Prospect Check-In: Defenders and Goalies

As we roll towards the next Flames contest, let us continue with our tour through the team’s prospects. Since yesterday featured a look at the forwards, now we look at the defensemen and goaltenders.

As with yesterday’s look, we’re excluding a few guys – players on AHL deals and Corey Potter, who is 31 and not quite a “prospect” in the organization. Brad Thiessen is included, as I think he may be in the team’s future plans for reasons we’ll get into later.

SENA ACOLATSE (RIGHT DEFENSE, 24)

  • Currently: Adirondack Flames (I think he’s injured)
  • Contract Status: on a one-year deal. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
  • Acolatse is right handed! And he’s experienced in the American League and has been a pretty consistent scorer for the entirety of his AHL career. He’s not an amazing shut-down defender – you’d rather have him on the PP, for instance – and he’s been hampered by injuries this year.
  • Outlook: not great. I’d wager he was signed (worst-case) as a stop-gap or (best-case) as a low-risk investment. His injuries haven’t made it easy for him to find an organizational niche.

CHAD BILLINS (LEFT DEFENSE, 25)

  • Currently: Lulea, in the Swedish Hockey League (formerly with CSKA Moscow of the KHL)
  • Contract Status: technically he’s still a restricted free agent. I believe the Flames retain his rights for awhile, but I don’t think it’s in perpetuity or anything like that. (He’s contractually in the same situation Karri Ramo was when he went to the KHL when he was an RFA with Tampa Bay).
  • Billins isn’t currently playing in the team’s system. That’s not a great sign for him. Granted, he was a tweener for the Flames and had already established himself as a good AHLer, but getting some good European hockey money may be in his best interests right now.
  • Outlook: Billins was a good offensive AHLer and was decent-ish when he was in Calgary briefly last season. Last season there were several prospects the team obviously had more plans for…and that was before several more guys turned pro. I doubt Billins returns to the fold.

RYAN CULKIN (LEFT DEFENSE, 21)

  • Currently: Adirondack Flames
  • Contract Status: in the first year of a three-year entry-level deal
  • I was a bit worried about Culkin this year, as he wasn’t amazing in camp last year and ended up going back to junior. This year? He had a pretty decent camp and just “got it” when he came into the AHL. His defensive game could still use a bit of work, but his offensive numbers have likely given the organization a bit more confidence in him.
  • Outlook: If the Flames need a shutdown guy to bring up, it’s probably Wotherspoon. If they need an offensive guy (and maybe have someone like Smid or Russell to pair him with), it’d probably be Culkin.

MARK CUNDARI (LEFT DEFENSE, 24)

  • Currently: Adirondack Flames
  • Contract Status: on a one-year deal. He’ll be a restricted free agent on July 1.
  • Cundari is what he is at this point. He doesn’t have NHL size. But he’s a smart player and is a fairly effective defenseman in the AHL. I’m not sure he’s much more than replacement level in the NHL, but he’s a useful mentor for AHL rookies.
  • Outlook: Cundari could be retained. I mean, it depends on who gets moved at the NHL level and who’s left in the AHL. If someone like Acolatse isn’t retained (and depending on if Nolan Yonkman is kept around), Cundari could easily be kept around as an anchor/mentor for the kids. That said, the team probably doesn’t see the NHL in Cundari’s future.

JON GILLIES (GOALTENDER, 20)

  • Currently: Providence College Friars (junior)
  • Contract Status: unsigned. The Flames have until August 15 of whenever he leaves school to sign him (so probably August 15, 2016).
  • Gillies is a good college goalie. He has won many college games. He’s got a .933 save percentage this year. He’s tall. He has a gold medal from the World Juniors (granted, as a back-up). He’s been a starter for three years in a good conference.
  • Outlook: Gillies is a lock to get a contract. I’d imagine he signs with the Flames whenever he decides to finish school. He could be in the AHL as early as this year (granted, whenever Providence finishes their season).

JOHN GILMOUR (LEFT DEFENSE, 21)

  • Currently: Providence College (junior)
  • Contact Status: unsigned. The Flames have until August 15 of whenever he leaves school to sign him (so probably August 15, 2016).
  • Gilmour’s quietly having a solid college career. He’s a decent offensive contributor (around 0.45 to 0.50 points per game) and he’s been a solid, if unspectacular, player on the Friars’ back end. Is he a budding superstar? No. He hasn’t shown a lot of progression in college. But he hasn’t regressed, either.
  • Outlook: Unclear. I see Gilmour as pretty similar to John Ramage. Ramage wasn’t a huge offensive contributor at Wisconsin, but he was relied upon for leadership and grit. He didn’t exactly translate hugely to the pro game right away, and it’s taken him a year and a bit to get his sea legs. Gilmour is a seventh rounder, so the risk of not signing him (in terms of a lost asset) is considerably lower than with Ramage. I figure he does his full four years at Providence and then the Flames will figure out if they have a depth spot they need filled in the minors.

BRANDON HICKEY (LEFT DEFENSE, 18)

  • Currently: Boston University Terriers (freshman)
  • Contract Status: unsigned. The Flames have several years to sign him. Several.
  • Hickey has had a pretty great freshman year, albeit on a very good college team. Based on the few times I’ve seen him live, he’s a good skater and has pretty decent vision. He’s not a big dude, though, so I’d expect him to continue on in school for awhile longer and use the shorter college schedule to bulk up a bit.
  • Outlook: I don’t think it’s a scoop to say that the Flames really like him. He’s got a lot of tools and with a few years in college, he might learn to use some of them to a greater extent.

KEEGAN KANZIG (LEFT DEFENSE, 19)

  • Currently: Calgary Hitmen
  • Contact Status: his entry-level deal slides by a year unless he plays 10 NHL games.
  • Kanzig has a lot of good assets. He’s got size. He’s got a great reach. He plays a physical game. However, his skating still isn’t spectacular and he doesn’t project as an offensive talent at the pro level. I mean, he’s not even the highest-scoring defenseman on his own team (and he’s older than most of the kids on his team). That said, if he works on a few things, he could be a perfectly acceptable defensive defender. But he’ll need to work on his skating.
  • Outlook: he’s already signed and I’d imagine he’ll be turning pro next season (though he could go back to the junior as an over-ager). I’m not gonna cast too much judgment on him until I see him play games against grown-ass men. He’s been fairly effective against juniors, but that’s an entirely different game.

BRETT KULAK (LEFT DEFENSE, 21)

  • Currently: Colorado Eagles
  • Contract Status: in the first year of his three-year entry-level deal.
  • Kulak was a strong offensive player in junior, but he’s been relegated to the ECHL this season partly due to ice-time. (The Baby Flames had a lot of first-year defenders and Kulak drew the short straw). That said, he’s put up good numbers in Colorado and I’d expect him to continue to play well and push for a spot. That said, if he ends up in the ECHL next season, I’d be worried about his progression.
  • Outlook: Good news – he’s playing well. Bad news – it’s in the minor minor league. It’s unclear what he is at the AHL level right now. He’s got two more years on his ELC left to find that out.

MASON McDONALD (GOALTENDER, 18)

  • Currently: Charlottetown Islanders
  • Contract Status: unsigned. The Flames have until June 1, 2016 to get him under contract or else he goes back into the draft.
  • McDonald’s save percentage is exactly the same this season as it was last season. But for the first time in his junior career, he’s winning as much as he’s losing (he’s 17-17-0 this year), so that’s a good sign, I guess.
  • Outlook: I figure McDonald gets signed eventually, but I’d almost expect him to play two more years in the QMJHL just so he can get more reps in and see more shots. With Gillies probably turning pro soon, McDonald needs as much time seeing live shooters as he can get. Luckily, Gillies is probably turning pro soon, so the Flames can afford to be patient with McDonald if that’s the course they want to take.

ADAM OLLAS MATTSSON (LEFT DEFENSE, 18)

  • Currently: Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League
  • Contract Status: unsigned. I believe the Flames have until June 1, 2018 to get him under contract.
  • He’s 18 and he’s playing a regular shift in a good pro league. Granted, he is a depth player at 18 in a good pro league, but that’s besides the point. Ollas Mattsson is tall and has a frame that can bulk up. He projects as a stay-at-home defender, and his usage in the SHL basically points to that (so far).
  • Outlook: I’m not sure what his short-term future holds. I think his SHL deal is up this season, but I know he also really wanted to be on the World Junior team at some point. I figure he spends at least one more season in Sweden.

JONI ORTIO (GOALTENDER, 23)

  • Currently: Calgary Flames (but Adirondack Flames for most of the season)
  • Contract Status: in the first year of a two-year contract.
  • Ortio had a cup of coffee in the NHL last season and, while uneven, he showed some promise. He’s been excellent in the AHL this year, outside of October (which we shall never speak of, because the whole AHL team was bad). He’s an AHL All-Star. He’s on a one-way contact next season, too.
  • Outlook: Ortio will most likely be in the NHL next season. I’m not sure what else he can do in the AHL. It’s time for him to sink or swim in the big league.

RUSHAN RAFIKOV (LEFT DEFENSE, 19)

  • Currently: HK Ryazan of the Supreme Hockey League (VHL, because in Russia Ss turn into Vs)
  • Contract Status: unsigned. I think they have until June 1, 2017 to get him under contract.
  • Rafikov had a good World Juniors (he won silver) and is playing a regular shift in a pro league at 19. That said, he’s playing a regular shift in a pro league that is the KHL’s AHL (and is probably closer to the ECHL in terms of quality of opposition). That said, he’s got good size and he’s performed well against his peer group.
  • Outlook: My understanding is his deal with the KHL’s Yaroslavl Lokomotiv expires this year. So he might come over. The extended European signing window does allow him some mobility, though, and he might always go back to take a run at a KHL roster spot.

JOHN RAMAGE (RIGHT DEFENSE, 23)

  • Currently: Adirondack Flames
  • Contract Status: he’s in the final year of his entry-level deal. He’ll be a restricted free agent on July 1.
  • Ramage has a few things going for him. He’s got good size. He’s progressed from the ECHL to being a fairly solid AHLer in his second pro season. He was a difference-making player for the ECHL champion last season. Heck, his dad is a former Stanley Cup winner. That said, he’s still a bit of a project.
  • Outlook: The big question regarding Ramage is whether the new regime is willing to continue on with one of their prior regime’s projects. Ramage is a good depth option in the AHL right now, but I’m not entirely sure if he has NHL upside. A signing could merely indicate he’s AHL depth going forward. (Or a project that continues.)

ERIC ROY (LEFT DEFENSE, 20)

  • Currently: Brandon Wheat Kings (over-ager)
  • Contract Status: unsigned. The Flames have until June 1, 2015 to sign him or else he goes back into the draft.
  • Roy’s a 20-year-old defender who is being out-scored on his team by a pair of draft-eligible defenders. Granted, that pair is Ryan Pilon and Ivan Provorov, who are awesome, but that’s still not a great sign. Roy’s a good offensive defender and has good instincts with the puck. That said, his defensive game is not great.
  • Outlook: Eric Roy is this year’s Coda Gordon. Except his numbers aren’t nearly as good as Gordon’s were. I strongly doubt that Roy gets a contract from this organization. They just have too many young, more promising defensemen under contract already.

PATRICK SIELOFF (LEFT DEFENSE, 20)

  • Currently: Adirondack Flames
  • Contact Status: in the first year of his three-year entry-level deal.
  • Sieloff missed basically all of last year with a nasty staph infection. He’s been healthy this year, which is great. His offensive numbers aren’t anything to write home about, but he’s figuring out the pro game. He projects as a bottom-pairing defender with a physical edge. So far, he’s still figuring out the nuances of the pro game. But he’s still young and I’m sure the Flames are going to be patient with him.
  • Outlook: Sieloff’s the kind of player I can see getting a late-season call-up at some point if the Flames are out of things just to get a taste of the NHL. However, getting a long playoff run under his belt and being able to go into a summer healthy and ready to train would be huge for his development.

BRAD THIESSEN (GOALTENDER, 28)

  • Currently: Adirondack Flames
  • Contract Status: on a one-year contract. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
  • Thiessen is a solid AHL back-up goalie. He’s fundamentally sound. He’s quiet if unspectacular. He doesn’t blow games on a regular basis. He has good numbers for his level. He probably doesn’t project as much in the NHL, but think his presence as a fall-back measure for the Baby Flames is pretty darn useful.
  • Outlook: There’s a lot of things up in the air for next season, goaltending-wise. If we presume that Ortio goes to the NHL, who’s in the AHL? Does Jon Gillies turn pro? Does Doug Carr stick around? If Gillies does turn pro and is slated for the AHL, having Thiessen as a mentor could be a great fit. It’s all up in the air, but Thiessen has acquitted himself well so far.

TYLER WOTHERSPOON (LEFT DEFENSE, 21)

  • Currently: Adirondack Flames
  • Contract Status: on the second year of his three-year entry-level deal.
  • After losing a chunk of last season with shoulder surgery, Wotherspoon has basically gone back to what he was doing in the AHL that got him called up to Calgary. He’s a defensively sound blueliner with an underrated offensive bent to his game, and he showed when he was called up to Calgary that he could be tremendously useful. His Corsi numbers weren’t great at all, but he did contribute a fair amount of offense from the third pairing in his limited viewing.
  • Outlook: I’m a bit shocked that Wotherspoon hasn’t been called up yet, but that’s probably because the Flames haven’t had a lot of injuries on the back end yet. I’d suspect some moves may be made in the off-season to open up a spot, because he’s probably done enough to earn a shot at a third-pairing spot.
  • McRib

    One thing people are forgetting in the “we should have drafted a defender in the second round last year” talk is the 2014 Draft was a MISERABLE year for Defenders. Not to mention Brandon Hickey is tracking close to being a Top. 5 defender at this point from that draft, considering his overall tools (skating, size, shot) and NHLE. He is also one of the youngest.

    Haydn Fleury (2014 NHLE 16.0 to 2015 NHLE 9.4), Julius Honka (22.2 to 10.4), Roland McKeown (17.1 to 8.6), Jack Dougherty (11.5 to 7.7), Jack Glover (9.2 to 7.2), Alexis Vanier (13.5 to 9.3), etc. Brandon Hickey (5.9 to 15.9), Whos going in the right direction? Who is going in the wrong direction?

    Of the defenders taken ahead of Hickey only Anthony DeAngelo (32.2), Travis Sanheim (22.1), Brandon Montour (28) & Julius Bergman (16.9) have a higher NHLE than Hickey this season. Not to mention someone like Anthony DeAngelo is one of the worst human beings to ever play Hockey, so I doubt he becomes a player. Throw in Gustav Forsling along with those three (Sanheim, Bergman, Montour) and it’s hard to think of anyone else with as much offensive upside than Hickey.

    Drafting for “Current AHL/NHL need” is a slippery slope and I personally like that the Flames recognized last years draft weakness and still got two legitmate prospects in Hickey and Adam Ollas-Mattsson (most scouting services pre-draft had him as a late second, early third rounder).

    • BurningSensation

      i would echo everything you said above, but would quibble with two things;

      1. Julius Honka, NHLE be damned, is going to be one hell of a defenseman. At worst he tops out as Enstrom, but his ceiling is probably closer to Erik Karlsson. He’s got a little Phil Housley in him.

      2. Anthony DeAngelo may have the personality of a dyspeptic scorpion, but the kid can play. Last I checked, teams will overlook bad character for good skill (see: every team that has ever employed Dion Phaneuf). Yzerman will sort that kid out and get his head on straight, and then he’ll be a PP monster.

      • McRib

        Anthony DeAngelo doesn’t have a bad personality he has a truly horrific one, his entire team last year refused to even talk to him!! He used to regularly call someone on his team a K**e (A Jewish derogatory insult)…

        I disagree one Honka if he was draft eligible for the 2013 Draft (or this year) he would be lucky to have go in the late second round (see Bowey). He was very overrated in my mind, due to a weak year for defenders. I also know of a few NHL Scouts that said Honka had a piss poor attitude in draft day interviews. He basically referred to his time in Swift Current as being stuck in the armpit of the world. (i.e. dissing the city and team that made him so highly regarded for the draft).

        I would not put much stock in Honka becoming much at the NHL level if I was you… Wouldn’t be the first time Dallas swung and missed on a first rounder… Radek Faksa, Jamie Oleksiak, Jack Campbell, Scott Glennie, Ivan Vishnevskiy… Basically every first rounder they have had outside of Matt Niskanen & Valeri Nichushkin in the last decade. No way he has anywhere close to Erik Karlsson’s potential though.

        Ivan Provorov NHLE Draft Year 26.5, Julius Honka NHLE Draft YEar 22.2. Ivan Provorov 6’0″-193 Pounds, Julius Honka 5’11”-175. Ivan Provorov likely goes in the 15-20 range this year, just shows the difference in draft strength.

  • McRib

    I don’t mind the Morgan Klimchuk pick in 2013, but man oh man do I wish we had taken Madison Bowey. Pre-draft a lot of mock drafts had Bowey going to us with that third first rounder, that would have been nice. He is looking like a steal for Washington.

  • The Last Big Bear

    After the draft last year, Burke came out in an interview and basically erased any worries I had about his decision to draft McDonald.

    He said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that goalies are voodoo, but despite/because they are so unpredictable, you always need to keep your finger in that pie and have someone in the pipeline. They didnt see any goalies they liked in the 2015 class and so didnt plan to take a goalies in 2015. So when the best goalie (in their eyes) in the 2014 draft was still available in the 2nd round, they pulled the trigger.

    This decision-making tells me several things, all of which I agree with:

    1) They don’t want to waste picks on goalies.

    2) They’re not going to take a goalie every year.

    3) If you are going to pick a goalie, don’t just take the best goalie left over when you’re out of ideas late in the draft. Pick a guy that your scouts think is not only the best available, but the best available for years to come, even if means spending a relatively high (non-1st round) pick.

    In this case, McDonald was not the “Best Player Available”, but he was The Best Goalie Available For The Foreseeable Future, And He’s Available Later In The Draft Than Goalies Like Him Are Usually Found.

    That’s the kind of prudent flexibility I like to see, rather than slavishly picking from a list when your pick comes up.

    • Parallex

      I’m not entirely fond of the “They didnt see any goalies they liked in the 2015 class and so didnt plan to take a goalies in 2015” thing.

      Most goalies (at least the CHL ones) aren’t first string guys in their draft year to say nothing of their draft -1 year. I’m extremely skeptical that the team could have an accurate read on those guys a year prior.

  • MarbledBlueCheese

    I am curious about a fix for the second pairing: could it be via free agency? Mike Green, Sekera, Boychuk? Not sure if any of them would come or still be primed to play in 2-3 years when I expect the Flames to start being rather good, but it could sparkle over a deficit of top-4 guys immediately in the pipeline.

  • piscera.infada

    Funny to see that Wotherspoon has surpassed Erixon on their prospect list. What a coup that trade ended up being for Calgary, after it all but looked like it was a coup on us.