August 14 2013 08:36AM
In a mere three short weeks, after a seemingly endless summer break, Flames hockey will return. Well, sort of. All indications – including the CBA – are pointing to Flames rookie camp opening on September 3, most likely featuring the usual mix of unsigned junior draft picks and players on entry-level contracts.
The looming beginning of camp provides an opportunity to take a look at who's likely going to be in action, as well as provide a comparison to who made up the camp's roster when Jay Feaster began his tenure with the Flames.
WHO'S GONNA BE THERE?
Well, roughly 85% of Calgary's prospects will be there – the unsigned junior players and anybody on an entry-level deal.
For forwards, there's some NHL experience in the form of Sven Baertschi, Roman Horak, Ben Hanowski and Max Reinhart. There's also all three of Calgary's first rounders from 2013 – Sean Monahan, Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk. Rounding out the forward group are Markus Granlund, Josh Jooris, Corban Knight, Michael Ferland, Coda Gordon, David Eddy, Turner Elson and Ryan Howse. Positionally, the team's a bit weak on the right side (Hanowski, Eddy, Elson), but every other spot features some interesting projects.
On the back-end, there's some depth. Maybe a lot of it. John Ramage, Patrick Sieloff and Tyler Wotherspoon have all been to the World Juniors – Ramage and Sieloff have medals. There's also recent draft picks Ryan Culkin, Brett Kulak and Keegan Kanzig, as well as free agent signings Chad Billins and James Martin. If this is most of Abbotsford's defensive group for 2013-14, the Heat will do just fine.
In goal, the three men likely headed into camp are Switzerland's Reto Berra, Finland's Joni Ortio and Canada's Laurent Brossoit. Three guys, all of different ages and from different countries and leagues, each who haven't really played much – if any – North American pro.
WHO'S NOT GONNA BE THERE?
The college kids, as they (a) have to pay their own way as per NCAA regulations and (b) can't really miss school, won't be there. As such, there will be no appearances by Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, Jon Gillies, Mark Jankowski, Tim Harrison, Matt Deblouw or Kenny Agostino.
And based on the fact that the KHL season begins in late August, most likely Rushan Rafikov won't be in town, either.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO 2010?
Way, way back in the fall of 2010, Jay Feaster was merely an assistant GM, newly minted into his corner office in the 'Dome. Working with Darryl Sutter, Feaster was merely months away from inheriting the big chair. 2010's rookie camp roster is a good indication of what Feaster has had to work with in terms of the prospect base.
Deep breaths, everyone...
Forwards: John Armstrong, Mikael Backlund, Hugo Carpentier, Gaelan Patterson, Max Reinhart, Mitch Wahl, Carter Bancks, Spencer Bennett, Lance Bouma, Michael Ferland, Ryley Grantham, Logan MacMillan, Bryan Cameron, Patrick Holland, Ryan Howse and Greg Nemisz.
The guys considered the top prospects out of that group were Backlund, Reinhart, Wahl, Bouma, Howse and Nemisz.
Defense: Chris Breen, T.J. Brodie, Matt Clarke (try-out), Joey Leach, Josh Meyers (AHL), John Negrin, Giffen Nyren (try-out) and Keith Seabrook
Brodie and Negrin were considered deent level prospects, while Keith Seabrook showed up on a few lists.
Goalies: Leland Irving, Matt Keetley and Cam Lanigan (try-out)
The forward group is, to be blunt, shaky. Backlund is an NHL player, while Bouma is almost a regular and Reinhart is getting there. Beyond that, there's not much, nor did the players that disappeared from this roster in the coming years yield much in terms of assets.
The Flames did get the rights to Karri Ramo from Montreal in a trade that involved Patrick Holland, so that's something. But Armstrong, Carpentier, Patterson, Bennett, Grantham, MacMillan, Wahl and Cameron all washed out of the Flames organization in ignominious fashion. Howse is struggling and may not get beyond the ECHL/AHL-fringe level. Nemisz gets the benefit of the doubt due to his injury last year, but he's in tough with all the high-end college guys turning pro. He's reaching the end of his days in the organization unless he blows the doors off in the AHL this year.
The defensive group isn't much better. Brodie's a very good NHLer. Breen could be a perfectly fine 6/7 body very soon. The rest of the bodies are filler. And the goalies? Three guys, two of which were Flames draft picks, who combined for 14 NHL games total.
Looking at the 2013 rookies in light of the 2010 group, it's a bit staggering how much things have improved. Bear in mind we have the benefit of hindsight to judge the 2010 group, but there does seem to be a lot more depth and diversity to the current group. Rather than draft big dudes over and over, or sign guys that put up numbers in their 20-year-old junior season, the Flames have brought in lot of different players from different areas and with varying skill sets. Of course, Feaster and co. also have the benefit of three straight seasons outside of the playoffs plus a big trade deadline sell-off.
There are three weeks until hockey comes back. While the Flames may not be all sunshine and gravy in 2013-14, there's hope on the horizon, as the players most likely coming to prospect camp this year are more diverse, more American and most likely better than those that came to camp in 2010.