Up to Agostino and Klimchuk to carry Flames franchise thread

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.

The future

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.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Too bad the Flames couldn’t have traded up to get Shea Theodore, because he might’ve actually fulfilled the requirements. Not that Klimchuk and Agostino are bad… They just don’t quite seem to be -that- level.

  • SmellOfVictory

    This thread dating back to a player the Flames carried over from Atlanta some 35 years ago is really cool.

    At the same time, its not reasonable or fair to expect Agostino and/or Klimchuk to reach the levels of 3 of the franchise’s top 15 (Nilsson’s level is up for debate) players in history.

    I do still have reasonable expectations for both of them as solid role players, with the possible ceiling of filling the role of complementary second-liners.

  • TheoForever

    Said it at the time, and say it again now. That trade was an epic fail. Feaster refused to trade Iggy when he should have (at least 1 year earlier, maybe 2). We could have got a kings ransom.

    I bring it up now because we have IMO a similar situation looming with Gio. Sweetheart of the organization, elite player, huge value.

    Will this team re-up him until he is 40 and worth nothing or do the right thing and flip him before his expiry date or all leverage is lost.

    I loathe the Feaster defending line – “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.”.

    Did Iggy’s UFA status sneak up on Feaster? Was it a surprise? Of course, not.. Feaster made his bed and we got some spare parts for a hall of fame franchise player with years of tread left on his tires (see 30 goals this year in Colorado).

    Epic fail.

    Imagine if this year we had all the kids + 1 more of the Monahan/JG calibre. Thats what we should have.

    • supra steve

      I agree that Iggy should have been moved earlier. At that time we had a club going nowhere (but down) fast.

      Gio, on the other hand, could possibly be a real contributor to some really good teams in the coming years. This team could challenge for a championship, and Gio could be a MAJOR part of any success. IMO keeping Gio (at his contracted rate) is the right thing to do.

    • TheoForever

      Your post is so inaccurate that it deserves more than one minus. If you are going to be outraged, direct it towards those that had the final say.
      Perhaps, Feaster should have convinced the ownership to trade Iggy and start a rebiuld, you can lead a horse to water but….

      • TheoForever

        OK, well replace all instances of “Feaster” with “management”. I don’t care if you want to split hairs. Ownership, management, Feaster who cares. The fact is the organization in one form or another gave away a franchise hall of fame player for zip because they refused to manage their asset. We literally wasted Iggy’s last few years toiling in the basement. If he was traded 3-4 years ago we would/should have an elite under 25 year old player right now instead of Klimsuck and a college project.

  • supra steve

    I think if Klimchuk can be a top six winger and be consistently in the 50 point range, the trade will be somewhat redeemed.

    But we did anything but win that deal, unfortunately that streak has come to an end.

  • Ari Yanover

    I have a hard time believing that Feaster was the guy holding onto the idea that Calgary needed to keep Iginla to stay competitive.IMO the owners were responsible for not letting go of Iggy and afraid of life without Iggy.

    It’s all good in hindsight though as the path they’re on now certainly looks good.

    And it certainly looks like BT is running the show.

  • TheoForever

    An interesting piece of, well, historical perspective.

    As for the two prospects of discussion, I would rank both of them as solid candidates to be full time Flames over the next couple of seasons, not likely in 2015-16.

    The one aspect of Agostino’s year last year is that roughly a quarter of his points came in the last couple of months of the season. From reports (admittedly, I did not see the AHL squad play in person, just 2 on the tube), he seemed to put his game together much better as the season came to an end. He has been described as having good hockey sense and his NCAA stats would attest to that. This training camp and his start to the season will dictate whether the end of last year was an aberration or the true arc of progession.

    As for Klimchuk, I did see him play with the Wheaties last year. He had much better linemates, and team mates for that matter, than he did with Regina. His point production was consistent with a somewhat reduced role. But this is a kid whose ‘compete’ level has always been very good even through nagging injury. I would look for Morgan to be a key cog for Stockton. A full year in the AHL would be good for his development and see him pushing for a roster spot on the big club in ’16-17.

    • TheoForever

      You have to take into account the type of player you’re getting as well. By all accounts, including his coaches’, Klimchuk is phenomenal in all 3 zones in terms of defense and positional play. When you add his compete level and 80 points in 60 games to that, you’ve got the potential for a very useful player who should contribute for many years. Elite 3rd liner who may have a couple of 2nd line seasons in him. No Nieuwendyk maybe, but the kind of player you win with.

  • The Last Big Bear

    I’m not worried at all.

    Even if Klimchuck and Agostino both bomb, all we have to do is trade THEM for a 50+ goal franchise player, and we’re back in business baby!