An upside to having so many forwards? You know competition will be intense, and those who make the starting lineup will have truly earned their spots. A downside? There’s very, very little room for prospects to be able to make it, and prove they deserve a spot of their own.
On the one hand, it’s a good thing: you know you aren’t letting anybody undeserving or not ready into your lineup. On the other hand, it’s a bad thing: it makes it all the more difficult to fulfill the mantra of “always earned, never given”, as Josh Jooris found out last season.
Jooris earned a roster spot out of training camp, but was cut, and only got to make the NHL when another forward was injured. By the time enough players had returned to sufficient health, Jooris had established himself in the lineup, and finally, others were cut to make room for him.
Who are the forward prospects – those who have yet to establish themselves as NHLers – to keep an eye on this season?
1. Sam Bennett
By all accounts, Bennett is still a Flames prospect. He’s Calder eligible, after all, and has only played a grand total of one regular season game. He isn’t anything close to established or proven: he’s 19 years old, and just starting his career.
That said, it’s a given he’ll be in the lineup throughout this season. Just where in the lineup has yet to be decided – Top six? Bottom? – but he’ll be there. He’s already one of the 12 best forwards available to the Flames, and he’s only going to get better (and he’s already shown us he certainly looks capable enough).
He’s a candidate for the Johnny Gaudreau treatment: work his way up through the lineup, earn some powerplay time, probably see a fair share of offensive zone starts, and likely play alongside a good, experienced veteran.
Unlike Gaudreau, there’s little doubt he’ll be in the lineup throughout the season; like Gaudreau, he’ll probably establish himself as one of the go-to guys early in his career.
2. Markus Granlund
With 48 NHL games played this past season to just 21 in the AHL, it looks like Granlund is an established NHLer. He was 14th out of all Flames forwards in games played, after all: not in the top 12, but really, really close to being a regular.
And yet, he’s not an NHLer just yet. He noticeably struggled as the season went on, his early bout of scoring completely dried up, and he just didn’t look as though he could compete in the top league on a regular basis. He was the beneficiary of injuries to several centres ahead of him on the depth chart, which launched him into a level above his head for an extended period of time.
That said, Granlund was a frequent presence in an NHL lineup this past season. He probably isn’t going to take a step back; either he stagnates, or he improves. Since Granlund is still waiver exempt, we can probably expect to see him in the AHL to start the season, but that’s how his most recent season started, too. Depending on how this year plays out – with injuries of course, and possibly trades – it’s likely we see him in the NHL at some point this season.
3. Micheal Ferland
Over his 26 regular season NHL games, Ferland didn’t look like anything special. He was a typical injury call up: low minutes, no scoring, just along for the ride and to fill some time. As the season went on, he started showing more – his first NHL goal, and more and more ice time – until finally, it was the playoffs.
That’s when Ferland officially broke out, and that’s what’s going to make it exceptionally difficult to send the now-waiver eligible Ferland back down to the AHL: something that probably won’t happen.
The thing is, just because Ferland will probably be in the NHL next season, doesn’t mean he’ll be playing. Teams carry extra forwards, and Ferland could be a guy found in the pressbox throughout the year. He’s shown a lot of potential as he’s worked to establish himself as a professional, and he had a very good stretch of games to end the season, but that’s all it is: potential, and a stretch.
As of right now, there’s nothing to indicate Ferland gets a regular roster spot. But he will, in all likelihood, be present: and by the end of the season, probably a regular.
4. Drew Shore
Shore saw his first NHL action three seasons ago, but has yet to establish himself. The Florida Panthers had too many quality centres to really give him a chance, and that same situation has followed him over to Calgary. Shore will need to battle just to earn a spot as the fourth line centre, or he may even have to play as a winger to make the lineup – and that’ll be a fight, too.
Is he NHL-ready? Well, he’s waiver eligible, so you hope so, because sending him down could result in the loss of an asset. It’s the same situation as Ferland, though: just because he’ll probably be in the NHL doesn’t mean he’ll be on the ice. Shore got to know the pressbox well to end the previous season, after all.
This is where it’s a good thing that the lineup will be so difficult to make: it means if Shore gets a regular spot, he’ll have earned it. And if he stays on the Flames, you have to think we see him throughout the year: either as that regular, or as an injury replacement who can hopefully establish himself and his place in the lineup.
5. Emile Poirier
Most of the Flames’ NHL ready – or near-NHL ready – guys have already seen a fair amount of time in the big leagues, which plays a big part in them being likely to make the lineup at some point in the upcoming season. After them, there’s a drop off as we wait for the remaining prospects to gain the experience necessary to one day take that next step.
After all, while young prospects are really exciting, it’s very rare to make the jump to the NHL so quickly.
Poirier has just one year of professional experience, and thanks to a shoulder injury, not even a full one at that. He didn’t make any real impact in his six NHL games, but he was one of the brightest spots in Adirondack last year. He wasn’t ready for the big show then, but this season could be a whole other story, and you have to think he’s one of the top call up options.
Here’s something that could happen: this is the last year of David Jones’ contract, which means he could be trade bait come next season. He’s a right wing. Poirier plays the right wing. If Poirier has a good year, there is a chance he could find himself in the NHL by season’s end.
It’d have to be a really good year, though.
Because this article is talking primarily about guys who we’ve already seen up with the Flames on a regular basis throughout the most recent season, here are a couple of other guys worth mentioning: Bill Arnold, and Kenny Agostino.
Both have played at least one NHL game – albeit, meaningless ones – and both now have one year of professional hockey under their belts (which puts them ahead of a guy like Morgan Klimchuk for the time being). Adirondack had its problems this past season, but it is worth noting that of all the remaining players, Agostino was its top scorer, and Arnold third.
This doesn’t mean they’re ready, but if the Flames run out of bodies, these are probably going to be the guys to turn to – and the guys who will likely be making big impacts and fighting all the harder throughout the year.