When the regular season ended, much of the discussion points from Bob Hartley and Jay Feaster revolved around the Flames becoming harder to play against. The team has a lot of skilled forwards, you see, but the skilled guys aren’t huge and their huge guys aren’t all that skilled.
Thus, you need to find some fairly skilled gritty players to add to your team. But Feaster noted that it’s hard to add grit through free agency – teams tend to value their gritty guys, as made evident by Brandon Prust’s free agency payday. You generally have to draft these kind of players – see also: Roberts, Gary.
In many, many ways, I think that Plymouth Whalers forward Ryan Hartman is a perfect fit for the Calgary Flames.
A lot of hockey people got a good long look at Ryan Hartman via a trio of major events – the 2012 World Under-18 Championship, the 2013 World Juniors and the 2013 Top Prospects Game.
At the U-18s, Hartman won a gold medal in a supporting role. He had six points and 22 penalty minutes (leading the Americans), 12 of which were from a checking to the head incident against Denmark. At the World Juniors this past winter, Hartman was physical but a bit less reckless and won another gold medal in a supporting role. He had three points and 16 penalty minutes for his team, but is best remembered for big checks and fore-checking. I loved him at the Top Prospects Game, as he fought Kerby Rychel and threw a bunch of hits that kept Team Orr’s players off-balance when he was on the ice.
In his first year in the OHL, after two seasons with the US National Development Team, Hartman had slightly over a point-per-game average with Plymouth. He also had 120 penalty minutes, which works out to six regular season fights and a whole whack of minor penalties. He plays with an edge, but the penalty-taking could be a concern.
Scouts are a bit all over the place with where they rank Hartman, but they all generally say similar things. Future Considerations’ Aaron Vickers praises Hartman’s physicality and willingness to drive the net. Red Line Report calls him “nasty, chippy and aggressive.” Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus praises his two-way value. Just about everybody who’s seen him play characterizes him as a pain in the ass for the other team.
In short: he’s a tad undersized (5’11”, just under 190), but he plays like he’s bigger and makes the other team worry about him most of the time. He will take a few penalties, but he’s a strong two-way player who adapted to the OHL fairly quickly after jumping from the USHL. He seems to come from the same basic mindset as Flames draftee Patrick Sieloff – and also happens to be from the same basic part of the USA and has played with a lot of the Flames American prospects already via the USA Hockey national team. Another modern comparable may be Cal Clutterbuck, who has 69 points in 66 games as well as 139 PIMs in his draft season (2006) where he was picked in the third round.
Hartman’s 60 points in 56 games comes out to a 1/07 PPG pace, or an NHLE of 26. That’s okay and actually right in line with the output of many of the mid-to-late first rounders available this season. Of course, he also has a September 1994 birthday so he is also one of the oldest guys available at the draft.
Combined, this suggests Hartman’s offensive ceiling in pro hockey is probably a bit limited, although he may have enough of it to make it past the basic 4th liner role.
If the Flames had one first round pick, I’d be hesitant to say they should take Ryan Hartman. He’s got what I would characterize as a low ceiling but a fairly high floor. He’ll probably be an NHLer because, outside of adding some muscle and growing a bit, he plays an NHL-style game already. Will he be a top-flight player? There’s potential there, but he’d need to stop taking penalties and play more of an up-tempo offensive game.
For a team with three firsts, Hartman seems pretty tempting simply because he brings a lot of things that the Flames don’t have right now. He’s gritty and nasty and mean, but he can skate and score and back-check. He has experience in high-profile games and hasn’t wilted under pressure, but he’s also the type of player that is at his best when he’s making life miserable for the other team’s best players (and creating time and space and favourable match-ups for his team’s skilled players).
Ideally, Hartman would become Gary Roberts. He probably doesn’t have that level of offensive skill, nor is he a winger. But he’s a two-way center who plays a Roberts-esque type of game and brings an agitating element that has been sorely lacking from the Calgary Flames for quite some time. He’s a bit of a gamble in terms of his lower ceiling, but he should be a gamble worth taking, particularly given that the extra first round picks dilutes the risk a bit.
And I’ll do a (poorly-formed) cartwheel if the Flames draft Hartman on June 30.