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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Flames really not giving their prospects a chance?

The more recent a draft, the better it tends to look. After all, it’s a lot easier to get excited about the raw potential of the picks your team of choice selects right after they make them, rather than hope they’re able to carry the potential that saw them get drafted through season after season, particularly when they don’t make the NHL.

Look at the 2015 NHL draft: five players were selected, and two have made their NHL debuts, while one is gone from the organization already. The Oliver Kylington hype has died off rather naturally, while the Rasmus Andersson and Andrew Mangiapane hype seems to be thriving. Pavel Karnaukhov is an afterthought, more likely to join Riley Bruce in no longer being relevant.

Compare that to the 2016 NHL draft. The Flames had the benefit of way more picks in this one – including a sixth overall – but there is still more excitement for more prospects. Matthew Tkachuk has already made it. Tyler Parsons, one year after being drafted, seems to have already taken the top goalie prospect spot, ahead of 2013 third round pick Jon Gillies, who only just completed his first professional season. Dillon Dube is intriguing, but Adam Fox was downright electrifying in his freshman year. Linus Lindstrom is more difficult to follow, and Mitchell Mattson has a ways to go, but Eetu Tuulola and Matthew Phillips have remained in the spotlight, and Stepan Falkovsky drew a lot of attention with a 21-goal season.

Three of five 2015 picks look like they could still be high level, or at least NHLers. Three or four 2016 picks look like they could be high level, while the rest still look to have a decent shot at making the show. This number will decrease with time.

It decreases so much that eventually, prospects are found to simply not have what it takes, and they fall by the wayside. This happens more often than not. But it’s much harder to swallow when those prospects don’t get a chance.

Take Tyler Wotherspoon and Brett Kulak: two young defencemen called up throughout the seasons mostly to sit in the pressbox. Kulak has had it better than Wotherspoon, but watching young defencemen simply sit while guys like Corey Potter and Matt Bartkowski play in their stead is at best baffling, and at worst damaging.

The Flames had a relatively healthy forward group in 2015-16, but what was Mark Jankowski supposed to do with a 10-minute twirl? Worse yet, how was Hunter Shinkaruk supposed to perform in his seven-game call-up when he was plunked on the fourth line and averaging 10:35 a game?

And all of this is to say nothing about Rasmus Andersson being up on emergency recall, then regular recall, and only getting one game in out of all of that.

Is it a sign of the Flames’ prospects not being ready? Not being good enough, period? Or are they getting the short end of the stick?

Homegrown players

The Flames have nine players, as things currently stand, who were either drafted by them or signed as an undrafted free agent. In other words, they didn’t have to pay to pick them up, and they graduated from the Flames’ farm team to make the NHL, or just made it right away. These are the unequivocally successful picks:

  • Mark Giordano
  • Mikael Backlund
  • T.J. Brodie
  • Lance Bouma
  • Micheal Ferland
  • Johnny Gaudreau
  • Sean Monahan
  • Sam Bennett
  • Matthew Tkachuk

Included on that list are four first round picks, one third rounder, two fourth rounders, a fifth rounder, and an undrafted free agent: a decent mix, skewed towards first round picks, which have the highest likelihood of success. The Flames have been able to find some gems in later rounds, but not a ton.

The good news here is most of these homegrown players are core. Really, the only ones who are very clear steps below are Bouma and Ferland, and Ferland still has plenty of value – just not as much as the other seven guys. These nine rewarded the organization’s faith in them from the get-go.

Fallen by the wayside

Backlund was the only Flames pick from the 2007 NHL draft to make it to the show. After him, John Negrin and Keith Aulie played a combined 170 NHL games, 167 of them belonging to Aulie. It’s been years, and both players played in the AHL this past season.

The Flames found success in 2008 with Bouma and Brodie. Their only other pick to play any NHL games? Greg Nemisz, with 15 – and even then, he retired from playing professional hockey in 2015.

Probably the Flames’ most prolific 2009 pick to actually play for them was Joni Ortio, who managed to get 37 starts through his NHL career. Tim Erixon, who demanded a trade to the Rangers, hasn’t played an NHL game since 2015, so that’s unfortunate for him. Roman Horak, who the Flames got back in the trade, actually did make the Flames pretty much right away, but only got in one full season with them; he’s spent the past three seasons playing for Chekhov Vityaz in the KHL, putting up modest numbers.

Max Reinhart was the Flames’ first pick in 2010, and after 23 NHL games, he’s now off in Germany. That’s about it, aside from two meaningless end of seasons games from John Ramage and Bill Arnold. Patrick Holland got five in, but for Montreal after he was part of a package traded for Mike Cammalleri and Karri Ramo.

So from these draft years – the final Sutter years – it probably wasn’t a case of Flames prospects not being good enough as much as it was abysmal drafting. A number of them, such as Nemisz, Ryan Howse, and Arnold are done playing professionally already; Aulie had the most successful career, and he hasn’t played in the NHL since 2015.

Still hope yet

The 2011 draft was a great one for the Flames, and not just because they picked up Gaudreau. All five picks they made have gone on to play in the NHL, even if they aren’t all for the Flames. Sven Baertschi was both given a chance and the short end of the stick; he played a fair bit alongside Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler, but a slump saw him demoted and that, combined with new management openly talking about disliking him to the press, spelled the end. Markus Granlund got more than his fair shot, though, while Laurent Brossoit was brushed aside in a trade all too quickly, Ortio essentially being chosen over him.

Wotherspoon still remains, sputtering in and out of the NHL while inferior veterans played ahead of him. He has the most legitimate case to complain about how the pursuit of his NHL career has gone; however, he’s also gotten substantial AHL time, so it’s not as though he’s been totally wasting away. It’s probably now or never though.

The 2012 draft is just now starting to graduate. Mark Jankowski has one professional year in him, and is looking to be a favourite to be a prospect to make the NHL this season, depending on spot availability. Kulak is right up there with him, only the Flames are out of excuses to not play him, unless he ends up in Vegas: there are too many spots open on defence and he’s spent too much time lingering around the NHL to not get a real chance. Jon Gillies is kind of up there too, but since he both lost a year to injury and is a goalie, there’s still a bit of time there yet.

The 2013 draft, outside of the Flames’ three first round picks, is looking to be a lot less successful. At this point, the only ones worth keeping an eye on are Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk. Poirier has played a couple of NHL games, but outside of a solid rookie pro season, he hasn’t really made much of a case for himself. Klimchuk has just one good professional year under him, as well.

They weren’t drafted by the Flames, but Hunter Shinkaruk and Curtis Lazar, fellow 2013 first round picks, have shots, too – and Shinkaruk’s numbers are starting to indicate he’s approaching that now or never barrier. He’ll require waivers to be sent down this upcoming season. The same goes for Lazar.

Are prospects really not getting a chance?

Yes and no, really. You can make the argument a few are getting shafted, and if Kulak isn’t playing in the NHL this upcoming season, it’s probably fair to be angrier than normal.

But historically – or at least through recent history? Not many Flames prospects have been given a chance, but not many have been deserving of one, either. The Flames still have to fill out their roster for 2017-18, but right now they’ve got 17 probable spots filled, and just over half of them are from players they themselves drafted and developed. That’s a pretty good track record, and that number could indeed go up.

Recent perceptions from Feaster drafts onwards have made it appear as though the Flames aren’t trying to graduate their guys. The drafts seem to have gotten better from 2011 on, which places further pressure on giving prospects who actually look deserving of a shot, well, a shot. Horak may have had a premature dismissal. Baertschi was on too short a leash, but Granlund had sufficient time to make his case. Wotherspoon looks like he’s been done wrong, but the book is still out on him, and he’s already been passed by in Kulak.

This could just be a case of the Flames taking the appropriate amount of time with their prospects, though. This upcoming season – and just how many prospects get the chance to play in the NHL – will go a long way towards seeing if that’s the case, or if there really is a problem.

  • Lucky 13

    Good question Ari?

    As much as fans are suggesting we will lose Kulak to expansion, I’m not certain that will be the case.

    Looking at probable scenarios for expansion there are a lot of good D men available to Vegas, perhaps not 1st or 2nd defenders but ample 3-6 pairings.

    I hope ( cross fingers) that Kulak is not selected and we see him graduate to our D.

    I think this year we’ll see Janko, Kulak and one of our goalies, preferably Rittich make the team. Gillies will have to make the best of his opportunities to be called up again. Plus it will give him more development time, considering his injury from previous year.

    3 prospects hopefully?

      • Skylardog

        Vegas will be after assets they can trade at the deadline for draft picks, young prospects with potential, and guys that can fill out the lineup long term.
        Kulak fits the bill as a young prospect. But I think the ability to pick up a proven NHL defenseman, that is young enough to play for the next 6 or so years fills a bigger need. Stone, in my opinion will sign with Vegas for 5 to 6 years at $3.5 to $4.0 per season, and be the expansion pick.

        He meets 2 of the criteria for Vegas. At just 27, he could play for them for a number of years, and would be great asset that could be traded at the deadline next spring if they so decided. He solidified Calgary’s defense enough for the Flames to make the playoffs, don’t think for a second that Vegas didn’t see that.

  • freethe flames

    Outside of high draft picks which the Flames have only had a few of it takes time for players to develop. So Monahan, Bennett(he’s had his struggles) and Tkachuk all have been given there chance. The other mid to late first rounders other than Sven have not really been given much of a chance and their progress has been frequently hindered by NHL vets late in their careers. Lazar, Shinkaruk, Klimchuk and Poirier need to earn a spot and kick the door down. That’s 4 guys taken in the same draft who should be able to push the pile. Add Janko and Mangiapane who had very good AHL rookie years and the Flames need to give these guys a chance but they need to earn it. Many here want us to resign Versteeg and for the most part I get it but I honestly believe that given a chance that at least one of these guys could pass him in camp. He is a RH who seems to prefer to play LW; Shinkaruk/Klimchuk/Mangiapane all play that wing not to mention Janko who is a Center who can probably play LW as well. Lazar is a RS center who can play any forward position.

    On D with 3 or 4 positions open it’s time to give at least 2 of the kids a chance; Kulak and Spoon are both LHD that could play ahead of Bartkowski and Andersson could earn a spot as either the 3rd RHD of even the second pairing guy if he is paired properly.

    The idea of switching between Rittich and Gilles intrigues me but a lot depends on who we get as the starter. My preference would for it not to be Elliott because I don’t want to lose next years 3rd rounder especially after having so few picks this year.

  • OKG

    The problem for me is when a player earns a callup they deserve a few general courtesies:
    1) To get the benefit of a teammate that can cover for them through natural rookie errors rather than be expected to pull up bad veterans
    2) To not be judged solely by on-ice SV% and SH% (just ask Shayne Gostisbehere what a difference a year can make)
    3) To get an opportunity to contribute on at least one side of special teams.

    In that regard I think the Flames have failed all our rookies as well as Sam Bennett (by anchoring him with Troy Brouwer).

    The triple-wammie is when it is all three. Kulak should have had a chance to kill some penalties. Kulak had excellent expected goal metrics but was judged for not getting the miraculous saves and puck luck Jokipakka was getting. Kulak made Deryk friggin’ Engelland look good.

    What about Hathaway? Stockton’s second best PKer after Janko, didn’t get any PK time in Calgary.

  • Puckhead

    If a player earns it in the AHL, they should be called up and played to keep them hungry for more and to show them that the parent club has faith in them.

    Also, at the end of the day all these guys are assets and everything should be done to increase their value for the club or as a trade chip. If they show well in the NHL this will help in that regard.

    If the organization can graduate a steady stream of players to the NHL it could also be perceived as a more appealing destination for free agents and draftees.

  • T&A4Flames

    Vegas has to pick at least 9 D (and 14 fwds and 3 G). They’ll be left with 4 extra picks after fulfilling that requirement. So I guess it depends on their plan. If grabbing young D that can take spots or be part of trades to acquire better players is the plan, Kulak is gone. I really want him to be part of a bottom pairing this season but if we could use him as part of a trade to get a more impactful piece, like a legit G starter, I wouldn’t really hesitate.

    • freethe flames

      Our do you take players that you cant turn into other assets. If you take Kulak and he does not make your top 7 you risk losing him when you send him down. My thoughts are that LV will try and turn their last 7 picks into 10 or more guys to fill their farm team and additional draft picks. McPhee has said he wants a competitive team. I can see them looking to broker deals and if I’m the Flames I’m talking to them about one of the young goalies who will be available like Raanta, Grubauer, or Pickford. McPhee needs to add a few guys who are still waiver eligible but close to NHL ready, a few guys who are a year or so away and so on. Klimchuk seems like a guy who might fit the first bill and then guy like Pollock might also be good enough although it might need to be someone higher end like maybe Hickey.

  • Franko J

    Flames are in a much better position with their prospect pool than I think they have been for a very long time. However, I think a number of them still need further development. I agree with freethe flames about earning their position on the team come training camp. I’m intrigued to see who actually put the time, dedication and the sweat equity into their training during the summer.

  • snotss

    the flames last year really had a good chance to make the playoffs and I understand that you may not want “rookies” to hurt their chances last year……………but what about the year before when the flames knew quite early they were not going to make the dance but still the brass continued to play vets that were not any better than what was on the farm..explain that one to me……..play the kids that year and we would know all about what they have going into the next year {last year}…flames were slotted into the 5th pick…dropped to 6th really they might have drafted lower in a good draft year…the brass blew it again

  • Skylardog

    It sure looks from our chairs that prospects have been shortchanged. However, and I am thinking about Kulak here, I believe that they have been intentionally kept from playing in the NHL this past season to protect them as an asset in the expansion draft. Kulak in particular will have the eye of Vegas. Had he played a significant number of games last year, he would most definitely have been selected. I have thought he would be a certainty to be taken a few weeks ago, today I think he will be overlooked.

    With the ED behind us in the next few days, we will see the young guys get their chances. Kulak I believe is a certainty to make the roster and play in the fall.
    Janko should get an opportunity, as may Andersson, likely one other forward, and possibly a young goalie. Trades may impact who is in the lineup, but I believe there will be to 4 spots available to prospects. I don’t think the Flames will dip their feet in the UFA market this summer (other than maybe a goalie), leaving some spots open

  • Cheeky

    Another issue that Im hoping the league can solve is the age limit for AHL. For some of these prospects they see guys like Monny, Benny and Chucky straight out of junior as 18 yr olds making team. Thats gotta be disheartening but as an organization its big team or junior. If teams could send these top kids to AHL rather than junior, what a difference. But as a previous highly regarded prospect who’s 22-23, not being given a real chance and seeing 18 yr olds start, that’s gotta drop the morale and confidence…I say leave a spot or 2 open and let the best kid win it…

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I think the Flames organization does a lot of things right but developing prospects is not a strength. I strongly believe that Calgary over seasons its prospects and many times either misses or closes the window on a prospect prematurely.

    A few examples come to mind, namely Granlund, Baertschi, and Byron. Who knows how Poiriers life and career would have unfolded if the organization promoted him when he was lighting up the AHL. Shink and TSpoon are other players that have been left behind.

    How would Calgary handle a player like Guentzal if he was in the organization? There is not a lot historically that shows that Calgary would have promoted him and stuck with him like Pittsburgh did.

    Toying with players like Janko and Rasmus serves little purpose. One could argue that just being with the big club is good for character but that gets old when a player is consistently in the press box despite being a better player than those on the ice.

    Tree spoke about damaging a goalie by pushing them when they are not ready. This speaks to his belief that both Gillies and Rittich may be forced to play another year the AHL despite being 23+.

    In order to compete for the cup and stay in a cap system we need some top 6 forwards and top 4 defenders on ELCs or cap friendly contracts.

    • herringchoker

      I believe as well…..we like to over ripen our prospects (as Trey likes to say it). These kids are hungry. They need to be pushed. We let them settle into AHL too long. Poirier is someone who should have been pushed as a pro after his great rookie season and put in a position to succeed. You can take offensive players and dump them on your forth line. Its a slap in the face to young egos. I don’t want anymore filler vets. That’s how we end up with a 10 million dollar 4th line. Don’t sign Versteek or Chaisson if we’re stuck with Brouwer. Play Lazar on the third, play Janko on the third and let them play. They have little value as AHL’ers. Chaisson and Versteek have no value as NHL’ers. If we want to be like Chicago or Pittsburg…..you pay your stars but you have you fill your edges with young cheap talent. I find people on this board too quick to trade our prospects for every flavour of the day. We don’t need any more Brouwer’s.

      • everton fc

        Re-sign Versteeg. To me, that’s a no-brainer.

        I think Chiasson is the one Vegas will pick. To say neither Chiasson and/or Versteeg have no value as NHLers is either ignorance, or a joke. Both have value – after last season w/the Flames, increased value.

  • MarbledBlueCheese

    The most frustrating part of this team and management is how they will play a bad expensive veteran who gets poor results just because they know what to expect with him. Then, when a younger, cheaper player comes up, he gets zero room for mistakes–a poor shift is enough to get healthy scratched or sent back to the farm. Meanwhile, they trot back out guys they acquired with picks who are exceedingly mediocre.

    This sense of a coach needing to trust a guy to play him, even if he trusts him to be flawed, rather than a wildcard that could have higher upside (or simply does–ie Kulak) has ruined or delayed a few prospects, I think.

    • Just.Visiting

      Other than for perhaps replacing the mediocre references about the veterans with a replacement level to OK description, I have a similar perspective on the treatment of the AHL call ups. It was clear that Sven was never going to develop fully here and was arguably damaged goods at the end of his time here, so getting the Ras pick for him was a trade of mutual benefit. Granlund was not sufficiently “truculent”, so giving him a new start with Vancouver was fine with me too. I think that the Flames have provided opportunities for the “no brainer” prospects (Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett, Tkachuk), but otherwise have not managed the AHL talent particularly well or with any apparent mid term strategy. The handling of Wotherspoon under Hartley and again this year and the handling of Kulak this year are prime examples. While there was a valid defence that the pipeline of talent was pretty thin in the past, we are now at the point at which we need to ensure that we have room for some of the AHL players to make the team each year to prepare us to be a serious contender. This camp, we should logically have a fight for a backup goalie position, a fight for two D spots and an opportunity for at least a couple of spots up front from a pool that includes Lazar, Janko, Hunter, Mang, Klimchuk, Hathaway, Lomberg and possibly Poirier. Having a steady influx of talent has been what historically has made teams like Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh successful, and look at the impact the young players on Nashville are having this year as well. It is for that reason that my response about potentially resigning Versteeg or Chiasson or any other third line UFA candidate is basically “only if you free up a spot by moving someone else out”. We can bring in a few PTOs to cover the downside if camp demonstrates that the kids aren’t ready to earn jobs yet. While a shift to a lesser reliance on veterans might have an incremental negative impact this season, providing the NHL experience that enables us to perform at a higher level in subsequent seasons and to be able to assess more accurately what we have and where we have gaps is something that is required to be a much more serious contender in 2018-19 and beyond.

  • madjam

    Vegas taking either Chiasson (best contract) or Bouma in that order I believe . Vegas not going to waste money on Brouwer or Oilers Pouliot contracts . Neither team should be worried about losing a defenceman to Vegas , as there are plenty better choices for them to take , and many young small contracts as well .

  • cjc

    One aspect that has been missed is that the flames have been relatively healthy over the past several years. Teams often don’t get a good look at a rookie until a big injury to a regular happens.

    Then there are cap concerns. These wounds are obviously self inflicted, but there is seemingly a need to see vets on big contracts work out. If a player like Brouwer ends up in the AHL, it’s an admission of failure on BT’s part.

    All that being said, I think good players will ultimately find a way. Aside from the possible exceptions of Granlund and Baertschi, none of the aformentioned prospects have gone on to notable careers. Maybe they just weren’t that good?

  • everton fc

    Let’s be sane here. Who is truly ready for the NHL, in Stockton?

    Kulak? Probably.

    Jankowski?? Maybe…

    Andersson? Maybe…

    Hathaway? Probably, but as a 4th liner at best.

    Shinkaruk?? Not convinced. Yet.

    Mangiapane?? Not yet.

    Wotherspoon?? He needs a chance.

    Klimchuk?? One more year in the “A”.

    Kylington?? Same as Klimchuk.

    Gilles?? Same as Klimchuk/Mangiapane/Shinkaruk/Kylington

    Rittich: Probably.

    Lomberg?? He’s the one that may be the diamond-in-the-rough. He’s got grit and speed. 4th liners make a living w/these attributes.

    Who else is there??? We aren’t that deep, folks. Not yet. When Fox and others play in the “A”, then we may be able to truly say we are “deep”.

    • Derzie

      This summary is probably based on what Flames management has allowed them to do. It’s clear their focus is to ride vets as much as possible and not take the plunge into giving prospects real ice team.