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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
"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.
Slick scoring winger. Heavy hitting d-man. Two kids, who spurned their hometown of Edmonton to sign with the Flames. https://t.co/jwTzeSFuP3 pic.twitter.com/nrSuQ6bUNs— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) July 5, 2017
That's how long it took Poirier to make a statement that he is back.
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."
Today Emile Poirier spoke about his battle with alcoholism. Feeling as good as ever, he's now focused on the future. https://t.co/zySmKz1rkq pic.twitter.com/DquOmSltj0— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) July 5, 2017
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.
Woah, @spencerfoo 🔥— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) July 9, 2017
How the right winger finished off the #FlamesDevCamp. pic.twitter.com/0it7Lx2TXs
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.
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
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.
Emphasis of on-ice sessions the past two days at WinSport has been skill development. Dillon Dube is a guy I expect to have a bright future. pic.twitter.com/JBB1rKacaI— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) July 7, 2017
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."
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.
Serving up goals, assists and a delicious Chicken Parm, talented #Flames prospect Andrew Mangiapane has impressed. https://t.co/hGx5XSsXAV pic.twitter.com/k6LO9WLKIS— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) July 7, 2017
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.
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!
Spencer Foo vs. Tyler Parsons in the shootout ... a must-see. pic.twitter.com/EiUOTQih9Q— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) July 7, 2017
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.
Recent Flames Reading:
- 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)
- Development Camp 2017: Eight Prospects to Watch - In some cases, they may not necessarily be the most talented, well-known or top-ranked prospects, but nonetheless, here are eight guys that are Calgary property who I'm intrigued to watch this week. (July 4, 2017)
- Six-Year-Plan: Two New Additions Bolster Flames Defensive Corp Now and for Later - Brad Treliving went to Chicago looking for a top-four defenceman. Instead, he came home with two of them. A look at how Calgary's D stacks up now and in the future. (June 24, 2017)