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.
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.
Micheal Ferland opens up about alcohol addiction, sobriety and more (by @Alex_Prewitt) https://t.co/TwxcLzEvmX pic.twitter.com/dDp1k3FXh0— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 12, 2017
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.
My beautiful princess, Brynlee Joyce Ferland. 8lb 3oz. So proud of my beautiful girl Kayleigh!! pic.twitter.com/0L3Ru1u537— Micheal Ferland (@ferdaddy27) April 29, 2016
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.
Interesting stuff today from Brad Treliving on Micheal Ferland: “The next step (for Ferland) is just that — taking the next step."— Kristen Odland (@Kristen_Odland) July 14, 2017
"We’ve seen the skillset that Micheal Ferland has. It can be very special and unique … he moved around the lineup in the past couple years."— Kristen Odland (@Kristen_Odland) July 14, 2017
"For me, the goal for him is to establish himself at that high level on a consistent basis. Because we’ve seen it."— Kristen Odland (@Kristen_Odland) July 14, 2017
"I've got a great deal of respect for Micheal. I love the kid. He's come so far. But you also want to push for more...He's capable of it."— Kristen Odland (@Kristen_Odland) July 14, 2017
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.
Recent Flames Reading:
- Magnificent Seven: Sigalet Weighs in on Cast of Puck Stoppers Under His Watch - Great insight from goalie coach Jordan Sigalet on how to work with a vet like Mike Smith, how he plans to get Eddie Lack back on track. Some great stuff on the prospects too. (July 12, 2017)
- Flames Development Camp 2017: Eight Takeaways From the Scrimmage - If you missed the scrimmage, I've got you covered. How did Poirier look? I've got quotes from the coach, GM and Poirier himself. Foo and his sick move, Kylington, Dube. Lots here. (July 9, 2017)
- Taste of Italy: Mangiapane Serving up Goals, Assists and a Delicious Chicken Parm - Sweet dangle. Saucer pass. Top-shelf snipe. Andrew Mangiapane displayed some soft mitts in racking up 20 goals as a rookie. Seems he's good with the oven mitts too. (July 7, 2017)
- Fresh Start: Poirier Focused on Future After Battle with the Bottle - He lived in denial for two years and with on-ice performance suffering greatly, he decided he couldn't do it any more. In February, Emile Poirier called Brad Treliving and asked for help. (July 5, 2017)
- Southern Charm: Two Edmonton Products Turned Flames Prospects - A slick scoring winger and a hard hitting defenceman are two pretty nice prospects to have. Better yet for Flames fans, Spencer Foo and Josh Healey were poached from Edmonton. (July 5, 2017)