When we look towards the draft, we look towards the future. It isn’t always the immediate future – really, unless you’re picking at the very top (knock on wood), it rarely is – but the draft is for bringing young talent in, and making teams better for years to come.
The Flames have had a lot of success in that area lately. Players like Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau are all young additions to this team over the past few years: all picked up during the draft, none likely even in the primes of their careers yet.
This is a pretty common feature amongst the Flames’ top players. They still have some growing to do, but hopefully, with growth comes success.
Who’s dressing opening night?
The Flames have quite a few players still under 25 who will almost certainly be on the starting roster next season:
- Sam Bennett (will be 20)
- Sean Monahan (will be 22)
- Johnny Gaudreau (will be 23)
- Micheal Ferland (24)
- Dougie Hamilton (will be 23)
That’s three top-six forwards – but probably not a whole line – a depth player with potential, and a top-four defenceman. An on-ice roster is composed of 18 skaters; that’s nearly a third of the lineup right there.
And that isn’t counting some players just 25 or over who should be dressing on opening night as well:
- Lance Bouma (26)
- Joe Colborne (26)
- Josh Jooris (will be 26)
- T.J. Brodie (will be 26)
- Jyrki Jokipaka (will be 25)
- Joni Ortio (25)
Added to this group are three more depth forwards, a top-pairing defenceman, a depth defenceman, and a probable backup goalie with starting potential: again, nearly one third of an on-ice roster.
Now, anything can change at any moment with this group of players. It’s a long off-season and trades and future signings can affect this makeup. But as things currently stand, we can reasonably expect over half of the Flames’ 2016-17 opening roster to be 26 years old and younger, and at least five of them should be high level impact players.
Other potential options
The Flames have a fair number of older veterans to dress, as well – expect Mikael Backlund (27) and Michael Frolik (28) to be there for sure – but the past few training camps, we’ve seen a prospect worm his way into the lineup. He may or may not manage to stick around throughout the season, but fact is, the Flames have kids who are going to want to take somebody’s job – and they might just have a shot at it.
Some players we could see surprise a bit early include:
- Hunter Shinkaruk (will be 22)
- Kenny Agostino (24)
- Andrew Mangiapane (20)
- Daniel Pribyl (23)
- Tyler Wotherspoon (23)
- Brett Kulak (22)
- Rasmus Andersson (19)
- The Flames’ 2016 first round pick…? (18-19) (knock on wood)
Now, keep in mind I’m not talking about players who will be up for the entire season here. Pribyl, for example, will probably get acclimated in Stockton; while someone like Andersson could see a Kulak-like start to the season: impress in training camp, start the season in the NHL, ultimately get demoted.
Regardless, those are another seven or eight players that could, perhaps, earn NHL time next season: and they all fit into the above age group that already makes up over half of the Flames’ on-ice roster. (This doesn’t take into account Derek Grant, a 26-year-old soon-to-be UFA, either.)
The year after
Everyone will be a year older come the 2017-18 season, but many of these players will still be under 25 years old by that time. And likely departing the Flames by the start of that season, at least via contracts expiring, are:
- Brandon Bollig (will be 31)
- Mason Raymond (will be 33)
- Dennis Wideman (will be 35)
- Deryk Engelland (will be 36)
- Ladislav Smid (will be 32)
Five older guys who have, for the most part, performed below expectations (that season in which Wideman shot at 8.7% aside), and who will leave roster spots open with their departures – ones that will most likely be filled by some of the players on the lists above.
By the start of 2017-18, 10 of the players listed above will still be under 25 years old. That’s half of an on-ice roster: and if they’re on the team, they’ll have likely earned it, either by being a real impact player, a solid supporting character, or competent depth.
So the Flames are a rather young team, and still stand to be as such for the next few seasons. Hopefully, they’ll shift out of the rebuilding phase while they’re still young: gotta maximize the time allotted, after all. Nobody’s window stays open forever, so the sooner it gets opened up, the better.