Making the Flames: Five forward prospects we should see next season

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.

Honourable mentions

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.

  • redhot1

    My ranking of players to start the season of the prospects:

    Sam Bennett
    Micheal Ferland Based on the end of season and playoffs he should be in the lineup and Raymond on the sidelines, baring injuries on the left side.

    Maybe Drew Shore because he is subject to wavers, bu only as insurance against injuries….not impressive start with the flames. if he goes, well, we didn’t give up much.

    I would like to see Poirier earn a spot but it is likely he will start in the AHL.

  • redhot1

    Be good to watch Bennett for a whole season. Just like it was Monahan, then Gaudreau. Three seasons in a row having a young impact prospect show what they got.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    The upside of too many forwards?

    We actually have too many G and D as well.

    Why is BT doing this?

    Be ready for injuries on the Flames?

    Be ready for injuries on other teams who will be more desperate to do a deal?

    Setting up a deal for a bunch of players to get another top 6 forward?

    Getting ready for an expansion draft?

    He has no idea what he is doing?

    WW

    • FlamesRule

      Geez WW. BT has killed it this summer. So I don’t share your last question, but I agree you also have to stagger some of these young guys as well. There are some real prospect starved teams out there that might take either one of our unwanted vets or give us a good top 6 forward for a few of our decent guys that don’t seem to have an opportunity. I trust BT is going to see how these guys perform & the best man stays & a few are going to go.

      Tspoon, Shore & Raymond for JVR? or same package to Boston for Erickson?

    • The GREAT Walter White

      I suspect all these points are true except the last one. Your idea of a trade for JVR has merit but will they be able to convince Raymond to waive his no move clause. Would you want to back to Toronto? I suspect that the deal would have to be a bit sweeter than the one you are offering. However a line with JVR/Bennett/Frolik does sound good. But if the price is to high I am prepared to watch the kids evolve.

      • Brent G.

        Agreed. I am of two minds. For a team that is going into year 3 of a rebuild, their blue line is anything but a rebuild. In fact, you have 3 young anchors & an old 31 Norris calibre leader. Hiller & Ramo mayn’t be franchise goalies but they certainly are experienced capable goalies with the ability to have success in the playoffs. The forward group is , well, one that appears to be in the 3rd year of a rebuild. We have some nice pieces coming, not Oiler level in the forward group but Gaudreau, Monahan & Bennett are a heck of a start. Hudler is a legit top 6. I would love to keep Backlund & Frolick together & have a possession shut down line that is just pure & simply elite. So a JVR or Erickson or someone else could join Hudler to give us a lethal 1-2 line punch. We have lots of candidates who will hopefully step up & fill in that missing piece in the top 6 & the opening on the 3rd line. Ferland, Jones, Byron, Bouma,Jooris & Colborne. Injuries will give all these guys a chance to step up.

        But there are still twenty-six players who need a chance & it is no longer here. By the time we see Stajan, Raymond, Jones drop off the roster, these guys are getting too old & are quickly falling into that failed prospect category. So I see an argument to trying to acquire a JVR or Erickson. On the other hand, maybe a team like San Jose would jump at adding a Shore & Granlund & maybe another piece like Wotherspoon for Meier. Optics may look bad giving up 3 nice prospects for a bluechip one that needs 1-2 years development. Im not saying this deal but you get the gist of what Im saying. How about New Jersey, they are desperate for NHL ready prospects. Can we ship that package to them for Henrique? He could slot nicely in our top 6. I just am not sure which way I prefer to go with some of these excess prospects. Flames will definitely be a very active team at the TDL, that’s for sure.

        • Train#97

          Who’s the 3rd young anchor? Brodie, Hamilton and……… Russell? Russell is 28 and a veteran of over 500 games. He’s hardly young.

          There’s no way San Jose moves a prospect like Meier, or New Jersey moves their #1 center, for that package.

          • Train#97

            Well you & I have different perceptions, & yeah I guess 28 is old to some, but I have taken a note here so that at then of next year, I will be able to remind you of this disagreement. Russell is going to have a monster year playing with Hamilton. You heard it here first.

          • Train#97

            Um. Okay. That still doesn’t make him young.

            I never said he was old. He’s just pretty firmly in the veteran camp by now. He’s played as many games in the NHL as Giordano has, by the way.

  • Train#97

    Looking at these 5 players Hartley has a lot of options. Presuming that Bennett is a lock as the 2nd offensive center playing along with Frolik then all for of these guys present interesting alternatives. Frolik has said he can play either wing then it will be interesting. Here’s my understanding of them:

    Grandlund could be moved to play LW, he has shown that he has some offensive upside and Hartley seems to trust him. He could be given a real chance to prove his worth.

    Ferland demonstrated his potential during the playoffs, He is a big strong skater who has the potential to score. If he lives up to his potential he could really be a wild card.

    If Frolik plays on the LW then both Poirier and Shore are good options.

    Shore was traded for because the Flames felt like he had an offensive upside. He still has a lot to prove.

    Poirier has demonstrated that he can play at the AHL level and the speed and grit to play in the NHL. He really excites me.

    I could envision Ferland/Bennett/Poirier as a line down the road.

    Hartley could also consider playing a vet in this position: on the left he could go with Raymond hoping he returns to form from two years ago. Byron’s speed could also be interesting in this position. Could Bouma also be an option. If Frolik plays on the left then Jones might be a good option.

    I look forward to training camp and can’t wait to see who earns a place.

  • KACaribou

    The thing about young people is that one day they are doing just okay, and then the next… they get it!

    This is what happened to Ferland. At first he looked like he was stunned to actually be playing NHL hockey, kind of watching the game go by. Then suddenly he was the Flames biggest impact player of the playoffs.

    This could happen to Poirier at any moment, and also to Granlund and Shore too.

    Incredibly I believe this is still going to happen to Sam Bennett. He is so naturally gifted, that it is a possibility he hadn’t “got it” yet but still looked amazing. After all, he kept up with McDavid in the short time he was back in the WHL so he may not have shifted into his NHL gear yet.

    That’s the exciting part. Sam had a shoulder injury or he actually was a NUMBER 1 Pick that Tree got 4th.

    As for Tree, I think he has shown to be at the John Hufnafel level already. In Huff we trust. In Tree we trust. He will get rid of the excess and likely make a fantastic trade once he figures out positively who he needs to keep.

    Life is good in Flames Nation!

    • Train#97

      First of all neither Bennett or McDavid played in the WHL and how did Bennett keep up with McDavid? Explain? McDavid must be one hell of a player if Flames fans keep referencing his name when you talk about your young players.
      Bennett is gonna be a good player but from fans comments he is a lock for the 2nd centre position.

      • KACaribou

        I am glad in this world of semantics and needlessly pointing out the incredibly obvious – or making an issue of a simple type-o – that you have found your place. Good for you!

        Obviously I meant the OHL, not the WHL. Sorry you could not understand that or figure it out for what it was.

        About McDavid, he averaged something like 2.5 PPG in the OHL not WHL. While Bennett was in the OHL, not WHL, he also average nearly that much as well – and is merely months older than McDavid.

        Yes McDavid is one hell of a player, if you don’t believe me I am sure many writers here could calculate all his advanced stats from the OHL, not WHL, for you and of course we know that that is full-proof DNA evidence in hockey terms (that was a sarcasm don’t write back about it).

        The point being, that if Bennett can almost match McDavid’s OHL, not WHL, output then perhaps he too has a massive upside (POTENTIALLY) as does McDavid (PRESUMABLY).

        Yes this blog is full of speculation, mine included. Just bringing up possibilities.

          • KACaribou

            Well I’m not Mr. Caribou, but just from a few things Hartley has said it sounds like that’s sort of what’s going to happen. He’s been very comfortable using Backlund in a heavily defensive role the last few years (as he should be) and he’s also said that he wants Frolik to play a more offensive role than he has in the past. That paraphrased quote implies that they’ll be on separate lines.

            He’s also said he wants to keep Bennett at center. Which means likely that he’ll be playing with Frolik.

            The implication to me is that you’ve got these two lines:

            1. Raymond – Bennett – Frolik
            2. Bouma – Backlund – Jones

            Basically what it looks like is the Flames will have four lines that all play a decent amount (with Monahan’s line getting a little more time and Stajan’s probably getting a little less). The Backlund and Stajan lines get defensive assignments, and the Bennett line gets offensive ones. Monahan gets the top defensive opposition.

            Basically, Bennett’s is the easy minute line, which theoretically miscasts Frolik, but more or less guarantees that their opposition is going to get crushed. Jones and Backlund have been used in the shutdown role before, and Backlund in particular is quite good at it.

          • KACaribou

            Possibly. But I wouldn’t put too much credence in what people’s opinions are here. Most here figure things out with their pencils.

            I tend to think of a hockey team as a unique organism made up of intangible pieces of a puzzle which rely on a mixture of personality and ability. Each piece thrives according to the other pieces around it.

            Bob Hartley is the master, not any of us.

            If he tries Bennett at 2C and doesn’t like what he sees he will move him to somewhere appropriate.

            Me, I would like to see Ferland, Bennett, Frolik.

            That’s what I would like to see. But most things I hope for hockey-wise don’t happen.

            It would seem like high expectations to think Ferland and Bennett will both be acceptable as 2nd line players after only a handful of games.

            But we can all hope can’t we? In fact I am sure most of the things written here are based on hope.

          • KACaribou

            I am assuming you don’t think Bennett will make it as the 2C. You could be completely correct. I can’t argue with your logic.

            I think these radio guys who have blogs are quite hilarious. Getting sports radio jobs like they have, seems to be a way for the dork to hang out with the jock for the first time ever. But then they start thinking they’re jocks too. And they start over-thinking statistically.

            Hockey stats are okay but to a point. But hockey is a team game. It’s not like baseball where a player can be evaluated purely on stats.

            I find way too much of that here. I would relish reading some dork’s opinion on a player’s performance based on viewings, rather than some random stat that may or may not be correctly calculated by the team stat dork.

            Personalities and intangibles are huge. Even baseball players get sick of seeing and listening to one another night and day for eight straight months. It makes a difference there, but not like hockey.

          • Train#97

            I’m not sure if he can be the#2 centre. It’s an awful big role to put on a first year guy regardless if he played 11 playoff games or not. Someone with more experience may be better suited. Playing at home might be ok but playing on the road and not given the last line change might play right into Kopitar , Getzlaf , etc. centre is the hardest forward position to learn let alone going head to head against those monsters.

          • The GREAT Walter White

            If you want to read more “unrealistic expectations” have a look over at Oilers Nation……..it’s the season after all!

            (I would join you but my words were deemed too damaging to the Oilers/Edmonton brand and I have been threatened with banishment, yet the garbage you spew on an hourly bases is acceptable…)

            WW