It’s been a turbulent couple of weeks for Ryan Huska I would imagine. Most of last year’s Stockton Heat, though mediocre, was completely dismantled and will have a lot of new faces next season. Certainly, turnover at the AHL level is hardly news but what was surprising was that some of last year’s most consistent performers were allowed to walk, leaving some pretty significant questions heading into next year.
Let’s try and imagine what the Heat will look like after the jump!
The Flames culled their system pretty drastically on RFA qualification day, not extending qualifying offers to Stockton mainstays Kenny Agostino, Drew Shore, Bryce Van Brabant, Turner Elson, Bill Arnold, and Kevin Poulin. The Flames also traded Pat Sieloff to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Alex Chiasson, a widely applauded depth move for the Flames’ beleaguered right side. This likely meant that Sieloff was not going to receive an offer as well.
In another somewhat surprising move, the Flames did not re-sign Derek Grant who instead signed with the Buffalo Sabres on a one-year, two-way contract. This leaves a considerable hole in Stockton’s offense because Grant was an absolute monster last season and led the Heat in every conceivable offensive metric. Here’s a small slice of what Grant did last season:
Stockton will need to figure out a way to make up that production from somewhere, though I am not certain that any of their centremen have that kind of production in them presently.
I, like many, was surprised at the number of exclusions, especially with Kenny Agostino who had progressed steadily over the past two seasons in the AHL. Instead, the Flames qualified Freddie Hamilton who spent a great deal of time in Stockton last season as well and is a good bet to return to full-time status there this season.
So let’s have a look at what’s left for Stockton and try to imagine how a lineup could be cobbled together at this early point in the summer. I understand that it is early and the Flames are likely going to be adding some players to fill minor league depth but in the meantime, let’s work with what we’ve got.
As has been alluded to in previous FN articles, there’s a large amount of uncertainty regarding opening day roster spots on the Flames and there are several candidates to fill those positions presently. As such, let’s assume that bubble guys like Hunter Shinkaruk, Tyler Wotherspoon, Brett Kulak, Linden Vey, and Freddie Hamilton are both starting the year in Stockton and adjust the plan from there.
Also, it is unclear where and how certain players will be used in Stockton, including Mark Jankowski, Brett Pollock, and Andrew Mangiapane, who will all be playing their first professional seasons starting this fall. So, with that in mind, at the moment, Stockton’s roster looks something like this (lines are completely arbitrary):
- Poirier – Hamilton – Shinkaruk
- Klimchuk – Jankowski – Vey
- Mangiapane – Pollock – Pribyl
- Carroll – ? – Hathaway
- Kulak – Wotherspoon
- Culkin – Andersson
- Kylington – Morrison
As I had mentioned earlier, it is entirely possible that some of these names will be on the Flames on opening night, but it’s also entirely possible that the Flames continue to supplement their NHL roster as well. I expect the Flames to be pretty active on the PTO front as well given that there will be contract spots available, but not much on the cap front.
As far as the majority of the Heat’s roster is concerned, it’s going to be a pivotal year for Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier. Following a promising rookie campaign, Poirier’s production fell into a manhole last season and will be counted on to regain his scoring touch this season. It is exceedingly likely that he will be getting top six minutes in Stockton, especially as he was frequently used in that role last season.
Klimchuk’s season, as far as offensive production was concerned, was an absolute disaster. Burn the tapes. Start again. Last season saw Klimchuk play frequently on the left wing, with Bill Arnold centring when healthy and Poirier on the right side. I imagine the pair might be given a shot to perform again with a new pivot but given their results last season, I wouldn’t be surprised if something new is tried.
At centre, the Heat look to be a little thin and it is likely that they will supplement the roster above with an AHL veteran to address this need. Last season, Freddie Hamilton played a great deal of centre, along with Derek Grant and Bill Arnold. Next season, it is entirely possible that your friend and mine Mark Jankowski gets a long look at centre instead of the wing where he played the majority of his brief time in Stockton last season.
On the back end, things are starting to look real good. Despite losing Nakladal (and possibly Wotherspoon), it looks as though Stockton might have a lot of talent on the back end. Last season, the defence’s ability to skate the puck through the netural zone was unquestionably one of Stockton’s greatest strengths. Adding Rasmus Andersson to this mix should help in that regard, as well as adding a right-handed shot to replace Nakladal on the power-play.
All six of the defencemen penciled into Stockton’s top six are either good or very good skaters and at least two of them (Wotherspoon and Kulak) have demonstrated competency at the NHL level. It will be a matter of whether enough sunlight can reach the forest floor, given that the bottom pairing at the NHL level remains rather… dense.
How do you see Stockton’s season shaping up next year? It’s July, let’s wildly speculate about AHL line combos!