mean, you should always try to pay
attention to the farm once in a while, but this season there’s added reasons
all pretty exciting when you look ahead to October. You’ve got a new Left Coast
division and some interesting rule changes league-wide. Plus, the Flames’ new
affiliate has the potential to send shockwaves through the state like a California
earthquake (is that in bad taste?).
a bit of small offseason kindling to get that excitement going to the Stockton
Heat’s inaugural season.
DIVISION, NEW RIVALS
an easy way to build some nasty rivalries early: throw the Oilers, Ducks,
Kings, Sharks and Flames farm team in the same AHL division, sit back, watch
the fun unfold.
new AHL Pacific Division consists of five California-based teams and two Texas-based
teams – all of whose NHL parent clubs share the Western conference and most
share the NHL’s Pacific Division.
could mean good things for future of entertainment in the NHL. Rivalries will
be built early as these teams could play each other upwards of six times per
season. That’s more than enough time to build strategies and a disliking for
the same players their likely to play in the NHL.
be very interesting to keep an eye on this division in particular.
most years, the AHL amended and added some rules as it continues to be the
testing lab for potential NHL rule changes. Here’s a quick run-down of those
changes approved last week:
teams will play 76 games, except the clubs
in the new Pacific Division, which will play 68 games. Yes, that includes
your own Stockton Heat. It’s reported that GMs weren’t too enthused about the
AHL’s infamous three-games-in-three-nights scheduling, so this alleviates that.
Plus, this works in favour of the Flames’ rebuild. Fewer games, less travel,
less tired players, more practice time.
some teams playing fewer games the AHL will switch to ranking teams based on points percentage. So, the top four
teams of each division (based on points percentage) will qualify for the
playoffs. However, if the fifth-place team in either the Atlantic or Central
division has a greater points percentage than the fourth-place team in the
North or Pacific division, that team would cross over and qualify instead.
this season for the AHL playoffs is a mini-divisional playoffs, which would
lead to the conference finals, and then onto the Calder Cup Finals.
the regular season, overtime will be five
minutes of 3-on-3 preceded by a dry scrape. Teams will change ends for OT.
If overtime solves nothing, there will be a three-player shootout (as opposed
to the AHL’s past five-player shootout).
the CFL and NFL, the league will test a coach’s
challenge. Similar to football, a coach can only challenge if they have a
timeout. If the challenge doesn’t
overturn the original call, that team will be charged their timeout.
interesting (albeit minor) rule change will see the defending player place
their stick on the ice first for a face-off. At centre ice, however, the
visiting player must place their stick on the ice first. This rule hardly
matters to Bill Arnold. He’ll just
win them all anyways.
I know, we get a new crop of rookies every year on the farm. Who cares, right?
Well, unlike in years prior where the rookies coming in had little
expectations, were lower draft picks, or even undrafted prospects, this season
is quite a bit different.
season we’re likely to see Morgan
Klimchuk, Hunter Smith, and Jon Gillies. Those are the higher-end
draft picks that many have moderate to high expectations for.
is a first round pick who’s had an excellent WHL career averaging 1.26 points
per game in his last three seasons. The long-time Regina Pat is one of those
players who can play anywhere in the line-up, so his transition to pro could come easy.
is coming off a Memorial Cup winning season – one where he continued to show he’s
a playoff performer. During the regular season, however, it was a bit
disappointing to see him score less than a point per game. If we’re to take a
positive from his 20-year-old season, it’s that he placed third on the team in
ES P/60 at 2.22 (behind blue-chipper Michael Dal Colle and the Senators’ steal
of a pick Tobias Lindberg). He’s got all the intangibles to be successful in
the AHL, but how/if he transitions his skill is a big question.
has been an illustrious college career for Jon Gillies where he (finally)
gained national recognition helping his team to a National Championship this
past season. However, the AHL is a different animal and all eyes will be on the
6’5” backstop to see how he does in his first pro season. Keep your
expectations in check for Gillies this season, folks, but you can still be
excited for his potential.
you’ve got Austin Carroll and Keegan Kanzig who, while they weren’t
high picks and don’t have as high of expectations placed on them as those
above, are still names you’ll definitely want to pay attention to. With the
deep, deep Heat blue line this season, I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see
Kanzig start his pro career in the ECHL with Adirondack. Carroll, on the other
hand, could be a huge sleeper in Stockton this season and will have no problem
fitting into the American league with his style of play.
the first time in two years, it looks like the Flames’ farm team could have a
new starting goalie, and he’s an exciting one.
on what happens with the three-headed monster up in Calgary, Joni Ortio could be moving onto bigger
and better things in the NHL. That leaves a wide open door for Providence star Jon Gillies. When I say wide open door,
I mean really wide open. As in Jon Gillies is the only candidate on the ballot
exciting part about getting a new starting goalie isn’t because Joni Ortio
sucked (in fact, he exceeded every expectation and then some), it’s because we’re
not getting a veteran net-minder in goal – we’re getting a legitimate, high-end
goaltending prospect. As an added incentive to watch Gillies this season, you’ve
got him playing behind what could be the deepest blue line in Flames farm team
DEFENSE FOR DAYS
I just said this year could see the deepest blue line in Flames farm team
plan on getting more in-depth on this topic in another article at some point
this summer, but as a basic primer, here’s a rough depth chart of what Stockton’s
defense could look like this upcoming season:
that turns out to be what the blue line roughly looks like, I don’t even know
what to say.
Wotherspoon and Nakladal is a flat out scary shut down
pairing with superb defensive skill and a good dose of nastiness to boot. Culkin and Morrison’s offensive skill could have game-breaking ability and if
Morrison can add a touch more focus on his defensive game, this pairing could
be very exciting. The third pairing could be something like Kulak and Sieloff. With this pairing you’ve got Kulak who has really steadied
his game into something closer to a two-way defenseman with leanings towards
offense. Sieloff admitted during Development Camp that his goal last season was
to just stay healthy, which is a good goal for him and he achieved it. This
year, I want to see him be the yin to, say, Kulak’s yang. I want to see him balance
Kulak’s offensive tendencies with a solid defensive, physical presence.
extras, you’ve got Kanzig and Dustin Stevenson, who proved to be one of Adirondack’s best
defensive defensemen last year. With Kanzig, a load of ice time is key and with
that line up I just don’t see any. Like I said earlier, the ECHL might be the
best option to start. Stevenson is the perfect seventh defenseman for that
group. He can slot in seamlessly on any of those pairings and add something if
In short, for an organization criticized all
last year for having questionable defensive depth throughout, it’s starting to
look an awful lot like their strong point for both clubs.