A Quick Look At The Flames Kids


Akim Aliu - Abbotsford Heat

pic via Jason Kurylo

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Folks, if there’s one thing the Flames shipping out three roster players prior to the trade deadline did, it was create opportunities for younger players. At present, there are four key rookies in the Calgary line-up, and there have been as many as six in certain games due to injuries.

Are the kids doing as well as expected? Let’s take a look. I’m excluding Ben Hanowski, as he’s played a single game. (To his credit, he started out shaky and looked better as the game went on.)


23, pending restricted free agent

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Past performance: Aliu bounced around between teams last season, playing for the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles and for the Abbotsford Heat on a loan before the Flames traded John Negrin to Winnipeg for his rights. Last year, he had 14 points in 42 games for the Heat and had two points in three games with the Flames during a late season call-up.

Aliu played three games for Calgary, all of them as a stop-gap measure on emergency recall. He was fairly well shielded, with a Corsi Rel QoC of -1.09 and he played primarily with guys like Steve Begin and Blake Comeau. In his most recent single-game recall, he played with Roman Horak and Mike Cammalleri, curiously, and played well. At least, well enough that you wouldn’t notice that he was playing in his fifth NHL game. Aliu’s been a decent depth option for Calgary despite having an undistinguished tenure with Abbotsford, but it’s worth cautioning that he’s been extremely shielded and he’s had an extremely small sample size.


26, first year of a two-year contract

Past performance: After two years in the Pittsburgh organization on an AHL contract, Ben Street joined the Flames (on his first NHL deal) in the off-season. He had 57 points in 70 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season, but it’s worth noting that the Baby Penguins play a more offensive and up-tempo system than the Heat. In 67 games for Abbotsford, Street has put up 36 points.

Street’s hard to judge, as he played a couple games early in the season and then came up very recently. His most frequent linemates have been Roman Cervenka and Jiri Hudler, and he’s been very, very shielded compared to his teammates – having a Corsi Rel QoC of -1.77. That’s right, he’s been as close to playing AHLers as he can be in the NHL. And he’s been outshot, with a Corsi Rel of -14.3. Yikes.

Despite this, it’s hard to place the blame just on him. Roman Cervenka hasn’t set the world on fire this season and given the small sample size for Street (with just three NHL appearances), it’s hard to know exactly what he is. For now, he’s maybe a replacement-level NHL player.

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21, first year of a three-year contract

Past performance: A product of the Kootenay Ice, and the eldest of ex-Flame defender Paul Reinhart’s three sons, Max had a fairly distinguished junior career. He increased his points-per-game every year of his four-year WHL tenure, played in the Memorial Cup, represented his country at the U-18s and wore a letter for half of his junior career. This season, he progressed from a bottom-six defensive role in Abbotsford during the lockout to playing top-six minutes against the opposition’s best players once the lockout ended. To say that he expected to get the call to Calgary would be likely incorrect, as he had a team-worst minus-26 rating when he was summoned.

If the other players that the Flames recalled have been shielded, given that the coaching staff are trying to get a read on them, perhaps Max Reinhart is the opposite. After playing the hard minutes on the farm for Troy G. Ward, he’s been thrown to the wolves in the NHL (with a Corsi Rel QoC of 1.46). And he’s largely thrived, generally out-chancing and out-shooting his opponents, and he’s been quite adept at creating scoring chances with physical play. He has 17 shots on net through six appearances, in addition to three missed shots.

Granted, it’s still quite early, but Reinhart’s early returns have been excellent. The coaching staff has been more and more prone to giving him tough situations (playing the other team’s top lines and more defensive zone starts), but he’s been up to it thus far. He’s played with many different line-mates – his pairing with Tim Jackman has been good for both of them – but so far his most common line-mates have been Backlund and Cervenka.

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I’m not entirely sure that the Flames know what they have in Max Reinhart yet. But based on his AHL performances, I’m sure they have ignored his awful plus/minus and focused on how well he’s fit into Bob Hartley’s high-tempo forechecking system. Based on six games, I’d say Max Reinhart is an NHL player next season.


21, second year of a three-year contract

Past performance: The son of Czech star Roman Horak, Roman the younger was the centerpiece of a trade with the New York Rangers that sent disgruntled draft pick Tim Erixon to the Big Apple. Horak’s also proven to be an absolute steal of a player, making the injury-addled Flames roster in each of his first two seasons with the organization. Horak played 61 games with the Flames last year but wasn’t great when he was sent to the AHL. This season, he went on a scoring tear with the Heat during the lockout and was consistently good (but not a consistent force on the score-sheet) in both leagues once the lockout ended.

If there’s one guy that Troy G. Ward has evened-out as a hockey player, it may be Roman Horak. Horak’s played as many games under Ward as he has under any professional coach, but only recently has Horak become notably as an tenacious forechecker and a very strong force in all three zones.

He’s also been an underrated offensive force. In the Minnesota game, for example, he both started and finished a strong passing play with linemates Roman Cervenka and Jiri Hudler (on a Czech-ing line), gaining an assist on Hudler’s goal. Much like Reinhart, Horak has barely been shielded, with a Corsi Rel QoC of 0.78. Against the strong competition, Horak has been narrowly out-chanced with a Corsi Rel of -1.2.

After 75 games in the NHL, it’s apparent when watching Horak play (or talking to him) that he really doesn’t want to go back to the American Hockey League. To be fair, it seems clear watching Horak that he’s ready for a regular NHL job. He’s poised with the puck, knows where to be without it, and generally does what an NHLer should – and he’s just 21. Based on how he’s been deployed by the Flames recently, and his performance over the last few games, it may be the case that Calgary’s management and coaching staff feel similarly.


20, first year of a three-year contract

Past performance: Sven Baertschi was a pretty good junior hockey player. In two seasons in the WHL, he had 179 points in just 113 games. He came into Calgary last year on an emergency recall from junior and had three goals in five games. He made the Flames roster out of camp, played bottom-six minutes and wasn’t amazing, and was sent back to Abbotsford – where he played during the lockout. He had 26 points overall in 32 AHL games and was brought back up.

Sven Baertschi is still a work in progress, in that he’s still trying to figure out the ebbs and flows of regular NHL life. His play away from the puck could use a bit of work, but he’s come a long way from when he started the season.

His year can be split into two segments: when he played bottom-six minutes (with Blake Comeau) and wasn’t great, and when he played top-six minutes without Blake Comeau. When he was sent down, Baertschi’s Corsi Rel was amongst the worst on the team. Since he’s returned, his relative corsi rate has rallied and now sits at 0.5, basically even. He’s benefited from some good veteran linemates like Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak.

Is Sven Baertschi an elite NHL talent yet? Well, not quite. He’s getting shielded a bit and he’s got good line-mates. But if the goal is to build up his confidence and allow him to put up some points in the NHL, mission accomplished. At the very least, he’s an NHL calibre talent who doesn’t look out of place in the Flames top-six. The season he’s had is probably a bit disappointing on the score-sheet, but he’s now finally playing with the poise and creativity that those around the team hoped he would all year.


22, third year of a three-year contract

Past performance: A product of the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit and Barrie Colts, T.J. Brodie was a good, if not great, junior-aged defender. He shockingly made the Calgary Flames out of camp three years ago, then (to the shock of nobody) turned out to not be particularly amazing as a 20-year-old. To his credit, he went down to the AHL after three NHL games and became a very good all-around defender. When he returned to the NHL to open last season, he was quite impressive, albeit in a bottom pairing role.

T.J. Brodie began this season as a healthy scratch. He’ll end it as arguably Calgary’s best blueliner. He was once shielded and played third-pairing minutes. As the coaching staff gained confidence in him, Brodie’s been protected less and less, moving into the second pairing and eventually playing on the top tandem with Jay Bouwmeester.

With Bouwmeester gone, Brodie is one of the team’s most effective defenders. Wideman may have a better shot and Giordano may be more of a physical presence, but for a 22-year-old with just 97 NHL games under his belt, Brodie has wildly exceeded expectations.

And I think it goes without saying that the Flames have turned their fourth round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft into an every-day NHL roster player.

      • beloch

        wait?! now I’m really confused.

        “The Corsi were an ancient people of Sardinia, noted by Ptolemy (III, 3). They dwelt at the extreme north of the island, near the Tibulati and immediately north of the Coracenses. The Corsi gave their name to the island of Corsica.”


        nice avatar bud

    • loudogYYC

      It’s an individual measurement of total shots directed at the opposition minus total shots directed at your net while you’re on the ice.

      It’s a somewhat incomplete stat as it counts missed shots and blocked shots without considering where you are on the ice and who you’re playing with and against.

      That’s where Relative Corsi and Quality of Competition (QoC) come into play. Relative Corsi is individual Corsi numbers compared to the league average or group of players, and QoC is pretty self-explanatory, however I’m not 100% sure how to determine those numbers.

      Anyone, please correct me where I’m wrong as I’m still raw at this stuff.


  • Tommynotsohuge

    Still say that Reinhart, if they want him to achieve his ‘max’ potential, needs another year in the AHL to get stronger and develop his offensive game. There’s no need to rush him in next year, though he’d be at the top of my call-up list.

    How about that? Brodie and Reinhart, both picks under Darryl’s tenure.

    Horak is a bizarre case. He plays the game so well on one hand, while on the other hand he looks as though he’ll never score more than 10 goals in a season. I don’t say that as any sort of insult to the player btw, but you have to admit, he’s kind of a hard guy to project.

    • loudogYYC

      I agree about Horak, I can’t tell if he’ll be a decent top 9 winger or a 3rd line centre. Considering 3rd line centre is a position the Flames are actually deep at, I think he’ll end up as a winger.

      It’s probably a different story if he adds 10 lbs of muscle.

  • beloch

    The average age of NHL players is 27. You’d therefore expect to see a lot of players 26 and below on the Flames roster but, aside from Butler and Backs, these prospects are the only ones! If even just 2-3 of these kids make the team next season it will represent the biggest injection of young talent the Flames have seen in a while.

    If you look at the team’s composition now, the majority of the team’s talent is 29-30. Wideman, Giordano, Hudler, Stempniak, Stajan, Glencross, and Cammalleri are all in this age range. These guys all probably have a couple of years left before they start to decline significantly.

    So, we can look forward to a couple of seasons where time is an ally instead of the merciless foe it’s been since 2004. I’m as shocked as you!

  • beloch

    Horak is an infuriating player to try to project, mostly because he just can’t seem to decide what kind of player he is as a pro.

    Given the way the Flames have utilized him in the NHL (and given that they pretty much only use him as a center, in direct opposition to what Troy Ward does), I think it’s pretty obvious they’re trying to make him into a Backlund clone. We’ll see if it works or not.

  • Parallex

    I’m more of the persuasion that Max Reinhart probably shouldn’t be a full-time NHL player next season. Mostly on the basis that I want MacKinnon (or Barkov) to be drafted by us and there exists a very strong possibility that one will be. I would also prefer that any prospect not earmarked for fourth line duty (See: Bouma, Lance and Aliu, Akim) get the icetime and practice assignments associated with a higher spot on the depth chart. With two top 9 center spots taken by Backlund and Stajan and the third (hopefully) taken by the draftee I would rather see Reinhart continue to hone his craft in the AHL. With Stajan’s contract mercifully coming to an end next they’ll be a spot open for him then if he he’s ready.

    • Willi P

      As per comments from the Oiler game, it appears that Max is a much more effective player in the NHL than AHL. Even his own brother commented he was playing much better with the Flames vs the Heat. This does happen with some players. A small sample size does not prove this but if he continues his style of play, I would keep him in the bigs for the start of the year (providing a good camp)

  • McRib

    Max is such an intelligent player and the NHL is more of a thinking mans game. The NHL suites smarter players more than the dump and chase of the AHL. Skilled toolsy players who lite up Junior/AHL often have trouble adjusting to the NHL, where as smarter players actually produce better at the top level.

    Look at someone like Colin Wilson in Nashville, he tore apart College but is still failing to produce at the same level in the NHL. Not to compare them but Patrick Sharp was never a major scorer in junior/college and has been great ever since arriving in the show.

    Hows this comparison for Reinhart down the road…. Chris Kunitz when he is not playing with Crosby!?!?! Hahah. Or getting out of the clouds a Chris Kelly comparison is decent.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I would like to maybe see our shiny new top draft pick centreman in the lineup next year, however it appears there are more teams interested in one of those top 4 picks besides Calgary. Calgary has played fewer games than anyone, yet Nashville, Carolina, and Tampa Bay are lurking dangerously close to bump us down aways. Here’s a toast to losses!!

    • Avalain

      For the record, Calgary and Carolina have both played the same number of games now. They also have the same number of points but Carolina wins (or is it loses?) because they have more regular and overtime wins. At this point in time that may make a huge difference…

  • Tommynotsohuge

    As for the young guns. Horak will be a legitimate 3rd, possibly 2nd line center next year (depending who we draft). Brodie is a stud. Period.
    Street and Aliu will start in the Ahl, but will be up periodically. As for Reinheart, I think the kid has potential, but only in a supporting role over the next couple of years. He might be Horaks perminent winger on the 3rd line next year.
    Backlund will be 1st line center and McKinnon, Barkov or Lindholm will be our 2nd line center.
    *knock on wood*

  • RKD

    I think we need to see a larger sample size for a few of these players. Baertschi I think can be a top 3 forward, Brodie has taken the next step and then some. Horak will be a top 9 forward, either he can settle into a checking role or maybe if he’s surrounded by some better players he could increase his offensive abilities. Not sure where Reinhart and Street will be, all depends on how well they can play consistently.

  • Truculence

    I don`t know why ppl are penciling Horak in as a top-nine forward, and claiming Reinhart only has some vague `potential`. Did anybody read the part where it said he has faced the toughest minutes of any of the aforementioned rookies, and is still the only one out-chancing the opposition? He is a year younger than Horak and more physical to boot. This is not a knock on Horak. He will be a good third-liner in time, but Reinhart will easily match, and most likely exceed Horak`s ceiling.

    To me Reinhart is a tweener who can fluctuate between a team`s second and third lines, depending on what the coaching staff expects of him. He has the ability to play a shut-down role, but, given time (he is only twenty!), has the ability to put up points, as well (most likely in the 30-40 point range every year once he has a couple of seasons under his belt).

    • Scary Gary

      It’s mostly a tools thing. Horak has elite speed (though he rarely uses it; I just keep remembering how he scorched the track at the Danone Superskills) and legitimately above-average (maybe better, though he hasn’t shown it) hands. Reinhart, on the other hand, doesn’t grade as better than above average in any way other than hockey sense. That really limits his ceiling, as hockey sense has more defensive value than offensive (at least when you have Reinhart’s skillset).

      His skating has come a long way the last few years, though. He may well become a 2nd line center, but a 3rd liner is much more likely (and he’s arguably nearly already there). Horak is just such an uncertain quantity because he has all those tools that he hasn’t managed to work out just yet.

  • Rockmorton65

    Everyone seems to be saying the big 4 in the draft (Mackinnon/Jones/ Barkov/Drouin) are all NHL ready. Are they ALL projected to step in next year? Just starting to read the scouting reports.

  • jeremywilhelm

    I have a feeling Mackinnon, Barkov and Jones will be guaranteed NHLers next year. It would be RNH stupid to put Drouin in the NHL next year.

    I really hope Darnell Nurse falls this year to one of our other firsts.

    Also, Sven Andrighetto in the third round or bust!!!

  • jeremywilhelm

    I think that Horak would be better served playing the wing on the third line and learning how to be a solid NHL player. He could be the next Hudler in that he is skilled enough and smart enough that once he has some more experience that he can help to generate opportunities. Would like to see Horak fill the type of position on the wing that we talk about when we think about acquiring Frolik from Chicago.

    Reinhart needs another year of development at the AHL. He should spend next year there playing top center minutes, power play, penalty kills, first and last minutes of periods and games. Why rush a young kid when the extra development time will not hurt him. He still needs to work on defensive awareness and taking faceoffs.

    I like Aliu and when he is skating and getting in peoples way he is an effective player. I would rather have him on the bench than a MacGratton and would move him through the line up to help keep the other team off of balance. I dont see a problem with his skating, but I think that he needs to play with more skilled players so that it forces him to keep his feet moving and get in the game. He has the perfect make up to be a sht disturber in the league, and they are always useful.

  • jeremywilhelm

    Bouma is a far more serviceable player than Aliu. He’s a better skater and way better in his own end. No offense, but as a 4th liner he’s not terrible.