Flames PP with a clean look
The Nations Network sent this Jets Nation writer to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. I’m judging your team and bringing you the view from the Press Box.
The Flames got off to a promising, if sloppy start at the Young Stars Tournament against the Jets. The game was a high-pace, end-to-end affair with a lot of reliance on individual skill. The final two periods were authored by the Flames’ forward group, for better and worse. The Jets struggled to contain the Flames’ progressive cycle play, but the Jets managed to generate offence in transition where the Flames’ forwards routinely struggled to close out lanes and apply effective pressure.
Inside we’ll begin where we left off last year – systems stuff at the top and then a review of every player to follow. I missed the first period of this game and haven’t watched it streaming yet, so anything I missed goes in the comments, please! You can see the game on YouTube here.
As mentioned, the Flames’ system work started from their play low in the offensive zone. A year ago, the Flames came in with exceptional structural discipline and showed more patterned attacks through three games than many junior teams. So far through one game, this Flames roster has narrowed the options a little. Get the puck to the corner and work a cycle progression to go from boards to slot. The Jets’ centres had a role to play in defending it, but for reasons you can review over at JetsNation, they mostly didn’t. The Jets frequently got caught with two defenders below the goal line and the Flames’ third forward out front with the puck.
More than just how to score, though, that cycle was the basis for their defensive transition and thus defensive zone play as well. In defensive transition, they worked a neutral zone overload with two pressure points. The high forward in the cycle would be responsible for the first pressure point, right before the red line while F2 and F3 came back through the strong side (side with the puck) lane to break up passing options. Defenders backed off the offensive line and then closed at pressure point #2, right inside the blueline. The design is intended to cut one forward off at the red line and then force a dump just inside the blue line that can be recovered by the other defenceman (who has just been backing up this whole time) and turned up ice for F2 and F3 who are arriving back in the zone.
The challenge for the Flames was that the Jets were beating the first pressure point and hitting the second one with puck support. Much as the Flames did to the Oilers a year ago, the Jets used a layered zone entry to beat the second pressure point and trap the Calgary defender. That is, F1 slows into the pressure and feeds the puck behind the defender to an accelerating F2 just a few feet away. That creates a 2-on-1 for the attacking team, or lets the puck carrier walk across the top of the zone. We saw a lot of both, and it created most of the Jets’ even strength offence.
In defensive set zone play, the Flames defenders really struggled to move the puck to anyone. The Jets forecheck was fast paced and applied by big bodies with skill. More than that, the forwards offered very little in the way of meaningful puck support and the team had clearly not prepared more than a single escape option.
#37 Joni Orito: Ryan Pike reports that Ortio was the team’s saving grace in period one. By the time I arrived, he looked a little shaky (perhaps just shakEN!). He was quite impressive at last year’s camp, shutting the door with his quick feet, sound positioning, and stellar glove hand. Last night he looked like he was struggling to track the puck and manage his vertical position. The Jets had a lot of good looks, and almost always with numbers advantage and speed. Ortio still got the win and it wasn’t an easy one.
#50 Patrick Sieloff: A stand out a year ago before major injury derailed his season, Sieloff looked slow in his return for game one. Hard to criticize a newly healthy player. His reads and feet were understandably slow. Good chance for him to shake some rust off this weekend. Still had some strong, tight escapes and moved the puck well (though with some hesitation at times).
#55 John Ramage: A ’91 birthday with four years of college experience and 56 games in pro hockey. We can expect a lot from these types at this tournament, but Ramage didn’t really deliver. Strong gap work thanks to good (not great) power in transition strides. He pushes and battles with balance and strength. His transition puck movement is supposed to be conservative but effective, but it didn’t reach that low bar in this game. Struggled to find an outlet. He was better in set-zone offensive play, where he worked the blue line efficiently to the tune of a goal and an assist. Places shots well, as was the case on his goal.
#61 Brett Kulak: For almost every note I have of a Flames defender making a nice outlet pass, I have 61F next to it. I didn’t love his defensive work, where I thought he was loathe to stop-and-start, making his movements off the boards a bit sloppy. But he moved the puck up ice and supported it. It seems simple, but it takes timing to hit a moving forward when and where he can make a play with it. Kulak was the only Flames defender doing it consistently.
#67 Ryan Culkin: Patrolled the offensive blue line well, and had to play on his off-side often. He doesn’t over-handle the puck, always accepting the disc with a plan for where it goes next. Makes the puck do the work, so we didn’t see his skating really stressed at any point. That alone is impressive.
#73 Keegan Kanzig: I was shocked when I saw him in person for the first time as he’s a better skater than I had imagined. He’s added to that. Kanzig not only has good range and eats up space in straight lines as he did last year, but he now has a strong underside push on his transition strides, such that we saw him lose the puck at the offensive blue line and still recover by the red line and keep the Jets in front of him. His puck skills aren’t impressive, but are average for this tournament. He’s a scary hitter and a few Jets showed that fear. He reads puck movement well and was a good PK player. He’s putting together an NHL resume of skills and attributes.
#84 Eric Roy: Did some PK work with Kanzig. He’s a big body, straight up skater. Has conservative range and doesn’t track well in man-defence situations due to limited quick-start power.
#85 Jason Fram: On the game sheet as an extra defender, but I didn’t notice him. Anyone get a look?
#46 Bill Arnold: He owes some money to the swear jar as his f-bomb upon losing the puck to Kosmachuk in the neutral zone in the third rang through the rafters of the SOEC. An effortful performance. In one shift he blocked a shot, threw two hits, and won a board battle to clear the puck. He’s quick, without the shiftiness required to create offensive space from that quickness. Gets to speed in transition in two strides. Doesn’t manage the puck very well and doesn’t support it very well either.
#47 Brandon McGee: Played with Van Brabant and Agostino. Marks his man very closely on defence and does everything he can to throw that player off his game – stick work, jabs, pushes – but just lacks the strength to actually tie up or box out. Good edge work. He’s comfortable on every edge and not easy to knock around. At the same time, much better away from traffic than in it. Has a quick and heavy wrist shot.
#48 Bryce Van Brabant: A fight (against the bigger Lowry) and an assist, so hard to suggest it wasn’t a good game. Big, heavy bodied player. Had a good shift after the Ehlers goal in which his line possessed well in the offensive zone partly though Van Brabant’s forceful board work. A bit scattered as a player, and it was his linemates that determined which end of the rink he would be at on any given shift.
#51 Kenny Agostino: Maybe the most complete player on the Flames’ worst line, but not the most skilled. I liked his vertical offensive work, and he cycled well. He also took what was given, which is a level of patience most of the young kids in this tournament don’t have yet. He’s strong but not big, but is a ’92 birthday, so that advantage may disappear against other adults.
#52 Morgan Klimchuk: I Loved Klimchuk’s game. He was the superhero for his line, and it was mostly his hockey IQ. Closed gaps well in the forecheck and defensively. By midway through the third, I had counted 6 turnovers created by Klimchuk’s forechecking positioning. He’s an efficient skater, never really pressured to use his skating as he keeps the play in front of him. I have a note about one wrister in the 2nd, so I’d like to see him contribute more directly to the offence. It was a strange line and he managed all of the defensive work.
#53 Johnny Gaudreau: I think Gaudreau was the best player for any of the four teams on this night. He played with Arnold and Hunter Smith (aka with no help) and the entire game flowed around him as a winger. It’s so rare. We saw his puck skills on his goal where he burst over the line onto a loose puck, moved through the defender and got a conservative goaltender to drop his shoulder for a peanut butter-shelf finish. He makes some cheeky plays with the puck too, including coaxing a forechecker into him by accepting a pass with his back turned to the pressure, only to drop the puck behind the Jet for Arnold without ever looking. His explosiveness and edge control were elite for this tournament, as was his anticipation. He showed the Phil Kessel ability to open gaps with his straight speed and the Ray Whitney ability to force defenders off balance with his shift-and-pass moves. The only caveat on Gaudreau’s game is that Baertschi was also amazing at this tournament his first year. (Sorry, I was born in Edmonton)
#60 Markus Granlund: I understand why everyone loves this player – he’s very good – but his two points were mostly the Jets’ fault for not managing the front of the net. His seven recorded shots are likely a tad high as well. Not to rain on his parade. Granlund is a strong skater who always seems to be at the same high speed. His legs keep churning and he creates a lot out of it. He’s not a big guy, but has the thickness and power to plow through at this level. His hands are plus, but what’s most impressive is how little time he spends with the puck. Always has options in mind and will default to putting it at the net instead of re-grouping. Very hard to defend a guy who never stops moving, never has the puck for long, and has Granlund’s skill. A ’93 birthday who might be ready to graduate to the majors already.
#62 Austin Carroll: The third player on the Bennett/Klimchuk line, and he was definitely the third wheel. He didn’t support the puck well for Bennett, and didn’t close lanes well for Klimchuk. He was caught in the corner a lot, either too late to the front of the net or behind the play on the back check. I don’t think it was physical – he was an average skater for the tournament – but mental. He just thought the game too slowly.
#63 Sam Bennett: By the same token, it must have been hard to read Bennett in this game. I’m told he didn’t look very impressive over the live feed, but in person he was very good. He was physical everywhere, had great puck control and managed possession with authority. He came off the boards with possession more than I could have expected and beat double coverage with his feet. He didn’t use his linemates very well, and he didn’t get a lot of good scoring chances. Still, he did get the puck toward the net often and looked like he could break the game open at any moment. If we ask, ‘how does he see the game?’ I think the answer is that he sees it as a melee. He has great puck skills, we know. But he engages the way he does because he sees the game in a serious manner and as a battle, where someone like Gaudreau is really playing with people a bit.
#64 Garnet Hathaway: This guys is on the game sheet as an extra forward. Sorry, Flames fans, I did not notice him or take a single note about him. Anyone see him on the stream?
#71 Hunter Smith: This kid is Huge, but he looks like a ladder on skates. Gaudreau managed to use him a few times, but mostly he didn’t make an impact on the game. Very straight up skater, likely needs to add some core and leg strength to lower his stance before his size becomes effective.
#79 Michael Ferland: I bet Ferland has the puck a total of 6 seconds in this game and came away with three points and a half dozen chances. He’s a much more professionally prepared talent than most, with every puck touch coming and going in a single movement and being part of a larger orchestrated movement. Uses his size well to open up lanes, drives the net well, and stays in motion in the offensive zone.
#86 Josh Jooris: Call this a Jets bias, but I didn’t see Jooris as an impact player. Yes, he had three points. One assist was him 2-on-0 at the crease, jamming until it squeezed through. The others were on plays by Granlund and Ferland. I’d like to see him away from those talents, as he was often behind the play in defensive transition and looked like a plodding skater to my eye. Takes contact like a pro, controlling his body well and moving through.