With all this chatter about the recent signings from the Calgary Flames, there have been a few questions in the comments about the AHL affiliate of the Flames, the Abbotsford Heat. In the interest of fostering discussion of some of these future Flames, here’s a quick glance at the Heat’s prospective players.
As per usual, things may change in the intervening weeks so a more in-depth examination will follow as we approach the start of training camp.
There are quite a few interesting prospects that could suit up for the Heat. The likelihood of seeing them in Abbotsford is based on the likelihood of the Flames shipping out some NHL bodies to make room for them in Calgary. So for now, there’s a possibility that Corban Knight, Roman Horak and Sven Baertschi could be on the farm. It’s not a strong possibility, but it exists. The same moderate possibility exists for Lance Bouma to return to the AHL. I’d bank on Blair Jones either getting claimed off of waivers or clearing and spending time in Abbotsford.
Beyond that group, there’s 2011 second rounder Markus Granlund, Ben Hanowski and Max Reinhart, leading the charge as far as farmhands who may lack top-line skill – or in Granlund’s case, North American experience, but showed well at development camp and in other instances during the past year or so. Ben Street, Greg Nemisz and Paul Byron also have NHL experience, but Byron and Street failed to sizzle at the NHL level last year and Nemisz struggled with injuries. All will be hoping for a chance to take a step forward and challenge for an NHL spot.
That leaves a handful of question marks. How will Josh Jooris translate from the college game? How will Michael Ferland put off-ice distractions out of his mind and become a full-time pro now that the WHL is off the table? Can Ryan Howse find his conditioning? Can Carter Bancks stay healthy and perhaps get another call to the NHL? Can Turner Elson translate his work ethic at the WHL level into a regular gig at the AHL level? Can David Eddy avoid the ECHL?
There’s a good possibility that the Heat will have some very good AHLers in their top-six, but it’s almost impossible to guess which guys will be in what roles until training camp shakes down. And this is ignoring the possibility of some guys that were in Abbotsford on AHL deals – specifically Brett Olson, Quintin Laing, Adam Estoclet or Tyler Ruegsegger – returning in some capacity.
There’s a chance that Derek Smith could be bumped out of the NHL roster and end up here. Or, like Blair Jones, he could be waiver fodder for another club.
Beyond that, there’s a lot of newcomers: Tyler Wotherspoon and John Ramage both have World Junior experience – Ramage won some hardware but his college team fizzled, Wotherspoon won a WHL Title but left Ufa empty-handed last year. Chad Billins brings a Calder Cup ring with him from winning the AHL’s title with the Grand Rapids Griffins last year. Mark Cundari will probably return for a full season, but he could also be the first call-up to Calgary based on his performance late last year with the big club.
A trio of returnees will try to anchor the back-end: James Martin was the number-seven guy last year, suffered an injury and bounced between Abbotsford and Utah. Chris Breen impressed at Calgary’s truncated training camp, was one of the last cuts, but also got injured. Ironically, the injuries to these guys helped elevate the stock of Drew MacKenzie, who signed an AHL deal out of college and ended up playing nearly 30 games for the Heat. At this point, he’s probably ahead of Martin on the depth chart.
Both Patrick Sieloff and Ryan Culkin could suit up here, although that would involve Culkin signing and would make Calgary’s pro contract situation a bit precarious. Given that Jay Feaster tends to like to operate with some flexibility, it’s not probable. Sieloff could turn pro at 19 because he began his junior career in the US development system (which is a loophole in the CHL/AHL agreement), but rushing a teen who has only played 69 games over the last two years and a guy who didn’t quite dominate his peers last year doesn’t seem to make much sense at this time.
As you can see, a lot is in flux on the back-end. Presuming that Smith is otherwise occupied, Abbotsford’s starting six on the blueline is probably Wotherspoon, Ramage, Billins, Cundari, Breen and MacKenzie. Outside of the first pair of guys, the rest are all known quantities at the AHL level and have performed well in their roles.
First off, let’s presume that Karri Ramo sticks in Calgary and one of Joey MacDonald and Reto Berra ends up in Abbotsford. That creates a three-headed monster also involving Joni Ortio and Laurent Brossoit. Somebody ends up in Utah, and Abbotsford probably rotates between three guys who have never played in the AHL on a regular basis (or are in their 30s and have a bad back, if it’s MacDonald).
Goaltending, as it is for the parent club, may be the single biggest question mark in Abbotsford. Brossoit’s arguably had the best prior resume of all the suitors, but he’s also 20 and has played as much professional hockey in net as I have. He should be at least basically competent given his junior career, but there’s a bit of a jump for him. Ortio and Berra have been on the big ice for years, which may also play a role.
With all the above in mind, here’s how the depth chart is stacking up in Abbotsford (assuming Bouma, Horak, Baertschi and Knight make the Flames):
Street – Reinhart – Hanowski
Byron – Granlund – Nemisz
Bancks – GoBlair Jones! – Jooris
Ferland – Eddy – Elson
Breen – Cundari
Billins – Wotherspoon
Ramage – McKenzie
The Heat will feature a great deal of question marks and quite a few players that Flames fans have heard of. Who ends up playing in the Fraser Valley will depend on what happens in training camp, as there’s likely to be competition in the Flames camp and the potential for a lot of player movement before the season starts.