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Few players skip the AHL entirely

When training camp ended, a pair of rookies were on the Calgary Flames roster: Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki. While a few Flames in recent memory have skipped over the minors on their way to the NHL, only a few have avoided spending time in the American Hockey League entirely.

Looking at the Flames rosters in the salary cap era, seven players made the NHL roster out of camp directly from college or major junior.

Dion Phaneuf

A product of the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels, Phaneuf was drafted ninth overall in 2003 NHL Draft. He likely would’ve made the Flames roster to open the 2004-05 season… but a lockout washed the year out.

Instead he made the Flames in 2005-06 out of camp. With an extra year of maturing under his belt, he was the third-best rookie in the NHL that season, finishing behind Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in the Calder Trophy race. While he never quite ended up meeting the Norris Trophy potential many felt he had, he’s never played a game in the AHL.

TJ Brodie

Selected 114th overall in 2008 NHL Draft, Brodie aged out of major junior after the 2009-10 season and made the Flames roster in 2010-11 after a really good training camp. He played three games and looked tentative. He was sent down to the AHL to get some reps in.

Brodie bounced between the NHL and AHL for a little bit, but made the Flames roster out of camp during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and never looked back. As with Phaneuf, he probably would’ve gotten a full-time gig sooner if not for a labour disruption.

Roman Horak

Acquired from the New York Rangers in the Tim Erixon trade, Horak made the Flames roster in his very first training camp with the organization. He wasn’t great, though – his “Scorak” nickname was easily the best thing about him – and he ended up bouncing between the NHL and AHL for the remainder of his tenure in the organization.

Sean Monahan

The first of three Flames first round selections in the 2013 NHL Draft, Monahan converted his sixth overall selection into a very strong 2013-14 camp. He made the team’s opening night roster and has cemented himself as the team’s first line center.

Johnny Gaudreau

The Flames’ fourth round selection in 2011 (104th overall) – selected after Sven Baertschi, Tyler Wotherspoon and Markus Granlund – Gaudreau joined the team late in the 2013-14 season after signing following the college season. He made the team out of camp to open the 2014-15 campaign and has cemented himself as the team’s first line winger.

Sam Bennett

The fourth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft – the highest draft pick in Calgary history – Bennett famously showed up to camp in 2014-15 and blew the doors off, only for everyone to discover that he needed shoulder surgery. He had the surgery and went back to the OHL when he recovered, only to return to the Flames for the last game of the regular season (and the playoffs). He made the team out of camp in 2015-16 and hasn’t looked back.

Matthew Tkachuk

The most recent Flames prospect to make the direct jump, Tkachuk was drafted sixth overall in 2016 and made the roster out of his very first training camp. He simply maintained his crash-and-bang style throughout camp and made it difficult for management to send him back.

What’s the secret?

The main trait of players that make the Flames roster directly from training camp to begin with is having a strong camp relative to everyone else around them – it’s helpful if you’re in a pretty weak prospect base at the time, as Brodie and Horak were.

The common denominator of players that avoid the AHL entirely is carving out an NHL niche relatively quickly: Phaneuf, Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett and Tkachuk found themselves in key spots – it helped Bennett and Tkachuk that they played on Mikael Backlund’s line and performed quite well. Brodie and Horak were put in bubble roles right away and never really had a chance to get into larger roles before their AHL demotions.

So far, it’s a good sign for Dube and Valimaki that they’ve both played a lot and played well.