For years, the Calgary Flames had a reputation as a club that had a tough time drafting and developing young talent into contributing members of their National Hockey League roster. However, their fortunes have taken a turn for the better in recent seasons and they have had much more success integrating their drafted players into their big-league lineup.
Here are five players who have made the most compelling cases for NHL employment, in alphabetical order:
One of the most controversial selections in Flames franchise history – the club traded down to recoup a second rounder they shipped out the year before, then took Jankowski instead of Olli Maatta – Jankowski has become a very interesting prospect since being drafted in 2012. After four seasons in the NCAA with Providence College, including a national championship win and steady point progression over his collegiate career, Jankowski made the jump to the pro ranks last spring. He’s been consistently one of the strongest contributors on the Stockton Heat roster and didn’t look out of place in a brief NHL recall earlier this season.
The third of three Flames first round picks in 2013 – the others being NHL star Sean Monahan and AHL forward Emile Poirier – Klimchuk was the final one to turn pro by virtue of his late birthday which afforded him an additional season in the Western Hockey League. His debut pro season saw him spend the majority of his time on Stockton’s bottom-six before a late-season promotion to the scoring lines. This season he’s emerged as arguably Stockton’s most consistently dangerous offensive threat (and one of its most defensively responsible). His frame could probably use a bit more muscle, but his game is arguably NHL ready.
This season he’s emerged as arguably Stockton’s most consistently dangerous offensive threat (and one of its most defensively responsible). His frame could probably use a bit more muscle, but his game is arguably NHL ready.
A puck-moving defender in the T.J. Brodie mold, Kulak is a 2012 fourth-round selection who has spent a bit of time in the NHL in each of his first three pro seasons. He made the Flames out of training camp this season and looked strong, but his lack of consistency (and a Flames winning streak that made head coach Glen Gulutzan hesitant to tinker with his lineup) pushed him to the sidelines and then to the AHL for some playing time.
Kulak’s skating and puck-moving skills are NHL ready. When partnered with a stay-at-home blueliner, as he was with Deryk Engelland for long stretches, he’s a great contributor.
One of the major drops in the 2015 NHL Draft – he was originally projected to go early in the first round – Kylington was nabbed by the Flames late in the second round. He’s a prodigious talent when it comes to skating and puck-moving, and he’s been a superb contributor for Stockton’s power play over the past two seasons.
His play away from the puck and his game to game consistency are the only things keeping him in the minors. Just 19 years old, he’ll have time to develop those skills. There’s a strong chance he’ll be knocking on the door for a late-season call-up.
A veteran of the Czech Extraliga at just 24 years old, Rittich was signed as a free agent and really impressed during Jon Gillies’ injury. While Gillies is thought to be the Flames’ goalie of the future, and a move to the NHL would likely be contingent on a lot of playing time, Rittich is a more polished, finished product than his Stockton teammate.
To be blunt, Rittich is likely to become a really strong backup goaltender. As a result, if the Flames happened to need a backup goalie in a pinch, Rittich is probably already well-suited for that job since it’s unlikely his development would be hampered by not playing for a stretch. Depending on what happens over the rest of the NHL season or the expansion draft, he could find himself in Calgary quite soon.
Jon Gillies is arguably Calgary’s most important prospect right now. A former NCAA champion at Providence College, he’s often been excellent at the NCAA and AHL level but really needs to play a lot this season to put last season’s hip surgery behind him. His talent level is demonstrably NHL caliber, but he’ll need to put together a full AHL season before the Flames brass will be willing to throw him into the NHL fray. That said, if they needed a starter for multiple games (rather than a backup), Gillies would probably get the call over Rittich.
Similarly, former OHL standout Andrew Mangiapane has been excellent in his first AHL season. While not physically huge, he boasts speed and vision, somewhat reminiscent of fellow Flame Johnny Gaudreau. Like Gillies, the thought is that Mangiapane needs a full season under his belt at the minor league level before he knocks on the big club’s door.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.