5 Training Camp Battles That Will Affect The Stockton Heat

Let’s
face it, training camp battles are awesome. Whether they’re direct battles in
scrimmages or indirect battles for a spot on the opening day roster, it doesn’t
matter. Training camp battles are fun because you don’t know how they’re going
to play out.

This
got me thinking about how September will impact the Stockton Heat in terms of jockeying
for everything from the ‘first call-up’ title and injury replacement to which
line they’ll start on and simply trying to earn minutes.

Here
are five interesting training camp battles to keep an eye until the Heat’s
season opener on October 10.

AARON
JOHNSON VS. RYAN WILSON

Yes,
the Flames have guys like Nakladal and Wotherspoon as the obvious call-up
options on defense. They also have two dark horses who have had strong showings
in Penticton and main camp – Rasmus Andersson and Brett Kulak.

But
what about the veteran invitees?

Ryan
Wilson has had a heck of a camp and now that he’s healthy, he’s showing he
wants an NHL deal badly. Aaron Johnson, on the other hand, was clearly destined
to be Stockton’s captain this season once we found out he was signed to an AHL
deal. It just made sense. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be an emergency
call-up for the Flames either.

While
one is already in California and the other is still in camp, these two veteran
defenders will still play a role in the organization as injury options, especially
considering they’re the only two veteran defenders without NHL contracts.

BILL
ARNOLD VS. MARKUS GRANLUND & DREW SHORE

Arnold’s
going to be a gamer. There’s little doubt about that, but if I’m him I’m
staring at a bit of a climb to get significant, meaningful NHL minutes this
season. We’re not talking a Rocky Mountain climb or anything – more like some
West Virginia-type mountains. This climb exists because of Markus Granlund and
Drew Shore.

Bill
Arnold has very few holes in his game. That part is well known across these
parts. He has more aspects to his game that will get him into the NHL than not.
However, Granlund and Shore are two players specifically who I feel he’s
competing with indirectly this training camp.

There
a few ways Arnold can earn NHL minutes this year. One way is to show he can
score at the NHL level, which the other two haven’t shown consistently with
their playing time. Another way is to prove that he’s less of a liability. This
is going to be difficult because the other two are no slouches when it comes to
playing a strong two-way game. The last way is to force Granlund, Shore or both
to the wing. While Arnold can play
right wing, he’s too darn valuable as a right-handed centre to shift to a
lesser role.

Keep
a close eye on which of these three emerge from training camp having impressed
the most.

AUSTIN
CARROLL VS. HUNTER SMITH

While
these two were among the first wave of cuts, their training camp battle will
continue in Stockton. You may be wondering what these two have to do with one
another. Well, frankly, the amount of playing time they want in the AHL.

Assuming
Emile Poirier is the first line right-winger and Garnet Hathaway plays second
line right-wing, that leaves the third line spot open for Carroll and Smtih.
Both bring similar aspects to their game. They’re nasty, feisty and not afraid
to scrap. However, Carroll has much higher offensive instincts than Smith has
shown in his career and has progressed into being a capable checker, which is
what Ryan Huska is going to need him to be as a third line winger.

Smith,
on the other hand, is going to have to show he can keep up with the pace of the
AHL. He didn’t have a very convincing rookie tournament or pre-season, but that
doesn’t mean he can’t be effective on the Heat’s fourth line with limited
minutes alongside energy players like Turner Elson and/or Ryan Lomberg.

PATRICK
SIELOFF VS. KEEGAN KANZIG VS. DUSTIN STEVENSON

This
is an interesting one to me personally, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a
bit of a controversial one in the coming weeks. The AHL is known for carrying
for what many would consider too many defenders, so it’s entirely possible (if
not likely) that all three will be on the Stockton Heat’s opening day roster.

However,
that doesn’t mean they’ll all get equal playing time.

Sieloff
is healthy and determined and a healthy and determined Sieloff can be scary.
Huska really likes what Sieloff can bring, so when you’ve got clout with the
head coach that can only mean good things.

Kanzig
is a wild card and has the least professional experience of the three. That
usually doesn’t matter for a rookie entering the AHL, but it sort of does a
player like Kanzig. It’s unfortunate, but he didn’t show he could keep up. Most
of the time he looked like he knew
what play was developing, but couldn’t engage his body fast enough. That’s a
bit of a problem, but a problem that could and should be corrected in the ECHL,
at least for the time being.

I’m
a huge fan of Stevenson and if you spend any time watching Stockton this year,
you will be too. He’s rugged, mean and can actually defend well. Last season
was his first full AHL campaign after being an ECHLer for most of his career.
He earned the opportunity to play meaningful minutes in Stockton this season.

Let’s
assume Wotherspoon/Nakladal, Culkin/Johnson, Kulak/Morrison will the defense.
That will leave the three mentioned above vying for minutes. Morrison didn’t
have a very strong showing the last few weeks, so it may make Huska’s decision
a little easier, but this battle will be one to focus on to see how it plays
out.

POIRIER
VS. HIMSELF

Us
here at FlamesNation ranked Emile
Poirier the #3 prospect in the organization
for a reason. He’s a gem and he’s
not Hunter Shinkaruk (dodged that bullet).

Poirier
had a heck out of a rookie tournament in Penticton. Although he failed to
score, he and Sam Bennett had some beautiful chemistry and spent most of the
time in the attacking zone. That wasn’t by chance. Poirier can do that against
men in the AHL as well.

As
lame and as boring as it may sound, Poirier is competing against himself at
this training camp because there really isn’t any other player on his level that’s
competing for rights to first call-up duties. Poirier can show all he wants how
dominant he can be in Stockton, but his time is now to show he can stand out in
the remaining pre-season games.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Defence in Stockton is already crowded with Johnson, Stevenson, Culkin, Kanzig, Sieloff, Morrison and Kylington there with two of Kulak, Wotherspoon or Nakladal joining shortly.

    Based on numbers alone you’d have to think either Kylington goes to the WHL and/or Kanzig goes to the ECHL (or WHL)…there certainly doesn’t seem to be room for both in Stockton

      • KACaribou

        I don’t think anyone who watched Sieloff play in camp or exhibition could seriously put him in the same category as Kanzig. I don’t think Keegan is good enough for the A. You are probably right there. I didn’t think Sieloff was far from being included in the top group of fringe D and I think he will have a great year in the AHL. I think he has finally made some great progress. Anyone else think so?

  • Cfan in Vic

    Although Shore has been no slouch in the face off dot so far, I think this is an area where Arnold has a big advantage going forward. Especially if he is expected as a bottom 6 forward.

    I also think Poirier is competing against himself, but only because he hasn’t even come close to showing what he is capable of this preseason. I’m sure he knows he needs to up his game.

  • Mezzo

    Thanks Mike, I always look forward to reading your articles. You always have interesting insight into the AHL side of the Flames.

    Also with the crowding of defensmen on the Flames (couldn’t have said that two years ago), it becomes even more evident what a prudent move it was for the Flames to acquire the ownership of their ECHL team. Gives them increased flexibility, and development opportunities for young players.

    I still can’t get over that Kulak played 30+ games in the ECHL last year. has looked good to my eye.

    Lastly, the Fan960 had some projected lines from practice where Bennett was back on the wing (Bennett – Backlund – Frolik).

    With the logjam of centers and a need for a top 6 forward on the team I think it makes too much sense to have Bennett play third line center. For now anyways.

  • Slowmo

    Why does everybody forget about Klimchuk I know he is LW and Poirier is RW but I thought KLim showed really well in the pre and so did a lot of other intelligent writers I wouldn’t put it Pass klimer putting a bug in the ear of the couching staff I put him as the dark horse this yr in the AHL any way

    • KACaribou

      I think Klimmer moved ahead of Poirier after this camp. I don’t think Poirier has progressed much at all and Klimmer is making his move. He could have a big year for an AHL rookie like Poirier did last year. The key now is to progress past that… for both guys.

  • everton fc

    Shore has also played RW up here. In fact, he’s played mostly RW up here. So one could argue he is challenging Poirier, to some degree.

    Shore’s flexibility – like Bennett, Byron Bouma, Jooris and Colborne, he can play wing or centre – helps him in this organization. As long as he can produce and continue to develop. The big club seems to favour guys with this range of flexibility.

    If Bennett moves back to wing, Granlund may make the club out of camp. Or maybe it’s Shore, due to his waiver situation, but has Shore stood out in camp? I haven’t heard much mention of him, which may be good, or bad. I think we need to hear more from him. See more from him. Like we have with Hathaway. Kulak. And yes, even Klimchuk.

    In addition, Carroll will be a better player than Smith long term, I think. I see Carroll as a “lesser” coming of Ferland. Here’s hoping I’m right. And I think at least Kanzig is headed to the ECHL. Sieloff may be headed the same place, but I get a sense he may do well in Stockton this year.