It’s not understating it to say Flames prospect goalies Leland Irving and Matt Keetley are both entering the most important season of their young pro careers. A consistent and positive year for either or both players would obviously raise their stock within the organization. However, another campaign similar to last year will bring them to a crossroads with the only pro organization they’ve ever known. For both tenders, now is the time to impress.
Heading into training camp, neither goaltender is expected to compete for a backup position, and nor should they. Calgary acquired Henrik Karlsson at June’s draft and signed him shortly thereafter. He’s the one the Flames fully expect to handle the backup load for the big club this upcoming season, meaning it’s a foregone conclusion both Irving and Keetley will start in the American Hockey League. Is this camp important for them? Of course it is, in the sense that any pro camp is important, the same way the recent Young Stars Tournament in Penticton was important. They were playing in front of decision makers in the Flames organization, and the more positive impressions you make, the better it serves you down the road. But it’s this season that will carry the most weight for both Keetley and Irving, and both hope they’re able to erase a disappointing 2009-10 outing.
Both players would like to put last season behind them. Irving started the year very strong, but his play regressed to the point he was sent to the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings for an eight game sting. Keetley suffered much the same way, as his inconsistent year also saw him spend time in Victoria, playing nine games at the ECHL level. Neither goalie saw playoff action, as it was David Shantz grabbing the bulk of action down the stretch and into the postseason. But with Shantz since departed, the number one spot is up for grabs between Keetley and Irving; that number one spot could mean a lot for the goalie who earns it.
You can’t blame the Flames for starting to evaluate the future of both these tenders. Keetley is a fifth round selection coming from the 2005 draft while Irving was taken in the first round the following year. Both have two full pro seasons under their belt, and neither have shown the ability to take the next step to being an everyday professional starter. There’s nothing to say the next step won’t be taken at some point, but eventually the Flames have to decide if they want to continue putting resources behind them. A difficult season for one or both of Irving and Keetley could force the hand of the Flames, who have yet to find a consistent backup goaltender to Miikka Kiprusoff.
Calgary is still hopeful for both guys, and there’s something to be said for patience, especially with a goaltender. But there’s no question this is a crucial season for the pair, and a season Flames fans and brass alike will be following very closely. After a difficult 2009-10 campaign, we’re all hoping one of either Keetley or Irving takes the proverbial ball and runs with it. If that doesn’t happen, Calgary will do some hard evaluation on two very successful former WHL goalies.
- FlamesNation will be at training camp starting Saturday morning, filing reports and obersvations as we see them.
- The first on ice session is Saturday morning at 9:30 am with a different group skating at 11:30 am. That wil be the schedule for much of camp.
- Calgary’s first preseason game is Tuesday, September 21st when they’ll play a split squad game against the Vancouver Canucks. The game in Calgary starts at 7 pm while the Vancouver start is at 8 pm. FlamesNation will also have pre and postgame coverage of each Flames preseason game.