We’re deep, deep into the regular season in the NCAA and the Canadian Hockey League, so why not take a long, deep look at how the Calgary Flames prospects in those two super-leagues are doing? In addition, we’ll take a look overseas to see how the Flames Fins have made out…
THE CANADIAN HOCKEY LEAGUE
Laurent Brossoit is the starting goaltender for the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Oil Kings are the second-best team in the WHL (behind Portland) and boast a veteran roster and two really good goalies – the aforementioned Brossoit and back-up Tristan Jarry. Brossoit has played 41 games this year – down a bit from last year due to Jarry’s excellent play and Brossoit being away at World Junior camp – but he’s put up fantastic numbers. He’s 28-7-5 with 5 shutouts, a 2.06 goals against average and a .925 save percentage.
The Calgary prospect is among the WHL’s leaders in all of those categories. He’s only lost three games since mid-December. Brossoit’s team has already clinched a playoff spot and will be expected to go on a long run again. Brossoit is one of eight 1993 birthdays on Edmonton’s roster, and doesn’t have much left to prove at the WHL level. He’ll likely turn pro next season.
Another player having a good year on a good team, Portland Winterhawks defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon has quietly built upon a strong junior career with a quality final junior season. Often paired with Seth Jones – who’s expected to go first or second overall in July’s NHL Draft – Wotherspoon isn’t flashy, but he gets results. He has 35 points in 51 games for Portland, along with a staggering plus-53 rating and only 11 minor penalties taken. Wotherspoon’s steady play earned him a spot on Team Canada at the World Juniors during Christmas break and while Canada went home without a medal, he made an impression as one of Canada’s better players.
Like Brossoit, Wotherspoon’s team has qualified for the playoffs and they’re expected to go on a long run. Many WHL prognosticators are predicting a Portland/Edmonton WHL final. Like Brossoit, I’d expect Wotherspoon to turn pro next season.
Red Deer captain Turner Elson is playing junior but, based on his age and when he signed his NHL deal, the meter is already running on his NHL contract. If he was disappointed about not playing pro hockey, he hasn’t let it show. Elson has been a consistent presence and a strong leader for the Rebels, putting up 44 points over 53 games. The Rebels haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet, but they’re 11 points up on ninth-place Lethbridge with 12 games to go, so they’re in very good shape. Elson will have to turn pro next season due to his 1992 birthday.
Another player eligible to play professional hockey but in junior due to the lockout roster crunch in the AHL, Michael Ferland has bounced between Utah, Abbotsford, Brandon and Saskatoon this year. Now establsihed with Sakatoon, Ferland brings some Memorial Cup experience to the Blades roster as they host the big tournament this year. Since his arrival prior to the WHL trade deadline, the Blades have been excellent. Currently winners of 13 in a row (and counting), Ferland has been a big part of it with 24 points in 21 games. The Blades are in a fight for first place in their division and the second seed in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, and are likely going to make the playoffs. Not bad for a team widely discussed as one of the worst Memorial Cup hosts in recent memory just a few months ago.
The Swift Current Broncos aren’t quite as good as they were last year, but Coda Gordon’s team continues to putter along at a good pace. Gordon himself has almost matched his scoring output from last year – he has 51 points in 58 games – and boasts 24 first assists this season. He’s scored 6 of his 15 goals on the power-play, but only has 21 penalty minutes – a good sign for a guy that plays a fairly physical style. A 1994-born player, he’ll have at least one more year of WHL eligibility under his belt. The Broncos are currently in the playoff mix, but are in a clump of four teams fighting for three spots.
Brett Kulak will not have to worry about the playoffs. Arguably the best player on the Vancouver Giants, his team is dead-last in the WHL and is formally eliminated from the post-season. Kulak has improved on last year’s offensive numbers – putting up 35 points in 61 games – and his team-low minus-34 rating is probably more a result of his club being lousy than anything else. More impressively, Kulak has 10 goals this year. Like Gordon, he’s a 1994 birthday with at least one more year ahead of him in the Dub.
First thing’s first: Ryan Culkin is an excellent offensive defenseman. It’s hard to say how excellent, as his Quebec Remparts are a great team with a lot of offensive weapons. Culkin has 40 points in 56 games, and his apples are almost perfectly split between first and second assists. The Remparts have clinched a playoff spot and they’ll be looking to upset one of the league’s better teams like Halifax or Rimouski. Culkin’s a 1993 birthday, so he has the opportunity to sign with the Flames and turn pro next season or stay in the QMJHL as an over-ager. He won’t need to be signed until next June if he goes back to junior.
Finally, Patrick Sieloff has a gold medal and has put the fear of God into forwards throughout the Ontario Hockey League. However, the Windsor Spitfires are probably not going to make the playoffs. They’re 11 points back of the last playoff spot. Sieloff has a nominal 11 points in 45 games and has an impressive 85 penalty minutes. He’s managed not to get suspended by the OHL this year, despite the league’s vaunted crack-down on head shots. Another 1994 birthday, Sieloff will return for at least one more year in the OHL and will likely contend for a spot on Team USA at next year’s World Juniors.
John Ramage is an interesting project. He’s in his senior year at the University of Wisconsin, where he’s captain of the Badgers for the second straight year. His production has remained consistent compared to last year – with 9 points in 30 games versus 10 in 37 last year – but the Badgers are considerably better than last season. They’re not likely to be a high-level playoff threat, but Wisconsin should be a test for whoever they face. Ramage has to be signed by the Flames by August 15 in order for them to retain his rights. Based on interviews with Weisbrod and Feaster, I reckon he’ll get an entry-level contract. He’s got great bloodlines and has shown to be a strong leader with a good enough team behind him.
Chosen way, way back in the seventh round of last year’s draft, Michigan State’s Matthew Deblouw has had a strong freshman year. He’s put up 16 points over 32 games, although his minus-13 rating isn’t fantastic. The Spartans are the worst team in their conference. They’ll make the playoffs, as everyone in their conference does, but they should get bounced fairly quickly. Deblouw will have three more years to help guide the Spartans back to prominence.
It’s probably not worth discussing Nick Larson of Notre Dame too much. He’s a senior, but he’s a role player on that team. He has 5 points in 31 games, but isn’t a huge presence. I strongly doubt that he gets a contract offer from the Flames when he graduates. At most, he’ll get an AHL deal.
Johnny Gaudreau is a great hockey player on one of college hockey’s best teams. Boston College will make the playoffs and, should they make it through the Hockey East tournament, they’ll be a national title contender once more. Gaudreau has 37 points in 25 games, including a plus-20 rating and six game-winning goals. As mentioned previously, most expect Gaudreau to spend at least one more season in college – and perhaps finish out his degree before he turns pro.
Bill Arnold is another strong player, arguably better at two-way hockey than most in his conference. He has 25 points in 28 games and has been a point-per-game player throughout three years of college. Another Boston College player, he can either turn pro this year (and bypass his senior year) or finish of his NCAA eligibility. He’s probably physically ready to pro hockey.
Not quite there yet is Mark Jankowski. A beanpole of a man, Jankowski tips the scales at 168 pounds (according to his Twitter), but he’s gradually grown into himself (and his role) at Providence College and has three years left in college. He’s got 12 points in 24 games, including a game-winning goal. Providence will be a playoff team and could be competitive in the conference tournament, depending on who they face.
The reason Providence College could shock a team in the playoffs is Jon Gillies. A towering man (6-5 and over 200 pounds), he’s had a fantastic freshman year with 4 shutouts and an 11-8-6 record. He also has an epic .930 save percentage and has held the Friars in quite a few games. He’s got three more years of NCAA eligibility left, but it’ll be interesting to track his progress. Depending on how Brossoit and Karri Ramo work out in the professional ranks, the Flames may nudge Gillies towards an early exit from college. For now, he’s been a great surprise.
Like Gillies and Brossoit, Finnish ‘tender Joni Ortio has established himself as his club’s number one option in the crease. HIFK Helsinki has had a mediocre season, but Ortio has nevertheless put together a 21-18-7 record in 48 starts, including a .914 save percentage – 9th best amongst SM-liiga goalies who have appeared in at least 30 games.
Teammate and fellow Flames prospect Markus Granlund hasn’t been quite as successful. Although Granlund had a very strong world junior championships where he finished as one of the tournaments leading scorers, his output in FInland relative to last season has fallen rather than improved (0.72 PPG to 0.59 PPG). Part of that may be the quality of the team in general or the lack of older brother Mikael in particular, but Markus has apparently taken a small step back rather than forward this season.
Like every collection of youngsters, Calgary’s prospect pool is a bit of a mixed bag and we won’t know for awhile if or when any of these guys will be NHLers. That said, this season seems to be the year of the Boston College (Gaudreau and Arnold) and of the goaltender (Gillis, Brossoit and Ortio) when it comes to Clagary hopefuls.