Thursday, September 14, 2017

Training Camp Primer: A Run-Down of Who's Who Including 10 Players to Watch

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Zero down, 45 cuts to go.


Calgary Flames main training camp gets going Thursday morning at WinSport with fitness testing. On Friday, the scene shifts to the familiar confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome where three groups of skaters will take to the ice for the first time.


After three days of practices, it's game time with a pair of split-squad games against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday to kick off the preseason.


There are a whopping 68 players in camp -- 40 forwards, 21 defencemen and 7 goaltenders. Man, that's a lot of gear going a lot of different places. Keep the tireless Mark DePasquale, Corey Osmak, Dean Hood, Ben Dumaine and the rest of the club's equipment staff in your thoughts the next couple of weeks.


That's not even everybody in the organization either. Absent from camp are seven players enrolled in college or playing in Europe:

  • D Adam Fox, Harvard (2016, 3rd round)
  • C Linus Lindstrom, Sweden (2016, 4th round)
  • C Mitchell Mattson, North Dakota (2016, 5th round)
  • C Pavel Karnaukhov, Russia (2015, 5th round)
  • RW Eetu Tuulola, Finland (2016, 6th round)
  • D Rushan Rafikov, Russia (2013, 7th round)
  • LW Filip Sveningsson, Sweden (2017, 7th round)

The team comes into camp very healthy. The only player missing camp due to an injury is 2017 sixth rounder D'Artagnan Joly, who has a bad back. Also sidelined at development camp, he has been returned to his QMJHL team.

When the Flames hit the ice, they'll do so in three groups named after past coaching greats Al MacNeil, Bob Johnson and Terry Crisp. Ice times for Friday, Saturday and Sunday are 9 am, 11 am and 1 pm and all sessions are open to the public.

Groupings and practice times for each are available here on the Flames website.


For an overview of who's who in the zoo, here is a breakdown of every player that is in town, trying to crack Calgary's season-opening roster, which can be a maximum of 23 players.


I've bucketed the 68 players into 10 categories:



1. Locks at Goaltender (2)


As straight forward as it comes., these two veterans will form your NHL tandem:

  • 31 - G Eddie Lack
  • 41 - G Mike Smith

Noteworthy


When Eddie Lack was last spotted in the Western Conference, the lanky Swede appeared to be well on his way to a solid NHL career. But his two years in Carolina did not go so well. Now the jury is out on what to expect from the easy-going 29-year-old. Reunited with Glen Gulutzan and with goaltender coach Jordan Sigalet determined to revert his style to what worked in the past, there's reason to believe Lack can regain his form from 2014-15 when he posted a .921 save percentage with the Canucks. But with one year to go on his contract, if he doesn't bounce back, there are options just a short flight away in Jon Gillies and David Rittich. Both are champing at the bit for some NHL playing time.



Player to Watch


Welcome to the jungle, Mike Smith. He is ecstatic to be out of Arizona and in an organization with the potential to not just make the playoffs, but go a few rounds too. But careful what you wish for. With playing in a market that expects to win, not just hopes to win, the scrutiny and the heat of the spotlight will be far more intense than in Glendale. Smith is getting up there at age 35 but always known as a tremendous athlete, there's no reason to believe he doesn't have at least one more good season in him, if not two. What he brings the team is a track record of being a bona fide No. 1 and that's not a luxury Calgary has enjoyed lately.




2. Locks at Forward (11)

There are no question marks here, other than how the third line might be configured and who of the many that are capable of doing it, end up playing their off-wing:
  • 10 - RW Kris Versteeg
  • 11 - C Mikael Backlund
  • 13 - LW Johnny Gaudreau
  • 18 - C Matt Stajan
  • 19 - LW Matthew Tkachuk
  • 20 - C/RW Curtis Lazar
  • 23 - C Sean Monahan
  • 36 - RW Troy Brouwer
  • 67 - RW Michael Frolik
  • 79 - LW Micheal Ferland
  • 93 - C Sam Bennett

Noteworthy

Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are both in camp, healthy, and ready to go. That puts the team way further ahead of where they were at a year ago in the first season for Glen Gulutzan season behind the bench. As you may recall, Monahan was bothered by a strained back for most of the pre-season a year ago and Gaudreau was back home in New Jersey, waiting for his contract to get done. Both were ready just in time for the season opener, but as it turns out, they --  nor the team -- were really ready.




Player to Watch

Not that long ago, there was a real fear that Sam Bennett was going to be AWOL when camp began. But the two sides found a middle ground that worked and with a two-year deal for just under $4 million in his back pocket, now it's up to Bennett to begin that sharp ascent upwards that many people have been impatiently waiting for since he was selected one pick after Leon Draisaitl in the 2014 NHL Draft. Should he take his production where many think it's possible to go, he will earn a nice bump in pay in two years time.



3. Forward Bubble (9)

The battle for the two or three forwards jobs (depending on whether Gulutzan keeps a 23-man roster or goes with a leaner 22-man group) is going to be intense. Joining a couple veterans on PTOs that are desperate to stay in the league, another nine forwards already under contract also have a legitimate chance of opening the season on the NHL roster:

  • 15 - RW Spencer Foo
  • 17 - LW Luke Gazdic
  • 21 - RW Garnet Hathaway
  • 25 - C/RW Freddie Hamilton
  • 28 - RW Emile Poirier
  • 46 - LW/C Marek Hrivik
  • 49 - LW Hunter Shinkaruk
  • 74 - RW Daniel Pribyl
  • 77 - C Mark Jankowski

Noteworthy

Emile Poirier's conquering of his two-year battle with sobriety was the feel-good story of the off-season. With his life turned around, now can he turn around his hockey career? It's the great question and we're about to find out. In a very small sampling, he looked excellent at development camp, now that sample size gets a little bigger. Know that all Flames fans will be rooting on the right-winger, who two years ago I had as the No. 2 prospect in the organization behind Bennett.  

Player to Watch

Given his age, size, experience and pedigree, 23-year-old Mark Jankowski was supposed to be one of the best players in Penticton, and he was. Tipping the scale 40 pounds heavier than when he was drafted 21st overall as a scrawny, high school kid in 2012, the 6-foot-5, 210 pound centre is a giant, imposing man now. When you add in his high-end puck skills, he looks like a sure bet to become an NHL regular, the only question being how soon and what is his ceiling.





4. Locks on Defence (5)

Barring injuries, these are your top five with absolutely zero debate:
  • 5 - D Mark Giordano
  • 7 - D TJ Brodie
  • 24 - D Travis Hamonic
  • 26 - D Michael Stone
  • 27 - D Dougie Hamilton

Noteworthy

The TJ Brodie apologists were out in full force last year with the finger of blame for Brodie's sub-standard season pointed squarely at his D partner, Dennis Wideman. But don't kid yourself, it wasn't all that. This also wasn't the same calibre of Brodie that had taken such giant strides in previous years that had him the buzz of the league for a while and earned him Norris Trophy votes two seasons earlier. He'll need to clean up the uncharacteristic errors and poor decisions that hurt his overall game last year, which had nothing to do with who he was on the ice with.  

Player to Watch

Poached out of Brooklyn and delighted to be returning 'home' to Western Canada, Travis Hamonic can't wait to get the season started. The enthusiasm gushing out of him in July when he was unveiled to the media has been a high that I'm hearing he has still not come down off. If he can find the form that once had the 27-year-old on the path to being one of the better defencemen in the NHL, Calgary's blueline will be in terrific shape. Hamonic isn't just a snarly, stay-at-home guy either. Gulutzan noted on the weekend how pleasantly surprised he was with how well he skates. The coach says he likes his mobility and there's a lot more two-way in Hamonic's game than many might be expecting.





5. Defence Bubble (4)

With two jobs up for grabs on the blueline, here are the internal options. Rounding out the field will be the guys on PTOs:
  • 26 - D Tyler Wotherspoon
  • 44 - D Matt Bartkowski
  • 54 - D Rasmus Andersson
  • 61 - D Brett Kulak

Noteworthy

The only guy that can go down to the minors without having to clear waivers is Rasmus Andersson and that's probably what his ultimate fate will be. While the young Swede projects to be the best defenceman of the group down the road, I don't think it's Andersson's time quite yet, especially with the way the right side stacks up with Hamilton, Hamonic and Stone. The right-shooting defenceman spent four weeks in the NHL late last season and I don't doubt he'll get some more big league time this year, but logging top-pairing minutes and further developing his game in the AHL would be the smart move.

Player to Watch

Brett Kulak, it's your time to shine. So close to making the Flames NHL roster for good the last couple seasons, there aren't any big ticket veterans standing in the way anymore. The 23-year-old just has to go out there and keep things simple, make smart first passes, use his speed to jump up in the rush, while at the same time building the coach's trust in his defensive game. Once he gets over the hump, he is capable of establishing himself as a real nice 5-6 option for years to come.



6. Veterans on PTOs (6)

Six players are in camp on professional try-outs, each of them hoping to impress enough to earn a contract for the 2017-18 season, whether that be an NHL deal or an AHL deal:
  • 39 - D Daniel Maggio
  • 48 - D Colby Robak
  • 51 - LW Tanner Glass
  • 55 - D Dylan Olsen
  • 57 - LW Joel Lowry
  • 64 - LW Joseph Cramarossa

Noteworthy

Daniel Maggio is most famous for being the guy who knocked Brian McGrattan out cold in that frightening AHL fight two years ago in San Antonio. The 26-year-old has never played an NHL game and last year spent 33 games with the Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL). Let's face it, he's not here to make the Flames, but I would not be surprised to see him in the line-up in Edmonton on Monday night during the split squad games. The other name you may wonder about is Joel Lowry. Indeed, he is Adam Lowry's older brother. Their Dad is ex-Flame Dave Lowry, who is back in the NHL this season as an assistant coach in Los Angeles.


Player to Watch

If you're seeking a venti-sized shit-disturber, one guy to closely watch is the cantankerous Joseph Cramarossa and this is a player the Flames know very well. Last year, the 24-year-old dropped the gloves with both Matthew Tkachuk (in his first first NHL fight) and Alex Chiasson. The flare-up with Chiasson was preceded by an aggressive stick to the midsection on Chiasson, as the two lined up for a face-off, just to get the ex-Flames' blood simmering. Calgary was very interested in him last year when the Ducks reluctantly put him on waivers after the acquisition of Patrick Eaves, but Vancouver claimed him. Cramarossa was a third round pick of the Ducks in 2011 and his nasty edge would look good in the line-up when the Flames play in Anaheim in the third game of the season.


7. Rookie Camp Invitee Holdovers (8)

Eight players were invited to rookie camp and got in at least one game in Penticton. In a somewhat surprising move, all eight got to extend their stay in Calgary after being invited to main camp also.
  • 50 - F Mark Rassell
  • 73 - D Cliff Watson
  • 78 - D Tyson Helgesen
  • 80 - C Glenn Gawdin
  • 84 - C Brad Morrison
  • 89 - F Sam Dove-McFalls
  • 97 - F Ben Hawerchuk
  • 98 - D Sam Ruopp

Noteworthy

All of the players listed above can return to major junior with two exceptions. Cliff Watson is looking for NHL employment after finishing his fourth and final year at Michigan Tech. The last two years he served as the Huskies' captain. Sam Ruopp is in a similar situation. After completing his overage season at Prince George, the feisty 6-foot-3 blueliner (suspended 8 games, and also 5 games once) is looking to take the next step in his hockey career. An unsigned fifth round pick by Columbus in 2015, Ruopp also has a reputation as a leader having captained the Cougars the last three seasons.

Player to Watch

Glenn Gawdin got into all three games in Penticton and that's usually an indication that a team has some genuine interest in you. A fourth round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2015, they chose not to sign him and that opened up the door for the Flames, who have liked him since they interviewed him two years ago at the NHL Scouting Combine. Gawdin, who captained Swift Current (WHL) last year, missed 40-plus games over the last two seasons due to a myriad of injuries.

More on Gawdin here, as I spoke to him on the weekend in Penticton.


8. AHL-Only Deals (5)

These are players under contract with Stockton only and are ineligible to play for Calgary. They will play either in Stockton or Kansas City, which is the new home to the Flames ECHL affiliate:
  • 37 - C Rod Pelley
  • 43 - D Kayle Doetzel
  • 53 - D Oleg Yevenko
  • 68 - D Adam Ollas Mattsson
  • 76 - C Brett Findlay

Noteworthy

Replacing Stockton captain Mike Angelidis (signed in Austria) as that need-to-have veteran presence to provide leadership, experience and help guide the organization's young prospects is Rod Pelley. The 33-year-old from Kitimat, B.C., has been with the New Jersey Devils organization for most of the last 11 years since graduating from Ohio State in 2006. He logged over 200 NHL games with the Devils before being part of the Kyle Palmeiri trade with Anaheim. In his last NHL tour of duty, he logged 45 games with the Ducks in 2011-12. But the NHL is an afterthought now. Pelley has spent the last five seasons exclusively in the AHL, the last four as captain of the Albany Devils.


Player to Watch

Meet Oleg Yevenko, a massive man and a smart dude. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Belarusian defenceman, who loves to play physical, impressed Flames staff in a four-game audition with Adirondack (AHL) two years ago after wrapping up his final year at UMass-Amherst (NCAA). But Columbus successfully courted Yevenko that summer and after impressing at training camp, the Blue Jackets signed him to a one-year, two-way NHL deal. They re-signed him to the same deal again last year before becoming a free agent this summer. Yevenko was one of only eight players in Hockey East to receive Distinguished Scholar status in his senior year. He also qualified for the HE All-Academic Team all four of his years. He's been a fixture for Belarus in International competitions the last three years.


9. Junior Eligible (6)

There are a bunch of organizational guys that could return to junior and all but a couple are locks to do so:
  • 42 - D Juuso Valimaki
  • 47 - RW Matthew Phillips
  • 48 - RW Zach Fischer
  • 59 - C/LW Dillon Dube
  • 63 - C Adam Ruzicka
  • 70 - G Nick Schneider
  • 82 - G Tyler Parsons

Noteworthy

The one guy on the list I fully expect to turn pro is Tyler Parsons. There's nothing left for this young man to prove in the OHL so it's time for the organization's top prospect to take his talents to the next level, which for a goalie is the ECHL. The Flames will want Parsons playing in the AHL eventually but for now, Kansas City is a good place to start and then see what happens from there. It will only take one injury at the NHL or AHL level and Parsons will be packing his bags and stepping on a plane. Juuso Valimaki will also be a hot topic but at age 18, it is very, very doubtful he makes the team this year.  


Player to Watch

I was thoroughly impressed with the all-round game of Zach Fischer in Penticton. I wrote about him on a couple of occasions including this extended take complete with coach and teammate insight after the Flames 6-2 win over Vancouver on Sunday. Passed over in the NHL draft in each of his first two years of eligibility, Calgary selected him in round 5 this year after a breakout season in every way one could have a breakout -- goals (from 8 to 34), points (from 13 to 63), penalty minutes (from 15 to 145). After bulking up last off-season, I don't doubt he crushed a bunch more meat lovers' pizzas last year as well, compared to 2015-16.



10. Minor-League Bound (11)

These are guys that with one exception played a majority of last season in the minors -- Stockton mostly, but also Adirondack -- and are very likely to return there to start this season:
  • 32 - G Jon Gillies
  • 33 - G David Rittich
  • 45 - LW Morgan Klimchuk
  • 56 - C Ryan Lomberg
  • 58 - D Oliver Kylington
  • 60 - C Brett Pollock
  • 62 - RW Austin Carroll
  • 72 - G Mason McDonald
  • 71 - RW Hunter Smith
  • 85 - D Josh Healey
  • 88 - LW Andrew Mangiapane

Noteworthy

Everyone listed has put in at least a little bit of time in Stockton including heavy-hitting Josh Healey, who squeezed in a couple games at the end of last year after graduating from Ohio Sate. Jon Gillies and David Rittich ended up splitting the AHL starts after Christmas so expect a good battle between them right off the hop as he each pushes to get the opening night assignment from Ryan Huska.

Player to Watch

Scrappy Ryan Lomberg is always going to carry a label of player to watch. In his third year in the organization now, this is the first time he hasn't started at rookie camp. Having to wait like that before getting on the ice could be like holding a bucking bronco in the chute for an extra few minutes. Now we'll sit back and see how he buzzes around and gets himself noticed because you know he will find a way.





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:
  • Penticton 2017: Flames 1, Jets 4 - It was an awful game but there was still enough fodder contained within for me to recap -- for better or worse -- some weekend talking points. I also get pretty aggressive with my dentist appointment analogies. (September 12, 2017)
  • Penticton 2017: Flames 6, Canucks 2 - Calgary was much better in game 2, led by strong performances from Spencer Foo, Rasmus Andersson and Zach Fischer. More on them and other anecdotes in my six post-game impressions. (September, 11, 2017)
  • No Deja Vu: Gulutzan Explains Why this Year's Start Will be Different - Had a chance for a one-on-one interview with Glen Gulutzan in which the Flames coach talked candidly about last year's bad start, what happened, and why it shouldn't repeat itself. (September 10, 2017)
  • Penticton 2017: Flames 2, Oilers 4 - My six post-game impressions from the Flames opening night loss to Edmonton includes a pretty good night for Mark Jankowski, an impressive outing from Juuso Valimaki. More on them and other observations. (September 8, 2017) 
  • Draw to Remember: Jankowski on the Art of the Face-off and his Moment of Glory - One night in Brooklyn. Of the over 1,000 face-offs Mark Jankowski took last season, there was one in particular that stood out and will always be a lasting memory. (September 8, 2017) 


3 comments:

  1. Any guesses on a wild card to make the team that no one was expecting?

    Would love to see Oleg Yevenko in the NHL (at least Game 1 against the oilers!)...G Rittich to make the team if Lack completely blows in training camp and start of the season?

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    Replies
    1. I think Cramarossa makes it. Not sure that's a wild card, but I know they really like him -- fast but with some snarl and highly competitive.

      My other darkhorse is Tyler Wotherspoon. He's become the forgotten man yet he was brought back. He's got lots of AHL experience and played his best hockey, reportedly, in the second half of last season. Could he be the 7th D-man over Matt Bartkowski? I wouldn't rule it out.

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