on the time machine and let’s go back. Let’s go back, oh, say to the start of
when Flames fans really started to
become tired of the mediocrity. Where calls for a full-on rebuild were heard loud
and clear. How about 2010? A nice, solid 5 years ago.
going to take a brief look at the Flames’ prospect depth at the centre
position, which happened to be the most worrisome for everyone, including
management, when talks of a rebuild started to pop up. Now, it could be argued the
Flames have a log jam up the middle. How did it turn so damn quickly?
A TREE WITHOUT FRUIT
back in 2010, watching (or following) the Abbotsford Heat and seeing Greg Nemisz, Gaelan Patterson and John
Armstrong as the only legitimate centre prospect depth on the farm? Nemisz
was going to be Calgary’s second line power forward of the future, Patterson
had a good shot at being a third- or fourth-line gritty, energy pivot? Or so we
thought, because we didn’t know any better. Like people who spend their entire
lives in the mountains – they don’t know what else is out there; they don’t
know anything outside of what they know.
there was the fella named Mitch Wahl
who had talent for days. He was easily one of the most gifted playmakers in the
organization. Unfortunately, in just the 18th game of his first full
professional season, Aaron Volpatti of the Manitoba Moose demolished Wahl with
an elbow to the head that left him lying contorted and unconscious on the ice.
He was never the same and has since spent most of his career in the ECHL.
to that season, in what was ultimately Darryl Sutter’s final draft, likely
realizing the organizational hole up the middle, he had just selected centres Max Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice and Bill Arnold of the U.S. National U-18
Team. Reinhart was a solid pick in the third round and a stud on the Ice,
especially in their playoff runs alongside linemate Matt Fraser. Arnold was an
unknown, husky kid from Massachusetts who was a long ways away from being in the mix.
Mikael Backlund, in all his
glory, was a 100 watt light bulb in a package of 40 watts, and he had already
graduated to the NHL.
NEW BRICKS, NEW FOUNDATION
was fired. His legacy came to an ugly end and he left the organization in an
uglier state. When Jay Feaster was hired, he immediately expressed the dire
need for more centre depth and started stocking the cupboards with brand new cups.
Right off the opening pitch, Feaster made a couple of significant moves that finally brought in young, exciting centres.
He picked up Roman Horak from the
Rangers who played 61 games for the Flames, providing solid minutes and giving
Flames fans some new blood to cheer for.
that Tim Erixon trade, Feaster also drafted Markus Granlund out of Finland, adding two young centres with one
swing. Twenty-four days later, Feaster dealt Robyn Regehr to Buffalo in a deal
that brought in Paul Byron, a young,
miniscule 60+ point AHLer.
on the farm, Nemisz’s gloss became matte with the surprise of Horak’s seemingly
permanent spot in the Flames lineup. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t still a
prospect. “He could still be a defensively responsible two-way power
forward-type on the third line,” some said. Wahl was flipped to Hamilton
supposedly due to too many centres (Krys Kolanos, Ben Walter and Greg Nemisz
took up those spots). Newcomer Paul Byron split his time between the Flames and
now we’re getting somewhere. Not great, but looking better.
start off the year with the NHL lockout. That’s okay though, because the kids
get to practice together, play together, eat together and mash video game buttons
together. The lockout came at a perfect time for the Flames from a prospect
to the draft the Flames won the so-called bidding sweepstakes and signed
26-year-old Roman Cervenka out of
the KHL. Feaster raved about getting a top-2, highly skilled centre. Turns out,
he wasn’t a centre after all. Oops.
summer started off as planned when Feaster Weisbrod drafted a tall,
lanky high school kid out of Stanstead College. A little off the board, but hey,
the Flames needed centre depth. That need wasn’t as immediately urgent anymore,
so Mark Jankowski could stay four
full seasons at Providence College. Finally some centre depth in a variety of
leagues. Also in the draft, the Flames plucked centre Matt Deblouw with their last pick and had a very nice rookie season
in college, but hasn’t done anything to warrant a contract since.
free agency day, the Flames were relatively quiet, but did sign 23-year-old Ben Street who, he claimed, was stuck
behind Crosby, Malkin and Sutter in the Pittsburgh organization. In the end, he
turned out to be an awesome farm hand and not much else.
the season began, all eyes were on the Abbotsford Heat. Between Street, Horak,
Nemisz, Byron and rookie Reinhart, the Flames had some decent prospects in the
middle, which provided a tad bit of hope for the future. Brett Olson also played 70 games for the Heat and became a bit of a
sleeper centre prospect over his two seasons in the organization.
THE MONAHAN ERA
the calendar flipped to 2013, the first move to beef up the centre depth was to
acquire Corban Knight who refused to
sign with the Florida Panthers in exchange for a fourth-round pick. This was an
outstanding move when it was made because Knight was a highly touted prospect
due to his size, skill and two-way ability – a great addition to an already
growing prospect base. He went on to tally an impressive 44 points in his first
Flames went into the draft with the sixth overall selection and there was
little doubt from fans or media pundits what position they should draft for –
it was unanimously a centre prospect they needed to help the rebuild along.
Fans flip-flopped between wanting Elias Lindholm or Sean Monahan. Ultimately, Jay Feaster and the scouting team finally
got their star first-line centre of the future.
new era began. With 96 points in his first two seasons, Monahan has established
himself as one of the league’s emerging young stars.
wasn’t the last of the good news. Back in Abbotsford, for the first time in the
Flames history of probably ever, five centre prospects rounded out the top five
in team scoring. Markus Granlund, in
his first season on North American soil, picked up 46 points in 52 games and
led his team in scoring in a short stint of playoff hockey. Max Reinhart also emerged as one of the
organization’s brightest, leading the Heat in scoring and splitting half his
time at centre and the half on the wing. Ben
Street, Corban Knight, and Brett Olson rounded out the top five.
Flames were (FINALLY!) legitimately deep with centre prospects.
THE ONE-TWO PUNCH
of 2013 rolled around and BOOM, Brian Burke, head of hockey ops, fired Feaster.
Before the draft, Burke hired Arizona Coyotes assistant GM Brad Treliving. Then
he promoted Craig Conroy to assistant GM… and a guy named Brad Pascall to
assistant GM… and Michael Holditch as an assistant GM.
a season worthy of scraping off the inside of a kitchen sink drain pipe, the
Flames entered the 2014 draft with some nice high picks, including the fourth
overall pick (their highest pick ever). The Flames were guaranteed to select an
unbelievable prospect in this spot, all of which filled a need. One of Aaron
Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl or Sam
Bennett was theirs. We all know who they picked.
Flames were set for the future. A one-two punch up the middle of Sean Monahan
and Sam Bennett is what fans have wanted since the ‘80s.
in the American league, in a new town with new coaches and a new group of
prospects, the Adirondack Flames centre depth was shaky. Reinhart was snake bit
for two-thirds of the season and Knight played fairly average until he was
traded for Drew Shore (who was an
awesome addition to an already stacked centre talent pool).
Bill Arnold was perhaps the
biggest standout at centre. When he was healthy, he was dynamic, but a shoulder
injury took two months away from his season. Arnold put himself on the map as a
legitimate two-way centre in the NHL and became arguably the best faceoff man
in the organization.
HOW FAR THEY’VE COME
an ugly, tumultuous, beautiful, infuriating, satisfying road fans have had to
endure when it comes to building the organization’s centre depth.
Michael Backlund, Greg Nemisz, and Gaelan Patterson to Sean Monahan, Sam
Bennett, Markus Granlund, Bill Arnold, Mark Jankowski, Drew Shore, and Max
Reinhart. It’s been an amazing turn around to witness first hand, but how did
we get here? The answer, as cliché and unsatisfying as it may be, is one step
at a time. At least once in each of the past five seasons listed above, management
made one big move to build for future centre depth.
2010, it was drafting Reinhart and Arnold. In 2011, it was the Tim Erixon trade
that brought in Horak and Granlund. In 2012, it was drafting Jankowski. In
2013, it was drafting Monahan. In 2014, it was drafting Bennett. At least one move,
directed toward the future, once per year has changed the Calgary Flames for
Development, patience and luck are what have
given the Flames one of the best centre prospect pools in the NHL. Now, it’s
time for the Flames to exercise that formula on defense.