Five things: A college prospect update

1. You don’t want to hear it

So here we are with the Flames still, against all odds, winning their games, and starting to look like they could be this year’s Avalanche: A team that dramatically overperforms its underlying numbers by getting every bounce for an entire season. Yeah, it’s still relatively early, but we’re almost 20 percent of the way through the season and the Flames are tied for second in the division, ahead of San Jose and Los Angeles (somehow).

Johnny Gaudreau continues to improve. Guys are scoring pretty consistently throughout the lineup (11 players are on at least half a point a game). The goaltending has been unfathomably good. If there was ever a year to tank, it was this one, but the Flames being as poorly run as they are instead seem intent on not-getting Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin or Connor McDavid. They’re content to collect the No. 7 pick, whoever that happens to be, instead of bottoming out, even as they still don’t make the playoffs.

I’m not fine with it, but I’ve accepted that this is what they’re going to do. It’s idiotic but it’s unavoidable.

So here, instead, are some updates on the Flames’ various NCAA prospects because you’ve all made it perfectly clear that you don’t want to approach this season logically, and instead will yell at me every time I say finishing 30th is better than finishing 22nd.

2. The Providence kids

The general consensus on the Providence Friars, toplined by Jon Gillies and Mark Jankowski, but also featuring defenseman John Gilmour, was that they were supposed to be outstanding this year. Picked by coaches and media alike to finish atop Hockey East, the conference recently dominated by Boston College and UMass Lowell.

That has not happened yet. The Friars are just 2-3-1 to start the year, and some of the losses have been pretty concerning.

Part of the reason for that is that Gillies has started out the year a little flat, at just .906. To be fair, two of his first three performances were hot garbage (allowing five on 25, and then four on 24 before getting the hook after 40 minutes). But whatever happened to cause those issues seems to have also gone away; maybe he got his head on straight, I don’t know. Over his last three starts, during which Providence went just 1-1-1, he put up .933, which is about where I’d have expected him to be this year.

Obviously it’s early, but there was something — perhaps a nagging injury — hampering him to start the year, and all of their first four were road games (they’ve played just one of six at home). I’m not too worried about whether he’s going to straighten it out. I think it’s unequivocal that he will.

Another potential reason for Providence’s problems has been the fact that Jankowski missed three of the six game they played. He’s their No. 1 center now, especially because undrafted free agent Ross Mauermann has started the year playing poorly (another reason for the slow start), but he’s got a goal and an assist in those three games. 

Only four shots to show for those appearances, but the goal he scored Saturday against BU was one that he wouldn’t have been able to get off even last season: There was a scramble in the slot and he just kind of banged away at the puck until it went in. Just a year ago, he would have been put on his wallet posthaste, and it really looks to me as though the kid’s filled out more. Stronger on his skates, that sort of thing. He still needs to find an extra gear, but I’m likewise not concerned that he’ll do it. I think he can be a breakout player this season if he stays healthy (big if, unfortunately).

Finally, there’s John Gilmour, who has likewise missed three games for the Friars. Two assists in the three he did play, and on the ice for three goals against, but when his team has allowed 19 and only scored 12, that’s what happens. He’s still the team’s No. 3 defenseman, and they have a solid top pairing.

The Friars will be fine. They just have to get healthy and they’re going to start winning a lot more. All these guys will probably have solid to very good years.

3. The defenseman at BU

The only recently drafted kid that’s Flames property and playing college hockey is third-round pick Brandon Hickey, who’s playing for a resurgent Boston University team (which you’d know better as “the one with Jack Eichel on it”).

The Terriers are 4-1 through five games, and recently split with those Providence Friars, with each team losing their home game last weekend. Hickey has but a single point, but a plus-4 rating from these games because BU has been pretty good going forward. In five games, they have 17 goals (though eight came in their first game alone). I haven’t actually seen BU play, apart from highlights, yet this season, but by all accounts he’s been perfectly good. 

This past weekend alone he tallied seven shots on goal, and if he can get more involved in the offense, especially if he’s on the ice at the same time as Eichel, the points will come.

His problem is that the’s a little buried on this team’s defense, because four of the team’s seven currently drafted players play on the blue line. Matt Grzelcyk was a World Junior star for the United States, and Doyle Somerby is a second-year who was decent last season for a team that was anything but. Heck, Hickey might not even be the best first-year defenseman on his own team, because Tampa draftee John MacLeod has consistently turned in more solid performances.

I don’t currently see Hickey as a world-beater or anything like that, but everything I’ve seen and heard about him has him at the very least shaping up to be a very solid college defenseman.

4. The Spartan

Meanwhile, at Michigan State, there’s 2012 seventh-rounder Matt DeBlouw.

The problem is that Michigan State just isn’t very good this year, mainly because they can’t score goals. They’ve popped in just 13 in six games so far, and one player (undrafted Matt Berry) has five of them. DeBlouw is one of the six players on the team to crack the goal sheet but not register more than one.

He’s steady, though. A total of 11 shots on goal this season, including three each in a road trip to the aforementioned very difficult environs of BU and Lowell. The goal came against lowly UMass Amherst, a game in which the Spartans scored five of their 13 goals this year.

This is the first of two prospects I’m just not going to see a lot. I live an hour from Providence and four miles from BU, so I’ll see them a lot and provide all the updates you need. But I think I’ll maybe see DeBlouw one more time (and on TV) this weekend before things get real iffy as to whether I see him again. I can’t imagine seeking out MSU games, just due to the fact that they won’t be very good, and they’re not on TV much here on the East Coast.

5. The Raider

Finally we come to a guy who I might see a little more often: 2013 sixth-rounder Tim Harrison. He plays for Colgate, which should be one of the better teams in the nation this year. Last season, he didn’t factor too heavily into the Raiders’ plans, going 0-5-5 in 34 appearances.

This year, though, he’s been an important part of a machine that’s gotten out to a 6-2 start and probably won’t slow down very much. Already, he has 3-2-5 in eight games (though it must be said that his points have come in three contests against some of the worst opponents in the NCAA, a one-assist game against 0-7 Northeastern, and 3-1-4 in two games against a two-win Sacred Heart club).

He’s only in his second year, of course, and it’s still early in the season. Plus, his conference is fairly soft so he’s likely to at the very least keep beating up on bad clubs if that’s his game.

Overall I would say that these six kids make up a pretty solid core of prospects overall. Two high-end ones, and four otherwise good to middling picks. No one’s Johnny Gaudreau, obviously, but you definitely take that over what the organization had, say, three or four years ago.

  • JMK

    @ Lambert

    You get an awful lot stick for this tanking business, what’s your reasoning for aiming at McEichel? Do you think that Calgary definitely don’t already have a good prospect pool?? Do they need the Savior for success or is it already there and just needs patience. Now I’m absolutely no expert and a very glass half full type of guy but the way I see it, Calgary may not have a stand out star of McEichel quality (even though Brodie and Johnny I’d like to think can at least come close to stardom), but have they depth in their young players (25 and under)?

    Forwards:

    High possibility of Top 6 potential: Monahan, Bennett, Poirier, Johnny.

    Medium possibility of Top 6 potential: Colbourne, Granlund, Ferland, Klimchuk, Jankowski, Sven, Backlund

    High possibility of Bottom 6 potential: Byron, Jooris, Ferland, Granlund, Bouma, Backlund, Colbourne, Kilmchuk, Arnold (i might be the only one but I think he’s our future PK specialist on 4th line)

    Medium possibility of Bottom 6 potential: Smith, Carroll, Reinhart, Hanowski, Knight.

    Defence:

    I think we have our top pairing for the next 5 years at least, I don’t see Giordano regressing until he’s at least 36, he just seems like that kind of guy who defies belief and stays fit despite age. Kris Russell I think can be a top 4 D. Fair enough defence is where we may struggle and might have to shell out some cap space but I’m still optimistic Wotherspoon, Sieloff and Kulak will make decent NHLers. And then we still have hope for Culkin, Roy, Gilmour, Ramage, Mattson, Rafinkov, Hickey et al.

    Goaltending:

    Really happy with Ramo and Hiller, and with Ortio and Gillies and even McDonald developing we have depth here right now.

    So maybe a bit optimistic but I think Calgary already have the bones of a team who could contend and they have so many options for bottom 6 forwards right now a trade or 2 could land another top 6 forward and top 4 D. And with no stars taking up loads of cap space they can hit the Free agent market.

  • Kevin R

    Thanks for the College updates Ryan. Really do appreciate them. I know just reporting on that stuff can be a little dry & you have that predispostion to being a sci-fi horror writer & like to just throw that twist to spice up your piece. Instead of just trashing how bad Flames Management are & how poorly they are running this team even though every sports panel on any sports network are applauding what the Flames are doing, here is a suggestion. I would like to really hear how you would accomplish the feat of getting 30th in one specific year (this year), what moves you would make & then turn around the team the following years. One thing I would bet you money, just say the word, but if Buffalo were to get McDavid, they would still be a horrible team next year & the year after that.

    I would also like to try & understand your rationale, especially because you follow the US College teams & other young players, how you value losing, losing culture & tanking a better setting for player development than a culture of over achieving, success & winning. Remember that movie where Duke & Duke had that $1.00 bet that environment had more impact than genetics as to whether one is successful or a criminal. Maybe you should watch that movie, Trading Places & give us an inspired 5 things. You know, something to really debate instead of unfounded controversial statements.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Overperforms their underlying numbers by getting every bounce for an entire season.
    Is that a advanced statsmans version of a temper tantrum? Love seeing the boys prove that these special new fancy numbers can’t be relied upon.
    The Oilers thought they were so smart woth Poulton Fayne Nikitin in catering to these numbers. . Uhhh right on, how’s that working out?

  • everton fc

    1)It’s waaay to early to be making any assumptions about where the Flames will finish this year. There is still many games to be played, and many injuries to acquire. If Gio or Brody get injured, who will run this ship?

    However, I agree with you in a sense about drafting McDavid or Eichel. They are special players that could very much guarantee a Stanley Cup (at least one) for the Flames.

    In the last 8 years, Edmonton has drafted 10 first round picks, 6 of them in the top 10, and they are still not a playoff team. Would you rather have one Crosby, or all of the Oilers first round picks?

    I do like where this team is going.. but thinking forward.. I would cash in on the rising stocks of Hudler, Wideman and Glenncross at the trade deadline, and do what ever is possible to draft on of those players.

    Fingers crossed that they win the Lottery.

    • BurningSensation

      To clarify my point, the Flames are fine where there at, and they don’t need to Tank for McDavid this year.

      However, I think they’ll need to re-evaluate whether they should sell at the deadline, and leverage what they can from some Veterans, and finish in a decent draft position.

      I think we all know Calgary is playing at an unsustainable pace right now..

      • Robear

        Not to be a Lambert apologist (thats right, I’m going to back him up), I share some of his concerns.

        In particular the Avalanche analogy is a good one and worrisome. The 2015 draft class is projected to be one of the best and deepest in several years. The Flames are currently playing well above their heads due to what are very likely to be unsustainable goaltending percentages. So I fully expect that the goaltending percentages will start to come back down to Earth (likely sooner than later), our rookies will start to drag a bit and the loss of veteran players will lead to more structural breakdowns.

        That leads to an 8-10th place finish and a serious regression for next year. Its basically a missed opportunity at another elite prospect, and possible generational talent.

        To be clear, I love watching the Flames right now. Hartley has them on the same song sheet and that is GREAT for the organization. and the prospects groweing up in that environment.

        I dont want them to lose like Buff, Carolina and Edmonton are and have in the past. But at the same time, I’m not deluded into believeing that they have found a magic elixir that has increased the speed of the rebuild. We still have a couple years to go folks, and by playing our way out of a high draft pick this year the Flames will simply stretch that rebuild time out.

        • piscera.infada

          That’s all well and good. I share those concerns as well. How is the team “playing well above their heads” the fault of management (as Lambert explicitly states above)? Moreover, how do you combat this without doing serious damage to some of the gains currently being made by the younger players?

          We hear this refrain a lot. This team needs to do poorly, but Monahan, Gaudreau, Granlund, Baertschi, and the vets we want to trade all need to play well and progress. Are those two mutually exclusive? It sure doesn’t seem like it. It would appear, at least prima facie, that “tanking” (being as bad as you possibly can be) would require very little to absolutely no positive progression (or contribution, for that matter) from really any one on the roster. That, at least makes sense to me.

          I’ve always said, if this team is really that bad to challenge for the top draft-pick this year, then so be it, bring on McDavid. If they don’t though, and can continue surprising, I don’t see how that’s a horrible thing; be it playoffs, or drafting from the 5th or 6th or 7th spot.

          I would say the vast majority of Flames’ fans know what this team is and that talk of the playoffs at this juncture is putting the cart before the horse a bit. What gets me (and I would assume most Flames’ fans) excited though is that you can see actual, visible, and tangible improvement by the young core. That’s worth getting excited about, and it could very well prove being more important than any draft-pick this year (regardless of where it falls).

          • Colorado Flames

            This x 100%

            I think the fact that the team has one of the deepest prospect pools in the league and has oodles in cap space speaks to management actually performing pretty admirably.

        • Derzie

          This goes back to the same thing though.

          What would you do to counter this luck, which affects us so? Nothing. You keep plugging, the way the team is now. There have clearly been no roster moves made in the direction of “going for it”, so what do you do? Play extra horribly bad on purpose to counter luck??

          You enjoy the wins, and stop complaining about something that is out of managements control. If that means we finish out of the top ten picks, that is the hand that was dealt. Deal with it and improve next year.

  • BitGeek

    Yeah, it would be nice to draft an Eichel, McDavid or Hannifin, but I’m also happy with the way the Flames are progressing right now. I doubt the Flames make the playoffs but I would like to see their underlying numbers improve throughout the season. To me that’s the biggest sign of progress.

    Like some people have already pointed out, the other teams that are tanking are truly gifted at it. The Flames would appear too obvious if they went for the 30th spot. By the way what’s the penalty for getting caught actually trying to tank?

    The Flames have already had a bunch of injuries that were supposed to help crater their results and yet they still outperform their talent level. Next they will be dulling the skate blades, injecting them with the Flu, and trading away Gio, Brodie and Backlund. Really, what should they be doing if they need 30th place so badly?

    I appreciate the professional pride that keeps Hartley and Treliving from truly messing with the team just to get a generational talent.

    The team is like a little kid trying to learn how to walk, and you don’t hobble the kid as they are starting to make progress, just to qualify for a gov’t discount on a new pair of shoes for him right?

    Also thanks to Lambert for the update on the prospects. It’s really cool having someone so close to the action there, so that we can get some first hand accounts of their play.

  • playastation

    “They’re content to collect the No. 7 pick, whoever that happens to be, instead of bottoming out, even as they still don’t make the playoffs.

    I’m not fine with it, but I’ve accepted that this is what they’re going to do. It’s idiotic but it’s unavoidable.”

    In other news, Calgary’s sellout streak recently came to an end. You know there’s several reasons why teams shouldn’t tank, not just the collect draft picks. Also, the whole tanking thing doesn’t guarantee anything remember? Its a lottery thing, the team up north helped us do that.

    I hope FN isn’t something you put on your resume. The opening of this article is unnecessary and embarrassing.

    Anyways, thanks for the prospect update.

  • MichaelD

    Guess you can’t make anyone happy Lambert haha, you stay away from flame opinions as too not upset us and still get ripped apart. Guess the negativity can never be reversed.

    Great job on the article though, thanks for the prospect update.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I agree with this. The flames are just not that bad if management made the decisions to make them that bad by trading, or demoting players we would all be calling for their heads.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Lambert, to suck as bad as you want us to suck, do you realize we would have to trade Gio, trade Hiller, take back some crap contracts for them (to get to the floor) – put Johnny, Jooris, Granlund & Monny in the minors. Play Seto & McGrattan, call up VanBrabant & Culkin…. and on and on… WE JUST DON’T SUCK ENOUGH TO TANK. DO you honestly suggest management make moves like this?

    Hell, we are bringing up our kids in an environment where winning is a possibility every night. That will teach and develop them more than any other way.

    Have you ever played competitive sport? BB, BT, GIO, Monny – these guys don’t want to lose… why make them?

  • JMK

    Can one or two stars taking up a good chunk of the salary cap not be a disadvantage? Would like to see some examples from past seasons. LA Kings won last year with a fairly well distributed salary cap so instead of having one or 2 stars they have a solid top 5 ranging from 4.8 to 6.8 mill. Chicago similar although this will change next year with Kane and Touews. Whereas Pittsburgh have a 9.5mill and 8.7mill and then all the rest 4 and under.

  • Reidja

    “…but the Flames being as poorly run as they are…”

    “…but you definitely take that over what the organization had, say, three or four years ago.”

    Really? Do you write this stuff while you are drunk? Poorly run but doing well in the only area you seem to know anything about. When was the last time you were at a Flames game to help you determine how poorly run they are? I wouldn’t let you run anything more complicated than a toaster oven.

    Stick to the college prospect updates.

  • Stupid, stupid, stupid….I had been doing so well….I hadn’t read a Lambert article for months but in a Thursday morning pre-coffee daze I “accidently” clicked the link.

    And the following “insights” made me puke a little in my mouth.

    “I’m not fine with it, but I’ve accepted that this is what they’re going to do. It’s idiotic but it’s unavoidable”

    You know what is idiotic… Me….for allowing myself to be “trolled” into reading another
    sh!tty Lambert article.

  • piscera.infada

    The biggest threat I see in the Flames finishing “just” outside a playoff spot (by that, I mean outside of a bottom-three pick), is if management gets it through it’s head that this team is closer than it is. I don’t mind missing out on Eichel/McDavid/Hanifin, if this team truly isn’t as bad as the ones playing “for” them.

    They had a very interesting interview with Steve Yzerman yesterday afternoon on the Fan that spoke directly to this. In 2011, the Lightening made that surprising push to within one goal of the Stanley Cup Final (when they lost in game 7, 1-0 to Boston). The team seemed a lot closer then they were as evidenced by the following season where they finished 10th in the Eastern conference. The team however, didn’t go for it. They didn’t sign big name free agents to “get over the hump” following the 2011 season. They simply “stayed the course”, to use Yzerman’s words. Now, they look to be a young team on the up-swing, with talent throughout the line-up. They look as though, that if they keep progressing, they will be a contender for a good stretch of time.

    This is the cautionary tale for the Flames. They look as though they have the talent, with talent still in the pipeline. Frankly, they don’t need to draft one of those “generational talents” (although, admittedly that would be nice). What they need to do though, is “stay the course” regardless of how close they are to the playoffs, or how far away they are from the playoffs, come the trade deadline. Stick to your plan. Keep and develop your assets, trade the players that you would if you were bottoming out even if you aren’t. Treliving seems you be preaching this, but in the heat of the moment GM’s get greedy.

    • playastation

      Agree totally, we need to continue on present path ala Tampa.
      To Ryan L., how do we tank? Play McGratton,Then we are accused of only playing “face punchers”, keep every rookie in Addy, send Monahan down, trade Hudler, Hiller for picks ASAP ?
      I do not believe for one minute that the players in Buffalo, Edmonton, Carolina etc are trying to tank. They are just bad teams with poor management/coaching.

      • piscera.infada

        I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if what Buffalo is doing right now is “tanking”, I want no (zero, nil, zilch, none, 0) part of it! I’ve watch a few of their games this year, and I must say, it’s embarrassing. I would be embarrassed to be in any way associated with that gong-show. It’s almost vomit-worthy on most nights. The only thing more embarrassing then their effort and play, is their fans openly embracing it. Holding up signs reading “For McDavid”, jerseys already crested with “McDavid”, and as is well publicized, his twitter feed blowing up after every Sabres loss. I can’t wrap my head around it. I hope they lose the lottery, they deserve it.

  • jeremywilhelm

    Calgarys underlyings were bad for the first 5 games. At this point they are actually a middling to good EvStr team. Their PK is struggling hard with one of the worst PK Sv% in the league.
    They are shooting league average at EvStr and getting about the 10th best ev Str save percentage in the league. Below much “higher ranked” teams like Pittsburgh, St Louis and Nashville.

    They most definitely aren’t on the same path as last years Colorado or Toronto. In fact, they are, by the numbers, a far superior team to those two.

    Now, are they a playoff team? Highly doubtful. But they are probably going to be picking 10-15 at the draft.

  • redricardo

    I could get where Lambert was coming from if the Flames were closer to being a bad team. If we were selling prospects to add vets to “go for it”.

    But the fact is, when you look at the bad teams this year, they’re a dumpster fire. Look at how much the Flames outclassed Carolina in their game. The amount of actively trying to suck it would take to sink to the bottom of the league this year is mind boggling.

    Just by letting team development take its course, the Flames are better than that. Like I said, as long as we don’t start selling prospects, that’s good. And, with the new lottery rules, it’s very realistic you can finish 30th and still draft 3rd overall. So, I’m fine with the Flames just being the Flames.

    • Derzie

      Exactly this.

      I think Lambert would rather we play McGrats every game, take out anyone on the roster who seems to have a hot hand or is beginning to excel/develop, and replace them with the worst performing ones who sit out. Then coach to not try at all, every game. On top of that, lets bring up Thiessen from Addy, to play all of our remaining games.

      Because this is what it would take to “compete” for bottom of the barrel. Does this sound like the proper coarse of action? We’re already down most of our “skilled” players from opening season. If we were close to as bad as Carolina or Buffalo, we’d know it by now.

  • I still don’t understand why it is “idiotic” for the Flames to keep winning. Of course, all of us know that the Flames won’t remain third in the league for very long, but the club is not bad enough, and never has been, to even be considered in the McDavid/Eichel sweepstakes. This isn’t the same Flames organization of 09, where an aging core would be backed up by bad draft picks. The Flames still have a future line of first round picks still in the minors (Klimchuk-Bennett-Poirer). Of course we aren’t going to make the playoff this year, and no one expected us to, but it is better to view this early success as a sign of things to come rather than as an failure. The organization finally has good goaltending post-Kipper, an elite defensive pairing, and young players who can generate offence. This team isn’t four or five years away like the Sabres or Panthers, the Flames could potentially be back in the race by next year.

    EDIT: I forgot that even with two of our best centres out, the Flames have managed to succeed and arguably do better with injuries that would normally gut a team. We have depth, and that depth is winning. What’s wrong with that?