1. Moving on
Last week I looked at the chances for Kenny Agostino, Billy Arnold, Sven Baertschi, and Sam Bennett to make the big club for at least a semi-permanent gig next season. In general, those four guys seemed unlikely to do it, with the sole exception of Baertschi, who I think at least gets a shot to prove he still can’t hack it.
And with that we move onto the second group of forwards who might have a chance to make the Flames. Because I apparently neglected to mention this before, I’ve come up with a list of 12 forward prospects who might be in the best position to get into the lineup, as well as four defensemen. They are being presented in alphabetical order (because you see, I don’t think the guys whose last names happen to start with A and B are also the most likely to make the team).
In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t consider either Paul Byron or Lance Bouma to be “prospects” any more. Both have over 100 games of NHL experience, and their usefulness to the team doesn’t seem to be particularly significant moving forward. If they have to be shuttled to the AHL to make room for a player with a better chance to make an impact in the AHL, then that’s what’ll happen. For the record, though, I think they find a wing spot for Bouma and Byron both.
Anyway, here are the next four, for whom I am a little more hopeful.
2. Johnny Gaudreau
I think we can all agree this is just about the only sure thing on the team in terms of an out-and-out prospect getting close to a full season. Gaudreau is going to get a very, very long look as a well-protected scoring forward – both because of his size and inexperience as a professional hockey player — simply because his skill is overwhelming and he’s never done anything but put up big points no matter what quality his competition.
The NHL is obviously a whole different plane than he’s used to playing on, but all indications are that he can make better decisions and create more than anyone the Flames probably have to offer overall, and the next time I see him get really decked by an opponent (legally, anyway) will be the first in three years of seeing him play at least 10 times a season.
What will be interesting is to see how the team uses him, or rather, with whom they use him. The Flames have no shortage of decent centers, to be sure, but none of them seem really great or anything. Matt Stajan is probably the most likely pick, given that he’s steady and a veteran and all that, and because he’s going to be the No. 2 center for most of the season unless Sean Monahan (who I don’t consider a prospect at this point) edges past him. Gaudreau can handle the minutes but the question of who becomes his opposite wing — I’m assuming he’ll play the right side — is interesting. Curtis Glencross doesn’t seem like a bad choice there.
I don’t think it’s wide to put him with a reedy big kid with only one mediocre season like Monahan, nor to give him first line minutes with a no-finish guy like Backlund, even if he’s basically an idealized, maxed-out create-a-player-stats version of Billy Arnold. Joe Colborne shouldn’t be the guy either.
Basically my point is, if Gaudreau doesn’t stick with the team long-term, it’ll be because he played himself into the AHL. I just don’t see that happening.
3. Markus Granlund
This is an interesting situation. As has been discussed before, the team has many center options available to it. And while Granlund was probably the best player in Abbotsford last season — and likely the first call-up if someone gets hurt — I can’t see him getting a much longer look in Calgary than a dozen games or so. He’s still only 21, and ripping up the AHL at the center position probably doesn’t put him ahead of the Stajan/Backlund/Colborne/Monahan quartet.
Maybe they move him to a wing, but there are so many young centers and wings vying for a spot on this team already that it’s tough to be optimistic that Granlund makes the jump. I hope so, though. There are more than a few bits of dead weight I’d like him to displace, and maybe Brad Treliving’s professed love for analytics means the team clears some space on the roster by sitting Brian McGrattan and Brandon Bollig permanently, or at least unless there’s a game against a team with some true heavyweights who may need sorting out.
But I really doubt it, and that’s too bad. Still, you’d rather have him play 20-plus a night in the AHL than slum it on the fourth line in the NHL, right? Having organizational depth down the middle, and guys who are used to logging heavy minutes at center, isn’t a bad thing.
4. Ben Hanowski
I kind of like Hanowski’s chances to make the team this season, to be honest. But I should say that this comes with the caveat that it’s mainly predicated on his being one of two non-McGrattan natural right wings under contract.
And the thing is, too, that he wasn’t bad for Abbotsford last season. He had 31 points in 55 games, which you take for a guy on his first pro season. For me, it really is as simple as the team having a hole in the roster the size of the players Brian Burke covets more than anything down the right side, and for that reason he might get a third- or fourth-line role out of the deal. That’s okay, in theory.
What’s working against him, though, is that he was pretty terrible in 11 games — it felt like so much more than that — with the Flames last season. His corsi numbers were worse than the rest of the team’s, which is saying something, and that’s despite getting ludicrously soft zone starts and softer competition. I don’t know how much more you can protect a player, to be honest.
The most likely scenario, it seems to me, is that he gets a shot and flames out pretty hard. No pun intended. That’s fine. He was always a borderline NHLer at best anyway.
5. Morgan Klimchuk
I see next to no reason for him to make the team. He might get the eight-game tryout, but since the team can send him back to the WHL and float his contract for another year, that’s what they’re likely to do.
He’s another left wing behind a metric crapload of them in this organization, but seems to be the only one who can be sent back to junior. That’s what’ll happen. Better luck next year.