Three breakout candidates in 2017-18

Earlier this week we highlighted a trio of Calgary Flames players who had breakout seasons in 2016-17 and the likelihood of history repeating itself. And, for the Flames to have even more success in the coming season, they’re going to need a few more players to come out of their shell.

So, let’s delve into the three most likely candidates to do just that… curiously with one repeat.

TJ Brodie

It’s probably more apt to label this a “bounce back” season as opposed to a breakout campaign for Brodie, mainly because you could argue he’s already had one of the latter. However, after a largely frustrating 2016-17 season, I think Brodie is ready to return to the overall and offensive form we saw from him two years ago.

Brodie had to deal with difficult, and rather unfortunate, circumstances for much of last season. When Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano combined for one of the NHL’s best defence pairings, it left Brodie in no man’s land as the anchor of a lopsided second duo.

Brodie spent significant time with Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland until finally finding some semblance of comfort upon Michael Stone’s acquisition in February. But the overall impact of that rotating door of partners took its toll.

The first two seasons in the above chart saw Brodie spending a vast majority of his time paired with Giordano, which was a really nice fit. Unfortunately, neither Wideman nor Engelland are anywhere near the same caliber of player as Calgary’s captain and it forced Brodie to do most of the heavy lifting. This year has the potential to be different, though.

With the offseason addition of Travis Hamonic, Brodie looks to have a consistent partner right from the start of the season. While Hamonic is coming off a rough year, his career body of work is strong and most evidence would suggest he’s an upgrade on any of Brodie’s partners from last year. That in and of itself should allow Brodie to have an improved 2017-18.

From an offensive perspective, Brodie’s numbers were down across the board last season. He went from 45 points in 70 games to 36 in 82, which is a significant drop. Again, his lack of a consistent/good partner for much of the season was likely a large contributing factor, especially after putting up career numbers the year before (scoring rates courtesy Natural Stat Trick).

As you can see, Brodie’s five-on-five scoring rates were down last year from the career numbers posted a season prior. With Hamonic as a consistent partner this season, though, I think there’s a good chance Brodie sees a boost in productivity. I also think he’ll benefit from the team’s powerplay situation this year, too.

Brodie was a fixture on Calgary’s first PP unit last year, but that unit wasn’t formed until more than a month into the season. This season, Brodie should be established and comfortable as the back end of that 1-3-1 setup right from the get go, and there’s a decent chance that’ll have a positive effect on his point production.

Sam Bennett

After a rough sophomore campaign, I think Bennett has a good chance of taking an offensive step forward in year three. Over the summer I wrote about Bennett’s realistic expectations for this year and highlighted how a lot of players in similar spots have taken big jumps in their third NHL seasons. From a strict maturity standpoint, I think Bennett is in line for some progression.

For whatever reason, the jump to year three can be a big one for a lot of young forwards. Not everyone can make a big impact right away and players develop at different rates. Bennett spent most of last year adjusting to playing centre at the NHL level and, as such, likely won’t have the same growing pains we saw.

Beyond that, though, I think having Bennett paired with Kris Versteeg to start the season is a promising development. The pair worked well together last season and Versteeg played some of his better even strength hockey with Bennett as his centre. The WOWY numbers below are courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

On the flip side, Versteeg is one of Calgary’s best playmakers and distributes the puck as well as anyone on the team. Last season saw Versteeg finish fifth on the team with an even strength assists-per-60 rate of 1.04. If things play out in a similar fashion this year, a lot of those Versteeg assists could end up on Bennett’s stick.

I’m curious to see how much powerplay time Bennett ends up getting, too. He averaged 1:14 of powerplay time per game during the 2016-17 campaign, which was more than a minute less than what Troy Brouwer saw each night. If Bennett sees a little more time on the man advantage this year, his points are likely to go up at a commensurate rate.

Bennett has looked pretty decent through training camp and the preseason, which is also somewhat encouraging. In saying that, though, Bennett had a really impressive 2016 preseason, too, and it didn’t necessarily translate into regular season play. But, with another year under his belt and at least one good winger with him, I think Bennett’s third NHL season has a good chance of being his best thus far.

Micheal Ferland

Strangely, Ferland is double dipping in my last two articles. Yes, I pinpointed him earlier in the week as a player coming off a career season. At the same time, I’m also spotlighting him as a player poised to have a breakout year in 2017-18. How can that be?

While it’s true Ferland put up career totals last season, much of that was on the back of his 21 games playing with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. The second he was placed on that line for a Feb. 20 contest with Nashville, Ferland’s offensive totals started trending upwards, which makes sense playing with Calgary’s two best offensive forwards.

For Ferland this season, there are realistic and unrealistic expectations floating around. Some might suggest Ferland is poised for a 30-goal season based on his scoring rates during his quarter season on the team’s top line. When you factor in Ferland’s sky high shooting percentage (14.2% and 13.0% at even strength), though, those suggestions fall under the “unrealistic” column.

What is realistic, though, is for Ferland to have a productive season with Monahan and Gaudreau. Is he going to produce even strength points at the rates like he did above? No, probably not, mainly due to that shooting percentage, which ramped up to 18.0% in the 21 games he played with those two. However, that doesn’t mean Ferland won’t be a nice fit on the right side of the top line.

To illustrate that, it’s important to point out both Monahan and Gaudreau benefited from the formation of the line, too. What we saw was not just Ferland getting dragged around the ice by Calgary’s dynamic duo. The WOWY numbers below paint a pretty clear picture of how well the line gelled starting in February.

There is absolutely inherent danger in putting too much stock into a small sample size, of which 21 games qualifies. There’s no guarantee Ferland, Gaudreau, and Monahan will click the same way they did last season. But there’s no reason not to be hopefully confident, either, because they did play so well as a trio.

Assuming for the sake of this article it does work out, Ferland could be in line for some nice offensive totals. First off, playing on a top scoring line should mean a boost in shots per game, which should keep Ferland’s goal total in the 15-20 range, even if his shooting range regresses the way it likely will. Additionally, playing with dynamic players like Monahan and Gaudreau could see Ferland’s assist total end up being higher than the 10 he posted last season.

And then there’s the powerplay factor that needs to be taken into account, much like it was earlier with Bennett. For most of training camp, Ferland has been the “net front guy” on the team’s number one unit, although Brouwer started to see more time there on Thursday night. But, assuming Ferland sees more than the 0:27 of powerplay time he averaged last year, his raw point totals should get a decent boost.

So, while 30 goals probably isn’t realistic in Ferland’s case, there’s plenty of reason to believe he can be a fit all season long with Monahan and Gaudreau. If that’s the case, he’ll definitely be in “breakout player” category for a second straight year.

  • The GREAT WW

    Why are we expecting turnaround seasons from all these players when our coach has proven to do the exact opposite; all our players had career worst seasons under GG last year (except the ones lucky enough to play with generational talent Byng…)?!


  • SoCalFlamesFan

    I don’t understand that chart about WOWY. Why do JG and SM both have lower corsi with Ferland? Yes they have more goals and points but isn’t that stat showing the points are an aberration entirely?

      • piscera.infada

        Kylington, Andersson, Jankowski, Klimchuk, Mangiapane. As has been discussed ad nausea, you can’t claim that the players who regressed under Huska did so because of Huska, while claiming the one’s who progressed did so in spite of Huska. The logic just doesn’t hold up.

        • DoubleDIon

          I’m claiming no one is making an impact in the NHL since Huska took over. I’m saying we have drafted promising guys like you listed and none of them are here or really showing signs of being close. It’s a problem that leads to Brouwers and Glass’ being signed.

          • piscera.infada

            First, I disagree with your second point (“[the Flames] have drafted promising guys like you listed and none of them are here or really showing signs of being close”). That, on it’s face, is functionally incorrect. Jankowski by all accounts (and seemingly by your own admission) is on the bubble to make the team. Andersson is close, Kulak, Wotherspoon or both will make the team this year. None of these are by necessity either. You could also make a legitimate case for several other prospects too–but those have been cut, much to ire of many in the fanbase.

            More to the point above: if there were any hard-and-fast rules for how long prospects take to become every-day NHLers; then sure, maybe I’d see your point. You know that’s not the reality though. It seems like you’re moving the goalposts to suit your narrative.

            The question here should be progression of “development”–are there prospects that appear further along then they were at this time last year? The objective answer to that question is almost assuredly “yes”.

    • Kevin R

      I think Brodie & Hamonic will be a very good 2nd pairing, I think the potential of them feeding off each other once they get that on ice confidence & chemistry with each other could potentially be a breakout for us. How sweet would it be if they play so well together that they challenge as top pairing & top minutes. That would be an achievement to wrestle that from Gio & Hamilton.

    • Kevin R

      It will p!ss me off to no end if GG gets stuck on Brouwer for PP & RW with Bennett. Bennett’s bridge contract was a hot topic because of the season Sam had last. This kid is the draft pick in franchise freaking history & why for the love of Mike would we put him in a situation this year that produced the same damn results as last year. Either put Sam with Gaudreau & Ferland or move Tkachuk with Sam & Versteeg & give this kid a chance to breakout & become one of our franchise players. Can someone tell me how he will have this breakout if GG gives his PP time to Brouwer & anchors his 5V5 with a pilon?

      • Trevy

        My sentiments exactly! Why would even attempt to try this experiment again with Bennett and Brouwer!? Just because he lost a few pounds, he still doesn’t have the skill set to be teamed up with a guy like Bennett. Not once this preseason did GG at least attempt to put Bennett with Tkachuk and Versteeg. Keep Backs and Frolik together and throw Janko with them. Like someone said a few days ago, definition of insanity..

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        GG is slow on the switch but he does eventually get it right. Bennett needs to be top 6 in some capacity and since I don’t think he has a good grasp of player usage I expect he will learn from his mistakes. Bennett will be moved to wing on the top line while Janko Centers Versteeg and Ferland.

  • Greatsave

    I’d have gone with Tkachuk over Brodie.

    Also, what is Dougie Hamilton’s ceiling, at this point? Kid is 24, and has progressed from 42 to 43 to 50 points. Could we see a 20-40-60 season from him this year? I think we need him on PP1 if he were to hit 20 goals. But could he at some point in the next 5-6 years reach Burns/Karlsson/Hedman levels of production? i.e. 70+ points?

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Per Elliot Friedman on the morning show, the Flames apparently hired the guy who tracked all the WOWY stats? Did I hear that correctly?

    … and Brouwer played with Bennett last night? How’s Bennett supposed to break-out?

  • BendingCorners

    Not sure how the Ferland experiment will work out. He might be not quite good enough but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
    Sam had a quiet night last night but didn’t look bad.
    TJ was brutal. Couldn’t react in time to a pass, couldn’t hang on to the puck along the boards, gave away the puck rather than shoot on the PP, and didn’t pick up his man on the first goal. His bounce back hasn’t started yet. Matt B looked better.

    • Cfan in Van

      Everyone had hiccups last night, but Matt B was clearly the worst defender last night. He either dumps it out straight up (while having other options) or skates up the ice with a purpose just to dump it away to nowhere. He drives me nuts every time I see him play. Zero ability to make sound decisions.

      • BendingCorners

        Matt is a third pair defenceman. He is only expected to get the puck out of the zone, not to make brilliant plays. He did what he was supposed to do. Expecting more is like expecting a Lada to out-race a Porsche.

  • seamax

    Apparently the lines at practice today are unchanged from last night. I guess there’s room for only one “Kowski” in this lineup, and his first name appears to be Matt.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      You Have Got To Be Joking~! The Same F-ing Lines? Same F-ing not working well together players … ??? No Changes??? No attempts to be better??? Just Stubborn tunnel vision right into a wall… GG sure Loves to put the team behind the Eight ball doesn’t he. I Hope BT personally requests Brouwer for his 8 team NTC, like yesterday!

      • SoCalFlamesFan

        While I agree there should be changes, I think there have so many already the coach wants some consistency and communication. All GG said was he though the D had chemistry. He made no promises about the forwards at all.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    “Ehrry time I do it, I do it for my hood! And ehrry time I do it I do it I do it for yo hood! And ehrry time I do it I do it for dey hood! It” s understood that it’s, it’s for the hood!”

    (I have nothing constructive to contribute so I brought some vintage Jeezy instead 😀 )

    • supra steve

      Well that’s the prevalent problem around here lately, isn’t it? People with nothing to contribute, but just can’t help but contribute…again, and again, and again.

      • BringtheFire 2.0

        Nah, I say some things that are worth it sometimes. About one post in four. I spend the rest of my time watching all the other Flames fans say the same sh!t over and over and over and over again.

        I know Brouwer is bad. I know there are questions about GG. But, you know, we all forget so the same seven people each have four points to make and they all rotate between the points. Again and again and again and again…

        Everyone around here seems to just want things to go wrong. So I’m gonna have some off the wall comments in the preseason, provided I don’t go full Carl, which I won’t.

  • Bawcos

    Although this won’t start the season, have we ruled out Bennett as 1st line RW. An Janko as #3C
    JG – SM – SB
    MT – MB – MF
    MF – MJ – KV

    • oilcanboyd

      I would put Sam Bennett at Centre on the top line with Johnny and Ferly, leave Backlund’s line alone, have Sean Monahan as centre on the third line with Kris Versteeg and whoever (Lazar? but likely Brouwer). Mark Jankowsi centering the 4th line with Stajan and Freddie Hamilton. Can’t put 2 centres on the top line….

      • cberg

        Unless they put Tkachuk with Bennett I’d put Bennett centering Gaudreau and Monahan. Two centres on the first line? guess the Oilers forgot to read that message. You end up with elite playmaking/puck-handling, sniping and agitation/scoring all on one line.

  • Gmoney72

    Brodie should be just fine. A regular competent partner for the whole season should do wonders for him. Looking forward to a big season from him. If Ferland can pick up where he left off last season and keep it up, that would be more than good enough. As for Bennett, I believe he will have a great breakout season. He seems to have that confidence which he was missing last year and a little more comfortable and relaxed with the puck. I see him improving immensely over last season.

  • oilcanboyd

    In the Calgary SUn today:
    “And one of the Calgary Flames’ veteran voices of reason, two-time Stanley Cup champion Kris Versteeg, tried to point to a silver lining: “I’d rather go through adversity now and get the crap out.””

    Bartkowski and Brouwer are still on the team. Crap still hasn’t been jettisoned!

    • Copperdread Rd.

      The same kris versteeg that had a tryout at oiler camp last year,saw the talent,realized he’d barely get any ice time with his diminishing skills,tucked his tail between his legs and joined the fLames.Where He’s actually one of your best players on a pathetic roster.All hail BT.

  • flames2015

    I’m concerned that if any of the forwards regress from last year, playoffs may not happened. We didn’t add any offense to the forward group, and as long as Benett is tied down to the anchor, I don’t see him doing any better than last year.

  • The Doctor

    On this whole Brouwer-Stajan-Bartkowski mess, I think a couple of things are at play among our coaches and management:

    1. There’s almost always a bias in coaching and management rank in favour of veterans over rookies. These guys place a huge value on experience. There are good and defensible reasons for that bias, but sometimes it blinds them and prevents them from taking out the trash.

    2. There’s a human element to that too — the old locker room dynamics. If a guy (e.g., Stajan) has been on the team for a while, he’s made friends. If he’s popular in the locker room (and maybe he’s best buddies with the team captain), then the coach is loath to bench him or send him to the press box or the minors, for fear of upsetting his buddies/teammates. Furthermore — and many of us have experienced this — when they bring in the new guy to replace him, the players who are buddies with the old guy who got sent down are hostile to the new guy, because he just took their buddy’s job. So coaches can be really reluctant to pull that trigger in those circumstances.

    3. Finally, there’s the financial angle. This applies to Brouwer and Stajan. If the team has forked out a huge chunk of change for a guy, if you’re GM, first of all you may be the one who made, or argued for, that decision. You’re wearing it. So if you send that guy down or to the press box, you’re the one who has to answer to team ownership for why $4.5 million (or whatever) is sitting in the press box eating popcorn etc. This applies to every business in life — nobody likes admitting they screwed up. And if BT sends Brouwer to the press box or to Stockton or buys out his contract, BT is implicitly admitting that he screwed up. Also, sometimes there’s pressure from above (and stories like this are legion in pro sports — just ask Don Cherry about Hardy Aastrom): the ownership says “hey, we’re paying him a king’s ransom, so play him.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I want Stajan, Bart and Brouwer all gone, but I think those are some of the factors weighing on BT and GG in this mess.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      But those factors have nothing to do with the performance of the team. We are told by this team that a player has to earn what they get. Your three reasons do not support this ethos, and shouldn’t be considered. By us, coaches, or management.

      • The Doctor

        Note my last sentence. I agree with you that those factors should not be determinative in this case. But unfortunately, the hockey world being what it is, those factors are playing a role. I totally agree that none of those three players should be on this team.

    • Stu Cazz

      Wow thunder1 you really have inside knowledge. So help me understand? Janko is getting ready to step on the ice then all of a sudden GG calls him and says…Janko I have bad news..you cannot play tonight…your real estate agent is waiting for you and you need to go and view some condos…sorry. Hockey is not priority around here Janko…..