It’s been exactly three years since Brad Treliving was hired to be the Flames’ general manager. The first meaningful decision he took part in once he was given the keys to the franchise? The 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Treliving has now been at the head of three NHL drafts, and overall, that’s seen him rebuild the Flames’ farm system. Many of the players currently on the Stockton Heat were acquired by Treliving, as opposed to his predecessors. The prospects Treliving has brought in – Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk aside – are still working to make the NHL full time, and they’ll probably still have a couple of seasons to go yet.
At the same time, though, a number of players seem to be knocking on the door. So who may have a realistic shot at starting in the NHL for 2017-18 – and staying there?
The non-Treliving kids
This should come as no surprise. The older a prospect is, the more developed he probably is. The Flames still have a handful of players from the 2011, 2012, and 2013 drafts – Feaster years – who haven’t made the NHL full time. They include:
- Tyler Wotherspoon (RFA, and if he hasn’t made it by now, you have to wonder. It’s been almost six years since he was drafted)
- Mark Jankowski (always touted as a long-term project)
- Jon Gillies (a goalie and therefore definitely not part of the normal skaters curve)
- Brett Kulak (played a quarter of the season in the NHL last year)
- Ryan Culkin (injuries seem to have really gotten in the way of his development)
- Emile Poirier (future uncertain)
- Morgan Klimchuk (relatively young, has only played two professional seasons)
When it comes to defencemen, the only one here who seems to have a reasonable shot is Kulak. Wotherspoon has never played more than 14 NHL games in a single season, and that was all the way back in 2014; plus, he may not even be qualified. Kulak, on the other hand, split his season relatively evenly between the AHL and NHL, and it could be argued that he got the short end of the stick when a player like Matt Bartkowski was given more of a chance than he was (Kulak, for the record, is six years younger and scored as much as Bartkowski did in the AHL in eight fewer games this season).
At some point the Flames are actually going to have to trust a prospect to take the next step, and Kulak seems to be the closest to taking it.
Up front, Jankowski seems to be knocking on the door – which is good, since it’s been five years since he was drafted. He’s basically had the same AHL season as Kenny Agostino did last year, except the Flames have invested more resources (biggest of all being a first round pick) into Jankowski, so he’s probably going to get preferential treatment no matter what. (Plus he’s a tall centre.) Besides, if Matt Stajan gets taken in the expansion draft, the Flames will need a new fourth line centre, and they’ll have the option to replace him internally right there.
Forward spots will have to open up, though, and the Flames have less room there than they do on the backend.
As for Gillies – it’s possible, but he would be the Flames’ backup if anything.
The 2014 NHL draft kind of ended up being a wasteland for the Flames. They picked up Bennett, which was good; after him, though, it looks a bit dire. Brandon Hickey will be playing his senior year at Boston University, while Adam Ollas Mattsson has only just come to North America, and Austin Carroll doesn’t exactly have numbers that look like they’ll translate to NHL success.
2015, however, looks like a completely different story. The Flames didn’t have that many picks, but they sure made them count. Both Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington are contenders for spots alongside Kulak. Kulak may be more ready now, but both Andersson and Kylington probably both have higher potential, and all it could take to start the year in the NHL is a really, really, really impressive training camp: something that can’t be ruled out for either player. It’s highly unlikely all three make it, but possible two do, if someone can force the team’s hand.
Andrew Mangiapane could get consideration, too, seeing as how he had almost the same amount of production as Klimchuk did this season; on the other hand, if the Flames need to call up a winger to play above a fourth line level (i.e. Garnet Hathaway – who was signed by Treliving, and has his own shot of making it in a grinding role), Klimchuk is a bit older and a bit bigger, so he may get the default nod, though Mangiapane could make it close.
And don’t forget about Hunter Shinkaruk. He didn’t get a proper shot with the Flames this past season, but 35 points in 52 AHL games is nothing to sneeze at: that’s a higher points per game production than both Klimchuk and Mangiapane – not to mention he has more professional experience than any potential forward call-up.
It’s too early to judge any 2016 picks, although Eetu Tuulola’s “everything is possible in this life” quote was about making the NHL sooner rather than later, so hey, who knows?
All in all
The older prospects are the ones more likely to make the jump sooner rather than later, and with the entire bottom half of the defence opening up, that goes double for those who play defence. Also, in order for a kid to actually make the NHL the organization will have to show it trusts him which, aside from high first round picks, they seems somewhat reluctant to do.
If everything goes well? You’ll probably see Kulak in the NHL full time, and one of Andersson or Kylington forcing his way into the lineup for at least part of the season. If the Flames lose a centre to the expansion draft Jankowski may finally make it in, with Shinkaruk, Klimchuk, or Mangiapane probably first in line to be called up if the team needs another winger (or, alternatively, if a spot on the wing is left open for them, rather than going to a free agent).
The Flames aren’t going to have a sudden influx of prospects making the 2017-18 team right off the bat, but hopefully one or two can finally make it.