July 16 2013 10:06AM
With Prospect Development Camp almost at an end, intrigue builds as to which prospects participating have a shot at the big club come October and what the lines might look like once the season opener rolls around. The 2013/14 Flames will undoubtedly feature an unseen blend of youth and veteran presence and will likely carry the youngest average age the team has seen in a decade.
Many guys at the prospect camp impressed and excited Flames fans with a glimpse of what the future might hold for the franchise. It is however important to maintain perspective and know that even though particular prospects excelled, they did so against lesser competition in a scrimmage setting. Nonetheless the future is bright and there are a number of the players attending said camp that could sneak a taste of the show as soon as next season.
The Young Guns
Roman Horak and Sven Baertschi seem to be the locks to make the team at this point with Corban Knight, Sean Monahan and Max Reinhart also looking like strong possibilities for the opening day roster. Other guys like Kenny Agostino and Johnny Gaudreau probably posses the talent and ability to make the transition to pro for the upcoming season but have both chosen to return to college. The Flames don't have many roster spots left anyways and the team isn't going to meaningfully comepte in 2013-14, so there's no reason to rush those guys at this point.
The good news is we can expect them both to make their NHL debut's as soon as the end of this upcoming year. Agostino is a senior and will likely sign his Entry Level Contract upon completion of his college season. Gaudreau - who is going into his junior (penultimate) year of college - recently revealed to Darren Haynes that he's leaning towards bypassing his senior year at BC and debuting for the Flames at the completion of his college season.
So in theory, we could see them both at the tail end of the 2013/14 NHL regular season, although Agostino may need to spend some time proving himself in the AHL. Gaudreau, on the other hand, may be the sort of talent who can skip that intermediate step.
Markus Granlund is another guy who made a positive impression at dev camp and looks like he could potentially make a bid for a roster spot. However a skilled, offensive minded point getter like Granlund needs at least Top 9 minutes to be effective and there doesn't look to be much room on the wings or at center for Calgary outside the 4th line. In addition, this will be his first year in
The defensemen are a completely different story. While that area of the prospect cupboard is stocked efficiently, there doesn't look to be anyone in particular currently at the camp that could legitimately compete for a spot -barring injury. Mark Cundari - who is not at the camp - seems to be the only rookie blueliner that will have a real shot at cracking the Top 6 come October with Chris Breen also having an outside shot. Tyler Wotherspoon is probably the most NHL ready of the D-men at camp but that speaks more to the un-readiness of the group as a whole than to where Wotherspoon is as a player. A full year in Abbotsford for Tyler would be ideal before he takes the next step.
In goal, Reto Berra - the elder statesmen of the group - will get a chance to compete with favourite Karri Ramo and journeyman Joey MacDonald for the starting position, but will likely find himself in Abbotsford as well. There he'll do battle with Joni Ortio and Laurent Brossoit for one of the two jobs up for grabs. Berra and Ortio are the favourites to land the two spots leaving Laurent Brossoit on the outside looking in.
A return to the WHL for his overage season seems unlikely - especially with young stud Tristan Jarry chomping at the bit to take over between the pipes in
Now, let's throw in the youngsters in with whatever NHLers the Flames still have on their roster and see how it all shakes down...
The depressing deficiency at center will be a hot topic again this season, although the 2013/14 edition of the Calgary Flames will likely feature a couple possible future solutions to the problem. Both Corban Knight and Sean Monahan seem destined for the opening day roster and both carry considerable potential with them. I expect them along with Mikael Backlund to fill the Top 3 center positions with Matt Stajan either playing wing or returning to his familiar 4th line pivot position.
Yes, Stajan is probably a better NHLer at this point than Knight and Monahan, but this season has been sold to the fans as a year to give the youngsters a shot to strut their stuff. That said, Stajan on the 4th line is unlikely to happen for a couple of reasons:
1) He's in the final year of his deal and if the Flames can showcase him and inflate his numbers a bit they might be able to trade him for real assets and
2) They want to ice the best roster possible and as mentioned previously, Matt Stajan is a superior NHLer than the other guys mentioned (before you guys go nuts on me, keep in mind neither Monahan nor Knight have played a second of NHL hockey).
I however see no other place where he fits in without displacing someone I'd rather not see displaced, so Matty, be a good sport and suffer through one more year of grinding out 8 minutes a night.
Last season, the Flames tried to solve their center ice dilemma by plugging wingers like Alex Tanguay and Mike Cammalleri into that spot, however given the circumstances this year, we are unlikely to see that. On the wings, the Flames actually have some decent depth to play around with. Mike Cammalleri, Curtis Glencross along with Jiri Hudler and Sven Baertschi will probably be the go to wingers occupying the four Top 6 wing positions with Lee Stempniak and David Jones working the 3rd unit for Calgary. Again, an argument could be made (don't make it) for either Jones or Stempniak being superior NHLers than Baertschi at the moment, but the guy can clearly play at this level and a top 6 spot is exactly what he needs to spread his wings and break out.
So with the Top 9 sorted out, that leaves us at the 4th and final line which is anyone's guess. Face punchers Tim Jackman and Brian MacGrattan will compete with youngsters like Roman Horak, Blair Jones and Max Reinhart for the three available spots. TJ Galiardi is another guy who likely figures into Calgary's bottom 6 and right now the only available spot I see for him is on the 4th unit. It's a shame because Galiardi still has decent potential and could blossom if given the opportunity to - but I just don't see where he figures in, absent a Cammalleri trade, which would shuffle things a bit.
In all likelihood, the press box will be securely guarded by at least one of the tough guys at all times this year and the young guns along with Galiardi will cycle in and out of the line up based on merit. Who knows? As weird as it is to say it, I think the 4th line will be one of the more interesting situations to monitor at camp this fall.
So having said all that, here's what I think it could look like come opening night, barring injuries of course:
(Note: Since guys tend to switch wings at times during the year, I ditched the LW/RW for a simple W as in wing)
Line 1: Curtis Glencross - Mikael Backlund - Mike Cammalleri
Line 2: Sven Baertschi - Corban Knight - Jiri Hudler
Lee Stempniak - Sean Monahan - David Jones
Line 4: Tim Jackman/TJ Galiardi - Matt Stajan - Roman Horak/Brian McGrattan
Special Teams: Everyone within the Top 9 will probably see some power play timea, although expect Glencross, Cammalleri and Hudler to feature prominently with Baertschi, Stempniak and Backlund likely getting their reps as well. This year and the PK will probably be the same as last year - run by committee.
I'll be intrigued to see if Hartley tries out an "all kid" PP line to inject some creativity and young blood into what has been somewhat of a stale advantage at times. I mean boy, how great would it be to see Baertschi, Knight and Monahan work magic with the man advantage?
The back-end is a little easier to sort out as there hasn't been a lot of movement in terms of transactions. Press-box regulars Cory Sarich and Anton Babchuck departed the team and Shayne O'Brien joined via Colorado. Mark Giordano is the team's undisputed number one defensemen now with Bouwmeester gone and that probably makes Dennis Wideman number two on the depth chart. TJ Brodie is #3 right now and could move up the rotation if he continues to develop as rapidly as he did last season. Mark Cundari had a nice run with Brodie to end the as eason and could get that chance again as a result, meaning Gio and Wideman could very well end up the top pairing with the two 23-year olds rounding out the top 4.
The Flames have plenty of depth defensemen with the likes of Shayne O'Brien, Chris Butler, Derek Smith and Chris Breen will likely battle it out for the last two spots. I mentioned earlier Tyler Wotherspoon is one of the most NHL ready defensemen prospects and while he may get a look in training camp, his regular season debut may be via call up later in the year as a result of an injury or just plain merit. Some AHL seasoning under Troy Ward in Abbotsford could be the perfect stepping stone for Wotherspoon on his route to the big leagues.
The Flames could very well do what they did last season and carry 7 defensemen to keep everyone on their toes and working their hardest to maintain their spot in the line-up.
So in principle, that would equate to this:
Pairing 1: Mark Giordano - Dennis Wideman
Pairing 2: TJ Brodie - Mark Cundari
Pairing 3: Chris Butler - Shayne O'Brien
Derek Smith/Crhis Breen
Special Teams: The power play may see a forward - namely Mike Cammalleri - play one of the defense positions but nonetheless its safe to say that Giordano and Wideman will both be relied on. The offensive upside on D thins out considerably after those two, although Brodie and Cundari have both shown flashes of offensive acumen at other levels. As for the PK, you're likely to see a lot of the top pairing plus a helping of Chris Butler and especially a bigger guy like Shane O'Brien (or Breen if he makes the team).
5 guys, 2 NHL spots and 2 AHL spots. Oh, it'll be a battle. I'd like to believe it's anyone's game - I mean how fun would a Brossoit/Ortio NHL tandem be - but when you sneak a peek at NHLNumbers, you'll find it's really not anyone's game at all. Ramo carries the biggest cap hit and has been built up as the heir to Kirpusoff's throne so he'll will more than likely enter the year as the number one (I debuted at FN with a piece on what to expect from the 27 year old). I'd say at this point, Ramo is a 50/50 bet to turn into the starter Calgary requires.
We've seen first hand what the "best guy not in the NHL" can turn into (see: Cervenka, Roman) but they can also turn into suitable NHLers (see: Fasth, Viktor and Brunner, Damien).
Backing him up appears at this point to be Joey MacDonald. The Flames probably want a veteran presence behind Ramo who can bail him out if the "best NOT in the NHL" turns into "the worst IN the NHL". That being said, Flames brass also seem very confident in Reto Berra and if he comes into camp and impresses, he could probably wrestle the job out of MacDonald's hands. MacDonald could also be ferried to and from the AHL as necessary (he would have to be put on waivers but his being claimed is slim to none - although you never know with them Islanders) so giving Berra a chance is definitely not out of the question.
And so begins the post-Kiprusoff era:
Starter: Karri Ramo
Backup: Joey MacDonald/Reto Berra
By the way, Kiprusoff had a cool nickname (Kipper, Kip) and MacDonald's name offers the obvious one (Mac) but the other two - Ramo and Berra - to my knowledge enter the organization absent a nickname. I think it's crucial that Flames faithful brand the two with nicknames before their play brands one for them - for better or for worse.
It's also not out of the realm of possibility - especially if the injury bug bites or the season goes to hell again - that we see the other two, Ortio and Brossoit, make their Flames debut's this season, just to see what they're made of. It'll be a rollercoaster of a year for sure.
Much like the fans of every other NHL franchise, some Flames fans may look at this roster and think "not bad".
Fact is, the rest of the world - and some realistic/pessimistic Flames fans - look on the Calgary Flames' projected line-up for the 2013/14 season and ink them into the 30th hole on their projected standing order for the upcoming season. Most of the guys listed on the Flames' roster won't crack the Top 6 of almost every other NHL team - and that doesn't add up to a positive outcome. Yes, they there's a possibility the stars will align and they'll have a Blue Jacket-esque season, but the odds say they won't.
This isn't reason to fret though. The team finally has direction and a thoroughly crap season like the one we seem to embarking on is exactly what is necessary in order to build a championship calibre team. Teams like CHicago, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles struggled for yers before becoming powerhouses and for the Flames a few years of pain seems to be the only way to turn the ship around.
It's a shame that Connor McDavid is two years away from eligibility because Calgary probably won't bomb the year after this one too and he looks to be at this point, a generational - might I even say Crosby - like talent. But the 2014 crop is a good one too. Not looking as strong as 2013 but nonetheless a quality at the top end. An Aaron Ekblad on the blueline or a William Nylander up front will further the rebuild along the right path and if managment can preserve patience to rebuild the right way, all the suffering will soon be proved worth it.
So those are my projected lines at this point, let me know in the comments what you see the opening night line-up to be!