In recent times, the Flames have become one of the better teams at successfully replacing injured and/or ineffective players with younger prospects. As discussed yesterday, there are a few holes (albeit, early in the summer) left to fill. With salaries coming very close to the cap limit, it will likely be prospects filling those question marks.
The next question is which prospects. We’re not just talking about cementing the opening day roster, but rather looking at which farmhands we could possibly see playing a meaningful role for the Flames this upcoming season.
For the purposes of the article, we’re defining a “jump” as winning an NHL job (say, 20+ games) out of merit. I think we could see many players that may occasionally come up due to injury, but we’re not going to bet on it. These are the guys that can play well enough to replace a healthy player on the NHL roster.
The names link to that players’ FN evaluation if you’d like a more detailed background read.
The Elder Hamilton has been in the AHL for almost his entire career, only picking up 33 NHL games along the way. A top line player for most of the season, Hamilton brings offensive know-how with 22 even strength primary points this past season. He has 146 points in 259 AHL games. Subtract his first pro season and he has 120 points in 183 games. Hamilton has pretty much done all he can at the AHL level.
The question is about bringing that to the NHL level. We saw a brief glimpse of him this season towards the end, playing 46 minutes at ES and racking up two points (including an assist on his brother’s goal). Hamilton, who was only featured in four games before succumbing to injury, did impress enough to merit discussion for this upcoming season.
Freddie has all but wrapped up one of the Flames’ roster spots this year. With little cap room for another winger, the fact that he’s not waiver exempt, and the Flames’ decision to qualify him ahead of other righties like Jooris and Colborne pretty much tells you the team’s opinion of him. I think there are still some questions about him, but he’s probably the next Stockton graduate.
RIght behind Hamilton is the fiery Hathaway, who earned his spot on the team the hard way. He received an NHL contract last off-season after an impressive rookie year in Adirondack. He carried that positive momentum into 2015-16, and received an NHL cup of coffee. In 14 games, he put up three assists and was generally impressive.
He isn’t much of a fancy stats darling, putting up meh possession results with sheltered zone starts in the NHL. His production in the AHL kind of stagnated too, going from 0.5 PPG in 2014-15 to slightly under that in 2015-16. For comparison, Hamilton went from 0.36 in his first AHL year to 0.67 in his second, and stayed around the latter for most of the time.
Hathaway really needs to impress to win a spot in the Flames’ lineup. He is a solid, hard worker but that needs to pay off sometime soon for his sake. NHL jobs aren’t just given to people who work hard, they’re given to people who are proven producers. Bob Hartley doesn’t coach this team anymore, so Hathaway’s intangibles may mean less to new management.
Our darling of the 2015 draft, Kylington has rocketed up the Flames’ prospect depth chart since being drafted. Minus a few injuries, Kylington could’ve played the full slate of the AHL schedule for the Heat. He received one NHL game this season, playing in game 82 against the Minnesota Wild. All in all, a pretty good first year for Kylington. I should mention that he just recently turned 19 years old.
However, all we really have on Kylington right now is potential. His NHL game, while too small to be a meaningful sample size, wasn’t really great. In the AHL, he was pretty average. At 18, he was never really going to be trusted with a heavy workload, but that’s part of the problem. He’s still young and growing. His tools, primarily his skating, are all really impressive but Kylington needs to take them to the next level.
It’s probably going to take an off-season miracle to clean up the mess in the Flames’ bottom three, so we have to work within our parameters. The major point is that Smid will likely start on LTIR, so that leaves Wideman, Jokipakka, and Engelland for the final three spots. It is entirely feasible that one of those guys could lose their job. Kylington could provide a substantial challenge for the 6/7 spot, but he has a hill to climb to get there.
Kulak is probably the safer choice for that 6/7 spot. He did start last season in the NHL due to T.J. Brodie’s injury and even then looked capable of an NHL job. After Brodie returned, Kulak spent the majority of the season in the AHL until late season injuries led to his return.
He was sheltered yet successful in the NHL. Kulak had the easiest competition by TOI and zone starts north of 50%, but held his own with a 55.62 CF% at EV. In the A, Kulak lead Flames defensive prospects in scoring with 17 points in 58 games. By defensive metrics, he was a +4.272 GFrel% at EV.
Kulak is qualified to start in the NHL next season, but the bigger issue is space. If Nakladal is re-signed (which is likely) and with no other movement (also likely), Kulak is pushed back into an AHL role. He’s the next man up.
The 2013 first rounder has previously been talked about as one of the Flames’ prize jewels. After lighting it up the year before (55GP, 19-23-42) as an AHL all star, Poirier received a six game tryout with the Flames before the playoffs, recording one point.
This season, he took a massive, massive step backwards. In five more games, he scored 13 fewer points and fell way behind on Stockton’s depth chart. He is probably still a good player who had a sophomore slump. For example, 24 of his 29 points were EV and 16 of those were primary.
The pressure is on Poirier, and he certainly knows it. He will likely show up to training camp working harder than ever to prove that he still has a future with the team, but I’d say his odds are slim. Even though he can play both wing positions, the RW job is Hamilton’s to lose and the LW slots are pretty much set. He really has to impress to steal a spot, and even if he does, he might start the season as the 13/14 forward. If so, his time is better spent in the AHL.
Here’s my one bold pick for this article. The newly signed Czech is a big dude with some obvious skill, having placed second in Czech league scoring as a 23-year-old. We haven’t seen him play professionally in North America, but that was also the case for Jakub Nakladal, who came in and pretty much won a spot on the Flames’ blueline without a full season of professional NA hockey.
Not to say that Nakladal is the rule. The takeaway here is that the talented yet untested are still talented, and that Pribyl could jump ahead of the learning curve and steal a spot in the lineup. What’s holding him back for now are injuries. He came to Calgary to have his ACL repaired, and the timeline has him returning just after the season begins. He isn’t starting immediately in the NHL, and he may not see an appearance with the club until February or March. However, I just feel there are great things to come from him.
The homergrown former Vancouver prospect is now Flames property thanks to Jim Benning Benninging (?). We’re not complaining.
He finished his AHL season second in Stockton scoring (39 points with Utica, 12 with Stockton) before coming to the Flames for a seven game stretch. He had the benefit of playing with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and posted decent possession metrics (+2.76 at 5v5) with bad zone starts (-11.83%). Shinkaruk was the story of the late season.
Shinkaruk’s selection with the team depends on whether or not Matthew Tkachuk makes the team. If he does, the LW spot is full. If he doesn’t, the LW spot is also full, if they choose to use Bollig instead of literally anyone else. Shinkaruk is certainly better than Bollig but that doesn’t mean that Bollig loses out on a roster spot (though I’m hopeful under Gulutzan). I don’t think Shinkaruk is ready for a second line spot yet, and may not be entirely ready for a third line spot, but he has some good centres to work with. He’s inoffensive on the third line with Backlund-Frolik or Bennett-Whoever (Hamilton?).
Since 2013-14, Wotherspoon has been just on the cusp of joining the Flames full time. Now it’s do or die.
We all pretty much know what Spooner is by now: a stay at home defenceman with limited offensive upside. He was pretty solid in his NHL games, and looked ready for a full time role. The organization probably feels pretty high on Wotherspoon, having given him a qualifying offer this past week. He is also not waiver exempt anymore, so the onus is on him to make the roster. Like Hamilton, he’s pretty much locked into a bottom role, and it’s his job to lose.
It’s a good time to be a Flames fan. The fact that we can name eight players who could feasibly play a quarter of this upcoming NHL season is something that most other fans must remain silent on (to add onto their pain, you could mention that acquiring all eight only took a late first, two seconds, a fourth, and Markus Granlund).
At least one of these guys will get a roster job. Unless he has a piss-poor preseason, Hamilton has the job locked up. Next in line is Shinkaruk for the left wing spot should Tkachuk not make the team. If either should fail (or others go down to injury), there’s a healthy lineup waiting to replace them.