With things more or less cemented in place for the big club, here’s how the depth chart is shaping up at the next level of the Flames organization:
Chucko – Backlund – Nemisz
MacMillan – Sutter – Cameron
Cunning – Wahl – Watt
Bouma – Armstrong – Grantham
Pelech – Negrin
Meyers – Seabrook
Baldwin – Brodie
*Players in italics are currently RFA
With the exit of veterans like Jason Jaffary, Carsen Germyn, David Van Der Gulik, Grath Murray, Colin Stuart, Jamie Lundmark, Riley Armstrong, Brett Palin and Andy Delmore, the Abbotsford Heat are shaping up to be very, very young to start the season. Unless guys like Ryan Stone and Staffan Kronwall are eventually demoted, the oldest skaters on the club will be Cunning (25), Chucko (24), Pelech (23) and Sutter (23). Four forwards will be playing their first professional season (Nemisz, Wahl, Bouma, Cameron) and several others with be sophomores (Backlund, Grantham). Negrin, Seabrook, Brodie and Breen fall into one of these two categories on the back-end as well.
On the one hand, it’s good to see ample space for guys like Cameron, Nemisz and Wahl to play and grow. On the other hand, there is precious little NHL depth here. Jaffray, Van Der Gulik, Stuart, Germyn and Lundmark were all fringe, low-ceiling guys to be sure, but they were also players capable of being recalled and skating in at least a limited capacity in the show to one degree or another. They’re all gone. Outside of Backlund, Sutter and maybe Kris Chucko, there’s nothing else there. As such, a rash of injuries mid-season up front could significantly complicate things for the Flames. Especially because they’ll likely be operating without the cap space to sign a veteran NHL UFA or two as stop gaps.
Fans in Abbotsford shouldn’t expect the most competitive club in the world either. Particularly if a couple of the near NHL ready guys end up on the parent team for portions of the season (Backlund and Pelech come to mind). Unless the likes of Cameron, Wahl and Nemisz step in and are further ahead of the development curve than we can currently imagine, the Heat are going to have a rough time just qualifying for the post season, let alone challenging any of the better clubs in the A.
That said, I’m very interested to see how some of the rookies do, particularly all the forwards and TJ Brodie on the back-end. The 2008 batch of prospects looks strong relative to most other years, so the I’ll be keeping a close eye on the results and development of those guys (many of whom are inside my top 10 Flames prospect list). Recent free agent signing and 50 goal scorer Bryan Cameron is another guy worth watching to see if Sutter scooped a keeper from the scratch and dent bin.
Of course, there’s still time left in the summer for Darryl to round up some fringe guys and plug them in on the farm. The aforementioned Ryan Stone may well start the year in Abbotsford if someone like Craig Conroy is signed to center the 4th line. That would provide at least a partial buffer against INJURY ARMAGEDDON should more than one Flame forward go down at a time. Once all the RFA’s are finally re-signed, we may see a few more vaguely recognizable names inked come August. In fact, I would bet on it.