Five things: Who’s gonna make it? Pt. 2

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.

  • piscera.infada

    I don’t disagree with Klimchuk being sent back at all – it’s what was always going to happen. That said, I would be interested to hear what you actually think of him as a prospect. Every time I’ve seen him, he’s really impressed me. He looked very good yesterday on McDavid’s wing in the WJHC try-out, and I think he could easily be a significant piece of this organization moving forward. Last year, I didn’t think too highly of him, he was behind Poirier, Monahan, and a few others for me. Now, he’s my favourite ‘true prospect’ not named Gaudreau.

  • piscera.infada

    I don’t disagree with too much here. However, why, if we are inserting random left wingers into right wing slots, do we not think about putting Johnny Gaudreau on the right side, where we have a very clear weakness?

  • SmellOfVictory

    My only complaint is calling Backlund a “no-finish” guy. He obviously doesn’t have the shooting acumen of someone like Monahan or Glencross, but I’d say he’s better than Stajan in that regard.

    I do agree that, if the Flames are going to use him as their hard minutes centre, Gaudreau proooooobably shouldn’t be on his line, though. And that’s just in the interest of trying to shelter Gaudreau a little.

  • Craig

    I agree that Stajan is probably the best centre for Gaudreau, Backlund will be facing all the heavies, Stajan will have softer minutes in which Gaudreau can excel. If Glencross can have a bit of a resurgence stick him on that line as the finisher.

    I’d love to see Gaudreau play with Monahan since they’re buds off the ice, which makes for good chemistry presumably, but they’d get absolutely killed.

  • PrairieStew

    I’d like Johnny with Monahan and Colborne – especially if big Joe has added some functional strength. I would really shelter that line of course. I’d send Backlund out with Hudler and Glencross against all of the top units. Stajan centres #2 with Jones and Raymond.

    Having said that though – Paul Byron and Sven also are best utilized in offensive role. I can see a scenario where they run with the veterans for the most part, giving select time here and there to young guys with a view to full time roles down the road. So while you say Byron and Bouma do not have significant usefulness moving forward – I think they are very important this year at least. In camp you will have to evaluate how much better the team would actually be this year with Gaudreau playing instead of Byron; or with Granlund/Arnold/Knight that with Bouma. Better enough to make the playoffs ? If not – then let the young guys get more ice and win in Adirondack.

    As I said in the Bouma thread – he is ahead of where Glencross was at the same age and could be a great replacement for Curtis. Byron had a beautiful NHLe progression through junior and into his first 2 pro years but fell way back when the Flames acquired him. Last year he recovered and made a quantum leap – if he progresses again how can you discard a 40-45 point guy making the league minimum ?

    • DoubleDIon

      Expecting or even thinking Bouma will ever be Glencross is insanity. He doesn’t skate as well, shoot as well or handle the puck as well. He’s as good as Glencross was defensively in his prime already and is more physical. The offensive ability is not raw with Bouma, it’s just not there. The tools aren’t there, it’s not a development issue.

      • PrairieStew

        Perhaps. The 40-45 point reference was for Byron who was on 36 point clip in his 47 games last year.

        Glencross was a late bloomer – not making full time NHLer until he was 25. Bouma is younger and missed a whole year with the knee so I am not ready to write him off development wise. Perhaps I compare him favourably to Glencross because Curtis sometimes leaves me wanting. He seems to go through phases where he believes he is a skill player and tries to make a cute play instead of working hard. Bouma always works hard and is already better defensively. Bouma’s ESP/60 last year 1.05; compared to Glencross 1.55. Taking in to account linemates the gap is less than you might think.

  • redhot1

    Wish the season would start already. Really looking forward to watching Gaudreau play every couple days, instead of the countless times I’ve watched all his videos.

    And if he plays with Stajan, that would most likely bump up his point totals, making him worth more on the market (if the Flames go that direction).

    This upcoming season (for me at least) will consist of watching for a couple things ;
    Johnny Gaudreau, and if he can run with the big dogs.

    Mikael Backlund, hopefully he takes another step.

    TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano. Can they be as dominant as last year?

    Sean Monahan. Takes big steps into developing his defensive / all around game. Emphasis on the big part.

    Sven Baertschi. Obligatory.

    Brad Treliving. What returns will he get when he trades some roster players?

    Also how Sam Bennett performs at the World Juniors

  • piscera.infada

    I’d like Johnny with Monahan and Colborne – especially if big Joe has added some functional strength. I would really shelter that line of course. I’d send Backlund out with Hudler and Glencross against all of the top units. Stajan centres #2 with Jones and Raymond.

    The Monahan-Gaudreau-Colborne line may work in theory during home games. They’d likely get massacred away from the ‘dome though. You can’t effectively shelter a unit away from home, as you have first change. I completely agree, you start Gaudreau with Stajan. I won’t be surprised if as the season progresses he finds himself on the top-line alongside Backlund and Glencross. A guy like Gaureau could instantly make those two better offensively.

    This is the tough part with bringing up as many kids as we’d often like them to (roster spots notwithstanding). They need to play with competent NHL players in order to maximize their growth. Sheltering is all well and good, but it’s not a horrible idea to give some of these guys a chance against tough competition with players who have proven they can hang in that situation.

  • Derzie

    Whoever the prospect, if they are forced to play out of their natural position, don’t bother. We aren’t knocking on any doors this year and need to grow guys the right way. Get bodies that play RW for RW. Or move a vet. But don’t mess up the confidence and progression of the young players.

    • mattyc

      Moving a talented guy like Gaudreau to right wing frees up a spot on the left side for another talented guy like Baertschi. Or for Reinhart, or Granlund, or whoever.

      It saves us from dealing an asset to fill a hole we may be able to fill from within.

      I’m not sure how much development you think Gaudreau will need other than to grow physically. He played in a league roughly equivalent to the AHL and dominated. He is probably smart enough to figure out the system pretty quickly.

      And if he does have trouble, so what? He’s a better choice than a face-puncher and we don’t hurt our chances at a top three pick at the next draft to boot.

      I’m having real problems seeing the downside to trying him there.

      • Derzie

        I guess I’d be interested in the numbers that say moving a guy is more beneficial than not. The deficit at RW is a GM problem, not a coach problem. We are winning the square root of nothing this year so to me it’s all about the talent we do have. If Johnny G does not get damaged at his off wing then all is well. What if he does? Was the risk worth it? I’m sure we’ve all experienced this at work, filling in for someone when your comfort zone is violated. If you are fresh on the job you can get beat up or have your confidence hurt. I don’t feel a GM shortcoming justifies the risk. Obviously they will do it anyway and everyone will be happy but the last thing we want is Sven 2. A coach who uses a player out of his comfort zone and destroys his confidence.

        • piscera.infada

          Look, I’m not going to say one way or another whether there is quantifiable evidence that playing the wing-position on your “off-wing” or less comfortable wing leads to decreased production – I don’t think it does, as a number of wingers move around a great deal throughout their career (Ovechkin, Neal, Benn, Zetterberg, to name a few off the top of my head).

          I do take a bit of issue with the second part of your analysis though. Sure, you shouldn’t ask Gaudreau to play goalie or go fight John Scott in his first NHL game – that’s definitely out of his “comfort zone”. However, suggesting that playing him at RW instead of LW is going to bruise his confidence like an overripe peach, is ridiculous. If a professional athlete is seriously that unable to adapt, I would say you have larger problems then not playing him at his “natural” wing.

        • Derzie

          Agreed that getting some numbers on this would help and that it is a GM shortcoming and most importantly, that we don’t want him losing confidence like Sven appeared to do.

          I would like to think the latter is relatively unlikely though.

  • Skuehler

    How does Gaudreau not possibly make the team this year??!
    Who else is going to score?
    What incentive is there for anyone on the AHL roster to stick their own neck out to protect him, especially early in the year? If Gaudreau gets injured in the AHL it just increases another guys chance of getting the call up. Even so, who is there in the AHL that would play the role of protecting him?

    And do you really send a PLANE to pick up a kid from school who you plan on playing in the AHL the following season?

    What exactly would be the downside to playing the Gaud Father in the NHL this season??

    • PrairieStew

      If everyone is healthy there may not be room for him. The 4th line is a combo of Bolling Bouma McGrattan and possibly Reinhart or Knight. You don’t want him playing there anyway. The third line with Monahan and Colborne might have Byron or Baertschi on it. The top 2 lines have wingers of Glencross, Hudler, Raymond and Jones. Johnny is might outproduce everyone on that list save perhaps Hudler, but the question is to what end ? Does it help the team make the playoffs ?

      They sent the plane to get him to get him to sign, rather than return to school, because if he did he could wait until next Aug 15 and become a FA.

      I will turn that question around on you – what’s the downside of him playing in the AHL for one year and being the best player there ? Yes he might get hurt, but he also might get hurt in the NHL helping the team to a 25th overall finish – what’s the point of that ? If Johnny, Granlund, Baertschi and Arnold become dominant AHLers this year that gives management options to move veterans – Glencross, Jones, Hudler etc towards the end of this season for more assets.

      • Skuehler

        The downside is Gaudreau doesn’t leave school to play in the A. If he wanted to play at that level he would’ve stayed in school, enjoyed success, had a great time, finished his education, pleased his family, and had a ton of options at the end of next season. He quit school to make and play for the Calgary Flames. This team can certainly make room for him. This is what a rebuild looks like.

        Just my take on it. We’ll see how he looks in Penticton. Monohan was given an opportunity on a bad team and he worked his tail off to make the most of it. I see Johnny doing the same.

        I could see it maybe because it’s close to home and all, but the flames don’t seem to have a system for developing young players consistently.

  • mattyc

    Does anyone have any insight into how challenging shifting wings actually is? My recollection from playing (albeit I didn’t play NHL collector league levels) is that there was some minor stuff (like picking up the puck on the wall in your own zone), but positionally LW and RW are pretty similar in most systems.

    I imagine that the inconvenience or negative aspects of switching are far less than having the right personnel – but I’m just spitballing here.

    • Burnward

      Always played RW, but found it easier to shift to C than LW.

      Getting a breakout on your backhand is such a different thing if you aren’t used to it. You either gotta chip, stop to pass, or go backhand with a D-Man bearing down on you. It takes a lot of adjustment…but, we are talking about REAL hockey players here…so…that’s my spitballing.

      Positionally, I agree. Very similar.

      Also, some guys like to create on their off-wing. Depends on the player I suppose. I hated it.

  • T&A4Flames

    “sole exception of Baertschi, who I think at least gets a shot to prove he still can’t hack it.”

    “nor to give him first line minutes with a no-finish guy like Backlund”

    Seriously dude? And you wonder why we all call you negative and a downer. I read the Baertschi comment and immediately thought, “go f*?£+yourself”

  • beloch

    Fourth Line Center:

    Colborne is probably going to stay on the wing. He just wasn’t very good at center last season, but looked like he might be a NHL’er on the wing. That means the fourth line center job is up for grabs. Bollig is probably the guy who’s going to get that job, but players like Granlund and Arnold at least have a shot, and could also convert to wing.

    The Flames now have the pieces to put together a functional but tough fourth line. Westbarf is gone and there’s certainly no need for McGrattan to play 70+ games again.

    Gaudreau getting decked:

    Some people occasionally post here that they think Gaudreau needs to spend time in the AHL because of his size. These people have clearly not watched him play. Gaudreau is like a cat on his feet. I’ve seen him use hits to propel himself past opponents. He’ll deke around a tower of muscle and get a parting shot to his back, which he uses to launch himself forward and gain a step on the next guy!

    One thing he is going to have to watch out for is shoulder-to-face contact, because his face is at everybody else’s shoulder height. His awareness is almost supernatural, so I doubt he’ll get hit badly very often. Other players are also going to have to be careful how they hit him because shoulder to face contact will probably draw them a penalty. However, bad hits do happen. Gaudreau is going to have to take his chances like everyone else in the league. His chances are probably a lot better than most power forwards who play a crash and bang style though.

  • RedMan

    not sure if Baertschi’s AHL stint has been the product of a confidence issue or attitude issue… or maturity issue…

    either way, the AHL is the route most kids take, so why should i worry about Baertschi? he’ll be fine.

  • everton fc

    If Ferland can become a regular NHL players, and convert so he can play with Gaudreau, he makes the most sense to protect him. Van Brabant, who I like a lot, is not Ferland. Nor is Wolfe. Ferland has raw skill and scored at the same pace Lucic did in Juniors, if I’m not mistaken.

    I hope Ferland is quietly waiting in the wings. One post here sais the kids in Penticton last year looked up to he and Monahan. That says a lot. Perhaps he’s matured. Hope his knee holds up.

    • PrairieStew

      Due to time missed from injury last season I think Ferland needs at least one more full season in the AHL.

      How the Flames fit their young guys in for the 2016 season will be the real challenge. By then you’ll have Granlund, Knight, Reinhart, Arnold and possibly Bennett and Poirier all banging at the door.

  • Skuehler

    I’m with Millions – still think there will be moves made on D and at LW (I’m looking at you Hudler).

    Opening up a LW spot for one of the young guys while picking up a prospect in an area of need. Maybe around camp time…

    Also think playing Johnny with Glencross will be great to pump his tires for when he gets the ol heave ho at the trade deadline.

    In other news, I noticed on twitter that our boy Janko just joined the 200lb club. He had a pic of the scale and everything! Here’s hoping (again) that he tears it up in Providence this year.

  • The Last Big Bear

    I don’t know if there’s room on this team for both Johnny and Sven.

    I don’t mean this year, because of incumbent vets, I mean an NHL team carrying two small finesse players, with a similar role and in the same position, is not good for roster balance. This is an issue that will persist long-term if they are both NHL material.

    I like both players, and think they’ve both got a very strong chance to be legit top-6 wingers, but I don’t want to see the two of them as half of the top-6 wingers that the Flames will be carrying into a playoff series against a legit contender.

    I think one of them will need to be moved for a defenceman, or a winger with size. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon (and for the rest of his life).

    • The Last Big Bear

      I think one of them will need to be moved for a defenceman, or a winger with size.

      If one is to be moved, this is the only acceptable answer. I’d rather the team addressed an actual organizational need rather than a perceived organizational need.

    • The Last Big Bear

      Same position, but different lines most likely. Johnny is 1st line, while Sven is 2nd line. Not to say they both start at that position, but that is where they should end up if they reach potential.

      • The Last Big Bear

        ‘Same position but different lines’ is the problem.

        Picture the Flames in a 7-game grind against a powerhouse team. Now imagine Sven and Johnny as the Flames’ top-6 LW’s. Now imagine the other team’s top-pairing #1 RD going for an entire playoff series withouth taking one solid hit.

        On a game-by-game basis, that’s fine. But come playoff time, if you let a Norris calibre defenceman go 12 straight days in the playoffs, playing against marks who are smaller than his own daughter, and without getting turned upside down even once, I guarantee you will lose that series 100% of the time.

        If you match up Zdeno Chara with a lunatic human wrecking ball like Ovechkin, or a beast like Lucic, or a banger like Dusin Brown, Chara is going to feel it by game 3 or 4. After 7 games, it will take a noticeable toll.

        If you matched Chara against Gaudreau and Sven for 7 games, he would chew them up and spit their bones into the second row.

        • piscera.infada

          That seems like a markedly simplistic analysis though. I mean, you’re not incorrect. But it seems like you’re saying nothing can be schematically done to remedy that. I, for one, think you can still roll out two top-line with skilled (albeit) smaller players and adjust your system to take care of Chara. For instance, use your centre (ie. Bennett) down low, switch your wingers on the rush, punish Chara with foot-speed, stay on the perimeter. It’s really not that cut and dry.