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WWYDW: How many prospects should make the Flames?

Training camp is pretty much upon us, and soon, we’ll be watching Flames regulars – both new and old – get back up to speed in preparation for what should be a big season.

Something else to watch for, though – something far more interesting before the games that count actually start – will be the battles to make the team. Players ranging from Roman Horak to Josh Jooris to Brett Kulak to Matthew Tkachuk have all fought to be a part of the opening roster, and now, another crop is set to start making their case.

A big question, though, is just how many prospects will be able to make it? And how many should?

The available spots

Let’s assume the Flames go with a final roster consisting of 14 forwards, seven defencemen, and two goalies. A number of established players are pretty much guaranteed to be a part of it, barring any surprises (i.e. trades, injuries, ownership agreeing to park a significant chunk of change in the AHL):

  • Forwards (11): Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Troy Brouwer, Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Sam Bennett, Kris Versteeg, Micheal Ferland, Curtis Lazar, Matthew Tkachuk
  • Defencemen (5): Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Michael Stone
  • Goalies (2): Mike Smith, Eddie Lack

That leaves three spots open for any forwards, and two spots open for any defencemen.

Now, when we go back to the original question – how many prospects should make the Flames – it’s important to define what a prospect is. For example, Freddie Hamilton is 25 years old and has played 59 NHL games. He’s not a prospect. Matt Bartkowski, 29, has played 235 NHL games; he’s definitely not a prospect. I’m not even certain if Garnet Hathaway, 25 and with 40 NHL games played, should be called a prospect anymore – he probably doesn’t have anything new to show us.

And yet, any of those three – perhaps all of them – could be in contention for those five available spots. If they get them, then that leaves room for just two actual prospects on the team, whether they have a regular spot in the lineup or sit in the press box – or both.

The almost sure bets

So let’s look at the prospects who seem most likely to pick up a spot on the Flames’ opening day roster. There are only two here I’d consider particularly strong candidates: Mark Jankowski and Brett Kulak.

If any prospects make the Flames it’s probably them. Jankowski, who turns 23 today, has played a full four seasons in the NCAA and had a great first professional year with 56 points in 64 games; also, he looked ready to go at the Penticton tournament (not that actually means much; that’s what real preseason games are for).

Kulak, 23, already has 30 NHL games to his name and perhaps could have played more than he did this past season. He’s probably the most NHL-ready defensive prospect the Flames have.

The next in lines

Those are two prospects – but what if there’s room for more? In that case, we’d probably be looking at Spencer Foo to beat out another forward, and Tyler Wotherspoon to claim Bartkowski’s spot.

Foo, 23, left the NCAA a season early to pursue an NHL contract, and it’s no secret the Flames are weak on the right side – which just so happens to be the position that he plays. Foo exploded for 62 points in 38 games as a junior at Union College, and though he’s brand new to the professional game, he could be in line to earn an NHL spot this early.

Wotherspoon, meanwhile, is just a step behind Kulak. The 24-year-old has also played 30 NHL games, but his trajectory has been more up-and-down compared to Kulak’s straight upwards: he went from playing 14 NHL games in his first professional season, to one in his second, to 11 in his third, to four in his fourth. Still, after Kulak, he’s probably more NHL-ready than the higher ceiling defensive prospects the Flames can offer up.

The dark horses

Say the Flames fill up on prospects, or something goes horribly wrong while simultaneously going incredibly right for a dark horse – then some other prospects might be able to find their way onto the opening day roster. Names here include Morgan Klimchuk, Andrew Mangiapane, Emile Poirier*, Hunter Shinkaruk*, Rasmus Andersson, and Oliver Kylington: all players who probably need some more time in the minors, but hey, you never know.

*Players not waiver exempt.

The non-prospects

Up above, we looked at some other players who may be able to fill the five available slots despite not being prospects. They include Luke Gazdic, Hamilton, Hathaway, Marek Hrivik, and Bartkowski, all to varying degrees.

Gazdic seems the least likely, as the Flames appear to have moved away from the role of a designated fighter in the NHL. Hamilton is probably a bit more likely, as he already filled the role the previous season; Hathaway was a lower key, probably worse version of him. Hrivik, meanwhile, posted a 5v5 CF of 55.74% in 2016-17 (+6.56 relative, via Natural Stat Trick) – albeit in just 159:07 played – but when we’re talking depth roles, that’s could be pretty promising.

Bartkowski, meanwhile, may have an inside track as the only other defenceman the Flames have at present time who counts as an experienced veteran.

Questions to consider

It’s great to say the Flames should just load up with prospects and players with a hope for a brighter future sooner, but it’s probably not realistic.

How much are you expecting the prospects to play? Do you want them to have a regular shift in this lineup, like Tkachuk earned this past season, or do you want them in and out and eventually up and down, like Kulak was?

Is it better for a prospect on the cusp of making the NHL, but maybe not quite there yet, to barely play, but regularly take part in NHL-level practices? Or is it better for him to play big minutes in the AHL, possibly in a leadership capacity?

If the Flames are to be contenders this season, how many prospects does it make sense to have in the lineup?

How many would you ideally like to see make the team, and how many should be beaten out by lower ceiling depth players – or even, perhaps, a late free agent signing? What would you do?

  • JoelOttosJock

    I get the same feeling every time i read an Ari article. It is that of wow, that was a waste of time. You seem to repeat and recycle, beat the proverbial dead horse. Where is Bill Murray, it is Ground Hog Day is it not?

  • FLT

    I read every article that hits this site, and I don’t share that opinion. There’s a lot of focus on prospects and rosters at this time of year because there’s no actual nhl hockey to talk about yet.

    • Skylardog

      Yes – no more signings.
      I have Kulak up, Wotherspoon in the AHL, and Bart up in the pressbox, but if we do need to go to a 7th Dman, Bart still sits, and Wotherspoon would be brought up. Bart would only play in the event Spoon can’t make it in time to take the ice. This gives Spoon good icetime in Stockton rather than watching from the pressbox.
      Like your forwards too, but would say Janko + F. Hamilton, and the best of Poirier, Shink, Klimchuk, Foo, and Mangi. Just opening up the opportunity to the best of the rest. If none of those shine in camp, then Hathaway.
      Really means I agree with you for the most part.

    • cberg

      Don’t sign anyone else.
      Keep up Valimaki (9 game minimum, replace with Wotherspoon if warranted) and Kulak on D
      Jankowski, Foo and Poirier for forwards…(I take a pass on Hrivik as I have no idea)
      Bartkowski and Wotherspoon first D call-ups, Hathaway and Gazdic for toughness in select games. Hamilton and Shinkaruk first call-ups for Forward.

  • Azim

    What about Pribyl? I remember going into last year he was considered a dark-horse. I know he had some injuries that have dropped his status (along with no longer being the shiny new thing), but reports he did show some flashes. Could he be considered among the “Non-prospects” or “Darkhorse” camp and surprise? He may be more ready than someone like Foo at this point.

    • Ari Yanover

      I debated including Pribyl as a dark horse but decided against it because fact is, he’s still only played 33 games on North American ice and I don’t think he’s quite at the stage of impressing that strongly out of camp. Maybe later in the season, but I was focused on the very start for this thought exercise.

      It would be great to see him come out that strong though! I still think there’s hope for him, but maybe a bit further down the line.

  • SeanCharles

    Gaudreau-Monahan-Ferland
    Frolik-Backlund-Lazar
    Tkachuk-Bennett-Versteeg
    Stajan-Jankowski-Brouwer
    Hamilton/Hathaway

    Gio-Hamilton
    Brodie-Hamonic
    Kulak-Stone
    Wotherspoon

    Later in the year players like Foo, Poirier, Mangiapane etc. may push their way onto the team also.

    • Danomitee

      You know what, I don’t hate that forward group. If Lazar is supposed to be part of this teams plans, theres no better way to help boost his confidence then to have him play with Backs/Frolik as they seemingly make everyone better. Bumping Tkachuk down with Bennett would make for a chippy 3rd line.

    • Chucky

      If Brouwer does not WOW in camp quickly to the AHL. He is taking up space that should be there for guys who want to prove themselves. Tre has so much political capital from a great off season that only a real jerk would hold one bad signing against him. Better to be embarrassed in the front office than on the ice.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Not bad… and I have run similar scenarios. I’ve considered moving Frolik over for Lazar myself… my only concern is that Frolik might be our only legit top 6 RW in the org. Moving him to the left further depletes that side of the ice.

  • Carl the tooth

    I think of it as once a player is 24 or past 5 years of being drafted is your prospect window .Ferlund at 24 was entering a last chance show me something period,like Wootherspoon now is not really considered a prospect to me anymore and Foo and Jankowski also I won’t consider prospects at 24 yeArs old .

  • The Fall

    Watching Foo at Penticton was impressive. If he scores in pre-season, he’s in.

    Val deserves a nine game look as soon as feasible. He’s more ‘ready’ than Oliver or Ras.

    • Hockeyfan6778

      Foo was buzzing in penticton And valamaki was very consistent And strong on defence. I hope they both get a long look but valamaki has another year in junior.

      I’m also hoping gawdin gets a camp invite /AHL contract if he continues to impress.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I feel like Foo has been promised 9 games….just my gut feeling.
      I want Janko to make it no matter what even if it is on the 4th line….Backland worked his way up from the 4 th line. My fear is Janko plays with Brouwer and Stajan and puts up low numbers supporting those people who think he is a bust. I think he could get 15 goals on the new 3 M line. He could be subject to being a healthy scratch if he is buried on the 4 th line.

    • BendingCorners

      If Emile impresses in camp they may prefer to keep him on the roster rather than risk a waiver claim. I’d be quite happy to see him on the ice with Sam or Mark on regular shift, and banish Troy to the popcorn box. Mark and Brett are probably both in the lineup full-time, and I suspect both Matt and Troy will see much less ice time in February than in October but I don’t know which other prospects will bubble up from Stockton to displace them.

  • Flamer

    I would hope for 10 prospects to earn a spot. That would mean we are just getting that much better, see Toronto. However, I don’t believe we have the prospects for that to happen. What I Do like is it seems or prospects are not gifted roster spots based on draft position. We’ve seen how that works Numbers in ahl and junior or college shouldn’t be used for assessment at the nhl level. Many players get better when playing with better players. Lots of discussion about this concerning Sam.
    Also the flames need to be careful with Kulak and Wotherspoon, Montreal will be watching the waiver wire and need LS defenders.

  • On forward, it really depends on whether Jankowski beats out Stajan for at 4C. If it’s not clear, it would be better off sending him down and wait for a call-up. My first bet would be for a winger, so Foo it is.

    What ever happened to Skinkaruk? The guy was so close a year ago.

  • OYYC

    The roster was set on June 30th after Treliving brought back Stone and bought out Bouma. Then he just had to sign his RFA’s to reasonable contracts on which he did a fantastic job. He was never going to sign a free agent (outside of a guy like Hrivik), as it plugged up a position. Treliving left a spot open in the top 12 forward positions for Jankowski who really should make the big club this year. The 6D position will be Kulak’s to lose, and I would have Wotherspoon as the 7D and occasionally rotate him into the lineup for Kulak.

    One of the bench forward positions I’d give to Hathaway as a 4th line energy/banger type. Freddie figures to be in Stockton to start, which isn’t really his fault but Mangiapane and Foo need a decent centre iceman for their development. I can’t see either of those two wingers making the squad initially, they’ll both need playing time and lots of it. There will be inevitable injuries and depending on who gets hurt, and at what position, that will dictate who they bring up.

    Emile Poirier is my darkhorse to make the squad. He’ll have to completely knock it out of the park in camp, and then team will probably like to see a body of work again in the AHL. In some ways he’s almost starting over again, but he could zoom to second in the prospects class to make the Flames (behind Jankowski) in a hurry if he returns to form. This team could be so much better without Brouwer in the lineup, but he’ll play to start, and it needs to be 4th line minutes only. A player I would be really tempted to give 3 or 4 games to at the start of the year would be Valimaki before he heads back to junior. I was really impressed with the poise and hockey IQ, let’s see what he can do in the main camp.

    Treliving did a great job this offseason. Now that he’s making the player decisions without running it past anyone, you can really see his management style. Build from the back end out; stack up on defence and through the middle; leave a spot or two open to keep the youngsters hungry; and don’t get caught up in any long term deals. Every new deal that got done this summer could be moved if things don’t work out as expected.

    The pieces Treliving assembled on June 30th was what he’s comfortable with. He’s left himself about 2.75M in wiggle room to potentially add a piece at the trade deadline. Now let’s see how the paper upgrades translate onto the ice.

  • Albertabeef

    Actually I first thought of Mange, but I’ve changed my mind a little. I think Poirier makes it with Janks. Look for Versteeg-Bennett-Poirier as a third line. Stajan-Jankowski-? Lazar?Brouwer?Freddy?

  • oilcanboyd

    No mention of a Goalie dark horse, Ari?

    If Eddie Lack continues shows that he really is on a downward trend and David Rittich impresses in camp and pre-season, could we not see Rittich make the team and Lack traded? Or are you of the opinion that you keep Rittich in the AHL for possible call-up in case of an injury tp Smith or Lack?

  • deantheraven

    You spelled it out perfectly, great work again Ari! !I’m all for dressing as many rookies as can earn a number on Opening Night. But even our depth guys have more than a rookie’s number of games over a few seasons (Barkowski, Kulak & T’Spoon, F.Ham & Hathaway). As you said, these guys aren’t prospects anymore, so what to do?
    From here it looks pretty clear on defense: Add Kulak and Wotherspoon as 6/7 D men. I’d be ok if Kulak takes the no.6 spot or if he and T’Spoon were in and out in the early season.Stone can move up the line up if there’s an injury in the top 4. Yeah, D looks good. No dark horses here, at least until after the trade deadline.
    The forward positions are where the real fun is. Jankowski looks to be everybody’s early choice to take a roster spot. If he can drive play as a 4th line centre or winger, Yippee! If not, I’d like to see Poirier and/or Shinkaruk play, if not here then somewhere for something. Those two seem to be the most pressing because, waivers. I could see Hathaway and Hamilton as 13/ 14.Who knows, maybe Lazar doesn’t earn a full time spot early on…
    So, after these (four) I’d consider everyone dark horses to start the season in the NHL. Don’t get me wrong, if Foo draws in early and lights it up it would be a better surprise than I deserve. I just don’t think he’s had enough time to prove to be as ‘near-elite’ as he looked last year. And a year (or less) in Stockton wouldn’t do any harm to a first- year pro. Klimchuk would be my first choice as Dark Horse #1. He’s solid two-way winger with a solid year of AHL under his belt and could slide into (or in and out) the bottom 6 and not hurt us. Plus, he could be sent down if something else happens deal-wise. Of course, I think the three forward spots would be even better if they were four. Maybe a training camp injury leads to a dark horse entry…

    But I’d be happier to see at least three of them make it because one or both of Stajan and Brouwer are moved. Stajan still has value here, and elsewhere, but if Lazar, Jankowski or another ‘prospect’ (or F. Ham) can prove equal to or better than the two large- contract vets in order to validate the move, regardless of the return IMHO. More 2018 picks would be good. In Brouwer’s case I’d take any 2018 draft pick and a case of empties to return. And retain 50% salary.
    and…

  • freethe flames

    Before we decide whose going to make the team can we have a few days of camp and a couple of exhibition games. Like many I think Janko and Kulak are ready but they could $hit the bed and not earn jobs. All I want is the guys who earn it to play.