Photo Credit: Mrs. Finest

Stockton Heat mailbag: Defense, goalies, and just who might make it

In my posts about the Stockton Heat, I get a lot of questions regarding players down on the farm. While I try to answer as many as possible, there are some that I don’t get to. So I reached out to Flames Nation to see if I could do the occasional Stockton Heat Mailbag that would cover not only players, but the Heat, the Heat organization, Stockton Arena, the AHL, the City of Stockton, and hockey in general.

While I personally don’t do Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any social media, you can reach me via the Flames Nation twitter feed (@FlamesNation) or email me at [email protected] with your questions. I would say you could send me a letter, but the postman never rings twice.

For the inaugural mailbag, I received a few tweets along with an email that covered two topics. To round out the post, I pulled some questions I received from previous posts to expand on the answers. Time to channel my inner Cliff Clavin.

Khalid Keshavjee emailed me on a few topics. The first topic:

Matthew Phillips lit it up in junior, but seemed to struggle to get playing time in Stockton. Now that he’s playing more, what are your observations of him? Do you think he can produce at the AHL level? Do you think he can make it to the NHL? 

When Phillips first came up a few years back, I thought there was no way this guy would ever make it. He was so small and he looked like a fish out of water. But that was two years ago. At the beginning of this season, I thought he was pressing a bit. Once he got that initial goal, he loosened up and just started to play. He and his center, Glenn Gawdin, have built some chemistry together and have embraced their fourth line role. I like the fact that he is not afraid to head to the front of the net.

Phillips waiting in front

From what I have seen so far, he can produce at the AHL level. He is currently 10th on the team in points with seven points, all coming in his last eight games. I think a successful year would be a 20-point campaign, especially if he remains on that fourth line.

That is a tough call to say he will make it in the NHL. He does not possess the puck handling skills of a Johnny Gaudreau, but few do. His road will be a tough one, but he will need to produce at a high level over a period of the next two or three years to show he belongs. He needs to bulk up and get stronger. Otherwise, he will continue to get pushed off the puck.

How have Matt Taormina and Rinat Valiev looked in Stockton so far? Do you like what you’re seeing from them? Are they career AHL guys or do they have a chance to make it up to the NHL?

It took a few games before both Taormina and Valiev hit the ice. Taormina was hurt and Valiev had visa issues. Once they hit the ice, they were slotted together as second pair. Like with the top pair of Oliver Kylington and Adam Ollas-Mattsson, you have the offensive-minded Taormina, who also plays on the power play, teamed with the stay-at-home defenseman Valiev.

Stockton’s defense was shaky, but once this tandem arrived, they helped settle things down. Valiev backs up Taormina when he jumps up in the play. Valiev has more penalty minutes than Taormina (14 to 2), but he is also only -2, as compared to -8 for Taormina. While Taormina is billed as the more offensive of the duo, both currently have three points (0-3).

As for whether or not either will make the NHL, I think Valiev has a better shot at making it than Taormina, just based on age alone (Taormina is 32 years old while Valiev is just 23).

Lastly, to answer Jumping Jack Flash’s question about recent pairings, now that Oliver Kylington is with the Flames and Dalton Prout is on a conditioning stint with the Heat, the pairings were shuffled during the most recent game against San Diego. Prout was with Vailev and Taormina was with Ollas-Mattsson. On Friday, Prout had a goal and an assist, Valiev had two assists, and Taormina had an assist.

kingcambie‏ @kingcambie asks:

Is there such a thing (and would it even be a good idea if there were) as the ‘Flames way’ of development? Do players learn anything in Stockton that is unique system-wise or hockey culture-wise that applies over the big team and affiliates?

The Heat play the same system as the Flames, making it cohesive for players who are either called up or sent down. In my opinion, this is the main reason for the Heat’s slow start. While the big club gets a month of preseason to learn the system, the Heat’s official training camp is only two weeks long and they get two preseason games sandwiched in the middle of that camp. While a majority of Stockton’s roster was in the Flames camp learning the system, there are some that are on either AHL contracts or PTOs that get signed late that do not get the full camp experience in Calgary and have to learn on the fly.

Mauricio Cardoza‏ @Msea91 asks:

How has Adam Ollas-Mattson looked? Any thoughts of if he could ever make the big club? In any capacity?

Ollas-Mattsson looks confident. He has added some muscle from last year and has been more physical this year, finishing his checks and moving people away from the front of the net. His defensive-minded play allows his partner, Kylington, to jump into the rush. This year he is showing off his offensive skills, notching two goals to go along with three assists in 16 games. As a comparison, he had zero points in 14 games played last year. He still needs at least a year or two, maybe three, but he could be a good bottom six option for the Flames.

Ollas-Mattsson (34) clearing out the trash in front

Daniel Tiller‏ @tiller_daniel writes:

Is Martin Pospisil coming to the AHL after what happened with his NCAA situation?

Based on the Prospects Report from Christian Tiberi, and reading about this guy and the numbers he is putting up, I sure hope he comes to Stockton. Thirty-one points in 17 games is impressive. The question is if he does come, where to put him? Would it benefit him to move to wing? With a roster deep down the middle with Curtis Lazar, Alan Quine, Tyler Graovac, and Gawdin, it will be hard to find ice time for him. Even on the wing, he would be playing bottom six minutes, as Cail MacLean won’t move Andrew Mangiapane, Buddy Robinson, Morgan Klimchuk, Spencer Foo, or Kerby Rychel off the top two lines. I could see Pospisil rotating with Brett Pollock or Anthony Peluso in the bottom six.

Burnward asked about Rob Thomson.

Rob Thomson is the bench coach for the Philadelphia Phillies. Although he is Canadian, I think he needs to work on his slap shot a little and defend more. He is invisible on the ice. I think Burnward meant Rob Hamilton.

Rob Hamilton was signed on a PTO from the Manchester Monarchs right before the first Colorado game. He came in and scored the game winner in overtime. Born in Calgary, he is a 24-year-old left-handed defensemen who has six points (2-4) in six games and leads the team in +/- at a +6. He has been on the bottom six, mostly with Josh Healey, which gives Stockton an offensive/defensive combo on all three defensive pairings.

Everton FC said last week that he has less and less faith in Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons as prospects who will make the NHL. Time for me to testify.

I will start with Parsons. In two years, I have seen him play live only three times. I saw his first win in San Jose last year, and he got lit up for five goals earlier this year. When I did see him play, he was active in net and came out to challenge shooters. He has played a total of 38 pro games: last year he played in 28 games in Kansas City (12-12-0 with a 3.16 GAA and .902 save percentage) and seven games in Stockton (1-3-0 with a 4.39 GAA and .856%). This year he is 1-2-0 with a 4.91 GAA and a .831 save percentage but has not seen the ice since Oct. 21. His injury history is a huge concern, but Tyler is still only 21 and has time to turn it around if he can remain healthy. He has promise.

A rare save by Parsons

Gillies is another story. Now in his fourth year (albeit his rookie year in 2015-16 was cut short with hip surgery), he has never really dominated in net. In seven games that rookie year, Gillies went 2-3-1 with a 2.31 GAA and .920 save percentage. The following year, coming back from surgery, he went 18-14-4 with a 2.93 GAA and .910% in 39 games. Even though he was outplayed by David Rittich, he was the #1 goalie for the Heat. Last year, he went 17-16-5 with a 2.53 GAA and .917% in 39 games. He finished the season in Calgary, going 3-5-1 in 11 games with a 2.88 GAA and a .896 save percentage. This year, in 13 starts, his goals against has ballooned to 4.77 and his save percentage has plummeted to .848 while going 4-5-1. He has been pulled four times this year, including the last three games he has played.

Gillies surveying the scene

I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Gillies has a huge hole top side. Most of the goals scored against him are high cheese. This year it is both glove and stick-side high. When watching him, once he is scored on, his head drops and his body slumps. His body language screams “here we go again”. He is the smallest 6’6” goalie I have ever seen. Nick Schneider, who is four inches shorter, plays taller than Gillies.

Now the million dollar question (actually $750,000): can he be fixed? The short answer is yes, as he is still only 24 years old. If the Flames are intent on keeping Gillies, I think it would be smart to invest in him by bringing in some past goalies (Kipper???) to work with Gillies one-on-one. I would keep him as a scratch for a month or so and have him concentrate on his techniques, skills, and positioning. You have a hot goalie in Schneider and a capable back up in Ryan Faragher that will allow Gillies to work on his game away from the team.

If you do not intend to keep him long term, then ship him out as part of a package as soon as possible to allow him the chance to work with another goalie coach. Sometimes a change of system does the trick. Just make sure to ship him to the east coast and out of the Western Conference so in case he does improve, we don’t have to face him. When he is on, he can be unstoppable. But those games are too far and in between to count on.

If you have any questions regarding the Heat, you can always send me a tweet to @FlamesNation and address it to Stockton’s Finest (they will get it to me) or email me at [email protected]. I will continue to try and answer your questions in the recaps I post as well. I hope to have a pre-game roundtable with as many of you as possible when Mrs. Finest and I come up for the San Jose game on Feb. 7 and continue for our friends in Vancouver on Feb. 9 when the Flames visit the Canucks.

SF representing in Vegas

    • Cfan in Van

      And someone who isn’t a complete introvert who’d rather nest in rural Finland than have anything to do with the spotlight of professional sport. I don’t blame Kipper for that, it’s the way I’d handle retirement at 36yo too if I had a choice.

  • BendingCorners

    I may join you at one of the games in February depending on work. Whether I do or not, Merry Christmas (now that Thanksgiving is past) and thank you for your continued coverage of the Heat.

  • Harley Hotchkiss’s Ghost

    I always liked Rob Hamilton back in 2012-2013 for the Okotoks Oilers, when Rhett Holland was drafted in 2012 I always though Hamilton was actually the one that should be getting the NHL Draft hype. Glad he is getting a prime chance in the AHL with us.

  • buts

    Is Parson’s injury an actual physical injury or is he not playing due to “personal issues” that recently got revealed? I think he has all the tools to be a great goalie and hoping nothing but the best for him. I have to be honest but Gillies has shown me absolutely nothing in 4 years of pro and I also watched him in college that gives me hope he can play in the nhl. He has terrible habits from playing deep, going down early and not tracking the puck. I believe with good coaching and the desire to break those habits he has a chance with his size.

    • Cfan in Van

      I recall hearing that there was a collision involving Parsons in the last game he played, and there was speculation of injury (head related) after that. But AHL seems to leave out injury details on an official level.
      That said, it’s speculation, and I’m just fueling it by speculating on speculations… Take it as you will.

    • Stockton's Finest

      The hit he took at the end of October was pretty hard. He has not been on the ice since. Someone mentioned “concussion protocol” but when I asked about it at the Coach’s Chalk Talk, Cail MacLean said Upper Body.

  • oilcanboyd

    From what I have seen of Big Z on highlights and the Russia QMJHL challenge games at 2 inches taller than Phillips he has a better chance at earning a spot in the NHL in the future…more promising than Phillips IMO.

  • Off the wall

    Our first SF mailbag!
    Great work. My question was answered regarding Phillips, so thank you for that.

    Mrs Finest must be a gem. My wife would have made me wear horse blinders for that Vegas photo!

  • Just.Visiting

    In seeing Gillies’ continued challenges with long shots, I keep wondering if there might be a vision problem that he might not realize.

    Thanks for doing these reports!

  • calgaryfan

    Ollas-Mattson’s skating will keep him out of the NHL. I think once Phillips adjust and the coach gives him some ice he will climb the ladder of prospects.

    • His Dudeness

      He goes to a lot of the games and actually pays attention to the team on a daily basis. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to give his insight? If you don’t like it then don’t bother reading it and stfu.

    • Hockeysense9393

      SF is giving us more of an inside look to our minor team which is great for a real Flames fan. A true fans perspective on how our prospects are coming along. In my opinion…the Flames should be putting SF on their payroll as a minor league corespondent. From what I’ve read…he has pretty good access to the team and has good hockey knowledge. Keep up the good work SF!! …and thank you.