(Regular readers of FN should recognize long-time quality commenter beloch. We’re giving him a chance to contribute beyond the comment section for a change. Here is his first article…welcome beloch!)
In terms of goal production, the Flames corps of forwards didn’t get it done this year. Yes, they outscored Edmonton, Vancouver, and even L.A., but they were still 23rd in the league in terms of goals per game. Part of the reason for this is that the Flames had just three established NHL left wingers and one of them, Curtis Glencross, missed more than half the season due to injury. A lot of left-wing minutes were played by rookies, centers, and even right wingers! To make matters worse, Mike Cammalleri may leave as a free agent this summer. There is hope though. The Flames’ farm system is bursting at the seams with quality left wing prospects, many of whom will be ready for NHL minutes next season. Some might be a few years from being useful NHLers but others seem almost certain to be valuable next season.
Let’s take a quick look at the list. Below is a list of players who have played LW for the Flames this season and, following that, a list of left wing prospects in the system. (Let me know if I missed any!) The numbers in brackets for prospects are their NHLE and, for established NHLers, they’re points for an 82 game season based on their pace last season.
- Mike Cammalleri (58.6)*
- Curtis Glencross (51.8)
- TJ Galiardi (22.5)
Natural Centers who have played LW:
- Paul Byron (36.6)
- Lance Bouma (15.8)
RWs who have played LW:
- Ben Hanowski (20.3)
- Brian McGrattan (8.6)
- Kevin Westgarth (12.0)
Rookies and Prospects:
- Johnny Gaudreau (67.2)
- David Wolf (35.5)
- Kenny Agostino (32.6)
- Morgan Klimchuk (31.9)
- Emile Poirier (31.7)
- Coda Gordon (29.6)**
- Michael Ferland (26.0)
- Sven Baertschi (25.5)***
- Bryce Van Brabant (18.5)
- Lane MacDermid (retired)
* Cammalleri is technically a natural center, but he’s played LW for the majority of his NHL career.
** Coda Gordon was not signed and is headed back to the draft. This seems like a bit of a waste, but no doubt the “log jam” issue played a role.
*** Baertschi was on a 34.7 point pace in the NHL before being sent down, so the NHLE drawn purely from his AHL numbers may be deceptively low.
Scoreface and the Squid
It will hurt the team if Cammalleri walks. He is, hands down, the Flames best established left winger at present. Should he move on, Curtis Glencross will be the presumptive #1 left winger. Unfortunately, Glencross has a history of injuries and, at the age of 31, his struggles to stay healthy may continue. His point pace has declined year-over-year for two seasons now and his possession stats were disappointing this season as well. Glencross will still be a solid player next season but he almost certainly won’t be able to drive play against top competition for 82 games.
Things start to look a little scary once both Cammalleri and Glencross are out of the picture. Byron, despite being a natural center, is next in line, both because of his point generation and his ability to drive play. At just 25 and with relatively little experience in the NHL, Byron may take steps forward next season. Letting him walk would be exceedingly wasteful, so I expect he’ll be resigned before the summer is over.
So, what about the new guys? First off, most NHL clubs would be very happy to have just a couple of wingers with NHLE of 25 or higher approaching readiness for the NHL. All of these guys have a shot at being quality NHLers but there are a few that stand out, starting with David Wolf.
Wolf actually has the second highest NHLE of any LW prospect right now. Trust me, I’m as surprised as you! NHLE factors in a year of prospect development so, at the age of 24, his NHLE is probably inflated versus prospects who are younger and therefore statistically more likely to make big improvements to their games. Unlike some of those younger prospects, Wolf is big, mean, and, physically at least, indisputably ready to step into the NHL. If nothing else, he should be an improvement over having Westgarth or McGrattan play left wing. I would expect some players on this list with lower NHLE (e.g. Baertschi) will eventually surpass him in terms of hockey skill.
Will that happen next season though?
The most outstanding prospect, of course, is Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau. His NHLE is double that of nearly every other prospect. It’s actually higher than the 82 game point paces of the established NHLers, including Cammalleri! At just 20 years old, his NHLE is probably not inflated either!
The big question mark surrounding Gaudreau is his size. He is tiny. Many here at Flamesnation are of the opinion that he needs time to bulk up in order to be ready for the NHL. The NCAA is a league of physically mature men that is very nearly on par with the AHL, but the NHL is something else entirely. Can Gaudreau translate his success to the big league with such a tiny body? Here’s a great quote on that from somebody who ought to know:
Q: “You evolved yourself, in terms of your body, physically to compete at any level in the national hockey league. A kid like Gaudreau obviously needs to change his body structure a little bit.”
A: “I don’t think he does. I question that, Rog. You’ve gotta identify what makes you effective, You know, for me, neither of us are tall guys, but I think I play a little bit of a different game that way. For me, I was able to be very strong at a young age. It allows me to compete in certain ways out there with physical strength. Johnny is so quick and elusive… and so… almost slimy out there.
I don’t know. Maybe it helps him, maybe it doesn’t help him. I think, for him, he just gotta keep doing the things that he does really well and let that translate to this level. That would be my advice for him. I wouldn’t want to see him put on thirty pounds and come here next year and be a different player. I’d want to see him, in his body, be as fit as he can be and give himself the best chance to succeed. Could be dead wrong, maybe they said the opposite. This is my opinion.”
–Mike Cammalleri on Garbage Bag Day
I had my doubts, but they were entirely dispelled by watching Gaudreau play at the World Championship.
Monahan was probably invited to that tournament as an investment in the future. Everybody knows he’s going to be a superstar soon but, right now, he’s far from Team Canada’s best player. Backlund and Hudler are obviously great contributors to teams that don’t have the same kind of depth to draw upon that Team Canada does.
Team USA has good depth to draw upon and they’ve got some brilliant NHL’ers playing for them. Despite Team USA being eliminated in the quarter-finals, Gaudreau was #10 on the tournament’s list of point leaders, just one point behind Alexander Ovechkin and Seth Jones. The only other Flame in the top 30 was Backlund, at #18. Remember, this kid is just 20. He was playing with the Juniors last year. Now he’s excelling at the World Championship.
He’s not being sheltered or being fed the puck either. Team USA gave him a lot of minutes and he was third on the team in plus/minus. Guadreau was a revelation to watch. He was all over the ice, stealing pucks constantly, making unbelievable passes, and outright embarrassing his competition by dancing through them as though they were mere lumber floating on a river. I’m with Cammalleri with regards to Gaudreau. He doesn’t need to bulk up. He’s a fantastic player right now and I suspect he might be Calgary’s best winger next season even if Cammalleri stays.
Other hopefuls include Baertschi (who may or may not be ready to be an NHLer full time next season) and Emile Poirier, who had a big season in the
OHL QMJHL (This was the editors fault, not belch’s – ed.) but likely needs a few years in the AHL to be ready.
Now, here’s my question for all of you…
Calgary has a surplus of quality LW prospects. It’s good to keep developing players of all positions year after year, but the Flames simply have too many left wingers of nearly the same age right now. Hartley isn’t going to be able to find enough ice time to properly develop all of them.
So is it time to think about resolving the log jam by trading some of these prospects? Even just swapping a couple left wing prospects for right wing prospects would be a very smart move. What teams out there desperately need left wing prospects?