On Friday, the closest thing that we’ll get to a Calgary Flames training camp kicks off. But it won’t be in Calgary. Instead, it’s far, far away in Abbotsford, British Columbia, as the Abbotsford Heat begin camp for the 2012-13 season.
But who, exactly, are these guys? Most of them are Flames draft picks, although a good many of them are not. In the interest of providing fans with a bit of knowledge about these players, here is a brief look at the men who comprise the Flames farm team.
Akim Aliu (RW): 23, Nigerian/Canadian
Born in Nigeria but grew up all over the place. Drafted by Chicago but drifted around a bit. Joined the Heat on a loan last year and was actually pretty decent, enough for the Flames to acquire his rights from Winnipeg and give him a two-game audition with the big club. He impressed and will be expected to open up time and space for his teammates with physicality.
Sven Baertschi (LW): 20, Swiss
Calgary’s first rounder last season tore up the WHL and, while on an emergency recall with the big club, showed flashes of brilliance playing with Greg Nemisz and Tom Kostopoulos. The organization has high, high hopes for him as an offensive catalyst.
Carter Bancks (LW): 23, Canadian
Former Lethbridge Hurricanes forward is gritty and energetic. Plays an up-tempo game, but has struggled with injuries. Very much considered a “heart-and-soul” guy for the Heat on their bottom-six.
Lance Bouma (C): 22, Canadian
Provost, Alberta native has WHL and Memorial Cup titles under his belt. A strong checking forward, he’s not an offensive stalwart but makes life difficult for the opposition.
Paul Byron (C): 23, Canadian
A former QMJHL champion, the diminutive Paul Byron was snagged by the Flames in the Robyn Regehr trade. He split last season between the Heat and the Flames, at times playing very well on the third line with the big club.
Bryan Cameron (RW): 23, Canadian
Formerly a LA Kings pick, Cameron went unsigned and joined the Flames organization as a free agent. Scored 53 goals in over-age year in the OHL, but has bounced between the AHL and ECHL since turning pro.
David Eddy (RW): 22, American
Turning pro after a fairly distinguished tenure with St. Cloud State in the NCAA. Got into four AHL contests at the end of last year and looked fairly good.
Adam Estoclet (C): 23, American
Dartmouth College alumnus has bounced around the AHL and ECHL for the past year or two, but caught on with the Heat down the stretch. He’s on an AHL contract, but the fact that he won’t be restricted by the AHL’s development rule will help get him into games.
Michael Ferland (LW): 20, Canadian
Fifth round pick of the Flames has quietly become a point-per-game player in the WHL. He was a Black Ace with the Heat last season but didn’t dress for any games. It’ll be interesting to see how his rough-and-tumble game translates to the pros.
Roman Horak (C): 21, Czech
Acquired in the Tim Erixon trade/debacle, Horak impressed in camp and made the Flames, then looked a wee bit out of place as a 20-year-old. He’s got some offensive flair, but is primarily a two-way pivot. It’ll be interesting to see if he can rekindle some magic with his old Chilliwack teammate, Ryan Howse.
Ryan Howse (LW): 21, Canadian
Offensive dynamo with the Chilliwack Bruins put up some really good numbers, then turned up to Abbotsford a wee bit too heavy last year and had to start from scratch. Howse likely matured a bit through the process, but he’ll have to earn every bit of ice time he gets – just like he had to last year.
Krys Kolanos (C): 31, Canadian
Former first round pick way back in 2000, Kolanos has an NCAA championship and a World Championship gold medal under his belt. Hes also had a laundry list of injuries and stops in leagues in Germany, Switzerland and Finland. Looked decent in Calgary last year, but is primarily an AHL asset. (As an AHL player, he’s really good.)
Quintin Laing (LW): 33, Canadian
Saskatchewan native has over 600 AHL games under his belt and has served as the Heat’s captain for a couple years. He’s under an AHL contract and will be hindered by the league’s development rule, particularly with the Heat’s blueline so thin and a lot of young forwards on the roster.
Greg Nemisz (RW): 22, Canadian
Calgary’s first rounder in 2008, Nemisz hasn’t progressed as much as fellow 2008 picks Lance Bouma and T.J. Brodie have, but he hasn’t fallen off the radar either. He was recalled three times by Calgary last year and looked good in his last stint. A point-per-game player in the OHL, he figures to be more of a mucker and grinder in the NHL if he’s going to make it.
Gaelan Patterson (C): 22, Canadian
Saskatoon native hasn’t really racked up the points in the AHL, but he didn’t really do that in the WHL, either. A seventh round pick, he’s been a decent depth option in the American League, but will have to really impress this year in order to stay on the radar. As it stands, with a forward-heavy prospect group, he may be relegated to the ECHL.
Max Reinhart (C): 20, Canadian
Arguably the most highly-touted third round pick in the team’s history, the man that some (okay, me) have nicknamed “Max Power” has been praised for his ability to read a game. The son of former Flame Paul Reinhart, Max led the Kootenay Ice to a WHL title in 2011 and looked pretty good in a short AHL stint at the end of last season.
Ben Street (C): 25, Canadian
Formerly of the Penguins organization (on an AHL contract), Street joins the Heat after winning an NCAA championship with Wisconsin (he was teammates with Joe Piskula) and being the ECHL’s best rookie in 2011.
Dustin Sylvester (C): 23, Canadian
Brother of Calgary Hitmen captain Cody Sylvester, Dustin tried out for the Heat after tearing up Germany’s secondary league. He looked good and earned a renewal of his AHL contract. Now he’ll have to step it up a notch to get that upgraded to an NHL deal.
Mitch Wahl (C): 22, American
A very potent sniper in the WHL – putting up 284 points in 273 games – Wahl got his eggs scrambled a couple times via big hits. He hasn’t really been the same since. Last year he bounced between various stops in the AHL and ECHL. With so many new faces in Abbotsford, it’s curious where he’ll end up.
Ben Walter (C): 28, Canadian
The son of Heat president (and former NHLer) Ryan Walter, Ben’s a cagey AHL veteran. He’s played a few NHL games, but he was one of very few Heat players that wasn’t used by Calgary last year. He’s making great AHL money ($275,000) this year and will probably remain productive in the club’s top six.
Chris Breen (D): 23, Canadian
Undrafted tower of a man is an effective positional defender, but struggles a bit with mobility. Not surprising, given his size. Very much a meat and potatoes, stay-at-home defender.
T.J. Brodie (D): 22, Canadian
Smooth-skating offensive blueliner made the jump to the NHL last season, playing more than half the year in Calgary. He’s not perfect in his own zone, but he’s shown the ability to start offensive plays from his own end.
Joe Callahan (D): 29, American
Yale alumnus was picked by Phoenix in 2002 and has a few NHL games under his belt. Signed to an AHL deal, he’s a depth option for the Heat. He’s played over 500 AHL games.
Brady Lamb (D): 24, Canadian
Two years removed from an NCAA championship with Minnesota-Duluth, the big, mean Lamb will join the Heat. He impressed with his crash-and-bang style of play at development camp – his beard made him look years older than he really is – and he’ll be expected to help anchor the Heat’s blueline.
James Martin (D): 21, Canadian
Signed out of development camp a couple years back, Martin was hampered by injuries last year and only dressed for 28 games. He’s still young, but thus far he hasn’t looked like somebody with NHL potential. That said, 28 pro games is a very small sample size and the Heat are thin on defenders, so he’ll get his shot to make a stronger impression.
Zack McKelvie (D): 27, American
NCAA graduate played four years with Army, then had his pro hockey career delayed by having to serve for a year. On an AHL deal with Abbotsford after spending time in the Boston Bruins organization. Despite his age, he’s played less than 50 pro games.
Joe Piskula (D): 28, American
A stay-at-home defender and a veteran of many, many AHL games (and an NCAA championship), Piskula is one of the leaders on the Heat. He was in Calgary for a spell, but his real value is providing some strong, steadying influence for the young defenders in the system.
Nick Tuzzolino (D): 26, American
After making appearances for the Heat in part of the last couple seasons, Tuzzolino is now under an AHL contract. He looked good at times in the playoffs, but is otherwise a solid-if-unspectacular two-way defender. He’s played in the AHL, ECHL, IHL and UHL.
Barry Brust (G): 29, Canadian
Former Calgary Hitmen netminder has become a veteran of the AHL, playing nearly 200 games. Signed to the Heat on an AHL deal, he’ll be pushing Danny Taylor for the starting job.
Danny Taylor (G): 26, English/Canadian
Brought to Abbotsford last year when the Heat were in the process of losing Joni Ortio to Finland (and Leland Irving to Calgary), this former Kings pick turned out to be a very capable AHL netminder, eventually usurping Irving outirght for the #1 role. Still on an AHL deal, he’ll be challenged by Barry Brust and likely will try to solidify his claim on the starter’s job full-time.