May 27 2014 09:18AM
The Abbotsford Heat, the Calgary Flames former AHL affiliate, wrapped-up their season about a month back when they were bounced in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs by the Grand Rapid Griffins. Despite the early exit, the Heat's season had a lot of positives.
And now, thanks to Josh Weissbrock and some dynamite tracking of some of the Heat's fancy stats, we can dive in and understand a little bit more about this year in Abby. Lets have a look.
The Heat's possession all year was pretty bad, very rarely crossing over 50%. Most of the time, their possession was in the 46% range. Additionally, the Heat's PDO was near the top of the league all year (thanks in large part to Joni Ortio). This suggests that the Heat's record was highly luck driven this year.
In fact, many of the Heat's leading scorers (Granlund, Street, Hanowski, Baertschi and Jones) had sky-high shooting percentages that would likely not replicate themselves next year. Take those shooting percentages out of the equation and Ortio's stellar play and the Heat's record could have been abysmal.
Now lets look further at some of the underlying numbers of the individual players.
The table above includes various breakdowns of all Heat players that were with the team for significant amount (25 games or more). The table is broken down into four groups.
At the top you have the Flames highest-caliber AHL prospects (the under 24 crowd). Next we have the players that were free agent signings who are in that 24-26 range or Ben Hanowski. These players have little chance of getting more than a sip of coffee in the bigs. The third group is the players that are "playing out the string". These are older players (27 or older) that have never really made a dent in the NHL and likely never will or played in the NHL at one point but will probably end their careers in the AHL. The last group is the players that are no longer with the Heat. The majority of the team was made up of groups 2 and 3 - both can be characterize as older players with little chance of making the NHL or going back to the NHL.
Reinhart and Granlund were obviously impressive in every way this year. Granlund put together one of the best minor-league seasons by a rookie in Flames history. Only a handful of players have done better, and all those players came through the system in the 80's. Reinhart tripled his offensive output from last year. Both Reinhart and Granlund were getting pretty gravy ice-time (low quality competition, high quality linemates). However, what they did with the ice-time was impressive. The two of them were clearly driving the boat when they were on the ice, as seen by their IPP (Individual Point Percentage). When the Heat scored with them on the ice, 75% of the time they had something to do with it.
Corban Knight was also very impressive, as noted by his ES Gf% Diff. The team was much more likely to score when he was on the ice than when he wasn't. However, Knight did get some of the easier minutes most nights (as noted by his QoC and QoT). Next year, I'd like to see him get some tougher assignments to see if he keeps up the impressive ES Gf% Diff.
Michael Ferland only played 25 games but was really starting to find his game in the weeks leading up to his injury. While he wasn't playing the strongest competition, he also didn't have the strongest linemates and put up some pretty nice numbers and was in on 72% of the goals scored while he was on the ice. This upcoming year is massive for him. If he can improve from his play last year, he could certainly peak the interest of Treliving, Burke and Co.
Baertschi's AHL season can be split in halves. His first half, he was clearly disappointed to be there. While he was getting lots of shots, his offensive output was zilch. In the second half, matched up with Knight, Baertschi's output improved astronomically. If the latter Baertschi shows up to camp, he'll be fine. If the former shows up, Baertschi might not last the year in a Flames/Heat uniform.
Of the three other groups, there's not much there. Yeah Street and Jones put up some impressive stats but both guys are fast approaching their 30's. They might get a couple more sniffs but I think they'll follow Krys Kolanos into the sunset.
Kane Lafranchise (no relation to Matt Stajan), signed half-way through the year, is one of the only guys that really intrigues me of these other groups. Initially, I thought Lafranchise was a forward as I noticed he was getting a decent amount of points (13 in 34 games; all assists). However, he is listed as a defenseman. He also played with perhaps the worst-caliber teammates on the whole team, but still did quite well. I'm curious if the Flames re-sign him and if he gets a look in the bigs.
SUM IT UP
It's clear that the Flames' minor league affiliate isn't ripe with an abundance of young, high-caliber talent quite yet as the majority of the roster is older and the team's success this year was highly luck driven.
There are a few younger players on the Heat that are showing some real potential and could turn out to be big pieces of the Calgary Flames roster down the road. As well, it can be argued that some of the Flames highest prospects are coming from the NCAA (Gaudreau, Arnold, Jankowski, Agostino) or juniors (Poirier, Klimchuk, their 4th overall pick) and haven't played significantly with the big club or the minors yet. Nonetheless, the Flames will need to increase the pool of skilled 18-23 year olds over the next few years while they continue this rebuild.