Finding the right linemate for Gaudreau and Monahan

Ryan Pike
January 16 2016 08:00AM

Based on his performances in his brief audition so far, it seems like Micheal Ferland has earned himself a spot on the wing (for now) beside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. The Calgary Flames have had a unique challenge this season: they have one or two offense-generating players - Gaudreau (and sometimes Monahan) - and that makes it pretty easy to shut them down if you're an opposing team.

So if Gaudreau is the key to Calgary's success - and he is - it makes complete sense to try to surround him (and Monahan) with the best players possible to ensure his (their) success. The Flames coaching staff has tried out eight different players alongside Gaudreau and Monahan, most recently sophomore NHLer Micheal Ferland.

Here's how they've done (ordered by ice-time alongside Gaudreau and Monahan).

JIRI HUDLER

273:57 played; 49.7% Corsi For; 11 goals for, 14 goals against

Two keys here. First, Hudler spent his time alongside the kids at the beginning of the season when nothing went in for Calgary and everything went into their net. The trio's PDO is 97.6, indicating some poor puck luck. That said, Hudler's largely been a perimeter player this season - whether due to injury or general unwillingness to go to the net - and he's been decidedly less-than-amazing all year.

DAVID JONES

86:37 played; 41.7% Corsi For; 7 goals for, 4 goals against

Jones played with the kids more recently. Generally, they spent a lot of time in their own end. However, because Gaudreau got white-hot during the time he played with Jones, their goal differential is pretty good. That's a bit of a smoke-screen, though, as their PDO is 111.1 (which is damn high). Jones has good size and is a pretty solid north-south player (and has a good shot), but may lack the high-end skill to hang with the kids.

JOE COLBORNE

40:38 played; 53.8% Corsi For; 0 goals for, 0 goals against

With Big Joe on the wing, Gaudreau and Monahan have spent a lot of time in the offensive zone - as Colborne is effective at getting the puck into the zone along the perimeter. And they general some shots, many of them from the perimeter. But Colborne hasn't been very effective with the puck once he's in the offensive zone this season, so it's up to the other two guys to generate scoring chances.

MASON RAYMOND

24:55 played; 56.1% Corsi For; 1 goal for, 0 goals against

Raymond is to a certain extent a smaller, faster version of Colborne. He's not a guy that really battles in the corners a lot or goes to the tough areas much - admittedly, that may be because he broke his freakin' back in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. That said, Raymond's a good skater and just needs to be put with finishers to be effective. Unfortunately, since he's somewhat lost his finishing ability since he doesn't go to the net as much as he used to, teams aim to block his set-ups to the finishers to negate him.

MICHEAL FERLAND

22:10 played; 51.1% Corsi For; 0 goals for, 0 goals against

Ferland's an interesting fit on the Gaudreau/Monahan line. He's an underrated skater and has pretty good wheels once he gets going. And he's also big enough that he can use his size and momentum to go where he wants to go on the ice. He hasn't displayed high-end offensive skill quite yet, but he also has showed flashes of strong play around the front of the net. He's on the top line right now.

JOSH JOORIS

20:02 played; 57.1% Corsi For; 1 goal for, 1 goal against

Jooris spent a little time up on the top line this season. He's a good fit because he's a right shot and can take face-offs, which really maximizes how Monahan can be used strategically as a face-off-taker. Jooris has good size and plays a good physical two-way game, but he arguably lacks high-end puck-handling skill and his offensive numbers have been powered by having a good shot. That said, the kid can motor, and probably made the NHL by virtue of working harder than most players in camp.

MICHAEL FROLIK

18:55 played; 48.4% Corsi For; 2 goals for, 2 goals against

Frolik spent time on the top line briefly in late October, when the Flames had an awful record and were trying anything they could to shake things up. The fit wasn't amazing; Frolik was just starting to figure out Calgary's systems and then was thrown with the top guns, and he's more of a high-end complementary skilled player rather than an offensive catalyst anyway.

SAM BENNETT

15:46 played; 40.7% Corsi For; 2 goals for, 0 goals against

Bennett's been thrown in with Gaudreau and Monahan here and there throughout the year, partially by accident and partially as a last resort. (For example, he briefly appeared with them during the rout over Florida because Micheal Ferland went for a change right before an offensive rush up the ice.) He's got high-end skill but primarily plays the left side, and putting him on the top line puts all of Calgary's high-end offensive talent on one line and makes it too easy to set defensive match-ups.

WHO'S THE BEST FIT?

At this point, the two best fits are probably be Hudler and Ferland. Hudler has the skill to play with Gaudreau and Monahan, but hasn't consistently gone to the guts of the ice this season. He does have the built-in chemistry with them from last season, though. And Ferland? Ferland's still very much an untapped resource as an NHL player, in the sense that his limitations haven't really been explored or established. All we know for sure is that he's got some size to him and once he gets moving, he tends to go where he wants to go on the ice. And it's his use of his size and the fact that he's still emerging as a player that makes him a really tantalizing player to use with the team's top line.

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Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames since 2010. He's Senior Contributing Editor at FlamesNation, a Senior Writer covering the Flames and the NHL Draft for The Hockey Writers, and a correspondent for the Fischler Report. He's just trying to capture the spirit of the thing.
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#1 MontanaMan
January 16 2016, 08:35AM
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The right fit is someone who can skate with JG and Monahan, has the skill to play with them and ideally, has some size to work the corners and in front of the net. For me, I would give Ferland every opportunity as he fits all requirements. The key is to not be impatient as chemistry takes some time but it will be clear after ten games. A bigger, skilled winger is critical on the road or down the line, in a long playoff run.

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#2 BJ
January 16 2016, 08:43AM
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Best fit... Puljujarvi... Okposo...

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#3 Marbled Blue Cheese
January 16 2016, 08:47AM
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Kevin Hayes

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#4 Burnward
January 16 2016, 08:50AM
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Maaaaaattttt Daaaaaammmon.

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#5 Hacker
January 16 2016, 08:58AM
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Hope Hartley stays with Ferland a while, I like what he brings to that line. As much as I like Huddler, he can,t keep up. Johnny and Monahan are sneaky fast. Only others that can keep up are Bennett, Frolik and Raymond. If I was Johny and I looked over and saw Colbourne on the right side, I,d skate off the ice and demand to be traded.

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#6 Okg
January 16 2016, 09:11AM
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The SuperWOWY stats don't sound right for Johnny Monny Ferly though Puckalytics matches Ryan's numbers.

Besides that I swear Monahan scored a 5v5 goal two games ago against the Sh:arks with Ferland and Johnny on the ice. Even the TOI seema off.

I looked up the individual corsi the last two games on Natural Stat Trick and while Johnny-Ferland or Monny-Ferland might have spent 10-25 seconds away from the third player resulting in a single corsi event against differential, the stats look more like:

About 27 Minutes TOI Together in the last two games alone 34 Corsi Events for No more than 17 Corsi Events Which calculates to a 66.7% CF in those two games 1GF 1GA

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#7 The GREAT Walter White
January 16 2016, 09:14AM
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Emile should be ready by now!!!

Or any of the other hi potential prospects we had on the baby flames.....

The unwillingness by BT to admit his mistake and address the complete lack of player development on the baby Flames is a huge mistake. Needs to be addressed yesterday before our next group of kids fizzle out.........Huska is it?

WW

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#8 ChinookArchYYC
January 16 2016, 09:40AM
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It's pretty obvious that Calgary needs more highend talent for the top 6. I'm sure this will not be a popular opinion, but Monahan's current skillset is better suited as a solid, top end 2nd line centre (point production notwithstanding). So for me, beyond this season it's who plays on the first line with Gaudreau? Sam Bennett will like ascend to be the team's best centre, although that's probably at least 2 seasons away.

This year, I'm much more interested in seeing what Ferland continues to bring to the top 3. I was at the Panther's game, he's much faster than I'd expected (and not only for a big guy)

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#9 King Quong
January 16 2016, 09:43AM
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The GREAT Walter White wrote:

Emile should be ready by now!!!

Or any of the other hi potential prospects we had on the baby flames.....

The unwillingness by BT to admit his mistake and address the complete lack of player development on the baby Flames is a huge mistake. Needs to be addressed yesterday before our next group of kids fizzle out.........Huska is it?

WW

I agree to a degree I'm not a fan of Huska. Ideally we would still have troy ward I felt that our ahl club and penticton team was noticeably worse after the change despite having arguably more talent.

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#10 Kevin R
January 16 2016, 09:45AM
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At this point I don't know how you can't go with Ferland & stick with him for at least 10 games & preferably the rest of the season. I don't think the stats comparison right now is worth putting too much stock in because Monahan & Gaudreau haven't had a winger in the mold of Ferland to play with until now. Not only do we need to get Ferly climatized to a wizard & a pure sniper, we also need Monahan & Gaudreau get used to playing with a Rhino that will cause havoc in front of the net & open space for Gaudreau to dance around in space Hudler & Colborne never gave him.

Hudler still has lots of skill & it would really be in the best interests of the Flames to match him up with Bennett. Personally, I would like to see Bennett back at centre with Hudler & Frolik. That pushes Backlund to the 3rd line but he plays a good style suited for the 3rd line & can do it with some of the forwards we have left. But I am really curious to see if Hudler can compliment Bennett the way he did Gaudreau last year. I don't think Hudler can handle to top shut down defensive matching we are about to see as the playoff race heats up. JMhumbleO

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#11 Moneyham
January 16 2016, 10:06AM
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King Quong wrote:

I agree to a degree I'm not a fan of Huska. Ideally we would still have troy ward I felt that our ahl club and penticton team was noticeably worse after the change despite having arguably more talent.

We didn't let go of Troy Ward on purpose, he didn't want to move from Western Canada as his family is from the area so he had to be placed when the city of Abbotsford didn't want to renew its lease on the arena for our minor league team. Plus Ward got a coaching job with a WHL team afterwards (I think the Giants) but didn't last a season as he actually got fired. So he clearly wasn't the second coming of Babcock.

The reason that the baby flames are struggling this season is that the team mainly is filled with prospects rather than career AHLers. If you look up North you can see what a team of talent but no veteran leadership results in. But the good thing is that the AHL is a development league so patience is really the key. Poirier and Klimchuk have both started to find their game recently so hopefully the early season struggles were just a blip on the radar.

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#12 Graeme
January 16 2016, 10:07AM
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@Okg

The key here is patience so the chemistry has time to develop. I found it interesting how good Johnny looked on the right wing so Ferly could play left wing. It did not last long but it looked like it could work. If I am Ferly I am going to do everything in my power to learn to play right wing...so I can stay in the mix. If I am Johnny or Monny I really want this to work.

Having a player like Ferly on the wing is a recipe for success. Just look at the end of the San Jose game with Calgary pressing, Vlasic was taking Bennett out of the scrum while Burns was squared off with Ferly but wanted nothing to do with him. You just know that Ferly was keeping an eye on how Bennett was doing... In case he needed to step in.

Ferly equals less slashes and liberties taken on the kids....which will surely help their longevity. Teams will start to go after Ferly to get him off the ice by getting him to take a bad penalty sticking up for his linemates....so far that tactic has not worked. Full credit goes out to Ferly for learning to change his game so that he does not become a liability.

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#13 Craftmatic 4.0
January 16 2016, 10:19AM
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I noticed that Ferland seems to be able to find his coworkers with sum sweet passes(small sample) and big Joe only passes to the opposite teams!

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#14 OKG
January 16 2016, 10:27AM
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@King Quong

Troy Ward was a better "in-game" coach than Huska, but he did not agree with Hartley's philosphies and ran a completely different system in Abbotsford. What happened after that was AHL call-ups were always lost when they got their NHL opportunity. That's why the let him go.

Huska is inexperienced and in many ways himself a "prospect" coach. However he runs the system exactly as Hartley dictates, so when we get a call-up, guys instinctively know where to be.

And since Hartley's system is complicated and asks a lot of extra defensive mindset from forwards and offensive mindset from defensemen, it's also tougher to master for AHLers.

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#15 Baalzamon
January 16 2016, 10:28AM
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@The GREAT Walter White

Emile should be ready by now!!!

How do you figure? Aside from Burakovsky (rushed to the NHL by the Caps for some reason) and Marko Dano (who showed well with Columbus a year ago, but who is merely a marginally useful depth forward for the Blackhawks), none of the players drafted anywhere close to Poirier are legitimate NHLers yet.

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#16 piscera.infada
January 16 2016, 10:45AM
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Moneyham wrote:

We didn't let go of Troy Ward on purpose, he didn't want to move from Western Canada as his family is from the area so he had to be placed when the city of Abbotsford didn't want to renew its lease on the arena for our minor league team. Plus Ward got a coaching job with a WHL team afterwards (I think the Giants) but didn't last a season as he actually got fired. So he clearly wasn't the second coming of Babcock.

The reason that the baby flames are struggling this season is that the team mainly is filled with prospects rather than career AHLers. If you look up North you can see what a team of talent but no veteran leadership results in. But the good thing is that the AHL is a development league so patience is really the key. Poirier and Klimchuk have both started to find their game recently so hopefully the early season struggles were just a blip on the radar.

I actually don't think him "not wanting to move from western Canada" was a reason he didn't stay with the organization. I seem to remember an interview right before, or maybe right after he was let go where Ward said he would move if they wanted him to. His dismissal was nothing more than a new hockey ops department wanting "their own guy" in the AHL. It's nothing new, and it's probably the right call from a business perspective.

That said, I agree with the rest of your comment. If Ward was such an all-star AHL coach, he would have found a job in the AHL.

The development argument is a little too black and white for me as well. In AHL terms, this is an incredibly young and inexperienced team. They have 4 players who have more than 3 years of professional experience, and only 2 of those actually play with any regularity at all (Shore and Johnson).

Add to that the fact that development is always a very up and down process, and that's very likely what you're seeing from a player like Poirier. Klimchuk is in his first pro season, started with an injury, and has been very good the last two weeks. Kylington, by all accounts has been developing very nicely as well. While the points aren't there, he's now playing on the first pairing, which with his "defensive deficiencies" coming into the season, is a very promising development.

This is the problem Kent and so many others warned about, when people were throwing together their future Flames lineup, and nearly every prospect currently in the system played some part. There is a very high rate of attrition between the AHL and the NHL (let alone actually being an impact NHLer). People need to be less alarmist about a half-season in the AHL, because with young players, as you mention, it can all be just a "blip on the radar".

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#17 the-wolf
January 16 2016, 10:54AM
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The GREAT Walter White wrote:

Emile should be ready by now!!!

Or any of the other hi potential prospects we had on the baby flames.....

The unwillingness by BT to admit his mistake and address the complete lack of player development on the baby Flames is a huge mistake. Needs to be addressed yesterday before our next group of kids fizzle out.........Huska is it?

WW

Did you say the same thing about Nyqvist at that age? I'll never understand fans who think a prospect is a bust if they're not an established NHLer by 21, 22 years old or by their second season in the minors.

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#18 the-wolf
January 16 2016, 10:57AM
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OKG wrote:

Troy Ward was a better "in-game" coach than Huska, but he did not agree with Hartley's philosphies and ran a completely different system in Abbotsford. What happened after that was AHL call-ups were always lost when they got their NHL opportunity. That's why the let him go.

Huska is inexperienced and in many ways himself a "prospect" coach. However he runs the system exactly as Hartley dictates, so when we get a call-up, guys instinctively know where to be.

And since Hartley's system is complicated and asks a lot of extra defensive mindset from forwards and offensive mindset from defensemen, it's also tougher to master for AHLers.

I'm really starting to debate the merits of that now. Part of coaching is adapting to the players you have. The same system won't work with every or any team.

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#19 Burnward
January 16 2016, 11:21AM
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the-wolf wrote:

Did you say the same thing about Nyqvist at that age? I'll never understand fans who think a prospect is a bust if they're not an established NHLer by 21, 22 years old or by their second season in the minors.

Except Jankowski.

He's the worstest player to ever wurst.

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#20 FeyWest
January 16 2016, 11:36AM
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@the-wolf

It does, however, go both ways. Players also have to adapt to the coach/systems too, not every player is going to be a perfect fit for any one system. You likely won't see large changes to a system that has success no matter how limited, small tweaks take time to show results but at least they aren't trying to learn a new system every week, that just confuses and causes more problems.

Much of the Oiler's woes I would say are caused from changing coaches annually, even if Mclellan doesn't have success this year (ie. in the basement again) they'd be smart to stick with him for more than one year.

I don't see us winning the cup with Hartley, although there is a chance, I think he's a much better option for a stand in than say Tortorella.

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#21 RKD
January 16 2016, 12:46PM
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Ferland is a pretty solid skater and can brings a physicality to the top line he can win puck battles in the corners. Still though, we would need to see a much higher offensive skill side from him. Even if Bennett usurped Monahan and became the #1C, they would still need to find a guy on the top line RW and then find wingers for Monahan. I think it will have to come externally. If Hudler and Jones are gone that leave a big gap on the RW, that's where the focus should be along with goaltending imo.

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#22 KACaribou
January 16 2016, 01:10PM
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I like Ferland off-wing on the 1st line. Makes it easier to cherry-pick goals in front. Many NHLers purposely play off-wing for this reason, and better shot angles.

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#23 OKG
January 16 2016, 02:22PM
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the-wolf wrote:

I'm really starting to debate the merits of that now. Part of coaching is adapting to the players you have. The same system won't work with every or any team.

Well if a guy like Poirier or Kulak wants to make the NHL, he will have to play Hartley's system in the NHL or play somewhere else. So knowing Hartley's system in the AHL and playing well is the best path to make the Calgary Flames. We're not paying Poirier to be an LA King. That was the issue with Ward's system, it was straight out of Playfair/Sutter's book.

Do some guys, maybe Wotherspoon or Baertschi get left behind in all that? Sure, but it's not like they proved themselves to be gamebreakers.

If you want a system thats not Hartley's system, then you hire an NHL head coach that's not Hartley. The AHL team should definitely mirror the NHL team in style. All the better teams do it that way - L.A.'s farm team won the Calder Cup last year playing Kings Hockey in the AHL.

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#24 kimgquong
January 16 2016, 04:10PM
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Moneyham wrote:

We didn't let go of Troy Ward on purpose, he didn't want to move from Western Canada as his family is from the area so he had to be placed when the city of Abbotsford didn't want to renew its lease on the arena for our minor league team. Plus Ward got a coaching job with a WHL team afterwards (I think the Giants) but didn't last a season as he actually got fired. So he clearly wasn't the second coming of Babcock.

The reason that the baby flames are struggling this season is that the team mainly is filled with prospects rather than career AHLers. If you look up North you can see what a team of talent but no veteran leadership results in. But the good thing is that the AHL is a development league so patience is really the key. Poirier and Klimchuk have both started to find their game recently so hopefully the early season struggles were just a blip on the radar.

I'm aware or what happened with Ward that's why I said I agreed to a degree because it was not managements fault but regardless I liked Ward better especially his power plays

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#25 59strokes
January 18 2016, 12:27PM
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Baalzamon wrote:
Emile should be ready by now!!!

How do you figure? Aside from Burakovsky (rushed to the NHL by the Caps for some reason) and Marko Dano (who showed well with Columbus a year ago, but who is merely a marginally useful depth forward for the Blackhawks), none of the players drafted anywhere close to Poirier are legitimate NHLers yet.

And that affects Poirier's situation how?

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#26 Tomas Oppolzer
January 18 2016, 04:00PM
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@59strokes

...um, because he`s young and needs more time to develop... That was Baal`s point. It was actually pretty obvious.

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