When the Flames first moved to Calgary in 1980, there were a lot of good players making the trip up north. One of the absolute best, though, was Kent Nilsson.
When Nilsson was traded, it was for a modest return of two second-round picks – one of which turned into Joe Nieuwendyk.
When Nieuwendyk was traded, it was for a prospect who had yet to truly break out (though that would come soon after): Jarome Iginla.
When Iginla was traded, it was for
Matt Bartkowski, Alexander Khokhlachev, and a first Ben Hanowski, Kenny Agostino, and a first: otherwise known as who, who, and obviously.
One down, two to go
Two years later, Hanowski was gone.
He’d just wrapped up his senior year at St. Cloud State – a step back from his junior year – when the Flames signed him to a two-year entry level contract, and immediately burnt his first year on five NHL games. In them, Hanowski looked slow. You could tell he knew where he wanted to go and where he needed to go, but his skating simply could not take him there.
Naturally, he started the second year of his deal in the AHL, where he had an underwhelming year. He was behind a number of other prospects in scoring, as well as a handful of career AHLers. Despite this, he was one of many to get called up to the NHL at the end of the season – where again, Hanowski didn’t show enough. His ice time plummeted, and rightfully so: he simply was not NHL caliber.
Still, the Flames were not willing to cut ties just yet, and when Hanowski’s entry-level deal expired, he was re-signed to a cheap one-year, two-way deal.
Hanowski spent his entire season in the AHL, where he regressed even further: from 31 points in 55 AHL games to 25 in 56 this past season. The strong majority of Flames prospects showed more than him, and Hanowski plummeted to the bottom of the depth chart.
There was no point in spending another year with him taking up another contract spot, and so the Flames cut ties with one third of their return from the Iginla trade. It was over.
A rookie and a sophomore
Agostino is 23 years old; Klimchuk, 20. The former will be playing his second professional season in 2015-16, and the latter his first. Both should play big roles for Stockton this upcoming year.
Neither has necessarily shown what the threads since Nilsson have. Nieuwendyk scored two points per game in his draft +1 year, and improved on that all the way up to his first 50 goal season as a rookie; Iginla had an insane World Juniors to build off of an insane final WHL season to bring vast quantities of hope for his arrival (in which he scored his first playoff goal, and then had a 50 point rookie season).
Neither Agostino – just over a point per game in his draft year, and nearly two-thirds of a point per game in his rookie pro year – nor Klimchuk – 74, and then 80, points in his final WHL seasons – have shown that level of formidability. But when your hands are tied to dealing a depreciating asset to one team, you have to take what you can get, and the Flames have done pretty well, considering.
Who anticipated Agostino leading Adirondack in scoring this past season? The number of games he played had a strong role in that – had Emile Poirier been around more, he likely would have had the lead – but Agostino proved himself effective, and highly useful.
As for Klimchuk, typically, you can’t expect a lot out of late first round picks. Notable players taken at 28th overall before Klimchuk include Charlie Coyle in 2010, Nick Foligno in 2006, Matt Niskanen in 2005, Corey Perry in 2003, and Justin Williams in 2000: not a lot, and for the most part, very few superstars. Although for the time being, Klimchuk is trending reasonably well, considering where he was taken. The late first round pick shouldn’t have been the most valuable part of a return for your franchise player, but through mismanagement, that’s exactly what happened.
At least it’s not all bad.
You have to think at least one of these guys ends up an NHLer, if not both – even though neither is projecting to be as good as Nilsson, Nieuwendyk, or Iginla.
But those are just projections, and you can never truly be sure what’s going to happen. Case in point: just how far Agostino rose above Hanowski over the course of a single season.
And Klimchuk remains a massive question mark as we wait for him to adapt to the professional game, and see to what extent he thrives. Scoring over a point per game in the WHL is one thing – and it’s a very good thing, to be sure – but you expect that out of a player with NHL aspirations reaching the end of his junior career. Klimchuk’s future does, however, appear bright.
Both players are left wingers, and other than Johnny Gaudreau (and probably Sam Bennett, at least for a little bit), the Flames don’t really have much in the way of young top six guys for the wing.
They aren’t at the level as previous players in the thread, but it’s a start. This particular incarnation should keep Nilsson’s threading through the history of the franchise alive and going.
Just how far it continues (and at what level, for that matter) remains to be seen.