Five things: A college prospect update

Ryan Lambert
November 06 2014 09:00AM

1. You don't want to hear it

So here we are with the Flames still, against all odds, winning their games, and starting to look like they could be this year's Avalanche: A team that dramatically overperforms its underlying numbers by getting every bounce for an entire season. Yeah, it's still relatively early, but we're almost 20 percent of the way through the season and the Flames are tied for second in the division, ahead of San Jose and Los Angeles (somehow).

Johnny Gaudreau continues to improve. Guys are scoring pretty consistently throughout the lineup (11 players are on at least half a point a game). The goaltending has been unfathomably good. If there was ever a year to tank, it was this one, but the Flames being as poorly run as they are instead seem intent on not-getting Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin or Connor McDavid. They're content to collect the No. 7 pick, whoever that happens to be, instead of bottoming out, even as they still don't make the playoffs.

I'm not fine with it, but I've accepted that this is what they're going to do. It's idiotic but it's unavoidable.

So here, instead, are some updates on the Flames' various NCAA prospects because you've all made it perfectly clear that you don't want to approach this season logically, and instead will yell at me every time I say finishing 30th is better than finishing 22nd.

2. The Providence kids

The general consensus on the Providence Friars, toplined by Jon Gillies and Mark Jankowski, but also featuring defenseman John Gilmour, was that they were supposed to be outstanding this year. Picked by coaches and media alike to finish atop Hockey East, the conference recently dominated by Boston College and UMass Lowell.

That has not happened yet. The Friars are just 2-3-1 to start the year, and some of the losses have been pretty concerning.

Part of the reason for that is that Gillies has started out the year a little flat, at just .906. To be fair, two of his first three performances were hot garbage (allowing five on 25, and then four on 24 before getting the hook after 40 minutes). But whatever happened to cause those issues seems to have also gone away; maybe he got his head on straight, I don't know. Over his last three starts, during which Providence went just 1-1-1, he put up .933, which is about where I'd have expected him to be this year.

Obviously it's early, but there was something — perhaps a nagging injury — hampering him to start the year, and all of their first four were road games (they've played just one of six at home). I'm not too worried about whether he's going to straighten it out. I think it's unequivocal that he will.

Another potential reason for Providence's problems has been the fact that Jankowski missed three of the six game they played. He's their No. 1 center now, especially because undrafted free agent Ross Mauermann has started the year playing poorly (another reason for the slow start), but he's got a goal and an assist in those three games. 

Only four shots to show for those appearances, but the goal he scored Saturday against BU was one that he wouldn't have been able to get off even last season: There was a scramble in the slot and he just kind of banged away at the puck until it went in. Just a year ago, he would have been put on his wallet posthaste, and it really looks to me as though the kid's filled out more. Stronger on his skates, that sort of thing. He still needs to find an extra gear, but I'm likewise not concerned that he'll do it. I think he can be a breakout player this season if he stays healthy (big if, unfortunately).

Finally, there's John Gilmour, who has likewise missed three games for the Friars. Two assists in the three he did play, and on the ice for three goals against, but when his team has allowed 19 and only scored 12, that's what happens. He's still the team's No. 3 defenseman, and they have a solid top pairing.

The Friars will be fine. They just have to get healthy and they're going to start winning a lot more. All these guys will probably have solid to very good years.

3. The defenseman at BU

The only recently drafted kid that's Flames property and playing college hockey is third-round pick Brandon Hickey, who's playing for a resurgent Boston University team (which you'd know better as "the one with Jack Eichel on it").

The Terriers are 4-1 through five games, and recently split with those Providence Friars, with each team losing their home game last weekend. Hickey has but a single point, but a plus-4 rating from these games because BU has been pretty good going forward. In five games, they have 17 goals (though eight came in their first game alone). I haven't actually seen BU play, apart from highlights, yet this season, but by all accounts he's been perfectly good. 

This past weekend alone he tallied seven shots on goal, and if he can get more involved in the offense, especially if he's on the ice at the same time as Eichel, the points will come.

His problem is that the's a little buried on this team's defense, because four of the team's seven currently drafted players play on the blue line. Matt Grzelcyk was a World Junior star for the United States, and Doyle Somerby is a second-year who was decent last season for a team that was anything but. Heck, Hickey might not even be the best first-year defenseman on his own team, because Tampa draftee John MacLeod has consistently turned in more solid performances.

I don't currently see Hickey as a world-beater or anything like that, but everything I've seen and heard about him has him at the very least shaping up to be a very solid college defenseman.

4. The Spartan

Meanwhile, at Michigan State, there's 2012 seventh-rounder Matt DeBlouw.

The problem is that Michigan State just isn't very good this year, mainly because they can't score goals. They've popped in just 13 in six games so far, and one player (undrafted Matt Berry) has five of them. DeBlouw is one of the six players on the team to crack the goal sheet but not register more than one.

He's steady, though. A total of 11 shots on goal this season, including three each in a road trip to the aforementioned very difficult environs of BU and Lowell. The goal came against lowly UMass Amherst, a game in which the Spartans scored five of their 13 goals this year.

This is the first of two prospects I'm just not going to see a lot. I live an hour from Providence and four miles from BU, so I'll see them a lot and provide all the updates you need. But I think I'll maybe see DeBlouw one more time (and on TV) this weekend before things get real iffy as to whether I see him again. I can't imagine seeking out MSU games, just due to the fact that they won't be very good, and they're not on TV much here on the East Coast.

5. The Raider

Finally we come to a guy who I might see a little more often: 2013 sixth-rounder Tim Harrison. He plays for Colgate, which should be one of the better teams in the nation this year. Last season, he didn't factor too heavily into the Raiders' plans, going 0-5-5 in 34 appearances.

This year, though, he's been an important part of a machine that's gotten out to a 6-2 start and probably won't slow down very much. Already, he has 3-2-5 in eight games (though it must be said that his points have come in three contests against some of the worst opponents in the NCAA, a one-assist game against 0-7 Northeastern, and 3-1-4 in two games against a two-win Sacred Heart club).

He's only in his second year, of course, and it's still early in the season. Plus, his conference is fairly soft so he's likely to at the very least keep beating up on bad clubs if that's his game.

...

Overall I would say that these six kids make up a pretty solid core of prospects overall. Two high-end ones, and four otherwise good to middling picks. No one's Johnny Gaudreau, obviously, but you definitely take that over what the organization had, say, three or four years ago.

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Yer ol' buddy Lambert is handsome and great and everyone loves him. Also you can visit his regular blog at The Two-Line Pass or follow him on Twitter. Lucky you!
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#51 bookofloob
November 06 2014, 02:10PM
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Lambert, just so I'm clear, you mean Jankowski had 4 shots over those three games, not all season, right?

Not great either way, but 4 shots in 6 games for a 1st line player is cringe worthy.

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#52 KetchupKid
November 06 2014, 02:17PM
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There's really no sense in hoping for a top three pick anyway - it's crazy how bad the actual bottom-feeders are this year. Not to mention, the lottery is a bigger factor every year.

If over-achieving means some inflated stats on tradeable veterans like Wideman, Hudler, and Hiller, then maybe there's some compensation for finishing in the middle of the pack after all. Supposing management handles the trade deadline right, being a middle-weight MIGHT lead to more gains than tanking would [yeah I know McDavid's a generational talent - but is he a realistic goal?]. Just throwing this out there because nobody ever seems to mention trade-value in the 'to tank or not' debate...

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#53 jeremywilhelm
November 06 2014, 02:29PM
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@bookofloob

He's only played 3 games.

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#54 Mikeoxbig
November 06 2014, 02:30PM
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If everyone just takes a deep breathe and waits another twenty games or so, I believe we will inevitably suffer some more injurys, and most likely revert to our natural place in the pecking order. I truly do not think this team will finish higher than 25th, and am waiting for bounces to beging to go the other way. That being said, it is obviously nice to see progression and early success, with the knowledge that they will probably come back to earth before Christmas and we will all be talking again about the possibility of drafting top three. Lambert is inciting conversation and playing bad cop, I think it's hilarious actually.

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#55 Kevin R
November 06 2014, 02:32PM
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supra steve wrote:

My biggest fear is the Flames make the playoffs, and are done in 4 or 5 games. I have already seen that story unfold more times than I care to mention.

The big difference was when Calgary finally hit the playoffs in 2004, when we went on a run of good teams & playoffs (1st round exits unfortunately) but our team grew together from those playoffs. Sutter then traded for older established players instead of cultivating more home grown players when Kipper, Iggy, RR et-al were in their primes. If this team pulled off the huge overachieve & made the playoffs, wow, the experience & development for a very young core would be incredible. Even if they didn't make the playoffs the following year, the growth for kids like Brodie, JG, Monahan, Colbourne, Granlund to name a few would be worth more than any suck fest year to get a top 2 or 3 draft pick. I would not see playoffs as a sentence to mediocrity with the group of young players we have right now.

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#56 jeremywilhelm
November 06 2014, 02:33PM
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Basically the only way the Flames could try harder to tank would be to trade Brodie, Gio, Hiller, Ramo, Monahan, Glencross, Gaudreau and Hudler. I think we can agree that isn't going to happen.

This was never a bottom 3 team. No matter how the puck was gonna bounce.

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#57 Truculence
November 06 2014, 02:41PM
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A bit off topic, but this is what Freidman had to say about Baertchi: "As the injuries mounted last week, Calgary called up Sven Baertschi from Abbotsford. His numbers were ugly in the AHL, just three points (no goals) in 10 games. Even worse, a few teams that saw him were exceedingly unimpressed, with one suggesting he wouldn’t want Baertschi near his other prospects. The Flames defended the forward against accusations that his attitude was bad. “Was he unhappy to be there? Yes, initially he was, but we could understand that,” said GM Brad Treliving. “To say he was causing problems, that’s not fair.” Treliving added that there is room in Calgary for Baertschi’s skill-set. He is exempt from waivers for another year or so. That’s probably the real deadline for him in southern Alberta.

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#58 KingJafi
November 06 2014, 02:44PM
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Kevin R wrote:

The big difference was when Calgary finally hit the playoffs in 2004, when we went on a run of good teams & playoffs (1st round exits unfortunately) but our team grew together from those playoffs. Sutter then traded for older established players instead of cultivating more home grown players when Kipper, Iggy, RR et-al were in their primes. If this team pulled off the huge overachieve & made the playoffs, wow, the experience & development for a very young core would be incredible. Even if they didn't make the playoffs the following year, the growth for kids like Brodie, JG, Monahan, Colbourne, Granlund to name a few would be worth more than any suck fest year to get a top 2 or 3 draft pick. I would not see playoffs as a sentence to mediocrity with the group of young players we have right now.

The lockout did screw Daz and any momentum or culture established by the 2004 team. Speaking of which, I am walking out the office now to head to one of sites of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals. Go Flames Go.

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#59 the-wolf
November 06 2014, 02:59PM
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piscera.infada wrote:

The biggest threat I see in the Flames finishing "just" outside a playoff spot (by that, I mean outside of a bottom-three pick), is if management gets it through it's head that this team is closer than it is. I don't mind missing out on Eichel/McDavid/Hanifin, if this team truly isn't as bad as the ones playing "for" them.

They had a very interesting interview with Steve Yzerman yesterday afternoon on the Fan that spoke directly to this. In 2011, the Lightening made that surprising push to within one goal of the Stanley Cup Final (when they lost in game 7, 1-0 to Boston). The team seemed a lot closer then they were as evidenced by the following season where they finished 10th in the Eastern conference. The team however, didn't go for it. They didn't sign big name free agents to "get over the hump" following the 2011 season. They simply "stayed the course", to use Yzerman's words. Now, they look to be a young team on the up-swing, with talent throughout the line-up. They look as though, that if they keep progressing, they will be a contender for a good stretch of time.

This is the cautionary tale for the Flames. They look as though they have the talent, with talent still in the pipeline. Frankly, they don't need to draft one of those "generational talents" (although, admittedly that would be nice). What they need to do though, is "stay the course" regardless of how close they are to the playoffs, or how far away they are from the playoffs, come the trade deadline. Stick to your plan. Keep and develop your assets, trade the players that you would if you were bottoming out even if you aren't. Treliving seems you be preaching this, but in the heat of the moment GM's get greedy.

Perfectly put. My thoughts exactly. Do not do what Sutter did and try in vain to grasp at success with washed up vets. Stay the course.

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#60 Cfan in Vic
November 06 2014, 03:01PM
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Mikeoxbig wrote:

If everyone just takes a deep breathe and waits another twenty games or so, I believe we will inevitably suffer some more injurys, and most likely revert to our natural place in the pecking order. I truly do not think this team will finish higher than 25th, and am waiting for bounces to beging to go the other way. That being said, it is obviously nice to see progression and early success, with the knowledge that they will probably come back to earth before Christmas and we will all be talking again about the possibility of drafting top three. Lambert is inciting conversation and playing bad cop, I think it's hilarious actually.

Except a decent "Bad Cop" would produce more than 1/3 of an opinion.

"This year should produce a top 2 draft pick!", without mentioning how we should expect management to legitimately produce those results is complete garbage. Saying it once can be excused, but repeating yourself weekly with the same hollow stance is asinine.

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#61 backburner
November 06 2014, 03:44PM
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KingJafi wrote:

Yes but you can't control tanking and its results. The two teams that have won Cups by being perennially bad are the Hawks and Pens. Neither of those teams intentionally tanked either (though I would argue the Crosby draft may have been rigged), they were bad because they were either bankrupt (Pens) or their owner wanted nothing but a loser on the ice (Hawks). Then you have the Panthers who are bad every year and still suck regardless of where and who they draft (kind of like the Oil at this point). Which tells me that winning equals management, development, and coaching more than who the team is drafting. I really think that creating a winning culture and atmosphere is more important than anything, that is what builds a champion. We should all embrace this for how long it lasts, its effects will be much greater than any top prospect could bring.

You make a great point about a winning culture.. which also attracts free agents to want to sign with a club.

As long as they are realistic about where they are at this stage of a re-build, as suba steve pointed out, making the playoffs is great, but having a team that can go deep is better..

If Treliving is smart, he would try to capitalize on the value of spare parts that are not part of the future plans, and move them for picks in a deep draft.

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#62 Rock
November 06 2014, 04:18PM
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To tank is ridiculous Sidney Crosby is a generational player as was Eric lindros. There cup totals are no as impressive as the L.A. Kings or Chicago Blackhawks who have a team full of good players. To ditch a season to draft a player that could turn out to be your next lindros is redicioulosly stupid. Even to say it is stupid but to say it every time you speak is even more stupid

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#63 Lionlager
November 06 2014, 04:24PM
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The upside to Lambert articles are the comments rebutting his eternal 'tank now' mantra. Great stuff in here.

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#64 BJ
November 06 2014, 05:35PM
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@Lambert

Monsieur...

I think we all get the logic behind tanking in the McDavid year... but what you never explain is exactly how Calgary can do this without adopting the losing culture that currently plagues teams like the Oilers - who should be competing for the playoffs this season.

It is all well and good to have that opinion but please explain and provide some back up to the questions:

How do we tank without instilling a losing culture? Half our forwards are from The A right now and we are still winning. Professionals are never going to lose on purpose. How do we accomplish this? Please explain. What do you propose? Parking Brodie on the bench because he is too good? Not playing Johnny G and the kids? We all know your position but you really have not explained how it is at all feasible yet you claim the team is run poorly. This seems to defy the logic you so shallowly cling to. Again - explain please.

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#65 Apollo
November 06 2014, 06:48PM
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Lambert is the worst hockey writer I have ever come across. I've learned to avoid his articles because of his absurd, intellectually deficient 'hockey opinion.' I accidentally clicked his link and was immediately bombarded with his usual derision. I'm not going to go into detail about how incredibly stupid it is to actively tank; I think enough people have already proficiently covered this subject. I will just say, it's ludicrous to think you can actively tank to accrue draft prospects, then turn on a magical winning switch. It doesn't work that way. It never has and never will. At this point all I can wonder is how anyone can pay Lambert to write about hockey, something he clearly doesn't understand.

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#66 5by5
November 07 2014, 05:07AM
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5 Things

1. If the top 2 are generational talents, you are talking about BILLION $ assets here. Yes BILLION. People seem to overlook the impact that has on an ownership group. You cannot take the business side of things out of the game.

2.Tanking was out of the question, when the Flames signed Hiller. Sorry Lambert, time to let it go. I must confess I was part of the I hope we are really, really bad this year. Pleasantly surprised this (so far) is not to be. What an effort so far, couldn't be happier as a fan.

3. Lets hope the draft lottery gods are on our side come Summer (like last yr) cause there is no way we are finishing 29th or 30th (not a guarantee of 1st pic anyways). No way we make the playoffs either.

4. Thx for the update on the youngsters. Please continue throughout the season. I must admit that I was not much of a fan on Fiester, he made some huge blunders in my opinion, but one thing for sure, he left this team in a better state of affairs than he found it in.

5. I needed a good guffaw yesterday, so I was trolling Oiler Nation. OMG, they are losing it up there. HaHa. One article/blogger talks of changing colours and the logo. Edmonton is no good, but lets hope they start winning a few.

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