The Calgary Flames are dead-last in the National Hockey League. At this point, it’s probably time to start thinking about the future. In order to figure out the future, the Flames probably need to do what they have in previous years when the wheels fell off their season: bring some kids up and try them out.
With that in mind, here are five prospects that we need to see in a Flames jersey this season for evaluation purposes at the NHL level. (Or merely to keep the “always earned, never given” mantra alive in the organization.) The list is based on a combination of players that deserve to get a look and players that probably need to get a look.
Who: Calgary’s 2nd round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft. Currently playing with the AHL’s Stockton Heat (as an 18-year-old).
Why: Let’s be honest here, Kylington’s probably the most exciting Flames prospect currently playing professional hockey. He’s a dynamic offensive player and his skating is already NHL level. His biggest issue to begin this season is his play away from the puck wasn’t amazing (yet). The good news is that he’s reportedly improving, and if he continues to put the work in and improve, it’d be nice for them to reward him with an NHL stint.
When: The combination of Calgary carrying a lot of NHL bodies on one-way deals (that are too pricey to bury in the AHL) means that until the Flames trade away defenders – probably at the deadline – there’s no spot for Kylington. The better news is this gives Kylington more time to percolate in the minors before he gets a test at the NHL level.
Who: Originally drafted by San Jose in the 2010 Draft, Freddie is Dougie Hamilton’s big brother. The Flames acquired him for basically nothing – a conditional seventh round pick – from Colorado in early October. He’s presently with the AHL’s Stockton Heat.
Why: By all accounts Freddie was “okay” in San Jose and Colorado, but hardly world-beating. He played well enough for both teams to trade him away. But the right-shooting winger has been really good for Stockton this season, and it’d be nice to reward him with a brief stint in the show for his efforts.
When: If Hamilton keeps up his current level of play, whenever a right-winger gets injured they might as well bring him up and try him out. Ideally he should probably slot in on the third line, so if a spot there opens up he could be a fit.
Who: A college free agent originally recruited by the Flames in the spring of 2014, Hathaway converted an AHL deal into an NHL entry-level contract and is currently with the AHL’s Stockton Heat.
Why: During his two seasons in the AHL, Hathaway’s been a model of consistency. He’s not a huge offensive contributor, but he’s been a reliable complementary player in Stockton and has a skill-set that could translate well to the NHL – a physical, rugged, right-shooting bottom-six forward. It’d be nice to reward his consistency.
When: Hathaway’s the kind of player you call up after the trade deadline, when you have the ability to expand the roster and try out complementary players at the NHL level.
Who: A junior free agent originally recruited by the Flames in the spring of 2012. He’s currently with the Stockton Heat.
Why: This product of the Red Deer Rebels has steadily progressed as a pro: winning an ECHL Kelly Cup Championship with the Alaska Aces, then playing a key bottom-six and leadership role with the Baby Flames in Adirondack last season, and was named an alternate captain with the Heat for this season. Elson’s been quietly good and he continues to play a simple, smart bottom-six game.
When: Elson’s less restricted in what he can do than Hathaway, so he can be used basically anywhere in the bottom-six. That said, he doesn’t have the size or physicality of Hathaway, nor does he have high-end offensive upside. But if there’s a need for a two-way player due to injury, he could fit.
Who: Calgary’s first round selection in the 2012 NHL Draft. He’s presently a senior with the Providence College Friars of the NCAA.
Why: To be honest? Jankowski’s the prospect in the entire organization that has lots of interest within the organization but they know the least about as a pro. He’s 21. He’s wicked-tall. He’s been good in college. They need to know what he is, and honestly, allowing him to burn the first year of his entry-level deal out of college on a couple NHL games could be a nice way to entice him to sign a deal. Oh, and you know how after the trade deadline NHL teams get four “regular” recalls from the AHL? Well, bringing in a college player doesn’t burn one of those recalls, so your team gets a free extra player.
When: This all depends on how Providence College does in the NCAA playoffs. NCAA regionals are March 25-27. Barring an epic collapse, the defending NCAA champions will be there. But the Frozen Four semi-finals are April 7 and the final is April 9. If Providence gets knocked out before the finals, Jankowski will have time to sign and join Calgary in Minnesota for the season finale. (And if they get bounced the regionals, he’ll have a couple weeks in the bigs.) If not, he’ll miss his chance.