The Pipeline: Seven Contenders for Calgary's Next Starter

Ryan Pike
November 21 2012 10:13AM

 

 

About two years ago, the Calgary Flames had a bit of a problem.

Star goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff had gotten up in years and was turning 34 years old. People began to openly wonder how long Kiprusoff could continue carrying the club on his back, net-minding wise. Unfortunately, the Flames didn't have much in the tank for up-and-coming goalies, save for maybe Leland Irving, who was struggling to cement himself as a number-one netminder in the AHL.

Flash forward to late 2012, and things are a bit more complicated and arguably a bit rosier for the organization.

Back-up netminder Henrik Karlsson joined the club as a 26-year-old and failed to set the world on fire in two years as Kiprusoff's back-up, to the point where the Flames actually called up Irving from the AHL and sat Karlsson when it was time for Kiprusoff to take a night off. (It has been generally accepted around hockey circles that Karlsson's time in the Flames organization is running low.) However, beyond Karlsson, the Flames now have seven other goaltenders in the system hoping to eventually replace Kiprusoff at the NHL level.

To profile these seven players, we've called upon Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild to help us out.

“It's an interesting mix, no doubt,” noted Goldman of the Flames' depth chart. “You've got some Canadian goaltenders. You have a couple of Finnish goaltenders. You've got some guys playing in the WHL. You've got some guys playing in Finland. I mean, one guy in the NCAA now with Jon Gillies. It's definitely an interesting mix.”

The Depth Chart

LAURENT BROSSOIT 

Age: 19

Birthplace: Surrey, British Columbia

Club: Edmonton Oil Kings (Western Hockey League)

Acquired: Calgary's sixth round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft

A Vancouver kid playing in Edmonton but drafted by Calgary, Brossoit had an excellent year last season. He won 42 games and was the MVP in the playoffs as the Oil Kings won the WHL crown. He went to the Memorial Cup and wasn't great, but his underlying numbers during the regular season were so high that they had nowhere to go but down. Now an established WHL starter, he's being spelled off by the highly-touted 2013 NHL Draft prospect Tristan Jarry in Edmonton, so he should be fresh down the stretch. He's a fundamentally sound goaltender, but has shown the tendency to get on streaks at times.

“The expectations are extremely high for him,” shared Goldman. “Everyone knows that he really, really developed fast, or developed to an insane degree, last season. Maybe he didn't have the kind of Memorial Cup tournament that he had liked, but if you look at it from my perspective, that's okay. It's not about winning the championships all the time, it's not about having this prestigious resume when you turn pro. It's about experience, and I think he would be the first one to tell you that down the line, when he's 23 or 24 years old, he's going to look back on that rough Memorial Cup experience and say 'I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about what it takes to win in the biggest games of my life.'”

BARRY BRUST 

Age: 29

Birthplace: Swan River, Manitoba

Club: Abbotsford Heat (American Hockey League)

Acquired: Signed to an AHL contract as a free agent

One of two veterans signed to American League deals in Abbotsford, Brust is a very interesting goalie. He's played in the NHL in the past, suiting up for 11 games with the Los Angeles Kings. He didn't exactly set the world on fire, and he's spent the majority of his 20s bouncing around the AHL, ECHL and Europe. Returning to this continent after a year in Germany, Brust has been excellent for the Heat so far. Granted, he's played four games, but his numbers are sick.

He's also one of the rare AHL netminders that is willing to throw his body around to keep the opposition off-balance. His age may make the Flames less willing to explore an NHL deal for him as they would for someone like Danny Taylor, though.

JON GILLIES

Age: 18

Birthplace: South Portland, Maine

Club: Providence College Friars (Hockey East / NCAA)

Acquired: Calgary's third round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft

He's big and he's from New England, and those two facts make Jon Gillies quite unique. He's also jumped into the deep-end of the NCAA with both feet as a starter in the competitive Hockey East conference. After winning 30 games in the USHL last year, he's playing on an arguably weaker college team but he's holding them in every game. It's rare for a freshman to jump into college and become the starter right away, but Gillies has shown he can hack it.

“He's way down there on the depth chart, but he's a really good, legitimate prospect,” said Goldman. “[He] has the size, has that USHL experience, was one of the top goalies there last season. And even now with Providence, as a freshman, he's stepped in and he's been huge for them.”

LELAND IRVING

Age: 24

Birthplace: Barrhead, Alberta

Club: Abbotsford Heat (American Hockey League)

Acquired: Calgary's first round pick in the 2006 NHL Draft

If a bolt of lightning struck Henrik Karlsson right now (and then the lockout ended) Leland Irving would be in the National Hockey League. At this point, I'm not certain if it's by default or by internal attrition. Irving bounced between Calgary and Abbotsford last year, but was generally out-played by Danny Taylor for Abbotsford. Oddly, he was good enough to keep the Calgary Flames in hockey games even though they were being out-played during his NHL stint, which is likely why the team bothered to re-sign him this off-season.

Irving has generally been excellent when partnered with a back-up who's green as grass (Matt Keetley and Joni Ortio) and wilted when pressured with a veteran back-up (David Shantz and Danny Taylor). Given that tendency, how will he fare long-term in the NHL?

And the broader question is after four full pro seasons for Irving (and part-way through a fifth), do the Calgary Flames have any better idea of his potential at the NHL level?

JONI ORTIO

Age: 21

Birthplace: Turku, Finland

Club: HIFK Helsinki (SM-Liiga)

Acquired: Calgary's sixth round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft

It's doubtful there is a more perplexing goalie in the system than Joni Ortio. The young Fin jumped over the Atlantic to join the Heat last season but didn't get a heck of a lot of ice-time and struggled in his limited appearances. Eventually, it was decided that Ortio should return to Finland to get some games under his belt.

Now that the Heat have three goalies on the roster, Ortio stayed overseas and is cemented as the number-one guy for HIFK Helsinki. He's been excellent for his club so far, but will need to get more than 10 North American starts under his belt in order to get used to the smaller ice. That is, if he wants to become a Flames netminder someday.

It's getting alittle crowded in the crease, so unless somebody higher up on the depth chart falters, Ortio may not get that chance.

KARRI RAMO

Age: 26

Birthplace: Asikkala, Finland

Club: Avangard Omsk (Kontinental Hockey League)

Acquired: In a trade from Montreal with Michael Cammalleri and a fifth round draft pick in exchange for Rene Bourque, Patrick Holland and a second round draft pick.

Last year it appeared that Leland Irving was the undisputed heir apparent to Miikka Kiprusoff. Then the Flames acquired the rights to Karri Ramo in the Bourque trade and everything suddenly changed.

The comparisons to Miikka Kiprusoff are pretty obvious: both are from Finland and both have extensive European experience. Both sort of bounced around the NHL and AHL throughout their early 20s. Finally, both were about the same age when the Flames acquired their rights with an eye towards stabilizing their goaltending situation (actually, Kipper was 28).

Ramo's been excellent in the KHL for Avangard Omsk and his contract in Russia is up at the end of this season, which frees him up to possibly come back to North America next year.

“They have this guy fulfilling the last year of his contract in Russia,” said Goldman. “He does have legitimate NHL upside. He's a very good prospect, a very good goaltender, that has a very good pedigree under his name.”

DANNY TAYLOR

Age: 26

Birthplace: Plymouth, England

Club: Abbotsford Heat (American Hockey League)

Acquired: Signed to an AHL contract as a free agent

Last but not least is Danny Taylor. A mere two months older than Karri Ramo, Taylor has played an entire NHL period in relief with the Kings a few years ago, and has since bounced around the AHL, ECHL and Europe. Brought to Abbotsford as a stop-gap measure when Joni Ortio was sent back to Europe and Leland Irving was called up to Calgary, Taylor was fantastic last year. He has carried that performance through to this season and remains Troy Ward's incumbent starter on the farm. Everyone's been waiting for Taylor's numbers to come crashing back down to Earth, but they have yet to do so. If things keep up, he may be a candidate for an NHL contract in the near-future.

The two big questions are whether he can keep this level of play up, and which current NHL contracted goalie he would supplant.

“Calgary has a very good goalie in Danny Taylor and I am blown away that he hasn't been signed by an NHL team yet,” said Goldman. “Yes, he's a little bit older. Yes, he's bounced around a little bit, but everywhere he's played, except for that really small stint he had in LA, he's been really good. He was unreal for Springfield [in 2011-12]. He stepped into some really tough situations. That team had goalie injuries all season long with Columbus and with Springfield, he just stepped in and did his thing.”

CONCLUSION

Miikka Kiprusoff is 36 years old. When the 2013-14 season begins, he'll be entering the last year of his contract and be turning 37 years old in October. He's a very valuable commodity to the Flames – as the only netminder in club history to win a Vezina – but the clock is ticking on his NHL career. That's not to say the Flames are in any hurry to flip him for assets, but at some point the next Flames starter will need to be found.

There are seven players in the pipeline who could be that next starter. But with hockey and player development being as unpredictable as they are, for all we know, the next Flames starter may be somewhere else entirely.

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Ryan Pike is a Calgary native and FlamesNation's managing editor. He's covered the Flames and the NHL since 2010. His work can also be found at The Hockey Writers and The Wrestling Observer.
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#1 Mark
November 21 2012, 10:30AM
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It would be really nice to have some sort of rankings on these seven as to who they "best" goalies are now or who has the best chance to take over for ole'kip. Comparable? Upside? Was really looking for these different things even tho it is so difficult to determine how a goalie will develop.

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#2 bookofloob
November 21 2012, 10:37AM
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Rammo might be the guy. WAY too early to tell with Brossoit and Gillies. But I don't see any of the Abby Three or Ortio ever being the incumbents to Kipper. They'd all make decent backups.

Think Calgary is going to have to go after a free agent to cement their future if Rammo doesn't pan out

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#3 Mark
November 21 2012, 10:42AM
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And to add another thing,

WHEN WE SIGN RAMO TO AN NHL CONTRACT CAN HE STILL KEEP THOSE GORGEOUS PADS!!

Those would work perfectly with the flames home, away and heritage jerseys.

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#4 Clay
November 21 2012, 12:19PM
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My view

Ramo is incumbent, but Gillies is the most interesting prospect we have.

I can also see Danny Taylor being given a shot as a backup. A nice Jamie McLennan like journeyman backup is needed here to help smooth the growing pains.

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#5 T&A4Flames
November 21 2012, 02:35PM
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Don't count out guys like Taylor and particularly Brust, who I think plays a little like Tim Thomas. Thomas was picked up as a FA in 2002, at the age of 28, I believe. He didn't really play any games until the 2005-06 season, at the age of 31. Look at his achievements over that time. Not to bad. It old happen with our 2 guys, you never know.

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#6 Baalzamon
November 21 2012, 03:17PM
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Taylor was brought in before Ortio was loaned to TPS, not after. It annoyed me A LOT at the time, because I figured Ortio would be Irving's backup. Instead, he was the 3rd stringer because they brought in Taylor for no reason (as I saw it). Then, I thought he'd finally see some game action again with Irving in the NHL--instead, Taylor started EVERY SINGLE GAME!!!! and then Ortio went to Finland and started off with 2 shutouts in 3 starts.

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#7 Johny Bones
November 21 2012, 04:35PM
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Out of all those guys, Ramo seems the most likely to take over Kippers job down the road. I like the upside in both Brossoit and Gillies, particularly the American. Ortio seems like a wild card to me, but from the all the prospect updates it seems like he's doing quite good. Danny Taylor is one guy that really interests me, though. If he continues to play like he has in the AHL, he could very well be picked up by a another team next year to serve as their backup. He'd already be serving as the Flames regular backup if he wasn't on an AHL deal only.

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