As Flames fans and management are left to wonder what to do with the team in the big leagues, there is some good news for the organization beyond the NHL. A number of Calgary’s futures are having themselves a pretty good start to the season and given the way things are going for the Flames currently the kids may become important sooner rather than later. Here’s a look at some of the stand-outs.
Calgary’s 13th overall pick in June is crushing things to start the year. With six goals and 24 points in just 11 games, Baertschi’s PPG pace is good for first in the WHL, tied with former first round pick Emerson Etem. Over a full season, Baertschi’s scoring pace projects to 157 points in 72 games.
It’s worth noting, of course, that 11 games is a tiny sample size and Baertschi is unlikely to continue to score at that rate all year. He has also garnered some 54% of his point totals on the PP through the early going, which is somewhat less indicative of dominance than if he was killing it at even strength.
All thst said, Baertschi’s high volume of points as an 18-year old are highly encouraging. He is only five points behind team leader Ty Rattie despite playing eight less games. Anyone who saw the kid compete in the Flames training camp and preseason would likely agree that Baertschi didn’t look at all out of place amongst seasoned pros at times and even spent large sequences or entire games being one of the most dangerous players on the ice. Calgary hasn’t had a forward prospect score more than 100 points in junior (at any age, let alone a teen) in recent memory and I can confidently say Baertschi had the most impressive training camp of any first timer I’ve seen since I started writing about the team.
A lot of arrows point in the right direction for Baertschi. It’s way too soon to dub him as a "savior" or any such thing, but there’s little doubt he’s the most exciting prospect this organization has seen since Dion Phaneuf.
The early returns for second year pro Greg Nemisz are also encouraging. The 21-yaer old had a just okay debut in Abbotsford last season but seems to have taken a step forward this year. He leads the Heat with 11 points in 12 games and has upped his shot rate from 1.8 per game last year to 2.3. That doesn’t sound like much, but it translates to 30 more shots over the same amount of games played (68).
It’s clear now that Nemisz is not going to be a high end offensive player at the NHL level and his apprenticeship in the minor leagues is likely to continue a bit longer. Nemisz is an average skater and not the most naturally aggressive forward, but has good hockey IQ and high utility. He’s a player that can skate on the wing and down the middle as well as on any special team. HIs ceiling is likely that of an above average 3rd liner in the bigs.
Anyone who glances at the WHL scoring leaders currently will probably be surprised ot see the Flames former fifth round pick Michael Ferland sitting 4th overall in the league (15g-16a-31pts in 19 games). Picked more for his energy and truculence back in 2010, Ferland has combined with What Kings linemate Mark Stone to form one of the most potent offensive duos in the league through the early going.
Stone is a 6th round pick of the Senators who put up 106 points last year (almost double Ferland’s 56) so there’s little doubt the latter might be riding coattails somewhat. With that caveat in mind, Ferland was another teen that stuck out to me during the prospects tournament and a few preseason contests. It’s clear he isn’t merely a pest or pugilist who dumbly runs around the ice looking for trouble. He can skate well and seemed to have good instincts with the puck on his stick.
His results may be somewhat inflated by playing with a high-end linemate, but Ferland showed some tools in training camp and it’s notable he’s the guy sticking with Brandon’s star thus far. His 56 points also came in just 56 games last season, a PPG pace that projects to 72 points in a full season, so it’s not like Ferland has no business playing on a scoring line.
I had never heard of John Gaudreau when the Flames called out his name in the fourth round this past June, but once I researched him a bit I was highly encouraged by the choice. A tiny dynamo out of the USHL, the 145 pounder led the Dubuque Fighting Saints in scoring with 36-goals and 72-points in 60 games.
The smallest player the Flames have ever drafted moved on to Boston College this year and despite his size and the fact that freshmen rarely get much ice time in college hockey, Gaudreau has five goals and 10 points through 10 games played. He is bay far the highest scoring 18-year old on his team through the early going and has already won Hockey east "rookie of the week" award twice and was named the rookie of the month for October. It’s not just about the point totals either – the kid is getting rave reviews from scouts and spectators. "eaglehockeyblogger" of the Boston College Hockey blog had this to say about Gaudreau recently:
Johnny Gaudreau. Buy a ticket, watch this kid play. I promise it will be worth the money. The kid is spectacular…
Of course, there’s no doubt Gaudreau will have to get bigger to eventually make the show. The smallest players in the league currently are Brian Gionta* and Martin St. Louis and neither of them are south of 160 pounds (although I am highly suspicious of their listed heights and weights one NHL.com. I’ll eat my shoe if St. Louis is actually 5’8" and 175 pounds). Good news is Gaudreau only turned 18 in August and has a number of years to grow and put on some weight.
*Speaking of Gionta, the Habs winger is a Boston College alumnist.
Not to be outdone by his diminutive new teammate, Bill Arnold hass emerged as one of Boston’s best players this year. His 14 points are one behind team leader and former first rounder Chris Kreider and he is apparently a strong presence at both ends of the ice to boot. Boston College Hockey blog routinely notes Arnold as a reason the team won after victories:
Bill Arnold was great. Arnold had two goals but what is not on the stat sheet is his defensive zone coverage. I love him on the PK because he does a great job of clearing the puck out of the BC zone on the kill and his +/- is now + 5 on the season.
Like Gaudreau, Arnold was named Hockey East player of the month for October and is winning high praise from his coach:
"He’s taken a real leadership role for us," said BC head coach Jerry York. "He’s only a sophomore but he’s really become one of our go-to guys both with and without the puck. I think he’s shown some real improvement from last year to this year and I thought he had a pretty good freshman year for us."
Unlike Gaudreau, though, Arnold already has NHL size at 6′ and 215 pounds. Previously cast as "shut down" defensive center, it looks like Arnold is rounding out his game. If he can permanently add scoring to a stable of skills that already included defensive acumen and hard work he will rapidly climb up the Flames prospect charts.
Reinhart’s output isn’t quite as eyepopping as Sven Baertschi’s, although his eight goals and 19 points are both team leading marks on the Kootenay Ice so far. Reinhart is billed more of a two-way center than a primary offensive force and that’s the role he played during his break-out 79 point season last year. He frequently matched up other team’s best lines and was instrumental in the Ice’s notable post-season run last year, scoring 27-points in just 17 games. He’s another teenager who stood out in training camp this year. While he wasn’t as explosive as Baertschi, Reinhart was clearly one of the cleverest players on the ice, frequently intercepting passes and threading pucks through coverage.
Reinhart isn’t going to turn into the long sought after #1 center the Flames have been after ‘lo these many years, but there’s a lot of indications he’s on track to be a NHL player, which is a win when it comes to 3rd round picks.