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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ranking the Calgary Flames Top 20 Prospects (January 2016 Edition)

If the month leading up to the NHL All-Star Game are the dog days of the NHL season, the all-star break is the dog days of Flames coverage -- unless of course, you're closely monitoring the antics of Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Giordano in Nashville, who between PK Subban selfies and Jeremy Roenick jam sessions, clearly seem to be having a good time.

As an alternative to John Scott appreciation weekend, I thought today would be the ideal timing to unveil the second edition of my Flames From 80 Feet Calgary Flames prospect rankings.

The intention is to update this list twice a year. The first edition viewable here came out last August, after the NHL draft and development camp had taken place. Given what we can evaluate and learn about players through rookie camp, main training camp, the IIHF World Junior Championships and a half-season of hockey, issuing a mid-year update five or six months later seemed like a good idea. As you'll see, there's been plenty of movement too.

Over time, these twice-a-year snapshots of the state of the organization's prospect cupboard will provide a nice way of tracking players as they rise and fall on the depth chart.


Definition of "Prospect"

If you look at other hockey publications and websites, there are different definitions of what is a prospect. Some have age maximums, some exclude players once they're no longer considered an NHL rookie. My criteria comes down to two things:
  • Age 25 or under for skaters (age 26 or under for goalies)
  • Has not established himself as a NHL regular

For my rankings, note also that this isn't the order I expect players to ascend to the NHL. Do not view it as a 'who will be next?' chronological list. Instead, it is a hybrid approach that also factors in the impact/role I expect that player to have when (or if) they do make it to the NHL.

I've also included an ETA. This is when I project them to arrive in the NHL -- if they make it -- and establish themselves as a full-time player. At that point they would graduate from the list.


Graduation Day

Speaking of which, two players from the August 2015 edition are no longer considered prospects as this season they have become fixtures in Calgary's line-up.
  • No. 1 - Sam Bennett
  • No. 10 - Micheal Ferland

The other name from last time you may be wondering about is Markus Granlund. While he's been an everyday player for the Flames since being called up in late November, I don't view him as "established" yet as the reality is he could be in Stockton by next weekend. If Ferland is ready to return from injured reserve, a roster decision at forward will be required in the next few days and of the options to be demoted, Granlund is certainly one of them. 


Calgary Flames Top 20 Prospects - January 2016

Audio Alert: On Monday, February 1, I joined Ryan Pinder on Sportsnet960 radio to discuss the latest prospect list. Listen to the archive of that segment for additional insight as to why certain players are ranked where they are.


1. G Jon Gillies (up from No. 5)
  • Age - 22
  • Size - 6-foot-6, 225 lbs
  • Acquired - Drafted in 3rd round (75th overall) in 2012 
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (7 gm, 2-3-1, 2.31 GAA, .920 SV%)
  • ETA - 2018-19
After a great showing at the rookie tournament, Gillies reported to the AHL and earned two shutouts in his first three starts. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending hip injury on Nov. 6. A lost season could delay his arrival in the NHL by a year, but the club remains hopeful he is Calgary's future No. 1.


2. D Rasmus Andersson (up from No. 6)
  • Age - 19
  • Size - 6-foot-1, 215 lbs
  • Shoots - Right
  • Acquired - Drafted in 2nd round (53rd overall) in 2015
  • This Year - Barrie OHL (44 gm, 7-37-44)
  • ETA - 2017-18
What an impression the stocky but talented Swede made in training camp, especially in Penticton where he stood out as the Flames top defence prospect with his all-round game. Calgary's top pick in the 2015 draft, expect a year of seasoning in the minors in 2016-17 but he could be ready soon after that.


3. D Brandon Hickey (up from No. 4)
  • Age - 19
  • Size - 6-foot-2, 190 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 3rd round (64th overall) in 2014 
  • This Year - Boston University (23 gm, 5-2-7)
  • ETA - 2018-19
Now in his second year of NCAA, Hickey added some valuable international experience when he made Canada's World Junior team where he saw regular playing time in a mainly defensive role. There's a decent chance the Leduc-native could leave school and sign with the Flames this spring.


4. RW Emile Poirier (down from No. 2)
  • Age - 21 
  • Size - 6-foot-2, 195 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 1st round (22nd overall) in 2013
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (33 gm, 7-11-18)
  • ETA - 2017-18
A disappointing training camp has taken some of the shine off this once highly-touted prospect. He is young, the upside is still there and he's been better lately but he's not as far along as expected at this point. Effective when he plays with an edge, he needs to get back to playing that way consistently.


5. G Mason McDonald (down from No. 3)
  • Age - 19
  • Size - 6-foot-4, 200 lbs
  • Acquired - Drafted in 2nd round (34th overall) in 2014 
  • This Year - Charlottetown QMJHL (26 gm, 11-15-0, 3.53 GAA, .893 SV%)
  • ETA - 2020-21
The good news was he made Canada's World Junior team. The bad news is he didn't look all that comfortable in his starts both pre-tournament and in the tournament itself. He's also not having as good of a year in the QMJHL. Gillies' injury may mean a return to junior as an overager next season.


6. D Oliver Kylington (up from No. 7)
  • Age - 18
  • Size - 6-foot-0, 185 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 2nd round (60th overall) in 2015
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (32 gm, 4-5-9)
  • ETA - 2018-19
Playing in the AHL at age 18 is rare but that's where Kylington is after coming over from Sweden. He's playing regularly but has lots of work to do on his defensive play. Stockton coach Ryan Huska says he is improving though. An NHL-caliber skater, he just needs to round out the rest of his game.


7. LW Morgan Klimchuk (up from No. 9)
  • Age - 20
  • Size - 6-foot-0, 185 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 1st round (28th overall) in 2013
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (27 gm, 3-3-6)
  • ETA - 2018-19
Offence hasn't come easily but the jump from junior to pro is huge and it can take a while for rookies to find their way at the next level. Huska says the stats don't show it but he likes his all-round game and figures the offence will come. Recently Klimchuk is playing more including time on the PP and PK.


8. C Mark Jankowski (up from No. 15)
  • Age - 21
  • Size - 6-foot-3, 190 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 1st round (21st overall) in 2012 
  • This Year - Providence NCAA (25 gm, 12-14-26)
  • ETA - 2018-19
Wanted to turn pro last summer but Calgary recommended one more year of NCAA where he'd be a relied-upon leader on the reigning national champs. After focusing on his defensive game, he's now the No. 1 centre and enjoying his best year offensively. He is very much back on the prospect radar.


9. LW Andrew Mangiapane (up from No. 20)
  • Age - 19
  • Size - 5-foot-10, 177 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 6th round (166th overall) in 2015
  • This Year - Barrie OHL (38 gm, 30-31-61)
  • ETA - 2019-20
Mangiapane has done nothing but impress since being drafted. Highly-skilled, he stood out in rookie camp with his sublime play-making ability and is in the midst of a tremendous year at Barrie (has 10 goals during a six-game goal streak). He's built for the type of speed game that the NHL is evolving into.


10. C Markus Granlund (down from No. 9)
  • Age - 22
  • Size - 6-foot-0, 180 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 2nd round (45th overall) in 2011 
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (12 gm, 5-4-9), Calgary NHL (27 gm, 3-2-5)
  • ETA - 2016-17
Granlund is getting a chance to play regularly in the top-nine -- and with offensive players -- and his inability to create offence is a concern. His size -- closer to 5-foot-11 -- is also an issue as he often gets outmuscled. A very good AHL player, his NHL ceiling may not be as high as we once thought.


11. D Brett Kulak (not previously ranked)
  • Age - 22
  • Size - 6-foot-2, 187 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 4th round (105th overall) in 2012 
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (31 gm, 2-7-9), Calgary (6 gm, 0-0-0)
  • ETA - 2017-18
Was a wonderful story as he came from far down the depth chart -- played in the ECHL last year -- to make Calgary's season-opening roster thanks to his steady, smart play in Penticton and main camp. Big and mobile, Kulak has put himself in the mix for an NHL job once some of the vets are cleared out.


12. C Derek Grant (not previously ranked)
  • Age - 25
  • Size - 6-foot-3, 202 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted by Ottawa in 4th round (119th overall) in 2008, signed as a free agent on July 1, 2015
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (27 gm, 19-13-32), Calgary (9 gm, 0-0-0)
  • ETA - 2016-17
After impressing as a relative unknown in training camp, Grant has been lighting it up in Stockton as the team's offensive catalyst. Big, fast and very good at face-offs, this late bloomer has opened a lot of eyes. A pending RFA at season's end, he could be a very serviceable bottom-six NHL player.


13. D Tyler Wotherspoon (down from No. 11)
  • Age - 22
  • Size - 6-foot-2, 210 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 2nd round (57th overall) in 2011 
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (33 gm, 0-3-3)
  • ETA - 2016-17
He's the D prospect with the most pro experience but inconsistent play has hurt him. His up/down treatment by Calgary surely hasn't helped his confidence either. Getting beat out in camp by Kulak also said a lot. More of a defensive player, one wonders if his game is dynamic-enough to fit Calgary's style.


14. C Pavel Karnaukhov (not previously ranked)
  • Age - 18
  • Size - 6-foot-3, 206 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 5th round (136th overall) in 2015
  • This Year - Calgary WHL (31 gm, 7-15-22)
  • ETA - 2020-21
The young man really impressed in rookie camp. Drafted as a winger but deployed by the Flames as a centre, he's got that blend of size and skill teams want up the middle and it's why he already has people in the organization excited. He's a long way away, but the Belarusian has plenty of potential.


15. D Ryan Culkin (down from No. 13)
  • Age - 22
  • Size - 6-foot-2, 191 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 5th round (124th overall) in 2012
  • This Year - Adirondack ECHL (31 gm, 0-8-8)
  • ETA - 2017-18
Was one of Adirondack's most relied upon defencemen at the time he suffered a season-ending wrist injury last February. Then he suffered a major injury (shoulder) again in Penticton. Calgary would like to get him back to the AHL but for now, his long road back has him toiling in the ECHL.


16. C Bill Arnold (down from No. 14)
  • Age - 23
  • Size - 6-foot-0, 193 lbs
  • Shoots - Right
  • Acquired - Drafted in 4th round (108th overall) in 2010  
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (29 gm, 6-10-16)
  • ETA - 2017-18
A key guy for Stockton, Arnold is someone the coaches trust so gets a lot of responsibility. Making it to the NHL will hinge on his ability to be very reliable at face-offs and on the penalty kill and also be a bit more tenacious. As he projects to a fourth line role, more grit to go with his speed would help.


17. RW Garnet Hathaway (up from No. 19)
  • Age - 24
  • Size - 6-foot-2, 210 lbs
  • Shoots - Right
  • Acquired - Signed as a free agent on April 13, 2015
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (25 gm, 5-6-11)
  • ETA - 2016-17
His points are down from a year ago but with right wing an organizational weakness and potentially about to get worse if Jiri Hudler and David Jones depart, a bottom-six role may open up. He's been used in various roles in Stockton from top line to checking line and his versatility will be beneficial.


18. G Joni Ortio (down from No. 12)
  • Age - 24
  • Size - 6-foot-1, 190 lbs
  • Acquired - Drafted in 6th round (171st overall) in 2009
  • This Year - Stockton AHL (37 gm, 9-8-0, .896 SV%), Calgary (4 gm, 0-2-0, .868 SV%)
  • ETA - 2016-17
Stuck in Calgary's three-goalie mess to start the year, waited a long time to get his chance then fumbled it. Back in the AHL after going unclaimed on waivers, he's been inconsistent and has lost starts to Kevin Poulin lately. Is an RFA this summer so while he could be back, no guarantees either.


19. D Adam Ollas-Mattsson (not previously ranked)
  • Age - 19
  • Size - 6-foot-4, 210 lbs
  • Shoots - Left
  • Acquired - Drafted in 6th round (175th overall) in 2014 
  • This Year - Djurgardens Sweden (22 gm, 1-3-4)
  • ETA - 2020-21
It came as a surprise when he made Sweden's World Junior team but they were specifically seeking a big, strong defensive defender and Mattsson is exactly that. Unfortunately, an injury ended his tournament early. He has signed for one more year in Sweden and could come to North America after that.


20. RW Hunter Smith (down from No. 16)
  • Age - 19
  • Size - 6-foot-7, 220 lbs
  • Acquired - Drafted in 2nd round (54th overall) in 2014
  • Last Year - Oshawa OHL (57 gm, 23-26-49)
  • ETA - 2018-19
He's a huge body that could give Calgary some useful size in the bottom six but his skating will always be the primary concern. Currently in his first pro season, the offence hasn't been there but no surprise for year one. Will the goals come and steadily progress like in the OHL, that remains to be seen.


Honourable Mention - LW Kenny Agostino, RW Austin Carroll (down from 18), C Freddie Hamilton, D Kenney Morrison (down from 17), C Drew Shore

13 comments:

  1. I think Agostino is a top 10 prospect in this organization.

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    1. Firstly, thanks for the note. Secondly, I'll give you this. If he played right wing, he'd probably be a little higher than 'best of the rest'. I like Agostino a lot. My concern with him is while he's good at a lot of things, he's not great at enough things to be able to make that huge jump from excellent AHL player to contributing NHL player. I'm happy to be wrong as I like the person but closing in on his 24th birthday, if he will be the guy you predict, he needs to do so fast and make himself that guy that pushes so hard that the Flames can't help but promote him.

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    2. His age isn't a concern in my issue. It's only his 2nd year out of college. I think if the Flames didn't have a log jam of 1 way contracts on the main roster, they would've had him and Grant by now. I agree with you that he's not great at anything but he's good at many things. He just seems like one of those guys who puts up points wherever he goes.

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    3. One thing I can tell you and this came from an NHL executive is when it comes to college grads, there often isn't a lot of development left compared to players 18 or 19 coming out of junior. When college signee insists on 'burning' the first year of a contract with a late-season cameo, while they think they are doing it for their own benefit, often teams don't mind that either as they typically will know after two years what a college player is and if they fit into future plans or not. So I do think it's important for Agostino, if he is going to take a spot, to have the type of impact that Derek Grant is having right now and force the hand of the Flames GM. You're right though, the number of veterans on this club both up front and on the blue-line is making it hard to promote guys and see what they can do at the NHL level. It's a difficult situation as many of those vets aren't sought after either so we'll see if Treliving has any luck in the next four weeks shipping some bodies out of town... even if that means to Stockton, California.

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    4. That's a good point. College guys are more developed. In Agostino's case he has done everything he needed to in my brief viewings of him to get a call up. We'll see if Treliving can ship out some bodies in order to promote some deserving prospects.

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  2. Agreed, Agostino needs to make this list (I would put him around 11/12). Aside from that, great work as usual!

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    1. Thank you. I commented on Agostino above. He's probably my No. 21 at this point so very close. The challenge is moving guys up means moving guys out. There are compelling reasons for why all the players are where they are. But it makes for a great and fun debate because no two people see this type of list alike.

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  3. is Rafikov still in the picture? After being a big story at last years World Jr's no one seems to talk about him anymore.

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    1. Talked to Treliving about Rafikov last week and he described his season as "mixed". That included not playing much to start the season. Brad says he's a project still. Rafikov signed a two-year deal in Russia heading into this season so will be remain overseas next season. The Flames were fine with that as they had no plans at that point to try to bring him over.

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    2. Is there a window that he has to come over in or a time frame where they loose his rights?

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    3. Not that I'm aware of. At least it's not anytime soon. I think you retain their rights indefinitely while they remain in Europe. The reality is some just never come over and you need only look at the Flames draft history to find plenty of examples of that.

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  4. Great Article. Nice to see Kulak on the list as I feel he will have a decent career as a depth defenceman. Who do you think has the best chance of developing into a top 4 guy between Andersson/Hickey/Kylington?

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    Replies
    1. I was really high on Kulak a few years ago but then he regressed and he'll admit that. He also says the ECHL last season was a wake-up for him. He's bounced back nicely and has all the raw tools to be a third pairing/depth d-man eventually. As for the other three, it's Andersson for me. Fans are very high on Kylington and the club likes the potential but more holes in his game. There's a reason he dropped to 60th last year. Calgary had Andersson much higher than where they drafted him and you can see why they're so ecstatic to get him where they did. Hickey is right there in the conversation as well. Look forward to seeing Hickey move on from NCAA and see him turn pro as sometimes the college game can be more difficult to read. For me, anyway.

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