In part two we examine the forwards in the Flames system. Many of the young prospects that were brought into the organization under the Darryl Sutter regime were cut loose in the early stages of Jay Feaster’s tenure. Is it a sign of a new direction for the Flames? Has the organization decided to take off the blinders when it comes to drafting outside of the WHL, and get with the times? Feaster’s process to look outside the box is categorically different from Sutter’s practice of keeping a tight lid on the box and not letting anyone see what he had hidden inside. It is this fundamental change that is leading to what will shape the foundation of the Flames organization.
Well enough of that.. Let’s get to it!
This was a guy that a lot of people felt the Calgary Flames took a leap of faith on. He was undersized and viewed as possibly being overwhelmed. In 2009, he received a less than flattering review from Michael Remmerde.
"… always going for the 1-on-1 rushes, not showing any creativity. Is going to have to learn to do other things with the puck."
Well it appears that, whether Ryan ever heard that critique or not, he definitely took the words to heart. In order for Howse to make an impression on the Flames organization, he is going to have to make them see past his ‘shortcomings’ and focus on his offensive talents. In 2009, Howse recorded 44 pts in 61 games, and was a +/- -24. Not good, something had to change. The following year, Howse recorded 72 pts in 72 games. He was a point-per-game player with a +/- +9; a major step in the right dirstion. Last year, Ryan kept his momentum going for his last season in the WHL, posting 83 pts in 70 games, an impressive 1.19 pt-per-game average.
Howse has shown growth and maturity in his last 3 years, which is a positive sign as he enters the AHL. He has learned that by changing the shooting angle of both his body and his stick, he can add a new creative side to his game. Add to that his seeming fearlessness in going after the puck, regardless of where it is on the ice, and it seems like Ryan has a ton of raw talent.
Two things Horak is immediately known for is that he was the set up man for Howse in Chilliwack… and he was the guy that most fans think we got ‘stuck’ with in the deal that saw Tim Erixon leave Calgary, before he ever got here. I’m sure the latter is what will stick out until he does something to win to win fans over, and hopefully make them forget about oh-what’s-his-name. For the sake of continuing our positivity in the Flames system, let’s shy away from the latter and instead focus on the former.
Horak finished last year with 78 pts in 64 games… most of them coming in the form of 52 assists… most of those setting up Ryan Howse. He is a playmaker that has chemistry with one of the Flames top prospects, and I’ sure that is part of the reason Feaster was happy to get Roman in what appeared to be a no win situation.
"We think he will play in the National Hockey League. We get a player who already has chemistry with one of our other draft picks. He is signed… there is no European-return clause in that contract, so he’ll come in here and try to earn a spot in camp. If he doesn’t, he’ll be with our top AHL affiliate." – Jay Feaster
As I am writing this [and you are reading this], I’m sure that we will all see Roman Horak in Abbotsford, playing alongside Howse. The kid has good offensive instincts, and he’s fast. Fast is good, and what is better, is that Horak has the tendencies to be able to make deceptively good moves at these high speeds. He seems to play more effectively on either the PP or the PK; where he has more time and space to make these types of plays.
One of the biggest things Horak is going to have to work on in the AHL is his hockey IQ. Even with his speed and talent, he is going to have to learn to process his options faster, without sacrificing the quality of the decisions he makes on the ice. Sometimes he holds the puck too long, which is probably why he is more effective with fewer players on the ice, and more room to manoeuvre.
If he wants to able to develop into what the Flames hope will be a solid two way center, he will have to learn that sometimes the best move to drive the play north may be to draw the coverage rather than attempt to dangle through it.
If ever there was an indication that the Flames were taking the blinders off from their tunnel-vision, ‘win now’ attitude, it came when they drafted Markus Granlund. Markus is the long term project where his developmental curve could take him either to the NHL or relegate him to Wikipedia amongst the likes of Niklas Sundblad or Jesper Mattson.
Even though the Flames fans won’t be seeing Markus over here for at least another year (he still has one year of military duty to fulfill in Finland before he can come to North America), I wanted to include him in the prospect breakdown, to stick with the notion of new thinking in Flames development. The ‘outside the box factor’. What Granlund brings to the table isn’t the full course meal, but rather the exotic appetizer that will leave you hungry for more.
The young Finn has a ton of offensive skill and has a great sense for the game. He is a threat on the PP because he sees the play and can react to the open options. Unlike Horak’s weaknesses, Granlund will adapt to what the defence gives him, and make the smarter play. He had 52 pts last year in 40 games with HFK Helsinki JR, spreading it around evenly with 20 goals and 32 assists. One of the things I liked about him was his confidence in his game and his ability to develop. In an interview with NHL.com, comparing him to his brother Mikael, he said,
"I have my own style, but he’s my brother, so of course we learn from each other. I’m not so sure what things he might learn from me, though. Mikael’s got more power and he’s stronger than me but we are our own players."
It will be an interesting year for Granlund with perhaps his final year over in Finland. If he makes the journey to North America next season, it will probably give us some kind of indication that he is developing in the manner that Calgary had hoped. If he remains in Finland without sufficient cause, then it might also tell us a different tale. I’m hoping it won’t be similar to when Flames fans found out that we had traded for Kronwall – only to find out it was Staffan and not Niklas.
I didn’t know much about Reinhart over the last season other than I was never a fan of his father, when he wore the flaming ‘C’. But during the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup, this kid was a flat out stud! Reinhart was tied for 2nd in points in the WHL’s 2nd season and the Memorial Cup. His offensive game isn’t his only attribute either. Max has good speed and is a great puck handler which, combined with his vision of the ice, makes him a solid two way player.
I had a chance to come across a good interview done by one of our frequent commenters Arik over at M&G. One of the things that caught my eye was when asked about off-season training goals, Reinhart had this to say,
"The main goals I have for off season training are to gain weight and get stronger throughout my lower body. I believe that getting a stronger lower body will give me a better chance at becoming a pro one day."
This is a good goal to have. Given that Max is only 6’1" and 178, if he can gain some muscle (particularly in his lower body), it will make his game style more conducive to his size. By building lower body muscle, he lowers his center of gravity which, with his speed and positioning on the ice, will make it a lot more difficult to separate Reinhart from the puck.
Expect Max to get a few looks at training camp, and possibly some notes and praise for his hard work, ’cause, well, that’s he does. We should also expect Max to be returned to the Kootnay Ice for one more year, where he can have one more season of domination before being introduced to the pros. Reinhart has already demonstrated that he is a clutch player and can be a big game changer as well. The centerman scored a record tying five goals in one game against the Medicine Hat Tigers to advance to the WHL finals.
When he finally makes it to Abbotsford, great; I think he’ll provide some much needed offense. However, if he is returned to the WHL, then I like the aspect he brings to the organization of the next generation coming up through the ranks. This is going to be a step-by-step process to build the farm system and Reinhart is very much going to play a significant role in that process.
We’ll wrap things up in Part 3, with a special individual look at the Flames future great hope… Sven Baertschi.