Who’s Earned A Contract? (AHL Edition)


Like
any good employer, there’s a mandate to look within the company to see which
employees have earned a promotion. It’s no different with the Calgary Flames.

Unlike
in years past with the Abbotsford Heat, the Flames actually have some good, young
players on AHL deals to look at for fresh new contracts this offseason (no
offense to Brett Olson, he was awesome). Understandably, every organization
needs to fill vacant spots in their AHL line up with ancillary players to assist
in the development of their primary focus: legitimate prospects. So it sure has
been nice this year to get excited about guys on AHL deals who aren’t American
league lifers and may have a future with the Calgary Flames.

So
let’s take a look at the Adirondack Flames currently on AHL deals and see who
may have garnered enough attention to earn themselves a two-way deal this
summer.

(Even
though Nolan Yonkman, Mathieu Tousignant and Trevor Gillies are on AHL deals,
there’s a better chance the Edmonton Oilers will win a Stanley Cup than those
guys getting signed to an NHL deal, so I won’t discuss them in this article)

GARNET HATHAWAY

This
should probably be the last time I rhapsodize this guy for fear of having a
restraining order placed against me.

Last
week I wrote
this piece on why Garnet
Hathaway should be given a contract. The Coles Notes version is this: he and Lance
Bouma are the same player. They share an aura, a bond, a sick infatuation with
blocking shots. Hathaway plays the game with complete disregard for his body.
I’m convinced he’d sacrifice a lung if it meant his team would pick up two
points.

As
a right-handed right-winger, Hathaway will be in the conversation for a two-way
contract this offseason, you can book it. The question isn’t whether he’s
earned it (because he has, and then some), the question now becomes, “does he
fill a need in the organization?” Yes, absolutely he does. In terms of
potential fourth-line, right-shooting, right-wingers, the Flames’ reservoir is
nearing empty. Only Hunter Smith (who’s expected to be more than a
fourth-liner), Austin Carroll and Tim Harrison fit the same bill. Slim
pickings.

That’s
why the Brown University alumnus has emerged as the front runner at a position
where there is an organizational need and deserves a contract because of it.

Now
is the time to get excited about Hathaway because he’s not your run-of-the-mill
AHL fourth-liner. Every game he plays, he becomes much more than that.

DOUG CARR

At
26 years old, age is no longer on Carr’s side. However, considering he played
four years of college at UMass-Lowell, I think we can forgive him that.

His
story is interesting. He was the River Hawks’ starter in his rookie and
sophomore seasons only to be dethroned in his junior and senior years by Jets
blue-chip prospect Connor Hellebuyck. It’s not that Carr sucked, it’s that
Hellebuyck is basically the Jets’ version of Jon Gillies.

Last
season, former Heat goalie coach and current Flames goalie coach Jordan Sigalet
raved about Doug Carr, referring to him as boring, not flashy and unnoticeable.
Of course, in goalie-speak those are extremely desirable traits, I learned.
Former Heat head coach Troy Ward once commented on his amazement at his team’s
ability to play so calmly in front of a rookie net-minder and it being more of a
testament to Carr’s style than his team’s play. Moreover, he even got some
positive media attention from everyone’s favourite insider Elliotte Friedman in
one of his
popular 30 Thoughts articles
back in
September (Thought #20). In it, Friedman said the Flames have an “interesting
prospect” in Carr.

I
can count the number of games Carr has played in the American league on one
hand if I had an extra finger. In six AHL games, he’s put up 1.75
goals-against-average and a 0.938 save percentage. Extremely small sample size
to be sure, but my goodness, the guy is good.

Depending
on now and the end of the season, he may have earned himself a two-way deal – if
not with the Flames, certainly with another NHL club. Here’s the thing:
everyone is expecting one of Hiller or Ramo to leave and Ortio to be a
permanent fixture in Calgary. Gillies is also likely to turn pro and is
probably good enough to be Stockton’s starter. Whether or not they sign Carr
hinges on one question: is Gillies good enough to go into his first season
without a veteran mentor by his side or will Carr will make the perfect backup?

DUSTIN STEVENSON

Stevenson_Dustin

You
couldn’t have asked for a better season out of the first-year AHL pro. As a
25-year-old ECHL veteran, Stevenson has made his transition to the American
league look seamless.

When
the season began, there were nine defensemen vying for six spots. In theory,
that’s an awfully crowded blue line. In practice, head coach Ryan Huska has done an
admirable job juggling his defenders. That means a lot of different healthy
bodies sitting in the press box on different nights, but every rear-guard on
the roster has had to do it on multiple occasions.

Stevenson,
however, has seemed to be in the line-up more often than not. Huska has often
opted to keep the hulking defender in over the likes of Sieloff, Culkin, Kulak,
Ramage and Acolatse on most nights. Some might say the head coach is
mismanaging his young blueliners. I say it’s a testament to how steady
Stevenson has been.

At
6’5” 220 lbs, Stevenson is everything you’ve missed since Rhett Warrener retired.
No, I’m not comparing an ECHLer to Warrener, but their styles are similar. He’s
a nasty, mean, extremely physical player who has no problem dismembering your
legs if you want to try and screen his goalie. Most notably are the enormous
hits he dishes out at least a couple of times per game.

If
Treliving is looking for a stay-at-home defenseman who is relatively young, but
more than capable of playing top-4 minutes all while taking the heat off of
upcoming rookies, then he could do a lot worse than Dustin Stevenson. While
there’s an outside chance that Stevenson gets a two-way deal this offseason,
Flames fans shouldn’t look at it is a wasted contract if he does. Remember:
defensemen develop slowly.

TAYLOR VAUSE

The
Wizard of Vause has had a decent season with the Adirondack Flames and has
slotted in nicely as an ECHL call-up/utility man.

At
23 years old, he’s still young enough to develop a bit, but not likely into an
NHLer. In 23 games with the Flames this season, he’s picked up just four goals
and 10 points (three of his markers were game-winners). For such a small,
quick player (5’10”, 185 lbs) you’d expect him to have survived as long as he
has being a scorer. This hasn’t been the case. Think of Vause along the same
lines as Paul Byron: small, okay hands, but has the motor of a Honda Civic; he
never quits. All energy.

This
is why the former Swift Current Bronco has been the first to get the call whenever
Adirondack gets into injury trouble. He can be slotted onto the fourth line
with bruisers or onto the top lines as a centre (or right-winger if necessary) –
the ultimate utility man.

However, with just 50
contracts to play with and some promising college free agents coming available
within the next month or so, I think Vause could be retained with a standard
player contract (SPC) when the next training camp rolls around.

    • Colin.S

      He’s also a +3 in those 5 games. To add to this, after his absolutely abysmal start he was almost a PPG player in Adirondack. Take out his first 7 games and he had 25 points in 29 games. So after his crappy start he’s got 30 points in 33 games.

      He’s upped his production a little, but not a lot, his production looked bad because of that first 7 game stretch where he was just abysmal.

      • Greg

        Don’t confuse decent AHL stats with being NHL ready. It is night and day. Many a goal scorer in the AHL never got a sniff in the NHL as it is two different games. When all is said and done, Sven will plan alot more games in the AHL and Europe than he will in the NHL.

        • everton fc

          But at least he’ll get the chance now.

          P/pg in the A, p/pg in the pre-season, when it comes to Sven it’s just never enough for some fans.

          I’ll never understand the hate.

    • supra steve

      Good for Sven. However, as with all things in hockey development, time will be required to judge the whole Calgary Flames/Sven situation.

      I worry that trading Sven may come back to bite the Flames on the ass too, but we probably won’t know if Sven is boom or bust for a few years. And we won’t know what our 2nd rounder (from VAN) becomes for a lot longer than that.

  • Consider this my formal application to the Hathaway fan club. I wouldn’t shut up about that guy after training camp, I thought he was exceptionally good. Plus he’s from Kennebunkport which is just hilarious.

  • I like the Hathaway and Stevenson choices the best, and perhaps Carr too as an AHL backup. It seems both of the first two have functional toughness and are improving so it would be good to keep and see how far they can go.

  • Only Hunter Smith (who’s expected to be more than a fourth-liner),

    By whom, exactly? As a 20 year old, his NHLE is just 21 points, and he’s putting up an abhorrent 17.5% of his team’s offense. That’s worse than Greg Nemisz.

    • Greg

      At 6’3, 197 Nemisz was a man amongst boys and then he couldn’t deal with the fact that many at higher levels of pro hockey had about the same body.

      At 6’6 210, Hunter Smith is going to be a man amongst boys in pro hockey. Imagine a second line of

      Gaudreau-Bennett-Smith

      No one is going to want to go near Johnny knowing Hunter Smith is around and meanwhile Hunter is going to deflect Sam’s snipes into the net like a beast. His style resembles Holmstrom IMO.

      And meanwhile imagine a 1st line of, I dunno, Klimchuk / Monahan / Poirier just dominating teams defensively.

      (before y’all get on me for splitting up and Gaudreau and Monahan and forgetting Hudler – I’m just sayin’. Even Kane and Toews are split up.)

      • everton fc

        I’ll take Austin Carroll over Hunter Smith. Now, and down the road. Carroll was a steal in the draft. He’s tough as nails. If he can keep up wit the play at the pro-level, I see him as a nice addition.

        Finally someone write SOMETHING about Stevenson! I like him a lot. Ditto Hathaway, but who doesn’t. Good little piece. Thanks.

      • everton fc

        Keep dreaming.

        What I’m desperately hoping is Burke’s input is soon gone from this organization.

        I gave the benefit of the doubt when Smith was picked, but for a guy that old and that size, the only time he’ll deflect anything in at the NHL level is if it’s off his ass.