There was one guy who really seemed to stand out at the prospect scrimmage. No, not Mark Jankowski – although he had his fair share of moments, too – but one of the newest additions to the Flames organization.
The 5’10, 170 lb. Andrew Mangiapane was working his magic on the ice. Undersized by hockey standards, and with just 51 points over 68 games for the Barrie Colts in his draft year, Mangiapane was passed over. This past season, though, he rocketed up to 104 points over just 68 games, which, even though he was a year older than the rest of the class, earned him a pick.
Meanwhile, Sam Bennett was the shortest of the organization’s 2014 picks at 6’1; take him out, and the smallest was the 6’2 Brandon Hickey. A guy under six feet did not seem likely to be taken that year.
Clearly a lot changed over Brad Treliving’s first year as general manager, and the differences in drafts reflected that.
Reviewing the drafts
In 2014, Sam Bennett was a gimme. If the Flames had been picking at fourth overall in 2015, they almost certainly would have taken Noah Hanifin or Mitch Marner. Bennett didn’t really require any decision to draft: he was an automatic pick.
So, with that in mind, when it came to making decisions, the Flames decided on Mason McDonald, Hunter Smith, Brandon Hickey, Adam Ollas Mattsson, and Austin Carroll in 2014 (Brandon Bollig, too, if you want to count trades).
In 2015, Calgary decided on Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, Pavel Karnaukhov, Andrew Mangiapane, and Riley Bruce (also: Dougie Hamilton).
Bruce is the odd man out in 2015, and Hickey in 2014. Swap those picks, and the themes become consistent: in 2014, it was all about getting bigger guys (hopefully with potential); in 2015, it was about guys who could put up numbers.
Reviewing free agency
These themes carried over to July 1. In 2014, the Flames purchased Mason Raymond, Jonas Hiller, and Deryk Engelland; in 2015, just Michael Frolik (and Karri Ramo, if you want to get technical about it).
The 2014 offseason wasn’t purely about size. As goalies, Hiller and Ramo are their own thing. Raymond, though, really isn’t a guy you add for the sake of size at all. He was coming off of the second best season of his career, and was just finally getting that bigger contract he’d been knocking on the door of for a while. He was a veteran who pointed towards depth offence, and on a young, rebuilding team, should have been an ideal pickup.
Engelland, on the other hand, got a raise more than five times his previous season’s pay for no apparent reason other than being big and veteran, firmly tying him in with the rest of the 2014 offseason’s theme: the Flames need to add size.
Frolik is more along the lines of the Raymond signing, but better. He’s hardly small himself – in fact, he’s bigger than Raymond – but he wasn’t targeted for his size. He was targeted for his abilities with and away from the puck.
While 2014 was about size, things did a complete 180 over the season, and 2015 became about possession.
The early returns are looking good
Of course, it’s far too early to call anything just yet. Bennett aside, none of the draft picks from the past two years are close to making the NHL, and we don’t even know what numbers Hamilton and Frolik will be wearing, much less what impact they’ll have on the Flames.
Still, this evident shift in philosophy is very welcome. The Flames spent a year focusing on adding size, and while that worked to varying degrees of success, the bigger guys didn’t have as big an impact in the Flames making the playoffs as one would have expected, considering the focus on acquiring them.
Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau – listed as 5’10 and 5’9, respectively – were the team’s highest scorers. Brian McGrattan was a perpetual healthy scratch before finally getting waived, and with the glut of forwards, the same could happen to Bollig soon.
Engelland was asked to play above his role, but the real heroes of the defence core were Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie, and one is known for being more physical than the other. Not to mention the fact that one of the more heralded guys, Kris Russell, also just happens to be the smallest.
Size is great to have, but the players who had the greatest, most positive impacts weren’t known for it.
That said, the returns on Smith are looking increasingly good, as with Carroll, and Ollas Mattsson may be able to make something of himself. But to loop back around to 2015: both Andersson – a defenceman – and Mangiapane – a smaller guy – outscored Smith’s draft+2 year in their draft years in the same league, and that’s not exactly what you’re hoping for out of a second round pick.
Top six players are preferable to bottom six, and they’re hard to get ahold of. For all Smith’s development, Mangiapane may be better; he provided more offence than Smith did for a different OHL division champion. He was one of the top guys on his team, while Smith wasn’t.
To draw further comparisons: this is a team that was the same size as the Stanley Cup champions this past season; a team that, in 2011, took 6’2, 210 lb. Mark McNeill 18th overall, but in 2012 took 5’10, 185 lb. Teuvo Teravainen in the exact same spot. And only one of those guys has actually made the show.
So this apparent shift in the Flames philosophy is more than welcome and may just yet end up paying dividends for them as well. It’s exciting to think where the Flames may end up over the course of this year, and just what the theme of 2016 will be.