Mikael Backlund headlines the list of players taking the ice starting Monday afternoon at the Saddledome, as the Calgary Flames get set for their annual development camp. With 32 players attending, it’s a chance to see exactly where the Flames feeder system is at, and what we might be able to look forward to.
So, what are some of the interesting storylines to watch? What players have a chance to stand out?
The former first round pick enters this years camp in an odd situation, similar to Dustin Boyd’s a few years ago. For Boyd, he had spent a fair amount of time in the NHL the previous season, but still qualified for prospects, so he attended. The same is true for Backlund, who spent 23 games on the big club last season. The thing I want to see is how far ahead of the curve he is than the rest of Calgary’s prospect forwards, some who will be attending their first camp. Backlund showed some promising flashes last season, which puts him in a weird situation…if he’s the most impressive player at camp, it’s expected; if he’s not, some will be disappointed. However, looking at it that way is probably fruitless…it’s another opportunity to watch him play, and get a glimpse at how he’s progressed since the last time we saw him on April 10th.
The Sharp Shooters
Of the 21 forwards attending camp, four are coming off major junior seasons of 30 goals or more. Bryan Cameron put up 53 goals with the high powered Barrie Colts and signed a free agent contract with the Flames during the off season. The former third round pick of the LA Kings went unsigned by the team, and the Flames took a no-risk chance on the 21 year old center. Kent put together a nice analysis of him at the time of the signing, late in April. In five OHL seasons, Cameron put up goal totals of 20, 33, 41, 37 and 53 and was an all star twice. The book on him suggests he’s a legit goal scorer, however he wasn’t signed by the Kings for a reason, presumably. So, it’ll be very interesting to see what the Flames have with him.
Ryan Howse comes off a 47 goal season with the Chilliwack Bruins of the Western Hockey League, and has some Flames observers excited. The 2009 third round pick will be fairly closely watched, as his numbers rose seemingly exponentially in his three full WHL seasons…his goal totals went from 10 to 31 and finally to 47. Different opinions seem to exist surrounding Howse, but from what I’ve been able to garner, he’s a feisty player who can score. One junior hockey observer told me once: "he’s one rare guy I really can’t put a finger on, and I have no idea what he translates into in the future." That analysis made Howse a guy I really want to watch.
After a second straight Memorial Cup, Greg Nemisz will be one being watched, as per usual as he’s a former first round draft pick who put up 34 goals with the Windsor Spitfires last season. He’s a power guy who continues to add size and strength, while his assertiveness has also improved. But Nemisz also seems like a "work in progress" type player, and how his game translates to the NHL is still being evaluated. If he continues to add size and increase his strength, it just might.
And 2008 second round pick Mitch Wahl is coming off a 30 goal, 96 point season with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, by far the best numbers of his major junior career. He also spent four games with the Abbotsford Heat last season, putting up four points in as many games. I know many aren’t over the moon about Wahl in terms of his NHL offensive capabilities, but I’d be very interested to see how his skill set shows with players at similar stages of their development.
Five of the six players drafted by the Calgary Flames in June will be attending camp, with blueliner John Ramage absent. Four of the players are forwards in Max Reinhart, Bill Arnold, Michael Ferland, and Patrick Holland; Joey Leach is a defenceman. Arnold and Ferland are the two I’m really excited to see. Ferland went to the Memorial Cup final with the Brandon Wheat Kings, his first year in major junior. His story is very interesting and his hockey experience is very limited, so he really is a project type player. Arnold is a beast…he’s listed at 185 pounds and 5’11, but seeing him in person in LA, this guy is built like a train.
Two non-drafted players come to development camp, in the form of goaltender Cam Lanigan and defenceman Giffen Nyren. Lanigan spent last season in Edmonton, with the WHL’s Oil Kings, appearing in 39 games with a terrible team. His numbers weren’t great, but good numbers are tough to come by on a 16 win team. Nyren won a Western League title with the Calgary Hitmen, playing 45 games following an in-season trade from the Kamloops Blazers. His numbers were pretty impressive, as he picked up steam in the second half, finishing with 31 points in 45 games in Calgary; overall, he had 42 points in 70 regular season games. He was also a force en route to the Memorial Cup, putting up 18 points in 23 playoff games…a lot of people took notice of the undrafted Nyren as the year went along.
Obviously, prospects camp isn’t the most accurate of testing grounds. You’re playing a controlled environment, and getting a true read on a player isn’t always easy watching drills. However, it’s a chance to get a grasp of what Calgary has coming up through the system, and what we might be able to look forward to in a Flames jersey down the road.