As we head into the Christmas break, we have a few boring hockey-less days to deal with. With players heading home and rosters frozen in place, there’s a bit of radio silence with regards to NHL hockey for the upcoming week.
Of course, we have to specify NHL hockey, as the most important international tournament of the year kicks off on Boxing Day. World Juniors are a celebration of the futures of hockey, but let’s both extend and narrow that graciousness to the Flames prospects.
In lieu of spending time with your family this holiday, you can spend time with the extended family of the Calgary Flames: as it is the halfway point for many of the Flames’ prospects, we are going to take another look at our summer top 20 prospects list.
Basically, we’re looking back on how we did or didn’t vote back in July and reassessing at the halfway point.
This isn’t a brand new top 20 – compiling the top 20 is a long process, nevermind doing it on the fly – but rather just a brief review. Some of the FlamesNation bloggers (Ari, Ryan, Mike, Bill, Roatis, myself) went player-by-player, rank-by-rank and answered whether they thought they would rerank the same player higher, lower, or about the same given their performance this season. A Goldilocks approach to prospects, if you will.
We ironically begin our review of the top 20 list with the ones who didn’t make it, either because no one voted for them or so few of us did.
None of these prospects received votes in the first go-around. Has the first half of the season changed anything?
Adam Ollas Mattsson – D, Stockton Heat, AHL
By this time last year, Ollas Mattsson was already shut down for the season with a lower-body injury, having played only 14 games for the Heat and picking up zero points. Factoring in his meh European career and the fact that he was no longer Flames property (four years removed from his draft), everyone passed over AOM in our summer rankings.
But he came back to fight another day and finally got his lucky break. With the Flames recalling pretty much all of Stockton’s defence, Ollas Mattsson was given the spotlight, and he’s done well for himself as the de facto #1 defenceman. Granted, it’s easy to stand out given the current state of the Stockton D, but Ollas Mattsson was a bit of a write-off before who now may have an argument for an ELC later this year. Half of the staff ranked him higher.
Nick Schneider – G, Stockton Heat/Kansas City Mavericks, ECHL
The first unanimous riser, and arguably the most surprising, is Schneider. After a WHL career where he ranked close to the bottom in every major goaltending statistic every year, Schneider has seemingly found the promise the Flames saw when they signed him back in 2015. With the Flames’ prospect goalies either underperforming or injured (or both), Schneider has risen to the occasion, briefly stealing the Stockton job when Tyler Parsons was out and has since stolen the Kansas City job.
This could be a case of exceeding extremely low to non-existent expectations, or perhaps a case of judging someone because of a hot streak, but regardless of that Schneider might be more of a legitimate NHL prospect than once thought. If he can keep it up through the back half of the season, he might be within striking distance of the NHL – an unbelievable proposition given his performances before this season.
Mason McDonald – G, Kansas City Mavericks
There was never really much expectation from McDonald, who is now a third-year pro and has finally crossed the 0.900 SV% threshold, albeit in the lowest level pro league. No one voted to move him up.
Zach Fischer – RW, Kansas City Mavericks
Fischer was always an odd selection: very rarely does anyone, much less a middle six grinder, get drafted in their final year of eligibility. But the Flames felt that there was a professional hampered by injuries and odd coaching choices hiding underneath the unattractive stat line.
In the pros, Fischer has kind of struggled to find his legs, picking up just two points in 17 games. It doesn’t help that he spent the first month-ish in the Stockton press box, but he hasn’t made most of the opportunities he’s been given in the ECHL.
Mitchell Mattson – C/LW, Michigan State, NCAA (Big 10)
Mattson has taken the development path less traveled, spending two post-draft years in the USHL and switching NCAA commitments from North Dakota to Michigan State. We’ll generously classify his journey as a long-term plan, as Mattson has spent most of his freshman year as a healthy scratch.
Ryan Lomberg – LW, Stockton Heat/Calgary Flames
Lomberg is the second on our list to unanimously be ranked higher. After a seven-game NHL stint last year where he mostly got beat up, it seemed that his NHL days were likely over. With a loaded free agency class coming in and some other prospects graduating, it seemed he was doomed for AHL bottom six time.
Not the case. Even with bolstered depth, Lomberg has found his way to the Flames (although he just got reassigned on Dec. 22). He’s mostly been a fourth line body, but he did deliver street (ice?) justice for Mikael Backlund, which has to count for something. If current NHL worthiness is a factor for these rankings (it is), Lomberg being at the bare minimum of that qualification places him ahead of at least half of the current Flames prospects. Ergo, he rises.
Josh Healey – D, Stockton Heat
Healey’s had a fine second season with the Heat, scoring his first professional goal and already setting a personal best for points in the AHL. However, he hasn’t received any love from the FN writers, who still wouldn’t vote for him this time around. Being “fine” in the AHL isn’t really enough.
Rinat Valiev – D, Stockton Heat
Valiev didn’t receive any votes in the top 20, which is almost certainly due to him not being Flames property in the summer. The blueliner came to Calgary in the Brett Kulak trade in early October alongside Matt Taormina, adding defensive depth to a Stockton blueline that was lean in that department. He hasn’t impressed much, as none of the writers thought Valiev would crack their top 20 lists.
Here are the players who received at least one vote in our summer rankings. Again: has anything changed?
Yashin Ehliz – RW, Stockton Heat (briefly)
In Ehliz’s case, a lot changed, and dramatically so. The German winger was brought in as a summer depth signing, and received some votes. Honestly speaking, they were likely because he was the new shiny toy everyone wanted to see succeed, but all votes count the same. After four games of AHL action spread over the course of a month, both parties realized that this isn’t what they signed up for. He now plays with Matt Stajan in Munich.
Brett Pollock – LW/C, Stockton Heat
Pollock received a lone 20th place vote after a break out half-season where he rose from occasional healthy scratch to one of Stockton’s better players down the stretch. He seems to have lost that form, and accordingly, his lonely place in the polls.
Eetu Tuulola – RW, HPK, SM-Liiga
Tuulola leaving and being successful overseas wasn’t that surprising. After all, we knew he was good on European ice. With the struggles of his WHL career fresh in our minds in addition to an extremely forgettable World Juniors performance, Tuulola struggled to crack many writers’ lists in the summer. He was appeared to be another one of the countless European prospects who just never got used to North American hockey.
But he remains a tempting prospect. He’s been pretty solid for HPK this season, and is still just 20 years old. He’s looking less like a fading memory and more like someone who could feasibly contribute at the NHL level. Not to say that he has jumped way back into the conversation, but at the very least every writer voted to put him higher at the half-way point.