August 14 2014 08:30AM
1. Picking up again
So I've now looked at eight different prospects and borderline NHLers the Flames could use this season and largely concluded that only three or four of them (Sven Baertschi, Johnny Gaudreau, and Ben Hanowski are all probables, while I rank Markus Granlund as a call-up simply because of the NHL club's center depth) are really going to get a serious shot in the coming season. That's not a bad average, either half or a little less than two-fifths.
But that also means the bottom of this team's roster is getting very crowded, and doesn't portend good things for the last four forward prospects who I think seem at least somewhat likely to get a cup of coffee or more this season. And yet, here they are anyway, four guys who have little to no shot of making the team next season, but whose merits will be discussed nonetheless.
2. Corban Knight
Knight is a guy like Granlund: He's pretty good at the AHL level and he's crowded out of the picture because if there's one thing the Calgary Flames have, it's a load of decent to pretty good NHL centers.
Knight's problem is that Granlund had almost as many points as he did in the A last year, despite playing 18 fewer games, and that they play the same position. Calgary needs extra centers like it needs extra fighters at this point, and a guy like Knight seems more like a second- or even third-choice call-up at best. He was used sparingly in the NHL last season when he was up for those seven games, and put in a huge position to succeed when he was. He didn't do much with the opportunity, which doesn't say a lot for him.
The other problem with this is that of the three sure-thing centers from the AHL last season, Knight is the oldest. He's currently 23 but will be 24 by the time this current season starts. As we all know, the age-24 and 25 seasons are usually about the peak of a hockey player's ability to produce, so it's really getting to be now-or-never time for Knight. This is the problem, to some extent, with getting older college players (Knight, of course, having been acquired in a trade after making it clear he wouldn't sign with Florida): They're pretty close to “complete” and you have a limited window before their value starts to drop off.
If Knight doesn't make it this year, then, I'm not sure there's a time at which he will. Positionally, the deck is just super-stacked against him.
3. Emile Poirier
Another place the Flames don't need much help is on Poirier's side. The left wing is a tough nut to crack for anyone, especially a first-year pro like Poirier. There's Hudler and Raymond and Glencross and Bollig and Gaudreau and Baertschi all in his way, by my count.
The good news is that, like the team's other left wings, maybe he can be shifted to the right if he really impresses. The additional good news is that he's a little older than Morgan Klimchuk and as such can be stashed quite safely in the AHL, rather than being sent back to junior. The latter, at this point, doesn't seem like a path that would benefit him.
With that option in mind, Poirier is a guy who might get your usual eight- or 10-game run-out with the big club at some point, because injuries happen, but he can get a full year of pro hockey to make his case for a bigger role next season. That has to be the goal, and because of that aforementioned center depth, he'll at least have someone pretty good to get him the puck for Adirondack.
4. Max Reinhart
The 60th and final victim of Calgary's center depth, Reinhart strikes on as someone who's probably too good at scoring in the AHL (63 points in 66 games), but not enough of a difference-maker at the NHL level to warrant more than a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, it's tough to say whether his numbers were due to luck or skill, because he took a huge step forward in production, but the numbers when he was with Calgary are, umm, underwhelming.
In terms of how easy his minutes were, he didn't get the treatment of Monahan or Colborne, but he was close, and he didn't produce like either of those guys. With that said, the AHL numbers are a little too overwhelming to say that he's not an NHLer or anything.
So the question, then, becomes who of he or Granlund is the first call-up. Do you go with Granlund, because he looks like the better actual-NHL prospect and you want to give him the added look? Or do you go with Reinhart because he's maybe a little bit better at giving you scoring pop right now, at least in theory? It's an interesting question, and were I making the call I'd err on the side of fostering better prospects, but I certainly get the argument in Reinhart's favor here.
Consequently, I'd say that he's pretty solidly behind Granlund but ahead of Knight when it comes to center call-ups, but that's all he is at this point. He just turned 22 a few months ago and has a few more years before we should be screaming about the what-ifs of it all.
5. David Wolf
There are a few reasons I include him here despite my conscience screaming that I shouldn't:
a) He's been playing pro hockey for a while now and put up decent enough numbers in the German league that I don't think you can really act like he's little more than a fighter. I haven't seen enough DEL games in my life to know what 40 points in 48 games for a guy with 152 penalty minutes last year means.
b) Here's his bio on Eliteprospects: “Wolf is a big winger who likes to play a physical game. Has alright speed and hands for his size.” If that doesn't scream Brian Burke/Bob Hartley Guy, nothing does.
c) He's a wing, so there are fewer players in his way.
My official prediction is that he plays significantly more games than he deserves based on his on-ice contributions. Gotta be hard to play against.