Where in the lineup should Micheal Ferland play?

When it comes to young players starting their careers, we often don’t know just what they’ll turn into. A highly touted first round pick could meet expectations, or he could bust; a fourth rounder one may not give second thought to could fulfil his prophecy, or he could turn into a team’s most valuable player. 

There’s no way to know offhand, and it takes time to find out just what you have. Repeat those steps over and over for every single prospect a team chooses or signs, and it’s a never-ending cycle of questions to fill up a limited number of spots available.

Just claiming one of those spots is the first step, though. And so we find ourselves with Micheal Ferland: a fifth round pick from the 2010 NHL entry draft who once turned tail in his first professional season, worked through it (and injuries), and now, is an NHLer.

He has the youth, size, and physicality to make himself an asset any NHL team would want. But is that all there is to him, or is there more? We’re just 57 games into this NHL career, and there’s still a lot left to find out.

A scoring touch from the past

Looking at someone’s junior scoring stats can be a way to predict what kind of professional player they may become. It’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s one tool of many one can look at in determining someone’s limits.

To use one of the easiest examples possible: Brandon Bollig, as a 20-year-old in the USHL, scored 31 points in 58 games; Johnny Gaudreau, as a 17-year-old in the same league, scored 72 in 60. One is clearly a fourth liner, and the other is a first.

Lance Bouma, as a 19-year-old, scored 43 points in 57 games with the Vancouver Giants; Sean Monahan, as an 18-year-old, scored 78 points in 58 games with the Ottawa 67’s. The former looks to be a bottom six player with occasional upside, the latter, a top six player currently on the first line.

As an 18-year-old, Ferland scored 56 points in 56 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings; as a 19-year-old, he upped that to 96 points over 68 games. That has him projected somewhere in between the two: he looks to have better scoring power than Bouma, but of course, he’s not anywhere near Monahan’s level. 

Still… does that mean he has potential to be more than a bottom six depth player? As a 21-year-old in the AHL, Bouma scored six points in 31 games, and three points in 27 NHL games. As a 21-year-old in the AHL, Ferland scored 18 points over 25 games before his season was cut short due to injury.

But as a 23-year-old in the NHL, Bouma scored 15 points in 78 games; as a 23-year-old in the NHL, Ferland is currently sitting at six points over 31 games. Those are both paces of .19 points per game.

Remember, this is the most basic, basic, basic analysis possible. There are so many more factors that go into determining just what kind of player a kid turns out to be, not limited to things such as ice time or quality of linemates. But at the very least: we know that there might be more to Ferland. He’s exhibited a scoring touch in lower leagues in the past, including on a professional level. It’s possible he can do the same in the NHL.

Who does he play with?

Ferland has played a mere 57 games in the NHL, often with differing linemates. He is only just now starting to play roughly 15 minutes a game with regularity, and that can change at any time. So when looking at his linemates over the course of this season thus far, we have to remember that it’s a really, really small sample size.

Still, might as well look at who he’s getting placed with. There are five players Ferland has played at least 50 5v5 minutes with this season: Matt Stajan, Joe Colborne, Mikael Backlund, David Jones, and Josh Jooris. All five are kind of tweeners, though Stajan and Jooris are currently cemented in fourth line positions, while Colborne, Backlund, and Jones have bounced all around the lineup.

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As of late, Ferland has been playing with Backlund, and it’s been working. They’re approaching 100 minutes together, and they’ve consistently been positive possession guys together. It looks like Backlund is the one really driving the partnership, but Ferland is able to keep up with him better than with anybody else (though Jooris is a close second).

Backlund is also currently straddling the line between second and third line centre, which already puts Ferland above the level of that of a fourth liner. That’s what Stajan’s current role is, and Ferland looks to perform much better out of that role.

But then there’s Colborne, the latest fixture on the first line, and at least for the time being, it looks like Ferland might be the better player. Even though Colborne now has the advantage of playing with better players, he’s still much worse away from Ferland than Ferland is away from him.

The main problem here being that Ferland is a left winger, not a right winger. Though remember back in the pre-season, when Ferland was playing with Monahan and Gaudreau in limited samples? By all accounts, he passed the eye test, even if playing out of position – and he hasn’t had the chance to revisit such a situation (yet, hopefully).

All in all

We really don’t have much to go off of regarding Ferland’s potential yet. He’s played so little it’s really, really difficult to form any concrete analysis on where he should ultimately play in the lineup.

But we do know he has potential. He hasn’t found a scoring touch in the NHL, but he had it in both junior and the AHL. He performs rather well with, and even occasionally boosts, the performances of others thus far, but is still dependent on higher quality players. At absolute worst, he can keep up, and this is just the start of his career.

At minimum, he’s an NHLer. He has the size and he has the will to match it. But there’s reason to think there’s more beneath the surface – and as this season and his career progress, hopefully we’ll get the chance to see what’s really there.

If he turns out to be a bottom six player, that’s fine. But if he ends up being a top six player – well, then that’s a massive get. And so far the signs, few as they may be, are pointing towards him deserving a chance to prove he’s capable.

  • Craik

    “Turned tail” is a good way to put it, Ari, when he was in the AHL for a few weeks then asked management to send him back to Junior.

    Credit to him, though, for coming back to the AHL the second time, succeeding, and working his way into the NHL.

    • Cfan in Vic

      It’s crazy to think that Ferly couldn’t crack the AHL/ECHL rosters because of the previously established bottom six energy guys on those teams. I guess that goes to show just how much he’s battled since those few years ago.

      I give the guy the utmost respect for turning his life around, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he continued the steady progression that we’ve seen. He could be a 2nd liner in short order, with that work ethic and determination.

  • TheRealPoc

    At least on the surface, it feels like there’s a lot more to Ferland’s game than just simply running around like a pure north-south bomber. He has remarkably soft hands for a big man, he uses teammates well in and coming out of the cycle, and there’s an understated level of creativity there as well; the way he shook off Barrie the other night in Colorado before Backlund’s goal isn’t something any bottom six plug can pull off at this level. The kid can play.

    Usage, deployment and linemates are going to dictate his ceiling, IMO. I’m not sure if he’s truly dynamic enough to be an entrenched top six option on a Cup-contending team, but can you imagine a 3rd line moving forward that includes Backlund, Jooris/Frolik and himself? Maximizing the value of guys like Ferland will be so crucial in this team’s pursuit of truly turning the corner.

    • SmellOfVictory

      He’s definitely a smart, effective player. I just don’t think he’s got high level dexterity or agility. Seems kind of like a reverse Colborne; not so physically gifted, but he’s got the brain to make the most of his abilities (which are still solid, at worst).

      • hulkingloooooob

        I’m sorry…what? He’s got hands, speed, smarts AND an exceptionally gifted physical game. Getting all that in one player is almost unheard of. You did hear about this thing called the first round of the playoffs last year right? I would say he basically helped us more then anyone win that series. I’d call him Colborne 4.2

  • ClayBort

    Love his story. He currently is my favorite player on the team, not because he is the best player, but because he came from nothing and has a bizarre skillset. He is the definition of “truculent” (sorry), a good skater, and a surprisingly good passer. Where Colborne just throws the puck into open space hoping for a lucky break, Ferland tries to make play.

    He is also the toughest fighter I ever watched in junior. Not saying this is necessarily a good thing. I like that he hasn’t really fought in the NHL because he used to really hurt people in junior, but if the Flames, like many teams, carry the delusion that they need that on the roster he checks the box while also being a legitimate player with potential. Much more than an everyday goon.

    • everton fc

      Fearless with the gloves off. Spot-on. And he was never a goon, something I used to read about him here, a few years ago. He wasn’t even listed on the top 15 prospects list. Ever, I think.

      He can score. If he puts himself in front of the net more, if he can get power play time… If he simply keeps doing what he’s doing… Even if his “ceiling” is 15 goals a season, maybe only 30 points, he plays a good game both ways, and is a strong skater. I’d like to see him w/Backlund and Frolik. Or with Bennett as centre, and someone like Jones or Jooris on RW. He’ll get his goals, though. And if he can learn to play RW, he’ll become more “useful” in all situations…

  • Flames Fan in Edmonchuck

    Put him on the first line. He can skate like the wind (way way above average for a guy his size), and could keep up with Johnny and Monahan, give those two more room as well… I think his ceiling could be a Lucic type guy, and man would that be a welcome addition…

  • MontanaMan

    Calgary Flames where all low and undrafted players blooms into a NHLer (and looks to the north with a sigh).

    But all seriousness, are there any teams that had such success in developing low draft picks?

    Giordano, Brodie, Johnny G, Jooris, Ferland Bouma and the list goes on. Hope we can keep this trend.

  • ArtificialSweets

    Seems like Hartley is happy with the line combinations at the moment, so even though I would love to see ferly with Johnny and Monny to get a good look at this potential, it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.

    Hopefully when Frolik comes back, we will be able to actually get some good looks of Ferland on the topline because of the inevitable line jumbling.

    • piscera.infada

      While I don’t disagree with your assessment of the situation, I also find it strange that when your top line hasn’t produced anything really in the last 4 games, Hartley would be “happy with the line combos”. While depth scoring is important, top-line scoring is an absolute need.

  • RedMan

    you think of Ferland as a crash-banger tough guy, but when you watch him play you see him pull off moves and dekes that are definitely top 6 caliber.

    I seem to remember something about the coach giving him the message at the beginning of this year that they wanted him to develop his offensive game – and whether this is true or not, it seems he has been coming along.

    i too would like to see him get a half dozen games on the top line and see if that doesn’t help open ice for JG and boring sean. That being said, if there is one ting that Colbourne is quite good at, it is puck batttles along the boards and behind the net.

    I wonder if it is this single strength alone that gets him top line minutes (besides the fact that the coach doesn’t want to break up lines that are working) or if maybe they are trying to pad his numbers a bit for a trade.

  • MontanaMan

    I recall an interview with BT this summer when he spoke of Ferland and mentioned that he likely got more calls on him for trade possibilities than any other Flame. It shows the value of his game and his potential and that it’s recognized around the league.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    For those calling for Ferland to be on the top line I understand the optimism but I am not sure he is really able to play the RW well enough for that(I wish he was but I have seen little evidence of that). However I do think he would be a heck of a LW with say Bennett and Frolik as the season ends. This organization needs a legit top RW preferably a natural RW powerforward to play with Johnny and Monny but at the moment we do not have one and I am not sure there is one in Stockton. Boy I hope Poirier can pick his game up and be who we all hope he can be be. It would be nice to see him come up and have chemistry with either the Monny or Bennett line.

  • KACaribou

    Think Daniel Cleary / Chris Draper / Darren McCarty.

    Play him where he will excel.

    Also, if you slot him with Gaudreau, Eventually you have to pay a 6-9 guy 3-6 money.

  • KACaribou

    Ari, I think putting expectations between Bouma and Monahan might be a fair placement. Though he’s kind of super-Bouma, or super-Monahan.

    Remember he has never had the minutes of Monahan or the pleasure of being on superstar Johnny Hockey’s line.

    I feel his skills are just surfacing as he is getting the confidence to handle the puck more; and as he does, we see the skills driving the net, passing and shooting.

    Two games ago he led the Flames in SOG 6, plus had a couple of hits. The last game he had a couple of SOG and 7 hits! I believe we are just at the ground floor of enjoying this young man’s hockey skills.

    Oh, and did someone mention fighting? Ferly is a one punch knock-out fighter. He usually stays in the fight while wrestling around, but if he hits the other guy it is “wham” he’s down. Ask the dude at the bar who pissed him off. One punch. Broke his face literally.

    Don’t know where he gets it from, but he’s farm strong.

    Oh, and I believe part of why we still have Bollig is that Coach Bob doesn’t want Ferly to do all the fighting on this team due to the skills mentioned above. He would, but there’s too large an upside to risk on a regular basis.

  • MontanaMan

    I’m sorry guys but I have to play Devil’s Advocate here again. I don’t think you can take a guy with .19 ppg playing 11 minutes a night and throw him on the top line for 18 a night against the best defenders in the NHL. That would be risky for his development and the team’s success. In a few years maybe right now, no.

    As much as you all seem to hate Colborne give him time to adjust. Considering we’ve won our first 2 games with our 2 best RWs out I’d say it’s going decently. Colborne has more experience, more ability and more scoring touch than Ferland. (I’m talking NHL not junior)

    • hulkingloooooob

      I was really excited when they finally put Ferland with Johnny, but before that Bennett had a shift and Jones had a couple of shifts. I can’t imagine that it is easy to play with a player like Johnny whose hockey IQ is off the charts.

      However, if you gave Ferland some extended time on that line he would prove to be the best fit. It is not often that you can have your toughest player with your most skilled player… in today’s game…but this could be one of these rare cases.

  • hulkingloooooob

    Playing with Backs on the 3rd/(2nd) is pretty good place to start… just as long as he gets rewarded with a few extra minutes of PP time and a little top six time.

    This is his first full year so no problem to take it slow. Spoon feed him more minutes as he progresses and by this time next year he might be ready to compete for a spot in the top 6.

  • hulkingloooooob

    He has the skating and IQ to keep up with the first line. He has the hands to bury Gaudreau’s passes. What I really anticipate though, is that his physical game will create more room for Gaudreau as well. Ferland is a great blend of both power forward and agitator (more the former). The relationship could prove very symbiotic.