With the season winding down and the Calgary Flames officially eliminated from playoff contention, the focus for most has shifted to next year. Part of that focus includes evaluating players who could be in the fold to start next season by giving them an opportunity at the NHL level down the stretch. For instance, Garnet Hathaway has been a nice story since his recall at the end of February. I’ve got three more players I’d like to see given a chance prior to the end of the season.
Keep in mind Calgary only has two more permitted “regular” recalls they can use prior to the end of the season. Teams are allowed four non-emergency recalls following the trade deadline and, in Hathaway and Joni Ortio, the Flames have already used two. Most of their other call-ups from Stockton of the American League have been of the emergency variety (Agostino, Hamilton, Wotherspoon a few times).
With two regular recalls remaining, they’ve got an opportunity to give at least two more players opportunities over the next two weeks. Plus, with emergency recalls always being an option, there’s a chance we could see all three of these players get an end-of-season cup of coffee. So, in order, here’s who I think has earned a shot to get a look.
This is the biggest no-brainer for me and I really hope Grant gets an opportunity at the NHL level again this season for a couple different reasons. First of all, he’s earned it with his play in Stockton as he’s put up serious numbers at the AHL level all season long. He currently sits third on the Heat in scoring despite playing at least 20 fewer games than the guys in front of him.
Grant is one of the few players this year to put up point-per-game numbers in the American League and his goal total puts him in impressive company. Only Providence’s Frank Vatrano (33) and Chris Bourque of Hershey (28) have scored more goals than Grant this season which is incredible knowing that he’s basically only played half a season.
Thanks to a recently healed broken jaw and an earlier NHL recall, Grant’s totals don’t look anywhere near as good as they could. With two straight 20+ goal seasons, the guy has proven he can score goals at the professional level. Based solely on Calgary’s “always earned, never given” mantra, how can you not recall Grant for a few games to finish the season?
That leads me to the second reason to give him a recall. I quite liked Grant’s nine game stint with the Flames earlier this season and he likely would have gotten more time this year under different circumstances. His broken jaw, for instance, prevented him from being Calgary’s first post-deadline recall as he had yet to return to action at the time.
I thought Grant performed well at the NHL level despite not registering a point in nine appearances. He was used in a very specific, defensively skewed role (37.5% offensive zone start) which saw him take the vast majority of his face-offs in his own end. As such, Grant’s 56.8% success rate looks even more impressive.
Grant more than held his own in a largely fourth line role and looked like a player who could easily play full time NHL minutes from what I saw. Even though nine games is a very small sample size, it doesn’t change the fact Grant got his job done effectively. When you combine that fact with what he’s done in Stockton this season, he more than deserves to finish the season in the show.
Shinkaruk deserves a recall on merit alone, because he’s put up nice numbers (five goals and 10 points in 14 games) since joining the Heat last month. But Calgary’s circumstances in the position he plays makes a potential NHL audition to end the season even more intriguing.
The main reason I liked seeing the Flames acquire Shinkaruk from Vancouver in exchange for Markus Granlund was the positional depth the move addressed. Calgary is far deeper down the middle right now than they are on the wing which made Granlund expendable as a result. For the Flames, a 21-year-old former first round draft pick was the byproduct.
Calgary has been searching all year long to find a nice top line fit with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. We’ve seen Joe Colborne, Micheal Ferland, Jiri Hudler, David Jones, Michael Frolik, Josh Jooris, and most recently Freddie Hamilton all take turns with that duo with generally mediocre results. Why not see what Shinkaruk has to offer there for a few games?
The Flames are hoping Shinkaruk can fight for a spot out of training camp next season and getting a late season recall might be a nice jolt for him heading into the summer. Vancouver never really gave Shinkaruk a true NHL shot despite him putting up solid numbers in the minors.
Shinkaruk’s numbers have been solid and worthy of a shot with the Flames this season based on other recalls to this point. But, maybe more importantly, Calgary needs to find wingers who can score at the NHL level. I don’t know if Shinkaruk will be able to do that in the show or not, but the Flames can get a nice head start on that evaluation process with a recall in the near future.
It’s been a little while since we’ve seen Kulak in the NHL and I’d like to see him get one more shot before the season comes to an end. Remember, thanks to TJ Brodie’s injury, Kulak made the Flames out of training camp and played six games with the team to start the season. Based strictly on numbers and bodies, we knew Kulak’s NHL stay wasn’t going to be permanent earlier in the year. There’s more opportunity now, though.
Calgary has turned to the aforementioned Wotherspoon in recent times as their first call to Stockton when in need of a blueliner. Wotherspoon has acquitted himself just fine, but it’s Kulak who I’d really like to get a closer look at before the end of the season. Much like Grant, he has things working for him on two different levels.
At the NHL level, Kulak was just fine in the six games he played. Used in a limited, third pairing role, Kulak averaged 10:59 of ice time but didn’t look out of place at all in the minutes he played. He’s a gifted skater which allowed him to keep pace in the show and he kept things extremely simple.
Analytically, his 54.8% possession rate meshed nicely with a respectable 47.5% offensive zone start ratio. Again, much like Grant, six games is a small sample size that has to be taken with a grain of salt. But, also like Grant, Kulak played NHL minutes this year and didn’t look grossly out of place. At the very least, that shouldn’t deter a recall down the stretch.
Then there’s his work since rejoining Stockton. Kulak has three goals and 12 points in 53 AHL games this year and Huska has talked favourably about his progression this season. He’s been in a top four role with the Heat and, by all accounts, has done the job in a decent fashion.
Despite getting a taste of the NHL to start the season, he’s gone back to the minors, worked hard, and gotten better. I’d be really curious to see Kulak at the highest level now as opposed to the solid but safe work we saw from him to start the season. I think there’s an opportunity to give him that chance.