And then, there was one.
Canadian Hockey League skater left at Flames camp, that is. With the junior season set to begin at the end of this week, the Flames have been returning their junior players to their teams. Pavel Karnaukhov and Andrew Mangiapane had outstanding rookie camps, but they were never going to make the big club; it made more sense from a developmental standpoint to get them back to the Hitmen and Colts than to have them play more preseason games. Their seasons officially start Friday, Sept. 25.
Rasmus Andersson – also a Colt – remains at camp, though. And he’s the only surefire junior league skater to still be there.
That’s kind of impressive.
A little caveat
Keegan Kanzig and Hunter Smith, as 20-year-olds, are still eligible to return to the WHL and OHL, respectively, as overagers for the Hitmen and Generals. They’re also eligible to begin their professional careers this season. So they may technically still be CHL skaters at camp, but it’s not guaranteed.
Somewhat similarly, Oliver Kylington may, in fact, end up as a Wheat King this season; that said, he could be a member of the Heat, as well. There’s no guarantee he goes to junior.
The only clear-cut CHL players left at camp, Andersson aside (because he played in the OHL during his draft season, he’s locked in, unless he goes back to Europe, or makes the Flames), are Mason McDonald and Nick Schneider: two goalies.
So while Andersson technically isn’t necessarily the only CHL skater remaining at Flames camp, he’s the only guaranteed one, if that makes sense. The Flames’ first cuts were nearly all of the junior players, Mangiapane followed a few days later, and Andersson is… still there.
Quickly rising through the ranks
Is Andersson going to make the NHL this season? Probably not – and it’s pretty rare for 18-year-old defencemen to turn pro – but the fact that he’s still around and wasn’t sent back to Barrie with Mangiapane points towards just how far along his development he may already be.
There was a lot of hype around the Flames’ young defencemen at the NHL draft. How could there not be, when they had just acquired Dougie Hamilton? And to add on to that, they even got Kylington at 60th overall, even though he was projected to be a first round pick – maybe even at 15th overall, when the Flames were supposed to have their first pick originally.
Andersson wasn’t a name that high on the radar, though. NHL Central Scouting had him ranked at 93rd for North American skaters, while TSN had him at 59th, and The Hockey News at 45th. Those are respectable rankings, for the most part (except for Central Scouting – rude), but not necessarily something you get especially excited over.
It’s been just a few short weeks, though, and Andersson has already staked out a spot for himself at the top of the Flames’ prospect pool. Kylington was the big name, and he got his deal signed much earlier, but Andersson is officially right up there with him.
Andersson’s own ELC came on the backs of two excellent performances in Penticton. There, we saw his smarts, his offensive acumen (nearly a point per game in his first season in the OHL as a defenceman – that’s pretty good), and smooth skating on display. It became clear pretty quickly just why the Flames decided to use their first pick of the 2015 draft on him.
When does he get cut?
As fun as it would be, Andersson is very unlikely to make the Flames out of camp, even with T.J. Brodie’s injury creating a new opening. Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Kris Russell, and Dennis Wideman already hold down four of six spots. Deryk Engelland and Ladislav Smid have big salaries, and the former in particular was heavily relied upon in 2014-15.
Then there are older, more experienced players fighting for a spot to compete with as well: Jakub Nakladal is off to a good start, and you know Ryan Wilson wants to earn a contract. Tyler Wotherspoon is on the final year of his ELC, and the clock is ticking on him, as well.
Even if Andersson’s current skills and level of experience weren’t an issue – and they are – there are too many bodies in the way for him to be in the NHL this season.
And yet, he’s impressed well enough that he has yet to be cut.
The Flames don’t play again until Thursday, Sept. 24 in Denver. Andersson is making the trip. Barrie’s first game is the following day. There’s a pretty decent chance he doesn’t start his OHL season on time.
This also bodes the question: just where is he going to be playing next year? If the Flames view Andersson to be ahead of their other CHLers – and the fact that he’s still around seems to indicate they do – then this could be his final junior year. Thanks to his October birthday, Andersson will be eligible to turn pro and play in Stockton in 2016-17 – and that may very well end up being the best place for him.
The returns are still early, but Andersson has already made the Flames’ defensive prospect pool significantly more exciting. He’s right up at the top.