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.