Once upon a time, the Calgary Flames were annual participants in an annual prospect tournament hosted by the Vancouver Canucks in Penticton, BC. Now, the Flames do their own thing with the Edmonton Oilers. With more games and more teams, was the Penticton model better for the prospects?
The Young Stars Classic tournament dates back to 2010, when the Canucks hosted four other teams. The first couple of events saw every team play four games, while it dropped to three later on once the tournament’s size dipped to four teams. The 2018 event dropped further as the Edmonton Oilers and Flames opted out – the Oilers went to Europe that fall, the Flames went to China – and instead played a pair of games against each other. The event was shuttered for this season due to a lack of team interest.
The upside of Penticton is pretty obvious: it’s centrally-located and is a pretty nice spot for hockey people to convene for a week of player evaluation. From a player perspective, they get to play several games against different teams and so it’s possible to get looks at players in different situations and to rotate players in and out without losing key chances to look at them. The quality of the prospect teams varied from year to year, and that variation provided situations to give different goaltenders different opportunities for evaluation, for example.
The downside of Penticton is obvious, as well: it’s a bit of a hike for teams in Alberta to move their training camps there for a week and then relocate them to their home cities afterwards. Further, the games tended to get a bit chippy as the weekend wore on and so the utility of the games tended to diminish. (There was always one team that wasn’t very good and tended to goon it up.)
To be honest, it feels likely that Penticton was both better and worse as an event than the current Red Deer status quo. It was better from a fan and fun perspective, in that Penticton became an event and it was possible to plan a trip around it. On the other hand, playing a pair of games against Edmonton in close proximity is more pragmatic and potentially provides a better situational gauge of the prospect pool – it’s possible to evaluate player adjustments in the back-to-back situation.
The Flames and Oilers conclude their second annual prospect home-and-home series on Tuesday evening when their prospects play each other at the Scotiabank Saddledome.