We recently wrapped up FN’s ranking of the Flames top-15 prospects under 24. TJ Brodie topped the list, while Mark Jankowski came in at #15.
We’ll re-order things next summer and I’m sure that list will include new guys like Sean Monahan, Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk. For now, we’ll look at the other hopefuls who didn’t quite make the cut for various reasons this year.
Missed by a Nose
#16 – Joni Ortio – G
The 22-year old Finnish goalie gets lost in the mix a bit these days thanks to the success of Laurent Brossoit and Jon Gillies, both of whom made our top-10 list. Although Ortio struggled in a very brief appearance for the Abbotford Heat in 2011-12, he went back to his native land soon after and established himself as a capable starter for Markus Granlund’s HIFK of the SM-liiga. Ortio started 54 of his team’s 65 regular season games last year and managed a respectable .917 SV%, the 9th best save rate amongst goalies who played 40+ games in the league.
A former 6th round pick by the Flames, Ortio has never managed elite results anywhere, but last year was a strong enough step forward that he’s worth keeping in the organization. Ortio may hop the pond and battle for a spot on the Heat with Brossoit and Berra, but he always has the option to go back and compete in the SM-liiga if things get too crowded in NA.
#17 – Pat Sieloff – D
The hard hitting second rounder from 2012 had an injury marred season in the OHL with Windsor and his output confirmed that he doesn’t have much of an offensive game to speak of (3 goals, 11 points in 45 games). On the other hand, Sieloff was also a surprise late addition to the gold medal winning US squad at the world junior championships and provided a number of highlight reel bodychecks despite not being the biggest dude on the ice (6′, 197 pounds) during the regular season with the Spitfires.
The lack of offense and potential durability concerns drop Sieloff’s stock given his kamikaze style of game. If he can become a consistent top-2 shut-down defender and play most of the season this coming year, his value will rise.
#18 – Brett Kulak – D
In contrast to Sieloff, Kulak was the highest scoring defender on his team, the near-CHL worst Vancouver Giants this year. He managed 12 goals and 44 points in 72 games, just 13 points off the overall team lead. He was also a team worst -34 (thanks, in part, to goaltending that hovered around the .870 mark all season) and there’s still some question marks about his size (5’11, 170 pounds) and overall game.
Of the Flames current prospects on the blueline (aside from TJ Brodie), Kulak probably has the highest offensive ceiling. It’s hard to gauge guys when they play on horrible teams, so it will be interesting to see how he fares as a 20-year old, #1 defender for Vancouver next year.
#19 – Carter Bancks – LW
A high battle "glue guy", Carter Bancks is your prototypical balls-to-the-wall checker who every coach loves. Bancks was a free agent signing out of the WHL who has played three seasons with the Abbotsford Heat, which is likely where he’ll spend most of his pro career. Bancks is small, but quick, feisty and willing to engage with just about anybody, making him a fan favorite.
That said, he doesn’t have much offense or a high ceiling, so at best he could eventually work his way onto the big club’s roster as a replacement level mucker and grinder on the 4th line.
#20 – Ryan Culkin – D
It was a relatively strong season for Culkin, who was a top-4 option for the Quebec Ramparts. Culkin’s point total jumped from 25 points in his draft season to a decent 45 points. Like Kulak, Culkin was the highest scoring defender on his team, but unlike Kulak, he played on a quality club featuring guys like Adam Erne and Mikhail Grigorenko.
Culkin is a competent two-way defender who doesn’t stand out as exceptional in any particular way, but tends to do most everything well. Similar to Sieloff and Kulak, a big season as a top-pairing guy in junior could drive his stock a lot higher.
This group of players were eligible, but didn’t get enough votes to even make it onto the list.
Coda Gordon – LW
The 6th rounder from 2012 ran in place this past year in terms of overall points with 59 in 70 games, although his goal scoring dropped off precipitously from 30 to just 17 relative to the season before. Not really fleet of foot, Gordon was drafted as a sniper with concerns about his overall game and 2012-13 didn’t really provide any evidence of significant improvement overall.
Ryan Howse – LW
A 47 and 51 goal scorer in junior, Howse hasn’t been able to overcome questions about his conditioning, compete level or foot speed to make a dent in the pro game yet. Last year, the 22 year old spent most of the season the ECHL where he scored 9 points in 20 games.
At this point, Howse is probably not a prospect of note for the organization. The AHL is the first true hurdle for hopefuls and a lot of them tend to fall hard and never recover.
John Ramage – D
After a four year college career, John Ramage finally signed with the Flames recently and will be fighting for a spot on the Abbotsford Heat come September. A squat but solid defender at 6′, 205", Ramage is generally considered highly competitive and positionally sound.
Unfortunately, Rob Ramage’s son doesn’t seem to be particularly gifted in any one area of the game, which makes his pro ceiling somewhat low. His offensive game is nothing to talk about, he’s not particularly big and he didn’t exactly dominate the college ranks.
Ramage is a guy who could ripen in the AHL for a few years and develop into an Adam Pardy type player down the road. He’s also the kind of guy who could struggle to keep his head above water in the AHL, like Brady Lamb did last year. We’ll see which way he goes soon.
Matt Deblouw – C
Two-way college centerman Matt Deblouw started out the year on a near point-per-game pace for Michigan State University. He couldn’t sustain that rate, however, and finished the year with just 21 points in 42 games. That total is underwhelming overall, although it was tied for the second best output on what was apparently a very low scoring squad.
Deblouw’s game isn’t really about offense anyways. Most scouting reports note he is a good face-off man who can play in a checking role and read the game well. At 19 years old and entering his sophomore season in college, we’re many years away from knowing just how capable a prospect Deblouw really is.
No Longer Prospects
Finally, we have the guys who aren’t really considered "prospects" anymore, if because they are too old or because their performance suggests they don’t have a future in the NHL.
Greg Nemisz – RW
We’re 5 years removed from the draft that saw Nemisz chosen 25th overall by the Flames and the big winger is as far away as ever from making the jump to the NHL. He turned 23 in June, so he’s technically young enough to qualify as a prospect under our age guidelines, but the fact is Nemisz scored just 10 points in 55 games for the Heat last season, wasn’t invited to the Flames training camp in January and wasn’t recalled when the team was auditioning kids post-trade deadline.
An RFA heading into July, Nemisz was re-signed by Feaster recently, but there’s a good chance he’s being kept around as veteran AHL roster filler. He has never posted meaningful numbers in three seasons as a pro, in fact taking a gaint step backwards after battling injury this past year. Nemisz is a big guy at 6’3, 200 pounds, but he’s not a crash and banger, doesn’t read the play well enough to be a shut-down guy and still can’t skate very well.
Leland Irving – G
Another failed first rounder, this past year was Irving’s last chance to prove to management he could be an NHL level netminder. Instead, he struggled to be an AHL level goalie, eventually falling behind both Barry Brust and Danny Taylor on Abbotsford’s depth chart. The Flames gave Irving a shot when Miikka Kiprusoff went down with injury, but he floundered in 6 starts, managing a SV% of just 88.3%.
Unlike Nemisz, Irving wasn’t re-signed by the Flames this off-season and is currently looking for work. My guess is he ends up overseas.
Chris Breen – D
Disqualified because he turned 24 this June, Breen is one of the few players on this list who might have a chance at a meaningful NHL appearance down the line. The huge 6’7" defender has been a fixture amongst the Heat’s top-4 rotation for a couple of seasons now and could very well challenge for a bottom pairing role with the Flames if things fall into place.
Despite his size, Breen was never drafted and was signed as a free agent out of the OHL. He has all the typical strengths and weaknesses of a bigger man: huge reach, size to clear the crease and battle in the corners vs lackluster mobility and puck skills. Breen also has zero offensive upside, with his pro career best total being 11 point in 73 games back in 2010-11. Incidentally, his junior career was similarly barren, with his production topping out at 13 points in 2008-09.
Breen’s viability as an NHLer depends on who you talk to. Jim Playfair loved the player when he was coaching the Flames farm club and I know more than a few Heat fans/writers who swear he could have been playing in the show last year. I am far less bullish on his ability to make the jump, however, given my viewings of Breen – his way below average foot speed and puck skills look like intractable problems that will be relentlessly exploited by players at the next level, but then my exposure to the guy has been limited.
Gaelan Patterson – C
A 7th rounder in 2009, Patterson spent two seasons with the Heat where his point and games played totals dropped from marginal to near non-existent. He spent last year in the ECHL which is likely where he’ll have to continue his por career. The Flames chose not to re-sign him this summer.
Ben Street – C, LW
A 26 year old AHL veteran, Street is too old to be considered a prospect. The Heat’s third highest scorer last year, Street is a capable overall skater and could probably staff a 4th line on most NHL teams around the league. He’ll be a leader for Abbotsford again this year and will probably find his way onto the Flames as an injury replacement now and then.
Bryan Cameron – C, RW
Like Ryan Howse, Cameron was a big scorer out of junior who had significant question marks about whether he could translate that offense at the next level. The answer is, no, he couldn’t.
A free agent signing by the Flames in 2010, the 24 year spent one season in the AHL (his rookie year) before being permanently demoted to the ECHL where he has languished ever since. The team released him to free agency recently.
Other – David Eddy, Akim Aliu, Brady Lamb, James Martin
Although they didn’t make the top-15 list, there’s more than a few guys here who could climb up the orgs depth chart by taking a meaningful step forward this coming year. Guys like Kulak, Culkin, Ortio and Sieloff have promise and could bump a few of their peers with noteworthy performances in 2013-14.
On the other hand, you have a lot of big question marks and failed projects in this category as well. Nemisz and Irving represent the period of poor scouting that has partially led to the Flames downfall at this point in time. Particularly Irving, who is the only player in the Flames 2006 draft class to play an NHL game. Yikes.
Things are getting better though. I hope.