Three rookies flying under the radar


US_Air_Force_B-2_Spirit

With main camp getting underway for the Calgary Flames, many eyes will be on NHL hopefuls like Matthew Tkachuk, Mark Jankowski, and Oliver Kylington. While those guys deserve the eyeballs they’ll get, they aren’t the only ones with a chance to make an impact at camp. I’ve got three guys who might do just that even though they’ll probably be flying under the radar heading in.

Ryan Lomberg

If you watched the Flames take part at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, then you definitely noticed Lomberg. Entering his second year with the organization, Lomberg knows exactly what he is and throughout his brief professional career, he’s stayed true to that. Lomberg is a chippy, agitating, pain in the ass to play against who has decent speed and okay finishing ability. At least at lower levels, that’s what he’s been.

Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska called Lomberg Calgary’s best and most consistent forward in Penticton, which is high praise knowing who else was there. He did that by being in the middle of virtually everything and using his speed to create offence. On a second consecutive AHL contract, Lomberg is very intriguing to me heading into this year’s camp.

I won’t make the case for Lomberg making the team out of camp. I will, however, float the idea of him getting a nice, long look this fall. Lomberg is somewhat versatile as he can play down the middle and on the wing, he is effective in his role as a bleep disturber, and his speed could be a nice fit with how we’re thinking/hoping Calgary wants to play. We know the organization is a little thin on the wings, so that helps his cause, too.

The best case scenario for Lomberg would be to continue to impress at camp, turn himself into a big blip on the radar, and maybe get his AHL deal converted into a two-way NHL deal at some point this season, ala Krys Kolanos. If and when the Flames need to recall a forward later on this season, Lomberg needs to put himself in that conversation.

Just for argument’s sake, what could Lomberg translate to at the highest level? Well, I wouldn’t expect a ton offensively; his numbers below would suggest points at the NHL level are going to be difficult to come by.

Screen Shot 2016-09-22 at 3.31.37 PM

Instead, Lomberg seems more likely to get an NHL crack playing a similar role as Garnet Hathaway or Lance Bouma. The latter has done it in the show for a number of years while the former got his shot late last season. Regardless, though, playing that type of fourth line role is probably the best Lomberg is going to do in the NHL. If he keeps pissing people off (in a good way) and skating like he has, maybe it’s not a totally crazy proposition.

Ryan Culkin

During the 2014-15 season, Culkin was going to be the next man recalled from the American Hockey League prior to his season ending with an injury. One season later, Culkin separated his shoulder in Penticton and didn’t even start playing in the AHL until February as he had to play 33 games with ECHL Adirondack first. Suffice to say, it’s been a rough go for the young man. I feel like this season will be a bounce back one for the 2012 fifth round pick, though.

I say that for a couple different reasons. First off, he’s about as motivated as you can possibly get. I had a great conversation with Culkin in Penticton (story on that coming next week) where he was pretty open about his 2015-16 campaign. Going to the ECHL was tough on him and he admittedly let it get to him mentally; he felt he wasn’t good enough and he lost a lot of confidence in his game.

This offseason, though, Culkin has taken a brand new approach. He’s switched up his training routine on the physical side of things but it’s his mindset that seems totally transformed. Culkin has spent plenty of time with Calgary’s sports psychologist and is coming to camp with a pretty focused approach. The goal is the NHL, but if that doesn’t happen to start, everything he does in Stockton will be aimed solely at getting there. I know that seems like a given, but for Culkin it represents an important shift.

Let’s not forget about the on-ice portion of this, though. If Culkin was set to be the next man up a couple seasons ago, the Flames must have thought highly of him at the time. From everyone I’ve talked to, nothing has changed in that regard. The team still rates him high and still believes he can eventually make the jump.

I was impressed with what I saw in the Okanagan. Culkin likely isn’t going to be counted on for big offensive numbers off the blueline, but he skates well and is very sound in his own end. While not a big physical threat, Culkin displayed really good gaps and did a nice job closing distance when it was time to step up. He seems like his defensive awareness is strong and as he continues to add strength to his frame, he’ll become more effective.

Last year Brett Kulak made the team out of camp before getting sent back to the AHL for the balance of the season. I’m not sure if that opportunity will exist this year or not, but if I were to highlight one defenceman who could follow the same path this year, it’s Culkin. Let’s see if his new approach helps get him a nice, long stint at training camp.

Kenney Morrison

Photo courtesy Stockton Heat

Morrison

Many were intrigued when the Flames signed Morrison out of Western Michigan University in the spring of 2015. That intrigue turned into some hushed excitement when Morrison put up six points in 10 AHL games to finish that season. His first full pro season, though, was a slightly different story.

Morrison got into just 44 games with Stockton last season and found it a struggle to adjust to the pro schedule, specifically in the first half of the season. Coming into the season, though, he no longer has that excuse. He stood out to me at the Young Stars Classic and I’ll have my eye on him once the preseason gets underway.

Year over year, Morrison’s Okanagan showing was drastically different. Whereas last year he seemed tentative, this year he was engaged physically and far more assertive defensively. He’s always been a smooth skater, and that hasn’t gone away, so adding those extra elements should really help to round out his game. I certainly enjoyed watching him play in Penticton as he was steady and did a nice job skating the puck out of his own end to start his team in transition.

Could Morrison be a candidate to make the team out of training camp? Yeah, maybe there’s a chance we could see that happen, but I think a guy like Culkin is more likely to be in that category. Instead, I think Morrison’s best case is to carry on his momentum from Penticton and put himself top of mind when the team needs to go the recall route later this season. His showing last weekend leads me to believe there’s a decent chance of that happening.

  • Lomberg has one interesting comparable in Alex Burrows. Burrows was also undrafted and spent time in the ECHL before working his way up. His numbers were never that impressive at the lower levels either.

    Of course, that’s an extreme outlier, but it’s encouraging that it can be done.

  • Kensington

    It is tough on these kids that are borderline nhlers I know from playing the game and being on that almost make it level that there are so many players right on the brink of the talent needed to play in the big leagues that the difference is really desire. You have to go 100% every day and play in camp like no one is better then you. Just focus guys you are so close!

  • Backburner

    I think another guy to keep an eye on is Brett Kulak, he looked like he was really close last year. If he had a good offseason, I would think he seriously has a chance.

  • everton fc

    I agree on Lomberg and Culkin, who I also though looked mature and composed in Penticton. I disagree on Morrison; he was the oldest guy in Penticton, and didn’t stand out.

    If we don’t re-sign Nakladal, my hope is one (or both) of Kulak and Wotherspoon make the team. Of course, bodies like Wideman and Engelland need to be moved.

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    Find it hard to believe that Jankowski seems to be the forgotten man . It’s just kind of the feel I get when people talk about the flames young guys. The time taken for him is actually probably the right amount of time for a player to develop.

    • Baalzamon

      He’s not a forgotten man at all. He’s the most popular choice for Backlund’s “replacement” (both short-term with the concussion and long term).

    • wot96

      He is not forgotten. Pat was just going beyond the most obvious candidates to watch to suggest a few that might be of interest.

      Janko was a very divisive pick with many. Nearly universally everyone hoped he would pick it up and eventually become an NHL’er, in some cases if only to prove Janko’s harshest critic (Lambert) wrong. He now looks like he has real potential and his strongest supporters (OKG, for example) are likely feeling a little gratified about it.

      No need to stir it up on Janko. We can fight over him amongst ourselves – we don’t need you to help.

      • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

        Not stirring it up . I just don’t think he is getting the attention that he should get. This guy is probably more NHL ready than other first year guys at camp.he is older and more mature mentally as well as physically.

    • Arminius

      How is he forgotten ? He is named at the start of the read 2nd only to Tkachuk, and In the top 3 with Kylington. Trust me no one has forgotten about him

      Maybe you forgot how to read

  • The Fall

    I am positive Lomberg will get a long a look and a couple pre-season games. …last one cut, first one called up. Ferland better hope for a fast start; he’s looking a little expendable at this point.

    Remember with Lomberg, he was in a proper collegiate hockey program but was indefinitely suspended after assault charges. He’s working his way back into the system.

    • everton fc

      Ferland is a better player than Lomberg, not to mention a differnt type of player. Lomberg’s comparable to Scotty Nicol. Not Ferland.

      I like Lomberg – liked him last camp. But let’s not all get carried away here – he’s about as big as Nicol. We’ll see how he does in camp. He’s a wild card, at best….

      • RealMcHockeyReturns

        Listen we all like Lomberg. But if he bugs teammates or coaches about TPS reports, you can bet he’s on the first plane to Stockton or maybe Adirondack!

      • The Fall

        Ferland was Feaster’s pick, Hartley’s project, and McGrattan’s protégé. He is on the last year of a two year ‘prove it’ deal; last year he got 4 goals. He has had three concussions in the last two years.

        There is nothing certain about his spot on this team. He needs to produce points right out of the gate, and often.

        • Stan

          Well firstly, he wasn’t Feasters pick. He was Sutters. That comment is ridiculous anyways, just because a player was picked by a previous management team doesn’t make them any less valuable to the current management team.

          When you say he is McGrattans protege I am assuming that you are referring to McGrattans mentorship of Ferly from an alcohol abuse standpoint. How is that relevant to Ferlands status on the team this year? Oh wait, it isn’t. At all.

          As far as his production last season, there have been plenty of FN articles demonstrating how brutal his luck was last year and how he is poised for a bounce back/breakout year.

          And yet for some reason you are certain that a player who doesn’t even have an NHL contract and has never played against NHL players is going to bounce Ferly from the team? Get real.

          • The Fall

            Well, I never said anything about being “certain” he’s bouncing anyone from the team. So, if you’re done with the straw-man argument, maybe you can go play in your room while the adults finish up their conversation here.

          • piscera.infada

            So, if you’re done with the straw-man argument, maybe you can go play in your room while the adults finish up their conversation here.

            I’m not sure you’re really clear on what a straw man argument is.

  • McRib

    If we are talking about things that flew under the radar, one last Bob Hartley decision that I will discuss that flew under the radar for me from a negative standpoint was when he cut Émile Poirier in the first round of cuts last season at training camp. Émile Poirier was fresh off a AHL All Star season and he was among those first cut? Way to destroy a kids confidence, showing zero reward for the impressive previous season, frankly I don’t care if he had a bad training camp he deserved a longer look regardless.

    Therefore I am glad Émile Poirier is flying under the radar this year and I hope he can put last season behind him and surprise everyone this year. He plays a physical game that would be well suited to a checking role sooner rather than later in the NHL. I am also glad to hear that our new coach is treating young players with a more modern and realistic perspective, as has been echoed the last day of two from voices coming out of training camp.

  • freethe flames

    Did anyone see yesterdays training camp? Any impressions? The only thing I got yesterday was that Tkachuk/Bennett/Brouwer are likely going to be a line for the preseason. Who did Janko center? Who did Shinkaruk line up with? Poirier? What about d pairings?