It’s that time of year again. Top prospects from the Calgary Flames, along with their Western Canadian counterparts, have descended upon Penticton, British Columbus for the 2016 Young Stars Classic. This event serves as the official kickoff to the season and has also been a nice springboard for a number of players in recent years.
The Flames are bringing one of the better and more intriguing crews to the South Okanagan this year, and I’ve got my top five names to keep an eye on.
I haven’t included 2016 first round pick Matthew Tkachuk on this list for a couple different reasons. Not only is he an obvious choice, but also because Ari nailed an article on Calgary’s top prospect earlier this week. For the five prospects below, however, the next few days could turn out to be pretty important. Over the last two years, 16 players who played here in Penticton also spent time with the Flames during the regular season. Let’s get started.
I won’t lie; I’m anticipating watching Jankowski in Penticton at the same level as I was with guys like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sam Bennett. I’m not saying we should be thinking of the 2012 first round pick in the manner we do those three guys. I will say, though, I’m as intrigued by Jankowski as I have been any prospect over the last decade.
Now 22 years old, the narrative has changed significantly surrounding Jankowski. When Calgary stunned most in the hockey world by taking him 21st overall in 2012, the consensus view was that of a reach. Things only got worse in the following two years; it got to a point where many were labelling Jankowski a bust of a first round pick.
The 2014-15 season seemed to really change the conversation. As a college junior, Jankowski was a key cog in a NCAA national title for Providence that season. Flames fans got to see him excel on a national stage before going back for his senior season. His final year in college saw Jankowski put up his best offensive totals (40 points in 38 games) while taking on the most two-way responsibility he’d seen to date, too.
Following Jankowski’s four year run at Providence, he signed his first professional contract which kicks in for the coming season. An ATO in the American League allowed him to play eight games with the Stockton Heat last season; his six points certainly exceeded my expectations for his initial pro debut.
A natural centre, Jankowski adds even more depth in to one of the organization’s strongest areas. Jankowski has turned into a viable NHL prospect and has given the team another asset at the very least. In his first Young Stars Classic, Jankowski has the opportunity to hit the ground running heading into main camp. Am I expecting him to make the big team this year? No, not really; I am excited and optimistic to see how he fares against NHL competition over the next few weeks, though.
Andersson was one of the standouts during the 2015 Young Stars Classic and he carried that momentum into main camp. While he was eventually returned to the OHL’s Barrie Colts, there were many discussions had by fans and observers alike about whether he might crack the Flames out of camp. Those chats were also being had behind closed doors by hockey operations.
In the end, I think sending Andersson back to junior was the right call. He went back down and was one of the higher scoring defensemen in the OHL for a second consecutive season. Entering his overage season in the league, Calgary’s plan is to start Andersson with the AHL’s Stockton Heat. Will he be ready for that next step, though?
The answer to that question is still in the wind, however we might start to get a better idea this weekend. One of the big knocks on Andersson following his 2015 selection was his conditioning and work ethic. Well, as was reported by numerous outlets this summer, Calgary wasn’t thrilled with Andersson’s physical shape at all during development camp. The Flames challenged him to arrive this fall in significantly better shape.
Starting tonight will be the first chance to see if that challenge was accepted. There’s no doubting how naturally skilled Andersson is but his ability to maximize that skill is more important. This weekend won’t give us our final answer on Andersson, but it will certainly make things a whole lot easier.
Since being drafted in 2015, I don’t think anyone’s star in the organization has risen faster than Mangiapane’s. A sixth round pick just over a year ago, Mangiapane is coming off another 100+ point season with the Barrie Colts. He’s also coming off his first ever 50 goal season in the OHL; Mangiapane finished with 106 points in 59 games last season.
On the one hand I find Mangiapane very interesting. He’s an undersized winger who has put up stupid totals over his last two seasons in Ontario. Mangiapane is quick and skilled offensively and isn’t afraid one bit to mix things up physically.
For me, Mangiapane was one of the standouts during the early stages of training camp 2015. Despite being smaller than the NHLers he was practicing with, Mangiapane very much looked like he could hold his own. I still think his skating and all-around game are areas he needs to focus on improving.
Much like his Barrie teammate Andersson, Mangiapane is in a very interesting spot. Because he’s entering his overage season with the Colts, Mangiapane is eligible anytime to turn pro. The Flames are planning on doing that this season and if Mangiapane is able to bring some of that scoring touch in junior to Stockton, Calgary would be quite okay with that.
In so many ways, fair or unfair, Pollock has turned into a pretty overlooked prospect. The Flames acquired Pollock from the Dallas Stars as part of March’s Kris Russell deal, but Pollock hasn’t gotten the same type of attention the other parts of that trade have. That doesn’t take away from my interest level surrounding the former Oil Kings forward.
Because Pollock has been kind of the forgotten man in the Russell trade, he deserves some deeper evaluation for that reason alone. Knowing the type of junior career he’s leaving behind, though, makes Pollock’s likely transition to pro hockey even more interesting.
Even though he never put up gaudy offensive totals, Pollock also hasn’t played four full years with the Edmonton Oil Kings by fluke. His 78 points in 72 games last season represented a career high and he’ll be in line for even better totals if he returns for a fifth and final WHL season. But it’s his defensive work and two-way game that are of more interest to me.
With Calgary likely saying goodbye to Matt Stajan at the end of the coming season, there will definitely be a spot open for a fourth line centre in the very near future. With the team divesting from players like Josh Jooris, Joe Colborne, Kenny Agostino, and Bill Arnold in recent months, Pollock would definitely be a leading candidate to grab that role if and when it becomes available.
Because he’s not overly gifted offensively, Pollock seems to project most accurately as a depth centre at the highest level. There’s nothing wrong with that, though, because teams always need affordable and effective depth down the middle. This weekend will start to determine whether Pollock has what it takes to put himself in that conversation as he gets set for his first training camp with the Flames.
While we purposely don’t have Tkachuk on this list of prospects, we will include his London Knights teammate in Parsons. The man between the pipes as the Knights clinched the 2016 Memorial Cup, Parsons is coming off a dream season. Including the playoffs, the Michigan product lost in regulation just 10 times all season; he went a 16-1 in the postseason as London marched their way to Red Deer.
Of course, there will be some who point to the team Parsons was playing on as a large reason for his success. It’s a valid observation to make and it definitely played a massive part in his heavily slanted win-loss record. I’m more interested in his save percentage number, which is a far more telling metric.
While still influenced by team play, save percentage gives you a much better indicator of the individual performance of a goalie. Parsons posted a 0.921 mark in 49 regular season games and popped that up to 0.925 during the postseason. Numbers like that you don’t see very often in junior hockey, which is what has me more excited about Parsons than I usually would be.
Projecting goalies is a crapshoot at the best of times, but Parsons does look like one of the better prospects the team has had at the position in some time. The Flames admittedly were not targeting a goaltender at the 2016 draft, or at least weren’t planning on taking one in the early rounds. When Parsons was on the board for them at 54, though, they felt they needed to pounce.
We won’t find out if that decision was worth it this weekend, but at the very least we’ll get to see him in action for the first time since backstopping the Knights to a thrilling overtime win in May.