Five Reasons To Pay Attention To Stockton This Season

I
mean, you should always try to pay
attention to the farm once in a while, but this season there’s added reasons
to.

It’s
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?).

Here’s
a bit of small offseason kindling to get that excitement going to the Stockton
Heat’s inaugural season.

NEW
DIVISION, NEW RIVALS

 photo slide_ahlwest_zpshbxnj6rn.jpg

Here’s
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.

The
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.

This
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.

It’ll
be very interesting to keep an eye on this division in particular.

CHANGING
THE RULES

Like
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:

  • All
    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.
  • With
    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.
  • New
    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.
  • During
    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).
  • Like
    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.
  • An
    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.

HIGH-END
ROOKIES

Yeah,
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.

This
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.

  • Klimchuk
    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.
  • Smith
    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.
  • It
    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.

Then
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.

NEW
STARTING GOALIE?

For
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.

Depending
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
wide open.

The
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
history.

DEFENSE FOR DAYS

…Yes,
I just said this year could see the deepest blue line in Flames farm team
history.

I
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:

Wotherspoon-Nakladal

Culkin-Morrison

Kulak- Sieloff

Kanzig

Stevenson (if
re-signed)

If
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.

As
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
he’s needed.

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.

  • OKG

    Hopefully the video & sound quality is more watchable this season in Stockton. It wasn’t bad in Abbotsford but was pretty terrible in Adirondack. Most of the time I couldn’t follow the video very well because it was so blurry and the PBP commentary hurt my ears

    Also Stevenson was resigned just yesterday.

      • OKG

        I’ve got an article suggestion:

        A rundown of who’s who in the new Pacific Division. I know LA’s team is the defending AHL champs but I don’t know a lot about their roster (other than Weal / Shore are pretty good) and I knew even less about most of the other teams’ rosters.

    • OKG

      I think he’s well behind Kulak at the very least on that depth chart right now, so he’s closer to that Sieloff / Kanzig tier and probably behind them. The WHL or Allsvenskan make more sense in terms of getting him minutes.

        • OKG

          On the depth chart?

          He’s about the same as them. This is a nearly-3rd round pick for a reason.

          Look at Matt’s assessment of him:

          http://www.firesidechat.ca/prospects-2015/Oliver-Kylington#more-3158

          Defensive skill – 1.25/5

          That does not sound like a player who is ready for the AHL. He gave Sieloff a 2.75/5 in that category and honestly I don’t think Sieloff is good enough defensively right now to be even a middle pairing D in the AHL.

          Right now Kylington, Kanzig, and Sieloff are bottom pairing D at the AHL level – for DIFFERENT reasons though.

          I don’t want Kylington playing bottom pairing, his offensive ceiling is WAY too high to be wasted there.

          This isn’t about what Kylington could be for us in two-three years, it’s about where he is in his development right now.

          • OKG

            Matt who? Why do I care what he thinks?

            The game is about net benefit. Kylington may be worse defensively than the other two but offensively? He’s better. Much much better. It isn’t close. So who has the highest net benefit? It’s not Sieloff.

            Example: Who is the better player between Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot? Why?

            Unlike Kanzig, Kylington has pro experience. And I would have Kanzig ahead of Sieloff right now too.

          • OKG

            Right now Kylington makes Justin Schultz look strong defensively. Who is better between Marc Methot and Schultz? Why?

            As for why you care what he thinks? That’s up to you. I used it as an example of the difference between Sieloff/Kylington alone. Sieloff is not good in his own zone. That’s a bit above the level Kylington needs to get to defensively before we throw him out there.

            Regardless, Kylington’s net contributions are still well away from Kulak, Culkin, Morrisson, Wotherspoon, Nakladal. that’s five guys ahead of him. Who cares if Kylington edges out Kanzig for the #6 spot?

            Thought-experiment:

            Wotherspoon-Nakladal – That’s likely 23/23 a game
            Culkin-Morrison – There’s another 23/23 a game
            Kulak – You conservatively can put him down for 20 a game.

            And you still need to rotate Sieloff in.

            There are 120 minutes a game to go around. Do the math. That’s about 8 minutes left for the last guy. That’s why Mike is suggesting Kanzig go to the ECHL – there’s more minutes there for him there and an AHLer like Stevenson can be kept to those kind of minutes. Stevenson also brings a lot more balance to the roster.

            Kylington in Stockton is not good for HIS development. He needs those 20-23 minutes a game and he’s not good enough to displace any of the top 5 guys and his ceiling does not necessarily put his net contribution ahead of Kanzig or Sieloff.

            If Oliver Kylington is as far along as you claim he is, why was he drafted 60th overall? How many 60th overalls jumped straight to a stacked AHL blueline?

          • SydScout

            Right now Kylington makes Justin Schultz look strong defensively.

            So does Culkin. That’s not a valid point.

            why was he drafted 60th overall?

            Because scouts spent half the season concentrating and dissecting the negative aspects of his game. The concerns about Kylington are very real and legitimate… but they’re vastly overblown. Bluliners that bad defensively don’t play in the SHL as 16 year olds. Ever.

            Here’s a thought experiment for you: Two Swedish offensive defensemen. Both have defensive issues. Both have a tendency to make bad decisions. One scored 5 points in 18 SHL games (7 in 10 U20 games). The other scored 3 points in 20 Allsvenskan games (19 in 30 U20 games). The first was drafted 60th overall. The second was drafted 28th overall.

            Why was Larsson drafted so much earlier than Kylington in spite of the fact that EVERYONE (including his harshest critics) agrees that Kylington has a much higher ceiling–AND IS ALSO A BETTER PLAYER RIGHT NOW.

          • OKG

            I would assume since he was ranked Top5 in the draft at the beginning of the year that he has been very skilled in most aspects of D but that the past year was an injury/team shuffle Smoozle last year where his projection dove. At development camp not only his skating but also his passing was top notch. He’s also already played two years with men.

            I think he might surprise come TC and at the same time I’m expecting/hoping at least two of the AHL-projected D men end up with the Flames. Where Kylington ends up is still up in the air, at least now the Flames can control where that is based on what is best for his development.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      If I’m not mistaken, and I could be, Kyllingtons rights switch back to Sweden if he doesn’t play for the Flames. If that’s right, there’s no way he plays for Stockton.

      • TheoForever

        Flames can make a deal that would allow Kyli to play in AHL, (transfer payments, etc). So, while the Swedish team has the dibs, he can still end up in the minors.

      • piscera.infada

        He’s now Flames’ property, given the contract he signed yesterday. Per Treliving, if he is assigned anywhere but the NHL next year, he must be offered to AIK first. Treliving kept speaking about Kylington being “developed closely by this[sic] organization”. To me, that signals that there’s a more than reasonable chance that if that happens, AIK won’t secure his rights, and it’s AHL or ECHL.

        • TheoForever

          Maybe he could play in the WHL for a season. I think this would be best for his development. Learn the NA game there, where he will hopefully dominate. Then move him up to the AHL the year after.

        • OKG

          The probability of Kylington making the big club is not high for this year, in my opinion. But playing in Brandon has a higher probability than him ending up in the AHL or ECHL.

          The Flames want to have this young man develop and Kelly McCrimmon in Brandon will provide the best opportunity for both responsible ice time and quality coaching.

      • OKG

        You are right, but AIK can waive. I think that since the Flames signed him, it means that AIK said they would waive the player. Otherwise what was the point of signing him? He won’t make the Flames line up, so the signing was done knowing he had a high probably of being waived by AIK. Just my opinion, but otherwise what was the benefit to signing him?

  • Burnward

    Treliving talked extensively about Kylington’s rights. A main reason for signing him was to get some control over his assignment.

    Flames likely want him in the AHL rather than the second tier Swedish league. Kylington’s rights revert to the Swedish team AIK…Flames are already talking to them about agreeing to allow him to play in the AHL. Not sure AIK would agree to allow it if it were the ECHL or WHL.

  • SydScout

    Mike, love your work.

    Question, how have you rated Stevenson as one of Adirondacks better players? I drove out to Glens Fall for four games last season (great place, they loved the Flames) but failed to see anything of note in his game. He’s big, but slow, no real outlet passing ability and not very skilled.

    Correct me where I’m wrong, never great to trash someone at their occupation (I’d prefer to be a pro hockey player … Likely it’s jealousy!) – maybe I just caught him on off nights?

    • You’re right, he’s not the most fleet of foot defender.

      His size and aggressiveness are his best attributes and he’s good enough in his own zone. You may have caught him on some off nights, but his season as a whole was good for an AHL signee. He’ll make a perfect 7th veteran defenseman.