FlamesNation recently did an in-depth, democratically structured prospect ranking. This was before the recent draft and included TJ Brodie owing to the age cut-off point. It was a fine list, but is now incomplete thanks to the 2013 selections, and parts of it didn’t reflect my personal ratings of the Flames hopefuls. In addition, Corey Pronman recently released his own Flames top 10- ranking, so I wanted to add my own take to set up things heading into the new season.
So, without further ado…
Flames Top 10 Prospects
My criteria: less than 24 years old and less than 30 games played at the NHL level.
1.) Sven Baertschi
Sven comes in at the top of the list, but only just barely edging out Johnny Gaudreau. The former 13th overall pick had an up-and-down first pro season where he initially struggled to compete at the NHL level after playing a couple of months of excellent – though not quite dominant – hockey for the Abbotsford Heat.
Baertschi looked much more comfortable in his second stint in the show after a brief demotion and figures to be a top-6 player for the Flames this upcoming year. He boasts some of the best junior numbers of any Calgary draft pick in the last couple of decades and has a great package of offensive skills, including speed, agility, soft hands and sniper’s nose for the net. Baertschi has the potential to score 60+ points at the NHL level, a mark no Flames forward prospect has managed since Corey Stillman (or, to be exact, German Titov who scored 67 in 1995-96).
2.) John Gaudreau
The smallest player selected in the 2011 draft became one of the most dominant figures in college hockey last season in just his second year in the league. With a resume that boasts rookie of the year and player of the year plaudits, as well as a WJC gold medal and a Hobey Baker nomination, Johnny hockey is one of the most decorated Flames prospects in the organization’s history. Of course, Gaudreau would be one of the best prospects in all of hockey, not just in the Flames system, if he was 6′, 190 pounds rather than 5’7′ and a buck-sixty.
His size is the only reason Gaudreau doesn’t top my list. With blazing speed, a laser accurate shot, top-notch vision, silky smooth hands and the best single season NHL equivalency rate I’ve seen in the organization since I started tracking the numbers, Gaudreau would be a near lock as a blue chipper if he was even average size.
But he’s not, so until the mighty mite turns pro and proves he can translate all that potential against bigger bodies at the NHL level, there will always be a question mark beside his name.
3.) Sean Monahan
The highest Flames pick since 1998 (Rico Fata!), Sean Monahan has all the makings of a future high-end, two-way center in the league. Big and strong with excellent hockey IQ and patience with the puck, Monahan has the sort of results in junior that echo fellow top-10 picks like Gabriel Landeskog and Sean Courturier. As such, he could likely step into the NHL at 18-19 and at least compete, if not contribute meaningfully. The last Calgary prospect who even had a shot at landing a spot on the big club as a teenager was Dion Phaneuf (he didn’t because of the lock-out).
Monahan faced some of the toughest minutes in the league on a lousy team last year and still managed to contribute to over 40% of his club’s scoring. He also lead the 67’s in total scoring by by nearly 40 points, even though second placed Dante Salituro played six more games. The next best forward on the team, Ryan van Stralen, played in 3 more contests and scored exactly half as much as Monahan (39).
The only real question about Monahan is just how high his offensive ceiling is at the NHL level. Lacking in "flashy" puck skills and explosive speed, Monahan doesn’t quite figure to be a point-per-game type player in the show.
4.) Jon Gillies
I’ve changed my vote on this player since the FN ranking, if only because his ceiling – and therefore potential to impact the organization down the road – is so high. Gillies came out of nowhere to win Hockey East’s rookie of the year this season after grabbing the starting reins in Providence as a freshman. HIs .931 SV% was one of the best save rates in the entire league, a rare feat for a rookie in college hockey. He also made the USA gold medal team, albeit as a back-up, though he figures to be the club’s starter this season.
The only real question for the big 6’5" netminder is if he can keep it up. Predicting goalies at the best of times is tough and his season, impressive though it might have been, was only 35 games long. There are plenty of flash-in-the-pan netminders who look unbeatable for 20-30 game stretches only to come crashing back down to earth, so Gillies is going to have to prove his performance wasn’t an aberration going forward to further solidify himself as a top prospect.
5.) Corban Knight
This off-season’s best and most unexpected acquisition was that of college stand-out Corban Knight. A former 5th round pick of the Panthers, Knight was a better than point-per-game player in three of his four seasons with the University of North Dakota. He was also named UND’s most valuable player and finished as a top-10 Hobey Baker finalist this year.
Knight is NHL sized at 6’2", 200 pounds and is known for his faceoff prowess and two-way ability. Ar 22, he’s a good bet to step right into the NHL as a fully formed player given the completeness of his game.
6.) Mark Cundari
I wrestled with this one. After my "top 5", we settle into guys who likely "support player" ceilings in the NHL. Cundari seems like a guy closest to stepping in a playing real minutes for the Flames in the near future, though he’ll probably never be an anchor defender.
The 23-year old was acquired in the Jay Bouwmeester trade. He led the Peoria Rivermen back-end in scoring this past season, made the AHL all-star game and played top-4 minutes for the Flames down the stretch and didn’t look terribly out of place. Cundari is mobile, offensively capable and mean. He’s smallish at just 5’10", but weighs over 200 pounds and throws his body around willingly.
If he can adjust to the speed and size of the NHL, Cundari figures to be a useful utility type player on the back-end: someone who can fill in throughout the rotation and chip in on the PP now and then.
7.) Markus Granlund
Although he only recently turned 20, Granlund has two years of pro hockey under his belt already. The Finnish winger/centerman is a creative playmaker who can flash high-end puck skills when given time and space. He finished second on HIFK in scoring this year with 30 points in 50 games, although that was a marginal step back in terms of output for him relative to his rookie season (34 points in 47 games). Granlund has also appeared in two consecutive WJC’s for Finland and finished as one of the tournaments top scorers last January.
Unfortunately, there are also significant question marks when it comes to Granlund’s ability to flourish on North American ice. He’s smallish at 5’10, 175 pounds, not particularly strong or physical and doesn’t have the sort of break away speed usually possessed by diminutive players. Although he’s probably ahead of the curve in terms of thinking the game relative to other 20 year olds thanks to his experience as a pro, he hasn’t spent much time in NA rinks meaning he’ll need to adjust to the smaller ice and more physical game in order to survive.
There’s a chance Granlund will debut for the Abbotsford Heat this year, which will give us a good idea if he’s able to translate things on this side of the pond.
8.) Bill Arnold
A guy who sometimes gets lost in the mix is former
3rd 4th rounder Bill Arnold. A high utility center who is one of the primary players on one of the best college teams in the NCAA (Gaudreau’s Boston College), Arnold has scored 34 goals and 71 points combined in his last two seasons (80 games). Despite being known more as a "two-way" PKer type centerman, Arnold quietly put up the third best NHL equivalence amongst Flames prospects this past year behind only Sven Baertschi and John Gaudreau. He probably won’t be a big time scorer as a pro, but there’s a enough offense in Arnold’s game right now to suggest an NHL-level ceiling.
Arnold is average height (6’0"), but over 210 pounds so he can battle with other big centers and defenders. He moves well for a guy carrying that kind of weight, however, and as mentioned is the sort of forward who can be counted on to take own-zone draws and kill penalties.
Arnold will play out his final season in college and then turn pro in 2014. At 22, he should be very close to a fully formed pro player and it’s then we’ll really begin to see understand if he’s a future NHLer or just a really good college player.
9.) Emile Poirier
Calgary’s second pick in the 2013 draft, Poirier was a bit of a reach according to some consensus scouting outfits, but his results this year are actually pretty encouraging upon close inspection. Like Monahan, Poirier led his team in scoring by a wide margin (70 points, 16 more than 19 year old Tomas Hyka). He also wasn’t reliant on special teams scoring for his output, which is another good sign.
Poirier has good break away speed and and at 6’1" and 185 pounds, has the sort of frame that projects well moving forward. His 32 goals were 12 more than next best on the Olympiques as well, suggesting he has decent finishing ability.
Poirier came out of nowhere to post his impressive season, jumping from a 15-goal, 40-point rookie before climbing up the club’s depth chart and scoring ranks this season. That lack of history as a high-end prospect is the most concerning factor in projecting Poirier currently, so he’ll need to follow up with another step forward this year to prove his big year wasn’t a fluke.
10.) Max Reinhart
Calgary’s third rounder from 2010 had an incredibly rough rookie season in the AHL this past year, managing just 21 points in 67 games and a team worst -26 rating. A smart, heads up player who can win draws, anticipate plays and pursue the puck relentlessly, Reinhart isn’t the biggest or toughest guy and will probably need to improve his compete level and skating strength/explosiveness to do any damage at the NHL level.
Reinhart’s primary weapon is his high hockey IQ, but it’s clear from last season he needs to take strides in other aspects of his game to be a successful pro. Troy Ward deployed Reinhart in a third line/checking center type role for much of his time on the farm last year and I suspect he suffered through some tough luck as well (his personal SH% in Abbotsford was just 4.9!), but the bottom line is any forward above the 4th line/goon role needs to have some level of offense to make it as a regular in the show.
Reinhart didn’t look terribly out of place during his cup of coffee with the Flames last year, but he’s probably going to spend more time ripening on the vine in Abbotsford this year. If Reinhart can solidify himself as the Heat’s top line scoring center and put a few more points on the board, his future with the organization will look a lot brighter.
Knocking on the door – Tyler Wotherspoon
A top-4 option for the CHL best Portland winterhawks the last two seasons, Tyler Wotherspoon was also a fixture on the back-end for the recent iteration of the Canadian WJC team. He and 4th overall pick Seth Jones combined to form one of the most fearsome defensive pairings in Canadian junior hockey, managing a cumulative +108 rating, including Wotherspoon’s near league best +62 (only Nic Petan at +68 was better).
Although he probably won’t be a big factor offensively at the next level, Wotherspoon nevertheless managed seven goals in each of the last two seasons with Portland. That said, his real strengths are size (6’2", 205 pounds), relatively good mobility and defensive acumen. Wotherspoon could potentially develop into a solid, 2nd pairing defender in the league – the sort of guy who doesn’t hurt you offensively, but can compliment a more high octane, hig-risk partner by being the stay-at-home conscience.
Wotherspoon will make his pro debut in Abbotsford this season, after which we’ll be able to better gauge how close or far he is from challenging for a spot on the parent club.
Just missed the cut – Mark Jankowski, Ben Hanowski, Ken Agostino, Morgan Klimchuk, Pat Sieloff, Laurent Brossoit, Joni Ortio.
This was a lot harder than it has been in the past. Calgary certainly boasts a much deeper pool of prospective talent than they’ve had in a good long while. A number of their top-10 guys should be knocking on the door in the next two seasons or so, while more than a few outside of this list could push their way into the top-10 with a good season or two.
The Flames still need to collect a few truly high-end offensive talents in order to kickstart the rebuild into high gear, but there’s at least a solid base of hopefuls who could help fill gaps throughout the line-up as they develop.