1. Lots of decisions to come
The good thing about the Flames, almost regardless of how you choose to look at it, is that there’s now, finally, a lot of youth on the team that used to be so typified by its players being in their late-20s and 30s. What that means in the long run is that the team has a chance to build some success for down the road and will likely have a number of affordable and potentially good players under contract for a number of years.
What that means in the short term, though, is that Brad Treliving and Bob Hartley are going to have some interesting decisions to make throughout the lineup come late September, and further, there are almost certainly going to be more than a few such decisions to make. Given that it’s now almost August and there’s very little to talk about, I thought I’d take a look at the younger players who are probably borderline picks to make the roster for a decent amount of time, either on opening night or maybe some point in like December or January.
The problem with this is that, given the team’s lack of depth and the relatively comparable talent once you get past the two or three best kids overall, there’s probably not a lot to separate the chances of, say, Max Reinhart from getting a decent-sized look from Ben Hanowski, for example.
So anyway, here goes.
2. Kenny Agostino
Agostino got into eight games with the big club last year at the end of the season and was wholly unmemorable. He scored his first goal and he was fine but he doesn’t seem particularly likely to make the team out of camp, and I doubt he’d be the first call-up following an injury.
The fact is that he’s a left wing really isn’t on his side, as Calgary’s prospect depth down the middle seems substantial; in addition to having four NHLers on the left already (if you count Bollig, haha) there’s also Johnny Gaudreau, Sven Baertschi, Morgan Klimchuk, and — depending on whom you believe — Emile Poirier. Not to mention David Wolf, who might get a look before a lot of those guys because of all the punching.
I think Agostino is a decent enough player. I saw him play a time or three in NCAA this past season and he was always fairly impressive. But I think that of all the guys who might be considered, he’s also the one in most need of a season or two in the AHL to prepare himself for the rigors of professional hockey. I’d put his chances of making the team at any point as being “quite low.”
3. Bill Arnold
A guy I’m a little higher on is Arnold, and maybe that’s just because I’ve seen him play more games (40-50 in four years I’d guess), than most prospects for any team.
The reason I’m high on him, overall, is that I think he brings something to the table that not a lot of other centers in the Flames’ plans do: an established two-way game. For my money, he was the best two-way player in college hockey last season, scoring 53 points in 40 games (and let’s be honest, a lot of that was because he played with Gaudreau all year) but also really and truly locking down the defensive zone in a way that others couldn’t. It’s often said in college hockey circles that the reason Gaudreau and Kevin Hayes were so capable of going forward with impunity was because Arnold would be there to mop up if things went sour in transition.
With that being said, Arnold, too, is a little buried, though not as much as Agostino. He’s behind Matt Stajan, Mikael Backlund, Joe Colborne, and Sean Monahan at the NHL level, with Lance Bouma also mixed in there depending on where Colborne is used. But after that there’s Sam Bennett, who’s at least going to get a look somewhere for that eight-game trial period. And after that there’s Corban Knight. And Markus Granlund and probably even Max Reinhart. I’d venture that Arnold is lumped in pretty closely with Granlund and Reinhart overall, but they have seniority and pro hockey under their belts. Arnold does not.
4. Sven Baertschi
This is basically the make-or-break year for Baertschi, and I think that he’s very likely to get a long look and actual decent opportunity for once in his career. Things have gone sideways for him, no doubt about that, in the last few years. You have to wonder, though, how much of that is his doing, and how much was the Flames not knowing how to deal with him.
In theory this is one of the team’s absolute best prospects, but in actual practice, having 55 points in 73 career AHL games doesn’t exactly scream “quality.”
They have to give him a chance to make the club, either on the left or right side. Have to. If he’s on the right, he has more of a chance to succeed, because — and this is true — the team only has two natural right-side wings under contract. One of them is Brian McGrattan. Yeah, you can float wings from one side to the other without much incident, and that’s what the Flames clearly have to do. That’s where Baertschi is likely going to “make it” with this team. If he is at all.
5. Sam Bennett
Finally this week we come to the Flames’ highest-ever draft pick. Given the team’s center depth and his relative youth, I’d find it pretty difficult to believe he makes the team after the eight-game junior tryout that comes standard (sell some jerseys, get everyone excited, etc.).
With that having been said, I would have guessed the same thing about Sean Monahan last season, and look how that ended up. If nothing else, keeping him in the OHL for another season floats his contract an extra year, and that’s not a bad move at all.
I think he’s great, but he shouldn’t be anywhere near pro hockey next season. We’ll see if the team feels the same way.