A lot of attention is being paid to this year’s Calgary Flames squad, and with good reason. But let’s take a brief break from the wild ride of this hockey season and take a brief gander at seven individuals who could be turning pro with the Flames organization for the 2015-16 season.
Calgary’s first round selection, 4th overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft
Bennett’s still just 18, and won’t be 19 until the summer. He nearly made the Calgary Flames this fall…and that’s with a wrecked-up shoulder. He’s been superb for the Kingston Frontenacs while being thrown into the deep end of the OHL waters as the Fronts chase a playoff spot. He’ll be given every chance to make the NHL team in the fall, and should he do so, he’ll give the Flames another offensive weapon. He’s already under contract.
Calgary’s seventh round selection, 184th overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft
I was a bit aghast when the Flames drafted a 20-year-old with their final pick of the 2014 Draft. Now that I’ve had a chance to meet Carroll and see him play, I kind-of get it. I’d still rather have a younger player in my system to develop for a few years, but Carroll’s got size and as an overager in the WHL he’s been a really effective player for the Victoria Royals. Based on his performance and age (he’ll be 21 later this month), I’d imagine he signs with the Flames and takes a bottom-six (or middle-six) role in Stockton next season.
Calgary’s third round selection, 75th overall, in the 2013 NHL Draft
One of the organization’s most talked-about prospects, Gillies has been a hot commodity in collegiate circles since the Flames selected him. His play over the past three seasons with the Providence College Friars has been stellar – 55-32-13, 2.08 goals against average and .931 save percentage, 13 shutouts – has earned him accolades and made Flames fans wonder when he’s going pro. He’s 6’5″, 220 pounds and turned 21 in January and has demurred from publicly declaring anything, as it seems like his team is poised to push deep into the NCAA playoffs (and he’d rather focus on that right now).
But the Flames have no goalies in the organization signed for next season except for Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio. It seems like the organization thinks he’ll go pro.
Calgary’s first round selection, 28th overall, in the 2013 NHL Draft
Morgan Klimchuk is probably the forgotten man from the 2013 trio of Flames first rounders, which is a shame because he’s in the final lap of a really good junior career. But Sean Monahan and Emile Poirier are both in the NHL right now, while Klimchuk chases a WHL championship with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Already signed to a pro contract, Klimchuk has been over a point-per-game for a few seasons and everyone around the organization seems to accept that it’s a given that he’ll be an AHLer next season. He’s still not huge, and a season getting used to the travel and physicality of the pro ranks seems like a better use of his time than dominating the WHL as an over-age player.
Calgary’s seven round selection, 187th overall, in the 2013 NHL Draft
Rafikov is an interesting case. He’s a World Junior medalist and a strong junior – and minor pro – defender in Russia. He’ll be 20 in May. His contract with the KHL’s Yaroslavl Lokomotiv organization is up in May, and he never got a chance to crack that team’s veteran-heavy roster. So the big question is whether he wants to leave the proverbial safety net and come over to North America and ride the bus. He’s got size and a skill-set that seems like it would translate well to the AHL ranks, at least, but until he signs a deal and gets on a plane, you never know.
Calgary’s fifth round selection, 135th overall, in the 2013 NHL Draft
Another wild-card, Roy is an over-age defenseman in the WHL who isn’t signed yet, hasn’t really dominated the opposition yet still shows occasional flashes of something. He’s not amazing defensively, and has primarily been used on a second pairing (underneath the young tandem of Ryan Pilon and Ivan Provorov), but he’s put up decent offensive numbers.
I doubt the Flames sign him and I figure he goes free agent, but somebody is going to sign him to at least fill out their minor league team. There’s something there, but in an organization that already has some defensive projects in it (John Ramage, Patrick Sieloff…), can the Flames afford to give development time to another one?
Calgary’s second round selection, 54th overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft
Hunter Smith is a big dude. Skipped over in the 2013 Draft because he hadn’t scored very much in his draft eligible year – he would’ve been one of the youngest guys picked – he instead got picked up by the Flames after a season spent crashing and bashing in the OHL (and being watched by the Flames as they were scouting Sam Bennett). He’s big. His skating isn’t amazing, but his size allows him to get to the dirty areas. He’ll be 20 in September and eligible to go back to junior, but he can also head to the AHL.
He’s definitely got pro size, but the question is if his skating and mobility is up to snuff.