a couple times and was noticeable throughout.
“It's kind of difficult at first because you've never really played with any of these guys before and you’re playing 3-on-3, 4-on-4,” says Baillie, who may have had the best hockey hair of all 42 camp participants. “And it's not pond hockey because everyone's going 100 miles-per-hour and at 100 percent. It was kind of different but it was a lot of fun.”
He said he was satisfied with what he got done during the five days.
“I wanted to come here, work as hard as I could, show them what I can do on the ice and I think I did a good job of that,” says Baillie. “I can't wait for the next two months.
Familiar Figure at the Helm
A guy that knows Baillie very well is Flames AHL coach Ryan Huska, who coached him his first three years in Kelowna before Huska left to join Calgary a year ago.
“Tyson's a good kid. He works very hard. You see that on the ice. He works that way in practice. He's a guy that really wants to play the game,” says Huska. “He was that way in junior from the first time he came to Kelowna.”
Huska, who will coach Baillie once again at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton from September 11-14, talks glowingly about his determination and perseverance.
“There's something about him because he keeps grinding away and he keeps fighting when people say no, maybe he doesn’t skate well enough, or he's not big enough, or he's not totally dynamic,” Huska says. “But he just keeps scrapping and clawing away that you just can't dismiss him and eventually someone gives him a chance and he finds a way to work his way into things."
Baillie acknowledges that having that connection with Huska is helpful.
“He knows what kind of guy I am, my work ethic and my character.”
Trying to Not Get Too Frustrated
While the two main knocks on Baillie have been his size and his skating, Huska says another area he has struggled with in the past is he can be too hard on himself.
“That's one challenge that sometimes you have with him. He wants to be a good hockey player at whatever level he's at, he expects himself to be one of the better players,” says Huska.
Baillie insists that just like his skating has improved over the past year, his mental game has also gotten much better over that time.
“I'm a little more relaxed now,” says Baillie. “Now in the big games, I don't get as nervous, I don't get as uptight, I just relax and go out there and play my game.”
Fork in the Road
Looking ahead to September, there are two possible outcomes for Baillie.
The first is he impresses at rookie camp to the point where the Flames offer him a contract and he turns pro.
Normally with CHL players, they have to be signed by August 25 or they are committed back to their junior team. However, that signing window is extended when a player is signed to an amateur try-out, which is what the Flames must do to bring him to rookie camp. That ATO, which expires 3-4 days before the NHL season begins, or as soon as he’s released, gives Calgary the exclusive ability over that time frame to sign him for the 2015-16 season if they choose. San Jose was in the same position last year after inviting Baillie to the Sharks rookie camp.
The alternate outcome is he is not offered a contract – just like last year in San Jose -- and he heads back to Kelowna for his final junior season. After next season concludes, he'd once again be a free agent available to sign with anyone.
Huska says the one certainty with Baillie is he will battle and do everything he can to stay with the Flames as long as he can.
“That's what he's done over the years in Kelowna and I'm assuming he's going to continue to try and push to make sure he's doing that at the higher level as well,” says Huska.
The back-to-back draft day snubs also burns inside him.
“It motivates me,” says Baillie. “It gets me going because I think I can play up in the next level of pro and some guys think I can't. I just want to prove people wrong.”
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