Aces High: A Look At Elson and Ramage

Ryan Pike
June 20 2014 08:34AM

Over the weekend, the Alaska Aces - Calgary's ECHL affiliate - won their league championship, the Kelly Cup. The triumph was likely especially sweet for a pair of Flames properties who had seemingly fallen off the proverbial radar - forward Turner Elson and defenseman John Ramage.

Elson was arguably the star of development camp last year, but played just 37 games in a depth role with the Abbotsford Heat. He split February between Abbotsford and Alaska before getting sent down for good at the end of the month. Ramage impressed many in training camp and arguably looked the most pro-ready of the three first-year blueliners (the others were Patrick Sieloff and Tyler Wotherspoon). But Ramage couldn't find his footing in the AHL and was sent down to the Aces in mid-March.

To delve into what happened with the Aces' playoff run and how Elson and Ramage fared, I chatted with the play-by-play voice of the Alaska Aces, Mike Benson, last week. We had a lengthy conversation, so here's some selected quotes regarding the play of Calgary's two key prospects with Alaska.

ON TURNER ELSON

He was fantastic. I think he really showed a blossoming of his game based on how confident he was with the puck, his commitment, back-check, play in virtually every situation and that earned him some quality time on the top line when we were missing top guns in Brendan Connolly and Peter Sivak. You take his speed and put it with the play-making ability of a guy like Nick Mazzolini - who led the team in scoring for the entire post-season - it's a terrific fit.

He really showed a tremendous presence with his speed, and with his confidence as well. He was a big, big part of the Aces in this playoff run.

The willingness to play anywhere - from the third line to the top line - because he knew his number would be called for any role, that helped his game, at least visibly with confidence. His speed and his skill with the puck is natural, so in essence once his confidence kicked in, his skill-set took over from there.

ON JOHN RAMAGE

He played [a defensive shutdown role] in Alaska for about three or four games, and then one day - I believe we were in Las Vegas - he had a sit-down with head coach Rob Murray and assistant coach Louie Mass about power-play time. And it wasn't that he was going to complain, the topic was brought up and he said, "Well you know, guys, I actually ran the power-play when I was at Wisconsin," and then from there they plugged him in as one of the point men on the man-advantage and lo-and-behold, scored a goal I believe in his first couple of games in that situation. He's got an absolute cannon from the point.

ON THE IMPACT OF A KELLY CUP WIN

It's the essence of getting through a long playoff run that makes it so satisfactory. For the younger players, once you win and win it all, that is a major feather in your cap. You can take it on to development camp, the rookie camp and beyond. Something that boosts you up the ladder, so to speak, whether it's in the Flames organization or if you're an ECHL contract guy looking for your next up with an ECHL team (or an AHL team), it said often that teams are looking for winners. And you have a group of 24 winners here with the Alaska Aces who have been through a long, grueling playoff run and know what it takes to win.

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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 McRib
June 20 2014, 09:41AM
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It's very interesting to see John Ramage's point totals take off in the playoffs, once he was put on the Power Play. Maybe it is possible that he was unfairly pigeon-holed in the past (as only being a "shutdown guy") and is building off a strong senior season at Wisconsin where he showed potentially more Offensive upside last year as well. Considering he put up 13 Pts in 21 GP these playoffs it is promising that he is only now reaching career highs of 0.65 PPG in Pro (even if it is the ECHL).

I have never understood why coaches in Bantam/Midget/Junior/NCAA say to very young defenders "you’re only a shutdown guy" and prevent them from developing a complete game. Obviously some guys (like Ramage/Sieloff/Wotherspoon) will never be high-end offensive guys going forward at NHL level (if they make it there), but learning how an offensive attack works can only help them to defend it better at their own ends in the future.... Like Kent (cough cough Keegan Kanzig) often says it’s very rare for a shutdown defener with zero offense during Junior Career to make it all the way to the NHL without ever producing (I think Hall Gill is one of the only guys in history).

Look at Ken Daneyko one of the top shutdown guys in recent memory who still had 60 Points his final year in the WHL. If I was a Midget/Junior Coach I would give my 6/7 Defenders some PP time once and a while, if only to grow a more complete 200 foot shutdown game down the road anyway. The same could be said about never letting a forward play on the PK, obviously if you tell them to forget about the defensive side of things they will ignore it going forward and be a one dimensional offensive player their enitre career.

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#2 Lordmork
June 20 2014, 09:11AM
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Thanks for this. I have a certain soft spot for prospects who get written off, so it's great to see them succeed, even if it's only at the ECHL level.

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#3 Jeff Lebowski
June 20 2014, 09:48AM
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Ramage's season was baffling to me. As with others, I watched him in dev camp and was really impressed:

-smooth in his movement over the ice. I never saw him get beat in any drills or scrimmages 1 on 1.

-just looked confident and a natural leader (he took charge when it was apparent the coaching staff weren't teaching systems but were looking to see who stepped up and would lead).

-played a simple game

I really thought that he was going to be the first D prospect call up.

Then looking at prospect updates he wasn't making any marks on the stats sheet (hits, shots block either - nothing)

What in the hell happened? I realize it could be the pro hump. I guess the same can be said for guys like Elson and Jooris too, both showed well in camp but then were outperformed by guys they were clearly better than once people went back. Jooris and Elson turned more heads in scrimmages with good play than Knight or even Hanowski did.

I wonder what happens in Adirondack with a new coach to boot?

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#4 mk
June 20 2014, 09:50AM
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McRib wrote:

It's very interesting to see John Ramage's point totals take off in the playoffs, once he was put on the Power Play. Maybe it is possible that he was unfairly pigeon-holed in the past (as only being a "shutdown guy") and is building off a strong senior season at Wisconsin where he showed potentially more Offensive upside last year as well. Considering he put up 13 Pts in 21 GP these playoffs it is promising that he is only now reaching career highs of 0.65 PPG in Pro (even if it is the ECHL).

I have never understood why coaches in Bantam/Midget/Junior/NCAA say to very young defenders "you’re only a shutdown guy" and prevent them from developing a complete game. Obviously some guys (like Ramage/Sieloff/Wotherspoon) will never be high-end offensive guys going forward at NHL level (if they make it there), but learning how an offensive attack works can only help them to defend it better at their own ends in the future.... Like Kent (cough cough Keegan Kanzig) often says it’s very rare for a shutdown defener with zero offense during Junior Career to make it all the way to the NHL without ever producing (I think Hall Gill is one of the only guys in history).

Look at Ken Daneyko one of the top shutdown guys in recent memory who still had 60 Points his final year in the WHL. If I was a Midget/Junior Coach I would give my 6/7 Defenders some PP time once and a while, if only to grow a more complete 200 foot shutdown game down the road anyway. The same could be said about never letting a forward play on the PK, obviously if you tell them to forget about the defensive side of things they will ignore it going forward and be a one dimensional offensive player their enitre career.

I agree! Further on that topic - look at how D. Sutter talks about the 'defensive' game that the Kings play. He tells the media that he wants the team to have the puck and keep it - there is no option to go into a defensive shell. At its base, this strategy says that the best defense is always having the puck (even if you don't score an absolute ton).

You can see in the NHL that lots of the defensive d-men of years past are not the answer on the blueline. The best d-men, while not necessarily scoring a bajillion points, are the ones who can move the puck well, skate well and step up to make a play once in a while.

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#5 Jeff Lebowski
June 20 2014, 09:55AM
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McRib wrote:

It's very interesting to see John Ramage's point totals take off in the playoffs, once he was put on the Power Play. Maybe it is possible that he was unfairly pigeon-holed in the past (as only being a "shutdown guy") and is building off a strong senior season at Wisconsin where he showed potentially more Offensive upside last year as well. Considering he put up 13 Pts in 21 GP these playoffs it is promising that he is only now reaching career highs of 0.65 PPG in Pro (even if it is the ECHL).

I have never understood why coaches in Bantam/Midget/Junior/NCAA say to very young defenders "you’re only a shutdown guy" and prevent them from developing a complete game. Obviously some guys (like Ramage/Sieloff/Wotherspoon) will never be high-end offensive guys going forward at NHL level (if they make it there), but learning how an offensive attack works can only help them to defend it better at their own ends in the future.... Like Kent (cough cough Keegan Kanzig) often says it’s very rare for a shutdown defener with zero offense during Junior Career to make it all the way to the NHL without ever producing (I think Hall Gill is one of the only guys in history).

Look at Ken Daneyko one of the top shutdown guys in recent memory who still had 60 Points his final year in the WHL. If I was a Midget/Junior Coach I would give my 6/7 Defenders some PP time once and a while, if only to grow a more complete 200 foot shutdown game down the road anyway. The same could be said about never letting a forward play on the PK, obviously if you tell them to forget about the defensive side of things they will ignore it going forward and be a one dimensional offensive player their enitre career.

That is one thing I really liked about the Flames' approach in summer development camp and Penticton:

They just rolled lines and pairings no matter the game situation (EV,PP...) and just let guys play and figure it out with their hockey sense.

The guys who are naturally best suited for different roles would rise to the top AND some guys who you would never guess also thrived.

That was the philosophy: The players will sort it out with their play.

In Young Stars vs Canucks it was noted that whenever there was a PP Horvat and Shinkaruk jumped over boards. While Calgary just rollled who ever.

Imagine how that positively boosts everyone on Calgary's roster? They get a chance to play there - They don't get pre labelled and they might find a facet of their game they didn't know they had great ability in.

I really hope they continue this and don't limit prospect's potential by pigeon holing them from the get go.

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#6 JayD54
June 20 2014, 11:12AM
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In my opinion, Ramage is still in the mix for eventually wearing a Flames jersey.

I, too, watched this young man at prospects camp then in Penticton. He is not flashy, but he plays a heady game, makes decent decisions with the puck. That is probably why he is a good PP quarterback, although I don't think he has the footspeed to fill that role at the NHL level. My observation is that he positions himself well to make a good defensive play, keeping himself between the net and the offensive player.

One moment sticks out for me, one that I think speaks to why he has been a leader at every level. Against the Oiler prospects in Penticton, Ryan Culkin put the puck in his own goal and was notably upset. With the subsequent line change, Ramage came off the bench, went directly to Culkin, put his arm around his shoulder, the stick pat on the shinpads, words of encouragement. Culkins next shift saw him come back with an upbeat performance.

As fans, we might look for that flash, that dash. But, for example, that wasn't Mark Giordano when he first arrived. Look at him now. With John Ramage, we might just be witnessing the same.

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#7 Kent Wilson
June 20 2014, 11:56AM
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@JayD54

Disagree on Giordano. He stood out immediately as an above average skill level guy. He scored a bunch in his first training camp and then lead the farm club in scoring with 56 points as a 23 year old.

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#8 JayD54
June 20 2014, 09:29PM
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@Kent Wilson

I clarify the comparison. Giordano was an undrafted signee, one who was unheralded and appeared to be a late bloomer. He didn't earn a one way deal until after he took a year in the KHL and he 'came up through the ranks'. That is how (minus the KHL hiatus!) I compare the two players.

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#9 Baalzamon
June 20 2014, 10:45PM
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@JayD54

So what you're saying is... we need to send Ramage to Russia.

(small clarification: Giordano never played in the KHL. It was still the Russian Super League at the time)

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#10 jeremywilhelm
June 21 2014, 07:54AM
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I watched Ramage this year and his bad luck was uncanny. He seems like such a heady player out there in all three zones and yet, he wasnt putting up any points.

I am still pulling for him, much to Kent and Justin's amusement.

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