heat Impressions/Thoughts




As everyone around here no doubt knows by now, the Abbotsford Heat played the Chicago Wolves on Saturday and the game was televised live and in living color by Sportsnet. That gave myself and others an opportunity to watch the team closely for the first time this year and share our thoughts in the game thread that day.

For those who don’t want to click on the thread and read through 80+, comments here is a summation of my observations that night:

The Good

Sven Baertschi

Again, the kid was dynamite. Baertschi turned 20 years old in September and this is his first season as a pro, but is already playing on the Heat’s top forward unit and easily resembles one of the best players on the ice. Sven does almost everything at an above average level – he battles for the puck tenaciously, tracks the puck and anticipates its movements, is creative in tight spaces and is patient enough to make plays under pressure. Anyone looking for a negative could say sometimes he attempts risky moves/dekes when a simpler play is available, but this is true of just about every high-end offensive player you can name.

Most surprising was Baertschi’s strength on his skates and battle level along the boards. He didn’t once hesitate to engage in rough stuff when the puck was in doubt (even garnering a charging penalty at one point) and was never noticably overcome by larger players. In fact, Baertschi was challenged by the notably larger Zack Kassian in the neutral zone at one point in the third and Sven one-armed the Canucks propsect to the ice while still carrying the puck.

One of the few concerns about Baertschi when he was picked was his size – 5’11", 185 pounds – but Saturday night’s performance should disabuse most people of that notion. There was zero indication Sven is "not big enough" for pro hockey.

I realize Im gushing in embarrassing fashion, but what the hell…Flames fans don’t get to be this excited about a forward prospect very often.

TJ Brodie

Brodie wasn’t quite as obviously noticeable, but like Baertschi the 21 year old blueliner is already one of the best on the team at his position. Partnered with Piskula and Breen throughout the night, Brodie was the club’s #1 defender and flashed many of the skills he’s becoming known for in town: good mobility, poise and clean outlet passes. It was also his decision to purposely fire the puck wide that lead to the Baertschi goal.

Roman Horak

It’s been a nice start to the year for Horak who made surprisingly made the Flames out of camp last year, but struggled to put up points at both the NHL and AHL levels nonetheless. He’s riding a hot streak right now with four goals in in four games, but he looks good in other aspects of thr game as well. He’s mostly skating on the wing with Max Reinhart at even strength, but time on the PP is paying off as well. He and Ben Walter have an effective little set play with the man advantage where Walter sets up on the wall and Horak coasts into the soft coverage at the top of the slot. Walter rifles a hard pass through coverage and instead of accepting the pass or trying to one-time it, Horak simply re-directs it at the net. He scored his third goal of the season in this fashion and they attempted it a couple of more times on the PP during the game in question.

Horak isn’t going to score on every second shot he takes all year, but it will be interesting to see how he fares when the hot streak goes away (and guys like Byron and Nemisz make their way back onto the roster).

Max Reinhart

Max wasn’t quite as impactful at even strength/on offense as some of the other guys already mentioned. There were times when it was clear he still needs a bit more time to get up to speed at the pro level. His skating, for instance, while not bad, still needs a bit of work in terms of agility and first step quickness. He hesitated a bit too long when it came to making quick decisions with the puck in certain areas on the ice as well.

That said, more than once Reainhart displayed the high-end thinking and defensive prowess which are his primary strengths. Twice on the PK, Reinhart gained the puck in the offensive zone and ragged it along boards against heavy competition, killing off valuable time. Another time, he plucked a floating clearing shot from the air in the neutral zone, creating a partial break/scoring chance out of nothing.

Reinhart will need to ripen on the vine a bit more in the AHL for sure, but he doesn’t look totally overwhlemed either.

Other Notes…

– Akim Aliu had himself a pretty good game, and I am generally less impressed with Aliu than most other Flames/Heat fans these days. Aliu was able to bulldoze his way to the scoring area more than once and his skating didn’t look as choppy and awkward as it did in the NHL. I’m still not convinced there’s NHL upside there, but he was noticeable in a good way on Saturday.

– Veterans like Ben Walter and Ben Street are pretty good top-six forwards for the club (although Street missed a glorious ten-bell chance set-up by Baertschi on the PP). Walter in particular seems like a high functioning, all situations AHL forward.

– Carter Bancks is scrappy and quick, a nice depth option for the club who will apparently go to the wall for just about any reason. Jim Playfair claimed a Bancks injury in 2010-11 is a main reason the team missed thge playoffs, which of course is a gross exaggeration (if Bancks was that good, he’d be an NHLer), but you can see why the coach had so much esteem for the player. 

The Bad

Chris Breen

Another guy Playfair was once very high on was free agent signing Chris Breen. I have never fully understood why (although Corey Pronman has assured me in the past Breen had a very good season in 2010-11). Although the Heat carried the play for most of the game on Saturday, a lot of things went pear-shaped in the first period and it was frequently with Breen on the ice. The towering 6’7" defender bears all the positives and negatives that kind of size implies: reach, strength and imposing physicality, but also immobility, awkwardness and poor coordination with the puck.

When Breen’s weaknesses overcome his strengths, things gone wrong in a big hurry. There were a couple Chinese fire drills with Breen on the ice because he has a hard time playing the puck under pressure or recovering from any sort of mistake or misread.

Defensive Depth in General

One of the other issues for the Heat is Breen is in the club’s top-four rotation because there just isn’t much there beyond him. What was a strength for a team that boasted Clay Wilson, TJ Brodie, John Negrin, Brett Carson and Brian Connelly at times last year has suddenly become an area of weakness. The addition of former NHLer Steve McCarty helps and Joe Piskula is a capable enough AHLer, but guys like Zach McKelvie and Joe Callahhan looked scary in a bad way at times on Saturday.

Free agent college signing Brady Lamb was suppsoed to step right in at the AHL level, but Ward has only dressed him once in the first four games. After that, the team is waiting for guys like John ramage and Tyler Wotherspoon to turn pro in a year or so, although it’s currently unknown how useful they will be as pros.

Other Notes…

In contrast to the back-end, it’s going to get very crowded up front once Paul Byron and Greg Nemisz get out of the infirmary. You can probably bump Tyler Ruesegger from the top-6 without much issue, but other guys like Baertschi, Street, Walter and Sylvester have been excelling there.

The competition for offensive ice time isn’t a bad thing for the team as a whole, of course, but it does present challenges for guys like Nemisz and Byron who are running out of runway to prove to the organization they are NHLers.

  • T&A4Flames

    “Baertschi was challenged by the notably larger Zack Kassian in the neutral zone at one point in the third and Sven one-armed the Canucks propsect to the ice while still carrying the puck.”

    Yea, that was awesome. I could have watched that over as many times as the goal. Which, by the way, was awesome as well from both Baertschi & Brodie; just very smart. You can see they think at an NHL level.

    Aliu seemed to be all over the place to me, and not in a good way. There seems to be very little structure to his game. I like the element he brings, though. Although, I can’t believe he didn’t get a penalty when he completely disregarded the puck and ran the D man into the boards in a puck chase.

  • everton fc

    Haven’t posted in a while…

    No mention of Ferland, and I can’t find anything saying he’s injured. He’s on the roster, but not playing… Just wondering…

    As for next year, we should do our best to draft Brandon’s Eric Roy. He’s eligible this go-round.

    Glad to see Horak doing so well. Kolanos isn’t doing as well without Walter. I wonder how Ben would do with the big club?? And I still think Byron’s a career AHLer. Ditto Nemisz.

    If Aliu’s raw ability can be harnessed & honed… He might prove a better option than Jackman. And Aliu can drop the mitts.

  • SmellOfVictory

    It’s alot easier to see the games online than people seem to think. I have seen 3 of 4 Heat games and I have watched plenty of khl, swedish, czech, german, and 1 or 2 ohl and whl games so far this season. I don’t want to put any links on here but there are 2 sites I frequent, and I’m not savy with computers in the slightest, oh be sure to have above average internet security as there are alot of spyware ads as well as just flat out questionable content hidden amongst the games. So far nothing has messed up my computer but I have been warned about some links by my security..This is how I have managed to see cervenka play getting me really excited about his eventual arrival he looks to be just an all around naturally good hockey player.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Thought Reinhart might be farther ahead than he is,but i guess i,ll just have to be patient. Also good to see Horak playing with some confidence,as he was certianly lacking in that dept at the end of last season.

  • RexLibris

    Kent –

    What do you think Lamb’s potential is regarding the NHL? Is he more or less an AHL player at this point with only spot NHL call-ups, or could he develop into a 3rd pairing defenseman on a more regular basis?

    • jeremywilhelm

      I think he’s a career AHLer, which spot duty in the NHL. I’ve only seen him play the one game, but he has done nothing to impress me. Nothing he does stands out.

  • jeremywilhelm

    I’m not as down on Breen as Kent is. Yes, his skating is awkward, and he is slow, but name me a 6’7 guy who is an excellent skater as well as a quick one. Even Chara is awkward, he just has an excellent hockey brain which compensates for his slowness that doesn’t have him always behind the play.

    I am not comparing Breen to Chara, obviously, I am just saying, his skating looks brutal when he is skating beside TJ Brodie, who makes alot of NHL regulars look like toddlers.

    I believe with experience, he could be a bottom pairing penalty killing Dman. But he would have to learn to use his size and reach to his advantage and tailor his play to better suit his size and foot speed issues.