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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Thoughts on Recent Happenings in a Busy Flames Off-Season



As the off-season continues, time to knock the dust off a content feature I haven't trotted out recently. It's a July edition of Eight From 80 Feet.

The premise is simple. It's eight random thoughts on the latest goings-on with the Calgary Flames and there's been plenty of fodder to work with given the rash of recent signings.

Here we go.

1. In Synch: Valimaki and Giordano Contracts

The signing on Friday of 2017 first round pick Juuso Valimaki to an NHL contract is something that deserves a little extra explanation.

Based on him being an older player in terms of the draft with a 1998 year of birth, and with him signing his entry level contract when he did, his contract has the ability to slide twice rather than just once, which is typically the case.

If you're not familiar with the concept of the slide, the standard ELC for most players does not kick in until their second season after being drafted. If they go back to junior after signing, that year does not count and year one of the deal will begin the next season. But with Valimaki, it potentially wouldn't begin until his third season and that's not an insignificant detail.

Rest assured that Valimaki will be playing in the WHL this season. At his age, it's either back to junior or staying in Calgary. Based on the state of the Flames blueline and where the 6-foot-2 Finn is at development-wise, it would make zero sense for him to stay in the NHL this year.

Mark Giordano
Next season, he will be age-eligible to play in the AHL and there is a good chance that's where he ends up. Could he jump straight to the NHL instead? Anything is possible but with more seasoned prospects like Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington also in the pipeline and with the Flames top-five on the blue-line all under contract still, there are only so many jobs. The prudent approach would be to let him adjust to the pro game in the AHL for a season where he can play a ton and in all situations, while adjusting to the next level of competition.

Assuming it isn't until 2019-20 that he reaches that 10-game NHL games played threshold that kicks in his contract, that's ideal timing for the organization because of how it aligns with the contract for Mark Giordano.

In this scenario, what ends up being the first three seasons for the left-shooting Finn at $925,000 (if in the NHL) would coincide perfectly with the last three seasons of left-shooting Giordano's deal that pays him $6.75 million. It's the ideal overlap with Valimaki' not getting into a much bigger AAV until after Giordano comes off the Flames books.

So that's how the white board looks. It's projecting a long way out and much can change, but no doubt these are the types of things that the GM is very well aware of and thinking about.



2. Head-Scratching Hostility Towards Hathaway

The recent barrage of RFA signings included rugged right winger Garnet Hathaway and it was a deal that on social media was met by mixed reviews from some corners of the Flames fan base.

Far from an analytics darling and I get that, it was still surprising to see the amount of venom in the backlash, one person describing it as a waste of a contract.

Signed to the NHL minimum of $650,000 and on a two-way deal so he's only making that if on the NHL roster, it's hard to find a lot of faults with the deal, which is also only for one year.

This is a guy, who wears a letter in the American Hockey League, who plays in the top-six at that level, seeing a lot of time on Mark Jankowski's wing last season.

A favourite of Stockton coach Ryan Huska and a guy who Glen Gulutzan has also spoken highly of, he's clearly an example of a guy that is an ingredient teams like to have but for reasons that don't necessarily translate to statistics.

That said, any assertion that he doesn't contribute to winning is one I would take issue with. Is he integral in winning? Not at the NHL level where he only averaged 9:08 in ice time in his 26 games. No, he's not a core piece. But there are attributes in his game that makes up for some of his shot creation shortcomings.

Garnet Hathaway
For one, he goes out there and pisses off the other team. Repeatedly. He'll hit anybody -- first liner, fourth liner -- and he doesn't care. Hockey is game of emotion and he has the ability to fire up his own team while also getting the opposition off their game. Those are outcomes that can contribute to winning.


One of the League's Best Pests

Further, there is a metric that computes how often a player puts his own team on the power play and that's minor penalties drawn per 60. This looks at how many minor penalties a player draws in total, while also factoring in how much he plays.

No. 1 on the list league-wide last year is a name that won't surprise you -- Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk drew 47 penalties and while that was second to Connor McDavid's 51, factor in each player's ice time and Tkachuk was the king at an average 2.53 penalties drawn per 60 minutes of ice time (McDavid was at 1.77).

There was one other player in the league tied at No. 1 with that same 2.53 number. You guessed it, it's Hathaway.

Calgary's power play was 10th best last year and over the final three-quarters of the season, was top-five. Sure, maybe his line got outshot while he was on the ice, but if you're often leaving the ice with your team going onto the man advantage, that's going to lead to power play goals and that's another way how a player like Hathaway does contribute to helping his team win.

Add in the physicality he brings that has been lost this off-season with the departure of Deryk Engelland in particular and Lance Bouma as well, and Calgary's skilled players will appreciate having a guy like Hathaway in the line-up.

While eight points (1 goal, 7 assists) in 40 NHL games isn't great production, there might be a little more there skill-wise too. In his last two AHL seasons combined, he's got 16 goals and 41 points in 75 games. In his rookie season in 2014-15, he notched 19 goals and 36 points in 72 games.

It's not a contract that hurts you. He does have elements in his game that will help you and he's making the NHL minimum on a one-year deal. To hate the signing seems like a bit of a stretch.



3. Yes, Gaudreau is Leaving, Just Not Yet

The silly talk of the week is the paranoia that has started to swirl after remarks Johnny Gaudreau made during an interview on a Philadelphia sports radio station. Asked if he'd like to someday play for his hometown Flyers -- he grew up in Carneys Point, New Jersey, which is about a half-hour away --- Gaudreau answered the leading question politely by saying sure, "It would be sweet".

Johnny Gaudreau
Almost every star player yearns to play in his hometown. This is far from breaking news. Let's also remember that nearly every star player will not finish his NHL career where he began.

You look at the all-time greats that have come up through the Flames organization -- Jarome Iginla, Al MacInnis, Theoren Fleury, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Vernon, Gary Roberts, Gary Suter, Robyn Regehr, Joel Otto -- all finished their career in a different uniform.

I'd suggest the odds are very good that Gaudreau will eventually find his way to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, but with 59+ months remaining on the contract he signed less than a year ago, it's not imminent.

Instead, if you want to get all frothed up about something Gaudreau said earlier this week, more relevant would be his comments to NHL.com writer Dan Rosen. In the article, he professed much excitement around the changes the team has made this summer and vowing that Calgary can do something special in the next three years.

The reality is the number of players that play their whole career with one team is so very, very rare.

Longest Tenured Only-a-Flames (and NHL games played)

1. LW Jim Peplinski, 711
2. RW Hakan Loob, 450
3. D Pekka Rautakallio, 235
4. RW Dave Hindmarch, 99
5. C Claude St. Sauveur, 79


Considering Hakan Loob returned to play in Sweden, Pekka Rautakallio went back home to play in Finland, Dave Hindmarch's career came to an abrupt end due to a pair of major knee injuries (suffered when he went crashing into the goal post in 1983, prompting the NHL to go to a more forgiving type of peg) and Claude St. Sauveur's heyday came in the WHA in the 70s, the only notable player in franchise history to start off as a Flame, never leave, and retire from hockey as a Flame was Jim Peplinski. That's it, one guy in 45 years.

So while it's a romantic thought that players will play their entire careers in Calgary, it's more dream than reality. Looking at the current roster, Mark Giordano has the best shot at cracking that very exclusive list, but even with him, we'll have to wait and see.

Active Only-a-Flames (and NHL games played)

1. D Mark Giordano, 673
2. C Mikael Backlund, 461
3. D TJ Brodie, 418
4. C Sean Monahan, 319
5. LW Johnny Gaudreau, 232




4. Ferland's Financials

During an insightful radio visit with Sportsnet960 on Friday afternoon, GM Brad Treliving acknowledged that where a longer-term deal for Micheal Ferland broke down was the inability to agree on what his first UFA year would be worth.

Instead, Ferland signed a two-year/$3.5 million deal that takes him right to unrestricted free agency.


So what should the value of that first UFA year have been if the Flames had gone there? $2 million? $2.5 million? $3 million? More?

Projecting out that far, Ferland's camp would have wanted a real nice bump in pay as they're looking at the trajectory he's on right now after a 15-goal season and would be assuming that continues.

Calgary sure hopes he remains on that upwards path but that's a long time away still. The fiscally responsible move when you're not dealing with one of your core players is to be risk averse and go shorter term for less money, then see how things unfold.


With the two-year deal, Ferland's first UFA season in 2019-20 will now reflect what he does in the next two seasons, rather than what he did last year. That's a smart way of conducting business if you're the hockey team and are dealing with a player that at this point is a restricted free agent only and under team control.

Treliving emphasized that he hopes to have Ferland in the organization a long time and just because his current deal ends in his UFA season, it does not reflect a lack of desire to have him as part of the team in the long term. If all goes well, expect Calgary to be more open to a longer-term deal when the time comes and his track record is that much more established.




5. Bringing Backlund Back is Being Looked At

Another takeaway from Treliving's Friday visit with Rob Kerr was that talks on a contract extension for Mikael Backlund have begun and will continue in the near future.

Backlund's agent is busy with other clients at the moment with the NHL in the throes of arbitration season, but once those cases and the work involved are behind him, it sounds like the two sides will be getting together.

Mikael Backlund
It was 10 years ago that Backlund was drafted into the organization as a first round pick, 24th overall. It's been a slow ramp-up to his NHL career but the trusted, two-way player he has become has made him a critical part of this team.

I'll be the first to admit that for a while, I figured Backlund was a candidate to move on after his deal expires after 2017-18. My thinking being that he would become too expensive for the team to be able to afford as a third line centre with Sam Bennett expected to be ready by then to surely inherit that role as second line centre.

But no longer is that my view and you sense that the view from the front office has evolved too. Playing the best hockey of his career and seemingly only getting better, bringing Backlund back for another four or five years is something I wouldn't hesitate to do. Should Bennett eventually fulfill his potential and with young centre Mark Jankowski coming, moving Bennett to the wing is certainly a viable option to make all the pieces fit. What shouldn't be viewed as an option is a Flames future that doesn't include No. 11 up the middle and shouldering all those difficult shutdown assignments.

Backlund is very much a core piece and with the Flames on the cusp of what should be at least three years of being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, he is the exact player the team should be looking to retain, not looking to replace.



6. Coming to Cali: Swedish Hits

The team also announced on Friday that 2014 6th round pick Adam Ollas-Mattsson has signed a one-year AHL deal.

Calgary was on the clock on Mattsson with them holding his rights for just one more season. However, it is clear that they wanted to see a bit more before committing to the Swedish defenceman with an NHL deal. As noted in my Flames Development camp recap, Treliving loves all aspects of his game -- physical play, hockey sense -- but his skating remains the concern.

Adam Ollas-Mattsson
With no realistic chance of playing in the NHL this season anyway, Ollas-Mattsson chose to accept Calgary's offer of an AHL-only deal (over offers to return to Sweden) and for the first time will come to Flames training camp in September, including the Young Stars rookie tournament in Penticton. While he got in nine games for Stockton at the end of last season, coming over after his Swedish season ended, this will be his first full season on this side of the Atlantic.

If the Flames like what they see after seeing him play a full year on the 200 x 85, they reserve the ability to sign him to an NHL deal next spring.

Garnet Hathaway and Ryan Lomberg are two examples of players in the organization today on NHL deals, who started their pro career with AHL-only deals. It was through their play that they earned that next level of commitment from the organization. In fact, with Lomberg, he went through two one-year AHL deals before eventually being offered that coveted NHL entry-level contract, which kicks in this season.

On the other hand, 2016 seventh round pick Stepan Falkovsky is an example of a player, who Calgary signed to a one-year AHL deal, but then lost afterwards.

The Flames wanted to sign the Belarusian to a second AHL deal, like they did with Lomberg. Instead, he spurned the organization as a free agent when he was offered an NHL deal by the Los Angeles Kings.

So we'll see how it plays out with Ollas-Mattsson, who turns 21 on July 30. Should he have an impactful year in the AHL and show that he is a guy that could one day ascend to the NHL, you could very well see him sign an ELC with Calgary next spring.

If they just don't see that upside, with the finite amount of NHL contracts (50) they're allowed, and with the pipeline stocked with other high-quality defenders, this could be a one and done year.



7. Waiver-Exempt Wonderings

Overvaluing one's own players is a real thing that happens in all sports and it happens often. This was a topic on the last podcast and we've seen it in the Flames organization many times before. Most recently there was the fear of losing Joni Ortio on waivers that paralyzed the team two years ago and led to Calgary keeping three goaltenders. You know the disaster that turned into.

But fears exist for good reason as the Flames are still scarred from three years ago when they thought they could sneak Paul Byron through on waivers prior to the season (they weren't trying to get rid of him, just give themselves more flexibility), and sure enough, Montreal claimed him and the rest is history.

Given that sequence of events is still one that haunts, one does wonder how much waiver-exempt status will influence final cuts at this year's training camp. In particular with the battles up front.

As I see it and reflected on the projected 2017-18 roster I'm tracking on the blog, there are 11 forwards that are locks: Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Ferland, Tkachuk, Backlund, Michael Frolik, Kris Versteeg, Bennett, Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan and Curtis Lazar.

From there, the next two or three spots (they can keep up to 14 forwards, but Glen Gulutzan seems to prefer 13) are wide open with there being eight legitimate candidates:
  • RW Spencer Foo (waiver exempt)
  • LW Luke Gazdic
  • C/RW Freddie Hamilton
  • RW Garnet Hathaway
  • C/LW Marek Hrivik
  • C Mark Jankowski (waiver exempt)
  • RW Emile Poirier
  • LW Hunter Shinkaruk

Of the six waiver-eligible players on the bubble, 2013 first rounders Emile Poirier and Hunter Shinkaruk carry the biggest risk of being claimed by another organization based on their pedigree. Poirier is particularly interesting, knowing now the off-ice issues he's been having that has impacted his play the last two years. In July 2015, I had him as the club's No. 2 prospect behind Bennett.

You'd think for guys like Spencer Foo and Mark Jankowski, who the team has flexibility on, they need to really separate themselves from the others in order to lock up a opening night spot. As an example, if Poirier and Foo are close, do they keep Poirier instead with the tie-breaker being that Foo can be sent to Stockton without being exposed to the rest of the league? Maybe. Although there is also the possibility that neither player will make it.

After a solid rookie season in the AHL, I'd say Jankowski's odds of sticking are better. It's not out of the question that he could separate himself as most ready. If so, guys like Freddie Hamilton or Luke Gazdic could be placed on waivers without much fear (or concern) about losing them.




8. No RFA Remorse

Out of curiosity, I revisited the lists of restricted free agents from the last five years who were not qualified by the Flames and were cut loose.

Of the 23 RFAs that did not get a contract offer and became free agents (so this excludes Byron in 2014, who was subsequently re-signed), all the players cast aside by Calgary have only amassed nine goals in 176 combined NHL games since departing the organization.

Looking down the list, I don't see a single regret.

Even the three players not qualified this past June have not yet found work, which is.generally a sign that you didn't get the decision wrong.

It's a bit like the over-valuing of waiver-eligible prospects. As a fan, you hate to see guys go that you have followed closely, but many of the players won't amount to much anyway and the fear of what they will go on to do elsewhere eventually subsides.

Here is the full list of RFAs that 'got away' in the last five years, but only because Calgary opened the exit door for them and pushed them on the way out. Also listed is their NHL totals accumulated since.


2017

Alex Chiasson - Not signed
Kenney Morrison - Not signed
Ryan Culkin - Not signed

2016

Joe Colborne, COL - 62 gm, 4-4-8
Josh Jooris, NYR/ARI - 54 gm, 3-7-10
Kenny Agostino, STL - 7 gm, 1-2-3
Bill Arnold
Turner Elson
Drew Shore, VAN - 14 gm, 0-2-2
Bryce Van Brabant
Joni Ortio
Kevin Poulin

2015

Sena Acolatse
Ben Hanowski
John Ramage, CBJ - 1 gm, 0-0-0

2014

Paul Byron (re-signed with Calgary)
TJ Galiardi, WPG - 38 gm, 1-0-1
David Eddy
James Martin
Olivier Roy

2013

Akim Aliu
Bryan Cameron
Brady Lamb
Gaelan Patterson


This isn't to suggest that all RFAs retained eventually turn into anything of value but in recent years, there is no remorse with those that the club has moved on from.




By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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Recent Flames Reading:

    Monday, July 17, 2017

    FF80F Podcast: Episode 15 - Development Camp Wrap-up and Prospect Talk with Rob Kerr



    Flames development has come and gone for another year and to put the final wraps on that as well as take inventory of Calgary's prospect cupboard, Sportsnet960's Rob Kerr joined me as my guest.

    Looking for a little hockey talk to get you through the summer? Why settle for a little when you can have a lot.


    Episode 15 - July 16, 2017  (1:25:10 running time)



    0:00 - Segment 1 - Introduction
    • What it's like for beer league players to play alongside old NHL players.
    • Story behind the video below (funny cameo from Peter Maher, and no, it's not me in the thong)
    • Rock Me I'm a Dentist and Race a Little Elf on Good Rockin' tonight!


    13:32 - Segment 2 - Emile Poirier
    • On the first round pick's return, which was the feel-good story of the camp.
    • It is possible for Poirier to break camp with the team?
    • Brian McGrattan's involvement and what his future might hold.

    29:20 - Segment 3 - A Look at the Rest of the Forwards
    • Spencer Foo, what he is and if/when he'll arrive.
    • Andrew Mangiapane, Matthew Phillips and can their skill overcome their size
    • The prospect that might hold the keys to Sam Bennett's future.

    48:46 - Segment 4 - A look at the Defence
    • How far away is Adam Fox and how good could he be?
    • Mistake prone yet young and talented. What to make of Oliver Kylington. 
    • Anecdotes and thoughts on the many others in the blue-line queue.

    1:00:00 - Segment 5 - A look at the Goaltenders
    • Tyler Parsons' rapid rise and why he's so coveted.
    • Some interesting things-that-make-you-go-hmm splits from Mason McDonald 
    • Where does everyone play in 2017-18?

    107:32 - Segment 6 - Listener Q&A
    • Answering questions submitted via this Tweet or this Facebook post.


    Options to Download/Listen

    You are now able to download Flames at 80 Decibels from all your favourite podcast locations, as well as through your regular podcast player or app. Here are a few of the more popular spots where you can download the latest episode:

    One popular question I get from newbies in the podcast world is when do people listen to podcasts? Well, if you have BlueTooth in your car as I do, I'll stream them from my phone onto my car stereo and listen as a I run around town doing errands, etc.

    If you're travelling, download it to your iPod and listen on the flight. Or take it with you while you go and walk the dogs. I have heard from people who have warehouse jobs and listen to them at work. There are endless possibilities.


    Rate the Podcast on iTunes

    Have you enjoyed the podcasts so far? Please stop by iTunes and rate the podcast as I understand this will make it easier to find for newcomers. So far, there's only been 10 reviews. I'd love to see that number doubled.

    If you have any other comments or questions, let me know directly, I'd love to get an email from you.

    Thanks for listening!



    By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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      Friday, July 14, 2017

      Back-to-Back Victories: First, for Ferland the Person, Now for Ferland the Player



      For Micheal Ferland, game 1 in his breakout offensively came at a critical juncture last season.

      Two days after the Flames had been publicly ripped by coach Glen Gulutzan after a lethargic 5-1 loss in Montreal.

      One day after the team's infamous train trip to Ottawa that featured some beers and some honesty.

      One day before the NHL's all-star break.

      Desperately seeking some kind of spark, Ferland delivered halfway through the second period in a game at the Canadian Tire Centre. Getting his own rebound, he fired a goal past Mike Condon to end a personal 15-game scoring drought and open the scoring in what would end up being a pivotal 3-2 win over the Senators.

      It was just the lift Calgary needed.


      Ferland Leading the Way

      Starting that evening, the Flames went on an incredible 15-2-1 tear to get back into a playoff spot. They wouldn't let it slip away.

      Front and center in that red-hot seven-week run was Ferland. In 18 games, he rattled home a team-high nine goals. They all didn't come while whirling around on the top unit either. His promotion onto the Gaudreau-Monahan line came didn't come until halfway through that stretch. He was doing it without them. Then he kept it going with them.

      It really is quite the contrast if you compare his career production up until that point with what he's done since.

      Going into that game in Ottawa, Ferland had played 144 career NHL games. He had scored 11 goals.

      Over the remainder of the regular season, he scored 10 goals in 29 games. Even more impressively, all 10 came at even-strength. That was the best on the team, two better than Sean Monahan, three more than Mikael Backlund, four better than Johnny Gaudreau.

      In fact, over the final two-and-a-half months of the regular season, those 10 even-strength goals tied Ferland for 24th in the league. There weren’t a lot of cheapies in there either. This guy can wire a hockey puck into the top corner like the best of them.



      One of the NHL's Most Productive Players

      As we try to put his electric finish to 2016-17 in context, we also have to keep in mind that he averaged less than 13 minutes per night in ice time over that period. Heck, he played about as much on the Flames power play last season as Hakan Loob.

      As part of the NHL’s advanced stats offering, there is a statistic called G/60, which is your total goals per 60 minutes of ice time. Now you’re really talking business with Ferland given his lethal production came while not playing a ton.

      NHL G/60 – From Jan. 26 Through End of Regular Season (min of 15 games)

      1. Evgeni Malkin PIT, 2.32
      2. Jeff Skinner CAR, 2.09
      3. Brad Marchand BOS, 2.09
      4. Jonathan Marchessault FLA, 2.02
      5. Nikita Kucherov TB, 2.01
      6. Viktor Arvidsson MIL, 1.86
      7. Vladimir Tarasenko STL, 1.76
      8. T.J. Oshie OTT, 1.73
      9. Patrick Kane CHI, 1.73
      10. Patrik Laine WPG, 1.72
      11. Anders  Lee NYI, 1.71
      12. Patrick Eaves ANA, 1.66
      13. Auston Matthews TOR, 1.61
      14. Micheal Ferland CGY, 1.61
      15. Filip Forsberg NSH, 1.54


      That’s some pretty good company. Heck, if I was to drill down even further and look at even-strength goals only, he'd surely be in the top 10.


      His Winding Career in Major Junior

      Ferland’s hockey career going back to youth hockey has been an interesting case. As the story goes, he got started in the sport late, but was a natural and climbed fast.

      In his draft year in 2010, he was the 188th ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting in the mid-term ranking. Only 210 players are drafted. Plus, you still have North American goalies as well as European skaters and goalies to factor in.

      Micheal Ferland
      He eventually climbed to 144th on the North American skater list by the final rankings and was selected 133rd by Calgary. It was the year the Flames didn’t have a first or second round pick and used their two third-round picks on Max Reinhart and Joey Leach. The fourth round didn’t net them much either in John Ramage and Bill Arnold.

      But the tough-as-nails kid from Swan River, Manitoba, that general manager Darryl Sutter selected in round 5. Who knew that this physical left winger from the Brandon Wheat Kings, coming off a rookie season in the WHL in which he scored just nine goals in 61 games, would turn out to be the valedictorian from that Calgary draft class.

      In his next couple seasons, his production really took off. Often playing on a line with Ottawa Senator right winger Mark Stone, younger brother of Flames defenceman Michael Stone, Ferland’s totals jumped to 23 goals in 56 games in his second season. In his third year, he sniped 47 goals in 68 games then lit the lamp there more times in the playoffs to give him an even 50.

      But the jump to pro wasn’t smooth. Out of shape and with a drinking problem he didn't yet realize he had, he played 10 games split between the AHL and ECHL in 2012-13, before being returned to junior for his overage season -- one in which he ended up traded from Brandon to Saskatoon.


      Pro Hockey and the Eventual Intervention

      The next year went much better, especially after he got going. Pointless in his first 11 games, Ferland rattled off 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) in the next 14 games and was on the cusp of being a Flames call-up when he hurt his knee in a collision in practice. The result was season-ending surgery.

      But the season concluded with a different kind of rehab.

      While rehabbing his knee in Calgary, eventually it was his elbow, as in his drinking elbow, that became the point of focus. In late March, after a meeting with coach Bob Hartley, Ferland was whisked away to the NHL’s treatment facility in Malibu, California. It’s the same spot where Emile Poirier just spent two months.


      Sober ever since, it's been a great success story for Ferland, the person.

      On Thursday, signing a two-year/$3.5 million contract, that's a success story for Ferland, the hockey player.


      Eyes on the Prize

      His $1.75 million annual salary for the next two seasons is more than double what he made the last two seasons.

      His take-home pay will net out to even more given his sober lifestyle – 39-plus months and counting. Know that a lot of that new found wealth will go to much better causes being the women in his life: Mother Diane, who raised him on her own, his significant other Kayleigh, and the couple's 15-month old daughter Brynlee.


      The two-year deal takes Ferland right to unrestricted free agency where Ferland will be in for a substantial raise should he continue on the same trajectory he’s on.

      While that's bad news for Calgary if they hope to re-sign him, that would also be a real good thing for the Flames because it will have meant he strung together two excellent seasons.

      And that would be a wonderful thing for Ferland the person, as it means his hockey career has continued to blossom.





      Final Word

      Now is his shooting percentage due to regress from the 14.2 percent last year? Probably. But one way you can mitigate the impact of that is to shoot the puck more often and if he stays on the No. 1 line, he'll get those opportunities.

      Even when he isn’t scoring, we all know Ferland can have an impact on games. We all fondly remember the Flames-Canucks playoff series three years ago. Those 40 hits in six games. The non-stop war on and off the ice with Kevin Bieksa and others.

      Add in the offensive side that has really come around – the deceptive speed, heavy shot, smooth hands and high IQ, and now you really have something.

      As a lifetime writer, I’m always a sucker for a good story. But even more so, I love a great ending.

      Considering where he was at with his hockey career five years ago, to where he is today, it doesn’t get much better.

      So rather than saying it's a new chapter coming up, let’s call 2017-18 the first chapter in Micheal Ferland - The Sequel. Here's hoping it turns out as good as the original as that one is a best-seller.



      By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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        Wednesday, July 12, 2017

        Magnificent Seven: Sigalet Weighs in on Cast of Puck Stoppers Under His Watchful Eye



        Goaltending coach by trade, Jordan Sigalet must have felt more like a Wal-Mart greeter the last few years.

        Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, Joni Ortio, Niklas Backstrom, Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, Jon Gillies, David Rittich, Mason McDonald, Tyler Parsons, Brad Thiessen, Doug Carr, Kevin Poulin, Kent Simpson, Nick Schneider, Tom McCollum.

        Sixteen goalies have come through the turnstile since Sigalet was named Flames goaltending coach in August 2014.

        And you can add another two names to the list with the additions this summer of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, who will form the organization's NHL tandem in 2017-18.

        Jordan Sigalet
        "It's exciting," says Sigalet, who prior to coming to Calgary spent three seasons working in the same capacity for the Flames' AHL affiliate in Abbotsford. "I've talked to both guys already. I'm going to get out to see each guy this summer, just to sit down and go over some different things with them. Two big goalies that play a similar style."

        In his current role where he oversees the development of all the club's goaltenders, Sigalet admits the constant turnover makes the job more challenging.

        "That's the hard part about changing goalies every year, it's building the relationship, earning their trust before you can really make changes to their game," says the 36-year-old. "So that's why I'll try to do as much as I can this summer through phone calls or going down and meeting with them, having dinner. The quicker you get that trust, the easier it is."

        It's also an entirely different dynamic when you're working with a veteran player versus a kid right out of the draft.

        Smith, 35, is just 13 months younger than Sigalet. Lack will turn 30 in January. Both have been around the block.

        "It's a big difference," says Sigalet. "With younger guys, you're usually making bigger adjustments. A guy like Smitty, who has played the same way for a number of years, you're a second set of eyes for him, you're a sounding board, you're going to make little tweaks maybe through video and on the ice but you're not making drastic changes."


        Incoming: Two Motivated Veterans

        Getting a fresh start after being buried in the desert for six seasons, Sigalet expects Smith, a proven No. 1, to embrace being on a playoff contender.

        "Smitty's a highly competitive guy, he wants to win. Everything about him we love from his puck moving to his compete level and to his athleticism."

        Lack is an interesting acquisition in that his NHL career has had two distinct chapters.

        Breaking into the league with the Canucks, his .917 save percentage from 2013 to 2015 ranked him 20th (of 47 goaltenders with 40-or-more starts). The sometimes quirky and always laid-back Swede appeared to have a bright future ahead of him.



        Well, heads British Columbia, tails Carolina.

        Acquired in June 2015 for a pair of draft picks, his performance with the Hurricanes was quite the opposite. His .902 save percentage in two seasons ranked him 51st in the NHL (of 52 goaltenders with 40-or-more starts).

        "When Eddie first got to Vancouver, he was probably a little bit aggressive. (Goaltending coach) Rollie Melanson did a great job of dialing him back in his crease a little bit," explains Sigalet. "A 6-foot-5 goalie covers a lot of net, he doesn't have to be over-aggressive."

        But Lack's play regressed badly in Carolina under the tutelage of David Marcoux. If that name sounds familiar, he was the Flames goaltender coach for the first four years of the Miikka Kiprusoff era. He is also now a free agent as it was announced at season's end that his contract would not be renewed.

        "Watching him over the last couple years, it looked like he was trying to play outside his paint a little too much again, which is a hard adjustment for him, obviously," says Sigalet. "I talked to him last week and said let's get you back playing like Eddie Lack, playing where you're comfortable and not playing like somebody else."


        Prospect Headliner: Tyler Parsons 

        While the Flames have completely gutted and rebuilt their crease at the NHL level two summers in a row, there has been stability with the goaltenders in the pipeline.

        Tyler Parsons
        All five from last season are back and with Calgary not drafting a goaltender this year, there are no additions either.

        Of that group, Tyler Parsons is where most eyes are affixed. The young man, who has won a Memorial Cup for London and a World Junior Championship for the United States, is not necessarily the closest to playing in the NHL -- he has yet to play his first pro game -- but the 2016 second round pick is viewed by many as the prospect with the highest ceiling.

        Turning 20 in September, it's clear he feels it's time to graduate from the OHL and move onto the next level.

        "For the past three years, that organization has treated me so well and I couldn't thank them enough, and I could possibly play another year there," Parsons says. "But I'd love to start my pro career and I feel I'm ready for it."

        Sigalet agrees that moving on from major junior is the best next step for him.

        "He needs the challenge. Play against men, play at the pro level. I think he's done all he can do at that level, he's proved himself."


        Packed With Potential

        He's only been in the organization 13 months but Sigalet has enjoyed working with Parsons.

        "He's such a student of the game. You tell him something and right away he's making the adjustment," says Sigalet. "Plus the kid just knows how to win. He's won on every stage so far. Another good playoffs this year. Losing in game 7 in overtime was tough for him but he carried that team to the playoffs again."

        Parsons looked the part last week at Flames development camp too. For someone who had only been on the ice twice since May, you never would have known.



        "With the compete level he has, the athleticism he has, he's got a bright future and a special skill set," effuses Sigalet. "We're excited about him and now it's deciding what we want to do with him whether it's junior for another year or find a place in the pro ranks for him."

        I'd bet on the latter. Calgary's brass knows this guy is special and returning him to junior doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Expect him to end up in Kansas City, the new home of the Flames' ECHL affiliate.

        "It is tough. I don't know where I'm going to play yet," says Parsons, pondering his packing strategy come September. "Coming from Detroit, that's pretty far to go to Cali or the new team in Kansas, or I could end up back in junior. It has me on my toes a little bit but it's part of the process and everyone's got to go through that."


        Rittich is "Very Close"

        The reason Parsons will likely be wearing a Mavericks sweater is the presence of Jon Gillies, 23, and David Rittich, 24. Both are expected to be back in Stockton after splitting starts for the AHL team last year.

        David Rittich
        With his two seasons of experience in the top Czech league, prior to signing with the Flames, and with a year in North America on his resume now, Rittich is knocking on the door. It's a door that could be opening soon with Lack just one year away from free agency and Smith having only two years to go on his contract.

        "He's very close," says Sigalet. "For him, it was adjusting to the game over here with more traffic, the smaller ice and he's done that well."

        After taking over for Gillies halfway through game 2 in last year's AHL playoffs, Rittich then got the start in games 3, 4 and 5 as Stockton was edged out by San Jose in the first round, the final game decided in overtime.

        Rittich was 15-11-1 with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in the regular season. That ranked him second amongst rookies in GAA and SV%. His five shutouts was tied for second amongst all AHL goalies. He fashioned a .917 save percentage in the playoffs.

        "Seeing him live for the first time last year was exciting. You never know how it's going to translate, from what you see on video from his game in Europe, to North America," says Sigalet. "He came over, he couldn't speak any English and now he's almost fluent in English. It shows the character of the kid too. He wants to learn, he wants to get better."


        Gillies Still the Maine Man

        But don't overlook Gillies, who has a World Junior gold medal with Team USA to go with a National Championship with Providence College, he is right there as well. Last year was his second pro season but his first full season after missing most of 2015-16 due to hip surgery.

        Jon Gillies
        His stats were not as good as Rittich -- 18-14-1 record, 2.93 goals-against average and .910 save percentage -- but after missing nearly a full season, some rust was to be expected on his 6-foot-6 chassis.

        "He missed a lot of time and he got off to a little bit of a slow start at Stockton, but by the end of the year, you could tell he was back in the rhythm and comfortable again playing pain free," says Sigalet.

        "This is going to be a huge year for Jon. He's knocking right at the door. He showed it in his game in LA this year that he can do  it. Now it's just doing it on a consistent basis and proving that he can do it at this level full time."

        Two good goaltenders. If only they could each play more.

        When the AHL formed the Pacific Division a couple years back, one of the league's concessions to address travel concerns was a reduced schedule of 68 games for the California-based teams (plus Tucson) compared to the 76 games played by the rest of the 30-team league.

        "With the less games and when you have two goalies you want to develop, it's a little bit harder. You don't have the three-in-three's, it's almost like a college schedule," says Sigalet.

        "They do get more practice and development time but for two goalies, it's tough to split and you can't compare anything to games. Games is where you're going to develop and get ready for the NHL level so the more games those guys play, the better."


        McDonald's Big Adjustment

        A forgotten man, although not that far removed from being the first goaltender off the board in his draft year, is Mason McDonald.

        Mason McDonald
        The Halifax native selected 34th overall in 2014 turned pro a year ago. He spent last season in the ECHL where he was 13-9-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average and an underwhelming .897 save percentage.

        Going from a poor team in Charlottetown in which he was regularly shelled with shots to a great team in Adirondack, one of the best in that league, was quite a difference. Less action for a goalie isn't as ideal as you might think.

        "A bit of an up and down year. Biggest adjustment for Mase was going from playing in the Q where he was facing 40, 50, sometimes 60 shots per game to playing in front of a real good team in Adirondack where some nights he's facing 25 shots," says Sigalet. "It takes some time to adjust to that and as the season went on, he did adjust."

        For example, last year McDonald faced less than 25 shots 14 times out of his 29 games. That's nearly half of his games. In his final year in the QMJHL, only four times out of his 39 games did he face that few shots.

        Sure enough, he was better when he was busier. In fact, much better.

        In the games in which he was tested more than 25 times, he had a .919 save percentage. In the other games, that number fell to .860.

        Sigalet says he went through the same thing as a player himself so he is very familiar with how that can effect you between the ears.

        "It's more tough mentally because when you're getting a lot of shots, you don't have time to think, you're just playing. When the play is in the other end a lot of the time, sometimes you overthink the game.

        "The other goalie is getting 40 shots and you're only getting 20 and he's standing on his head. Then they come down and score one on you because usually in that scenario the shots they do get are good chances, on the power play, etc., you do start to overthink. It's not easy. You have to be tough mentally when you're playing with a good team in front of you."


        Not Gone and Not Forgotten

        Nick Schneider
        The other kid in the Flames system is Nick Schneider, who turns 20 on July 21. Easily forgotten given the logjam of goalies ahead of him, Schneider continues to be in the picture, even though he's in the background at the moment.

        He will definitely be back in the WHL for one more season where he'll be playing right under the nose of Sigalet. Schneider was traded in the off-season from Medicine Hat to the Calgary Hitmen.

        "He had a great first half last year then he got sick and missed a lot of time. He lost some weight. It really affected his second half of the year. They ended up bringing in another goalie and he didn't see a lot of ice time."

        He should see plenty of playing time at the Saddledome this season.

        "The change to Calgary is going to be great for him. Play a lot, work with (Hitmen goaltending coach) Jason Labarbera on a daily basis, which will be great for his development," says Sigalet. "He put back on all his weight and then some this summer so he's strong again, he looks healthy. A great character kid to have in our organization and someone we haven't given up on."

        Sigalet does empathize with Schneider and how he must feel when he looks at the depth chart, but he can only control what you can control and that's his own play.

        "It's a grind but you keep working hard and if you don't get a chance here, everyone else is watching so there's always opportunity somewhere else."

        It sets up to be a fascinating next couple of seasons between the pipes for this organization. NHL Goaltender Idol -- may the best man win.




        By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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        Recent Flames Reading:

        Saturday, July 08, 2017

        Flames Development Camp 2017: Eight Takeaways From the Scrimmage



        Game on!

        Calgary Flames development camp wrapped up Friday morning with its signature event: The scrimmage. It was Team Conroy (Red) versus Team Gelinas (White) as two teams of 17 skaters battled each other in an energetic affair before a packed crowd at Markin MacPhail Arena at WinSport.

        You know you're in a hockey market when on a sunny Friday morning in July, while going up against the Stampede Parade, the red Flames jerseys come out en masse as curious observers young and old quickly filled up the limited seating capacity and then spread themselves out around the rink at ice level to watch these kids ages 18-23 showcase themselves.

        Twenty-four of the 40 players at the camp are Calgary Flames property. They'll be back in town again in couple months. The other 16 on try-outs were hoping to do enough to earn an invite to rookie camp in early September.

        Was it a real game? Not really. Playing two halves was the first sign that this was not a normal hockey game. That's not necessarily a bad thing. A shootout at the end of each half certainly provided a bit of spice.

        The game began at five-on-five, but eventually, the opened up the ice by going to four-on-four. Next came some three-on-three -- not exactly the style of hockey built for Hunter Smith but the 6-foot-7 giant nonetheless took his turn. In addition, each team had seven minutes of power play time just to make things interesting. This was independent of actual penalties, which resulted in penalty shots.

        All in all, it offered plenty of entertainment for those with nothing else to do, or those just curious for a glimpse of Spencer Foo.

        Here's what I learned.


        Eight Takeaways from the Scrimmage


        1. Perfect Pair of Pairings

        This is the part where fans close their eyes and imagine three, four, five years into the future when a couple of the pairings deployed Friday morning might be real-life pairings on Calgary's NHL roster.


        Juuso Valimaki, LD and Adam Fox, RD

        With the big left-shooting Finn manning the left side and the smart right-shooting American on the right side, what a solid top-four pairing they might form one day and they looked the part on Friday morning.

        Valimaki, Calgary's first round pick in the 2017 draft, is quite a presence on the ice. A big body in front of his net, he's a smooth skater who is crafty with the puck. Listed at a generous five-foot-11, Fox is not a big guy but he's not tiny either. The Harvard kid selected in the third round a year ago is going into his second year at the prestigious Ivy League university. He uses an active stick to help him take away passing lanes. When he gets the puck, good things happen as he's got great vision and after surveying his options, he'll zip a pass to an open man and away his team goes up the ice.

        Making his first appearance in Calgary, Valimaki in particular was the subject of great interest and you can see why the Flames are so high on him. He scored a beauty of a shootout goal in which he cut in off the wing, slipped the puck through his legs and onto his backhand as he neatly tucked it inside the post.


        Late in the game, he threaded a cross-ice backhander while under pressure onto the tape of Eetu Tuulola, who buried an empty net goal to clinch the win for Team Conroy.


        Emile Poirier, RW and Dillon Dube, C 

        When I saw the teams, I wondered if they might pair these two up together and sure enough, there they were in the opening line-up with the scrappy Ryan Lomberg on the other wing. There's a lot to like with both of these speed demons and for more on each of them, I get into more depth below.


        2. The Rest of the 2017 Draft Class

        Regarding the other four draft picks selected after Valimaki two weekends ago, two suited up in the scrimmage. Unfortunately, minor injuries sidelined the other two.


        In - Adam Ruzicka, C (4th round), Zach Fischer, RW (5th round)

        These are two big dudes -- Ruzicka at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Fischer at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds -- who were both very involved in the play.

        Adam Ruzicka
        For one, they each had offensive chances. In Ruzicka's best chance, a neatly executed give-and-go with Rasmus Andersson led to Ruzicka being set up perfectly in the slot, but he fired his shot over the net. The rugged Fischer scored one of the goals and it was a beauty. Skating away from the net, he pounced on a rebound, spun and in one motion zipped a shot top corner, over the glove of Mason McDonald.

        They also each took a turn extracting their pound of goaltender flesh.

        Ruzicka collided heavily into Parsons sending everybody including the net flying. He got tagged for goaltender interference and to the relief of all, Parsons emerged from the collision fine. Obviously feeling bad, Ruzicka made a point of twice circling back and giving Parsons the apology stick-tap to the pads. They played each other in the OHL last year -- Ruzicka with Sarnia and Parsons with London.

        Shortly after, Oliver Kylington's awful giveaway at his own blueline led to a breakaway for Fischer, who got hauled down by the Swede but in the process, both of them slid on the ice and barrelled into Parsons. Fischer, who turns 20 in a couple weeks, told me earlier in the week, "I like to fight." No kidding. When your PIMs with Medicine Hat (WHL) go from 15 a year ago to 145 last year, that certainly speaks to a change in identity. Fischer said he put on 27 pounds last summer on his way to re-inventing himself.


        Out - D'Artagnan Joly, RW (6th round), Filip Sveningsson, LW (7th round)

        Both the QMJHL product and the Swede were held out of the scrimmage due to minor injuries.

        In total, three of the 40 that attended camp did not suit up for the game. The other was 2016 fourth rounder C Linus Lindstrom, who is coming back from a medical procedure on his knee. It was good enough to allow him to participate in the skills development sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, but the team didn't want him risking it in the game.


        3. Rinse and Repeat for Kylington

        Whenever you watch a game featuring Kylington, you end up seeing a lot of Kylington. It's also not for the feint of heart. More noticeable most nights than any other player is the smooth-skating Swedish defenceman wearing No. 58.

        However, he's not always noticed for the right reasons and it's been a trend throughout his time in the Flames organization.

        Friday was no different.

        "I think he's taken significant strides forward," said general manager Brad Treliving in his post-camp address.

        But then he added a qualifier to Kylington's situation.

        "Under normal circumstances, he would be playing in the Canadian Hockey League. And here's a guy at 18 and 19, who has two years of American Hockey League. You can see where he's matured."


        High Risk, Modest Reward

        If we learned anything on Friday it's that Kylington still makes too many careless or unnecessarily high-risk decisions or moves.

        "You see, even in scrimmages like today, what could be greatness. Then you see the ones where you want to grab him by the scruff of the collar," said Treliving.

        Always active like a Golden Retriever at an off-leash park, Kylington ends up roving around the ice a lot. End boards, far corner, you never know where he'll be and he has some high-end skill.

        He scored a nice power play goal and right afterwards could have notched another from a similar spot. In another display of his raw talent, he darted towards the net, toe-dragged the defender (Sebastian Vidmar) who nearly corkscrewed himself into the ice, and had a close-in chance.

        You watch him skate and carry the puck and it's mesmerizing he's so smooth on his blades.

        But then come the turnovers. As last man back, his previously mentioned cough-up to Fischer nearly resulted in a goal and an injured goalie.

        On a three-on-one with Dillon Dube and Poirier, one too many moves resulted in him coughing up the puck and away went the Whites on an odd-man rush the other direction.

        Sometimes when he makes mistakes, he's so fast that he can get back to take away the danger, but it's an adventure far too often when he's on the ice and he won't be in the mix for a job on the Flames blueline until he can improve his decision-making.

        All that said, he just turned 20 and that's not something to overlook. The rest of his game you like so you have to remind yourself that he's still a young man playing a difficult position and having done so in a more difficult league than most players his age are playing.

        "You have to pause every now and then and say there's not too many 18 and 19-year-olds that go right into the American Hockey League and do as well as he's done," said Treliving.


        4. Boom Goes Ollas-Mattsson

        His skating ability remains the concern but for what Swedish blueliner Adam Ollas-Mattsson lacks in speed, he certainly makes up for in physical and aggressive play.

        Paired with Andersson all scrimmage, Ollas-Mattsson is like Dolph Lundgren on skates, constantly punishing opposition players and without seeming to exert much effort. Go down his side of the ice and if you don't get around the corner, you're going to be wallpapered into the end boards and it's going to be loud. It's always loud when he hits, even in Friday's scrimmage.

        "It just comes normally," said the 6-foot-5, 220 pound Nordic monster. "You try to hold back a little bit, just because it's a scrimmage, but sometimes you can't."

        We're not sure yet where Ollas-Mattsson will play in 2017-18. He has played for Djurgardens in the Swedish Hockey League the last three years but his contract expired after last season. He then signed an amateur try-out and came over to Stockton and jumped into their line-up for nine regular season games down the stretch.

        Loves Hockey on the 200x85

        "A great experience for me," said Ollas-Mattsson, who turns 21 later in July. "I like North American hockey more. Smaller rink, a little bit faster, a little bit more physical, I'm more comfortable with the physical play."

        Treliving is not sure yet how it will unfold.

        "We've got his rights for one more year. We're going to talk with him a little bit over the next day or so," he said. "His options are he can sign an entry-level contract with us, or he's got opportunities to go back and play in Sweden."

        Treliving likes him, it's just the foot-speed that is the issue.

        "He's got excellent hockey sense, he makes those little plays with the puck, he's got a little edge to him. The question with him is his skating," said the GM. "That's the challenge for him. He thinks the game so well, he's a big man, we'd like to have him in North America but we'll see how that all plays out."

        He also had a couple good scoring chances on Friday. A slick pinch at the blueline ended up springing him in alone, only to be thwarted. Later on, he had a dangerous chance in the slot but whistled a shot wide. Boom off the glass the puck went, just like the sound of his board-rattling hits.


        5. Healey, As Advertised

        On Wednesday, I wrote about frisky defenceman Josh Healey, the Flames free agent signing last spring, who comes to Calgary after four years, countless number of hits and multiple suspensions at Ohio State.

        From a college famous for its college football, Healey was in linebacker form again in the scrimmage. When it's what you do, it can be hard to tone it down, apparently.

        Early in the game, the 6-foot-0, 195 pounder demolished Tuulola into the corner boards. No small lad himself at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Tuulola did not look very pleased as he slowly left the ice.

        Later on, maybe related, Healey had a verbal exchange with giant 6-foot-4 defenceman Sam Ruopp, a Blue Jackets 5th round pick in 2015, who was in camp on a try-out.


        6. Return of Vintage Emile

        Two shifts.

        That's how long it took Poirier to make a statement that he is back.

        Emile Poirier
        First, he darted down the wing and behind the net and almost scored on a wraparound. Seconds later, he laid a heavy lick on try-out invitee Alex Smith along the end boards.

        Speed plus snarl. This is the Poirier of old.

        "It gets a little intense and I just wanted to do something out there," said Poirier. "I didn't feel like I was doing anything the first shift and that gets you into the game."

        He wasn't done yet either. Far from it.

        Busting through the slot to the net, he had Mitchell Mattson's pass bounce over his stick.

        Later, again showcasing his speed, he wheels around Andersson on a one-on-one and then cuts hard across the face of the crease, nearly stuffing the puck behind Parsons.

        "You have to be careful in July of getting too high or too low, but in his circumstance, he looked like he had the fire back. To see the explosiveness back in him, the smile on his face, we're real happy for him," Treliving said. "Don't bet against that kid."


        Throwback to 2014-15

        Ryan Huska took over as coach in Stockton in Poirier's rookie season three years ago. So he knows the young man very well.

        He says as soon as he arrived for this week's camp, he could tell Poirier was a changed man and in a good way. A very good way.

        "Right from the first time I saw him when I got to Calgary, he looked like a different young man, which was something that really excited all of us," said Huska. "He's got a weight lifted off his chest and shoulders and just coming back, I think he realized how much he loves the game, how much fun he has being at the rink again and being around his teammates."

        If Wednesday and Thursday's skills development sessions were the trailer for Poirier's return to form, Friday was the feature film.

        "His speed is the real strength in his game as he can get himself from 0 to 60 in no time. He has the ability to be on top of defencemen in a hurry and therefore creating a lot of turnovers," Huska said. "The speed when he's at his very best, he's a very hard guy to handle. We saw little bits of it here today in this morning's scrimmage. It's July but you do see how effective that can be in a lot of different ways."

        Can't Wait for Training Camp

        Poirier says training camp in September is on his mind "every day" and he looks forward to it.

        "That's my game, I'm trying to do my game, even if it's in July. I just have to keep it going through the summer and come to camp and do the same thing."

        The rest will take care of itself.

        "He's been in the organization for four years now, but he is a young guy and he has a lot of game in front of him. Seeing him here this week has made everybody feel pretty good," said Huska. "It looks like he's in a really good place right now so we're really proud of him."



        7. Oooh's for Foo

        Ahh, so that's what all the fuss has been about.

        The player a majority of fans were most excited to see in person was highly-touted free agent signing Spencer Foo. With Union College games rarely making an appearance on Calgary television, Friday was the first chance for many to see Foo in action.

        He did not disappoint.

        It didn't take long to realize that this is a guy in which the word 'quick' applies in all facets of his game. You notice that the puck is on and off his stick quickly. When he gets in flight down the wing, he's quick. And his hands... you guessed it. In fact, in this instance make it lightning quick.


        For his part, Foo was nonchalant about the goal, which I will add also came against a darn good goalie in Parsons.

        "I was planning on going backhand and I saw that there was nothing there and I was able to react quickly and pull it back to the forehand," said Foo. "I guess it looked good."

        Ya, not bad.

        Focused on the Future

        Later, the 6-foot-0, 185 pounder showed he can be a handful to contain when he is determined to get somewhere. On an innocuous play near the side boards, Foo bursts right past defencemen Kayle Doetzel and Kylington with a power move, only to be robbed by Parsons. After it looked like he had beat him with a deke, the acrobatic goaltender sprawled and flipped his arm back to steal away what appeared to be a sure goal.

        "Thought I'd be able to get it around him, but that's a typical Parsons save right there, just diving back and grabbing it."

        Treliving says he likes what he's seen so far from the Hobey Baker finalist from last year and now the onus is on Foo to keep working and get himself ready for September.

        "Expectations are he'll go to rookie camp and he's got two months to push like a son-of-a-gun to make sure he's ready," said the GM. "For a lot of these kids, you come in here, this is a step up for a lot of them.

        "The ones that come back in September, now the big boys are going to be here. It's a different group on the ice come September so you've got to be ready for that physically and I think he will be. Then we'll just go from there."

        Foo, who comes across as a cerebral guy, says he got a lot out of the five-day camp.

        "This lets you know what you've got to work on and get a little bit better at," said Foo. "You see what the other guys are excelling in and you want to be right there. It gives you a little sense of what you've got to do for the rest of the summer."


        8. Darting, Dashing, Dangerous Dube 

        Dillon Dube
        A pleasure to watch because of his non-stop motor is Dube, one of Calgary's second round picks in 2016.

        Due to his last birth date, he'll be back in Kelowna (WHL) next season. But on Friday he showed why a year from now, he'll definitely be turning pro and is someone that fans should be excited to see perform at the next level.

        Listed at 5-foot-11, he's not an overly big guy but he's got great offensive skills, is a quick skater, always drives hard to the net and he can change directions on a dime. Also, he's an absolute pitbull on the backcheck. Opponents can probably hear his gnashing teeth as they try to fend him off.

        All of those skills he put on display on Friday morning as he was his regular burst of energy. He drew a penalty shot in one sequence but he was unable to score on it.



        Repeat Trip to the World Juniors

        Later this summer, Dube and his Calgary training buddy and fellow Flames prospect, Matthew Phillips, will head to Canada's World Junior camp.

        Relegated to a fourth line checking role on last year's national team, he embraced that responsibility and had an impactful tournament.

        "I was fourth line and everybody questions how it was and it was the most fun I've ever had playing hockey," said the personable Cochrane native. "It's almost more enjoyable because I don't have as much pressure and I just get to go out there and play and enjoy it."

        He realizes that ultimately to have success in the NHL, that defensive side of the game is going to be important, not just being a top-line scorer as he's been with the Rockets.

        "To be able to play both roles, it gives you a chance to play at the next level earlier. But if I go back there and play that role again and do what I do in Kelowna, it just shows that I can play a 200-foot game," Dube said.

        The other focus this season for Dube is becoming an even greater leader.

        "It will be my fourth year in the league and I really want to take that on my shoulders, not just scoring goals, I want to be a leader," said Dube, who turns 19 later in July. "I want to be that guy you look to that has a letter on his chest and takes pride in wearing that jersey."


        Final Word

        As a final wrap, here are a few thoughts on six others not mentioned in today's piece, who got their name scribbled in my notebook.

        LW Andrew Mangiapane - Was my Thursday feature so for more, see below. Basically, he's a sixth round pick that right now looks a second round pick. Not a bad investment of 166th overall just two years ago. Terrific hands, when he gets the puck on his stick, it stays on his stick a long time. Very assertive with the puck, confident. He'll get some NHL games as early as this year and certainly has a shot of sticking at some point down the road. Played a lot with Ruzicka in the scrimmage so make that another potential future pairing.



        RW Eetu Tuulola - The star a year ago, didn't stand out in the same way but that's not a negative. Again, one semi-competitive scrimmage is not a lot of runway. You saw his shot a couple times on Friday. Hard and with a quick release. Is returning to Finland to play pro in the main Finnish league so by no means is his development being hurt by leaving the WHL. Note that Finland doesn't play in international-sized rinks, they play in a hybrid so any future transition won't be that big of a deal.

        D Rasmus Andersson - It's no secret that Andersson is a real talent when he has the puck on his stick. That part of his game is excellent and NHL-ready in my opinion. Always ready to jump into the rush, he is involved in the play a lot but unlike his more wiry countryman Kylington, that comes without the glaring gaffes. He even added a pretty shootout goal, which he put an exclamation mark on with a little stick salute. A character off the ice, no need to rush him to the NHL yet, continue to give him those hard match-ups in the AHL and evolve his game defensively. But this time next year, now we're talking. As for his conditioning, I didn't hear much. He's always going to be a thicker guy and will have to work on that part of his game but he seemed to be getting around the ice just fine.

        RW Max Veronneau - Another Ivy League kid, who just completed his second year at Princeton in which he doubled his point total to 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) in 33 games. There were a lot of players on try-outs and it's a lot to digest but of those 16, the 21-year-old Veronneau was the guy most noticeable for me. Involved in the play, around the net, it was his nice cross-ice feed that set up Kylington's goal. Worth noting is that both Foo and Healey were at Flames development camp a year ago, only to sign this off-season. We'll put his name aside for later.

        LW Ryan Lomberg - Considering some of his off-ice struggles early in his hockey career, to see him as one of the older players and leaders at this camp, he's already quite the success story for me. You love watching him play as he's scrappy, he'll go up against anyone, he hits, he's like a dog on a bone with when chasing the puck and he just plays without fear. Plus, he has some offensive skill to go with his pest-like qualities. Another guy I'd suggest is a longshot to make the NHL but will be a real popular player in Stockton both with the fans and with the guys in the dressing room.

        G Tyler Parsons - He said all the right things in camp about the possibility of returning to the OHL but there is no way he is going back to major junior. He has done all he can at that level, this is a dynamite prospect for the Flames that they are real excited about. They need to bump him up to the next level to continue that development and that is likely Calgary's ECHL affiliate in Kansas City. He is so dialed in when he plays, he fights like mad to track the puck and will do anything and everything to keep the puck out. Think Jonathan Quick and you'll get a sense of this guy's style. Very polished off the ice too, he's the full package.

        Lastly, I'll leave you with a three-minute highlight reel from the scrimmage, courtesy of Calgary Flames television.

        Have a great summer and thanks for reading!





        By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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