Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports
The Calgary Flames began a youth movement this past year, with the team’s offense in the post-season being driven largely by 18-year-old Sam Bennett, 20-year-old Sean Monahan and 21-year-old Johnny Gaudreau. In addition to those talented youngsters, the Flames also saw a bunch of youngsters from their American Hockey League club in Adirondack. Some of them turned out really well. Some seemed to need more seasoning.
Here’s five youngsters from the AHL ranks that are closest to making the jump to full-time NHL employment.
1) JONI ORTIO
A late-round pick of the Flames way back in 2009, Ortio spent time in Finland before making the jump to North America. His stock has really risen internally over the past couple of seasons, with Ortio himself bouncing from the ECHL’s Alaska to the AHL’s Abbotsford to the NHL’s Flames two seasons ago. This past season, he turned a lot of heads with his mid-season call-up, winning four of six starts during a crucial West Coast road trip.
More importantly, Ortio has used up his waiver exemption seasons and is on a one-way contract for 2015-16, meaning that the Flames are all-but-forced to use him in the NHL. After how he’s performed in spot call-ups over the past few seasons, management is likely quite curious and excited to see him over a longer-term stint.
2) BILL ARNOLD
A mid-round pick in 2010, Bill Arnold rose to prominence as a smart defensive center on a very good Boston College team. As he matured and rose up the ranks, Arnold ended up as one-third of the best college line in the United States alongside Kevin Hayes and fellow Flames pick Johnny Gaudreau. He may have became nationally-known for being the defensively-responsible center on a strong line, but his first AHL season showed that he could elevate most players he worked with.
Arnold was one of the best players for Adirondack last season. Not only was he a center that could win face-offs consistently and create offense, but he’s a right-handed center. In Calgary, that’s akin to a unicorn. Between his performance and his well-established chemistry with Gaudreau, a call-up for Arnold seems inevitable.
3) EMILE POIRIER
Emile Poirier was one of three Calgary first round picks in 2013, used with the pick Calgary got from St. Louis in the Jay Bouwmeester trade. He made his NHL debut two-thirds of the way through the 2014-15 campaign, recalled at a time where Mark Giordano had just gotten hurt and the Flames were juggling playoff hopes, injuries and trying to survive a long road trip. He got a few games in, got a taste of the big time, and generate some scoring chances.
With a summer to stew over his experiences and alter his preparation a bit, Poirier should return to training camp even more determined to crack the NHL roster. A left-shot that plays the right side, Poirier has an offensive mind paired with a frame that can survive the physicality of the pro game – something made evident in his first season in the AHL. He’ll have an inside track at a call-up for any openings Calgary has on the wings.
4) TYLER WOTHERSPOON
One of two Flames 2011 second round picks – the other is Markus Granlund – Wotherspoon made his NHL debut in his first pro season, playing well on the third pairing before bowing out early due to shoulder surgery. Recovery from that surgery delayed the start of his 2014-15 season, and he spent a big chunk of the year trying to round into his previous form. The Flames brought him up late in the season, used him mostly in practice, then threw him into the line-up for the playoffs.
The Flames obviously have confidence in Wotherspoon. He’s entering the final season of his entry-level deal and has spent time in the NHL in each of his first two pro seasons. He’s easily the most NHL-ready of Calgary’s defensive prospects. The big question is which established Flames defender Wotherspoon can displace to cement himself at the NHL level.
5) KENNEY MORRISON
Signed as college free agent from Western Michigan this past spring, Morrison joined the AHL’s Adirondack Flames and was immediately one of their better defenders. A right-handed shot with NHL size and good instincts, his production and confidence level in the AHL have likely already earned him a long look at main camp. If he has a good camp and gets off to a good start to the season in Stockton, he could easily jump to the front of the line for mid-season call-ups.
Four of the five major candidates for promotion to the NHL ranks became Calgary Flames by virtue of the NHL Draft. If you want a chance to witness this year’s draft in person, the Virtual League of Hockey will be flying two lucky virtual GMs down to Sunrise Florida to watch it all unfold from June 25th to June 28th. By registering for a free account you will automatically be entered for your chance to win. The VLH lets you create your own team, develop players and challenge a community of hockey fans from around the world. Now you also have the chance to learn from the world’s best GMs at the entry draft! Join today for your shot at the grand prize.