It has not been a banner year for the Stockton Heat. the introduction of a new Pacific Division brought changes to the AHL landscape, including shifting five NHL affiliates to the west coast and giving them a reduced schedule.
So far, the Heat have been flailing, for lack of a better word. They’re the only team in their division to have a sub-.500 record (12-14-3), having acquired 27 points over 29 games played. The most thought of Flames prospects haven’t performed, whether due to bad luck, injury, or just simply not meeting expectations they set for themselves in past seasons.
There is one guy who has made a name for himself, though: Derek Grant, whom the Flames signed when free agency hit on July 1. He is currently a point-per-game player with 21 points through 21 games, and had a nine-game stint with the Flames in the NHL (a stint that maybe should have, probably would have gone on longer were it not for waiver concerns).
Grant is also the only member of the Flames organization who will be attending the AHL’s All-Star Classic.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about Grant’s recall with the Flames was that he never scored a goal. Grant has played 34 NHL games – 25 with the Senators, nine with the Flames – and while he had two assists with Ottawa, he never managed to put any points on the board when with Calgary.
That despite really good play from a fourth liner. As he got increasingly comfortable in his limited role, it seemed as if Grant was getting at least one good scoring chance a game, only to be shut out entirely. NHL goals for a player like him are never a guarantee, so it would have been a particularly special kind of awesome to witness him achieve his first.
Alas, time ran out, as with one more game played, Grant would have required waivers to return to Stockton. So even though he had pretty much taken the job of fourth line centre and fully earned it, he was sent back down – although it’s worth noting that as the Flames continued to get healthier, it would have been hard to keep room for him. Also, Markus Granlund likely wouldn’t currently be up in the NHL, and he can play more minutes at a higher level than Grant, so that’s simply how things shake out sometimes.
But at least this is a decent consolation prize. This is Grant’s first time going to the AHL All-Star Classic, as the 25-year-old seems to have taken his game to a new level this season. He’s far and away the Heat’s best offensive player. Kenny Agostino and Freddie Hamilton are second and third in team scoring, but that’s with 19 and 18 points over 28 and 29 games – not quite at the level Grant is currently playing.
Other Flames prospects with more expected of them have performed even worse. Emile Poirier, for example, has just 12 points in 26 games; this following a 42 point, 55 game rookie season. Oliver Kylington’s nine points in 25 games is pretty good for an 18-year-old in a league that doesn’t see many, but he’s also 78th in defencemen scoring. And Jon Gillies’ season unfortunately ended prematurely; perhaps, otherwise, the Heat would have a better record.
At the same time, congrats to Grant – it’s the unheralded July 1 signings that always seem to make an impact.