FN Mailbag – October 25, 2015


Just as the good ship Flames was starting to taking on water and list badly, a ray of light burst through the clouds, hinting the terrible storm of suck might be ending. Calgary finally played a convincing 60 minutes in their OT win over the Red Wings. It was, by far, their best effort of the season with noteworthy performances from many of the leaders who have been struggling so far. 

Despite the win, there remains a lot of questions about roster and trade rumour swirling around the club. We talk about a few of these – and Mark Jankowski! – in today’s mailbag.

Rychel is an intriguing possibility. A former first round pick, he’s a big right winger with good goal scoring numbers from junior. He had a good, though not dominant, rookie season in AHL last year. I’d put him at or just above Emile Poirier level in terms of his quality as a prospect.

As for what it would cost the Flames to acquire him, it’s hard to speculate. With a miserable start to the season thanks to an inability to keep pucks out of the net, the Blue Jackets have been said to be looking for another defender. Calgary certainly has a lot of those, but many of them are either not expendable (Brodie, Giordano, Hamilton) or not really what Columbus is looking for (Smid, Engelland, Wideman, Nakladal). The one possibility may be Kris Russell, though I’m not sure the club would be willing to move him for a kid who may or may not play in the league.

Does Ramo down in the AHL pose any risk to Gillies’s development? – From a user with a locked Twitter account

No. The Flames will no doubt prioritize Gillies’ development over Ramo getting games. The AHL is filled with a lot of back-to-back nights owing to a much more bunched up schedule scheme, so Ramo will be there to spell Gillies when he’s tired (or if he begins to struggle).

As for Kent Simpson, the other Stockton goalie, the Flames can simply sit, deal or demote him to the ECHL. I’m not worried. (Editor’s Note: Simpson was officially assigned this morning, so Kent’s a sooth-sayer.)

This is a tough one. 

There’s precious few ideal options in Brodie’s absence (and with Hamilton still finding his way). The first step for me would be to assign Smid to the AHL for a conditioning stint. He’s been out of action for almost a whole year. I don’t think it makes sense to drop him in and play him for 8 minutes a game right now. Plus, giving him time in the AHL will give the team an opportunity to assess just where he’s at post-neck surgery. 

We don’t know what Nakladal is yet, but it would be worthwhile to dress him to get some idea. Also, Deryk Engelland should never play more than 3rd pairing minutes or bottom six competition. So for now, that leaves us with:

  • Giordano – Wideman
  • Russell – Hamilton
  • Nakladal – Engelland

Guys like Gaudreau will always been assumed to be defensive liabilities because they attempt relatively high risk maneuvers (like passes through traffic, dekes at the blueline) that occasionally fail and go the other way. He’s also not a Bouma type who is going to leap face first to block shots on the PK.

I think Gaudreau is better than average defensively, however. His instincts for anticipating plays and ability to sneak under the radar and steal pucks from sticks makes him really effective at defusing the opposition attack at times. The steal from Backstrom during the Washington game is a good example.

I kind of expect most of the club to take a step backwards offensively this year after their ridiculously unexpected offensive explosion last year. Gaudreau is the only guy I really predict will take a step forward. He’s a sublime talent and the most dangerous Flame on the ice already at just 22 years old. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him finish with 70+ points this year. 

It’s too early to worry about Bennett. The expectations for him were a little overstated coming into the season. He’s a great talent and bluechip prospect, but it takes time for almost any teenager to adjust to the NHL. At the very least, we should give him at least 40 games to get acclimated to things. At 19 years old, just being a regular skater in the league puts him at the head of the class.

Keep in mind Bennett isn’t going to be gifted ice time and line mates the way, say, Sean Monahan was in his rookie season. The kid is battling for time and opportunities with at least three other, established centres on the roster. The Flames are also playing to win now, so there’s less appetite to live through his growing pains.

The good news is, Bennett isn’t a liability on the ice (he has a positive relative possession rate so far). That means he can still get his reps at this level without the coach having to overly manage him. At some point things will click and the points will come.

It’s also a bit too early to be talking about firing Hartley. The defensive and transition schemes right now are the same ones that won him a Jack Adams award last year, so it’s rational that he would open the season without changing anything. 

That said, there definitely needs to be some adjustments made moving forward. Calgary is altogether too reliant on the collapse defense and stretch pass right, which makes their transition game overly predictable, difficult to execute (from a Flames defensemen perspective) and easy to stuff.

If Hartley gets the axe, I’m not sure who I would look at from available coaches. Boudreau and Julien both still have their jobs, but either of them would be of interest should they get their walking papers as well. Although the Ducks and Bruins have been pretty dreadful to open the year, both coaches have a history of solid systems and improving the possession rates of the clubs they take over.

Janko needs a big year to be considered a prospect of note. Most high-end prospects don’t play all 4 college seasons these days, though there are notable exceptions here and there. In my look at Jankowski comparables way back when he was drafted, the only guys who made the NHL were forwards who climbed above the PPG pace near the end of their college tenure (David Jones is one such example).

In the last few years, you can point to Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes as guys who had some ho hum results until their final few seasons at Boston College. Kreider scored 45 points in 44 games in his 3rd year before turning pro and eventually making the NHL.

Hayes’ move up the ladder was very gradual, scoring 0.45 points per game as a freshman and then improving to 0.64 PPG, 0.93 PPG and 1.63 PPG (as Gaudreau’s winger) before making the NHL with the Rangers last year. So, again, we’re looking for a PPG pace of 1.0+ at least.

As for NHLe, you need to see a guy north of 30, if not 35, to have a good chance to be a quality NHL player. Particularly from a player in his draft +4 season. 

Most guys who are 50-point NHLers are around this level in their draft or draft +1 seasons let alone draft +4. Jankowski can get a bit of pass given how young he is, but at some point he has to clear these sorts of hurdles if he’s to be considered a worthwhile prospect. As Byron Bader noted in his piece on NHLe this summer, over 90% of NHL prospects who later became useful point producers in the show managed an NHLe or 30 or more at least once in their junior careers.

The kid is off to a good start with eight points in five games. We’ll see how he does for the rest of his season.

  • Thanks for responding to my tweet Kent, I wasn’t totally sure how they’d split the time!

    In terms of the defensive pairings, I agree with what you have. But god do I ever want Brodie back! I’m also curious to see if he’d have any strong chemistry with Hamilton!

  • You summarized pretty much how I felt / thought about Gaudreau Kent. I always notice those crazy stealth steals he makes that keep the game going the correct direction. He looks to be having a very strong second season poised to be right up there with some of top scorers of the league.