The Calgary Flames have progressed through their rebuild quite a bit over the past few seasons, owing a large part of their recent successes to the emergence of the young, home-grown talent. With Flames-drafted players such as Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau anchoring their roster, Calgary seems poised to continue some of their forward momentum. Along with the club’s progression, several more youngsters seem primed to push for jobs when training camp opens for the 2016-17 campaign.
Here are the five Flames prospects most likely to see NHL action this season.
Acquired: Calgary’s 1st round selection, 6th overall, in the 2016 NHL Draft
The Flames were absolutely elated when the son of former NHL great Keith Tkachuk fell to them early in the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo. Equal parts talented and hard to play against, Tkachuk has drawn praise from teammates and scouts for his ability to play “between the dots.” In short: he’s a guy that mucks around in the “dirty areas” of the ice, wins battles and is able to set up his teammates for scoring opportunities. Moreover, he’s proven himself to be a big-game player – playing with a bad ankle, he scored the overtime winner to help London capture the Memorial Cup.
Tkachuk makes the opening day NHL roster if he shows that his skating is up to snuff. He’s objectively got the NHL talent level everywhere else, and if his mobility is anywhere near NHL level he’ll get a shot at the start of the season. The Flames are desperate to take the scoring onus off of Gaudreau and Monahan, and they want to get more offensively-minded players on their team to do that.
Acquired: Traded to Calgary from Vancouver in exchange for Markus Granlund
A Calgary native, Shinkaruk split last season between two NHL clubs (Calgary and Vancouver) and two AHL clubs (Stockton and Utica). Lauded as a pure goal scorer but occasionally criticized for his inconsistency, Shinkaruk was really solid (if unspectacular) for the Flames in a brief audition with his hometown team. As with Tkachuk, Calgary’s lack of proven offensive talent beyond Gaudreau and Monahan will buy Shinkaruk a long look at camp. If he can show that he can bring the same high level of engagement to every game and every period, he could easily make the club.
Acquired: Calgary’s 4th round selection, 105th overall, in the 2012 NHL Draft
A product of the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, the Edmonton-native holds the unique distinction of being the first player drafted by the Flames in the 2012 Draft to play any NHL games – possibly because the club went heavy on college players that year. Kulak made the Flames last season out of camp due to an injury to veteran T.J. Brodie and his puck-moving style didn’t look out of place. It was likely just the relatively consistent health of the team (and the acquisition of Jyrki Jokipakka) that prevented Kulak’s return to the NHL before season’s end. Already established as a strong AHL defender, Kulak may be able to make the jump if the Flames move a body on their blueline or if Ladislav Smid starts the season on the injury reserve list due to his recurring neck injury.
Acquired: Calgary’s 3rd round selection, 75th overall, in the 2012 NHL Draft
A lot was expected out of Gillies in his first pro season. After backstopping the Providence College Friars to an NCAA Championship in 2015, the hope was that he could emerge as Calgary’s goalie of the future based on his efficient playing style and impressive college numbers. Instead, his season ended quite early as he underwent surgery for a recurring hip injury. Now at 100%, he’s a step away from the NHL and can make it there with a strong start to the AHL season…or an injury to one of Calgary’s newly-acquired veteran goaltenders.
Acquired: Calgary’s 1st round selection, 21st overall, in the 2012 NHL Draft
Few players have inspired such extreme emotions in Calgary before playing a single game as Jankowski. Selected in 2012 after then-general manager Jay Feaster traded down to recoup a previously-traded 2nd round pick, Jankowski was simultaneously lauded as (a) the best player in the draft in a decade (compared to Joe Nieuwendyk) and (b) a project pick. After the smoke had settled, Jankowski ended up playing four seasons with the NCAA’s Providence College Friars – emerging as a very effective two-way forward and being named to the All-Tournament Team when they won the NCAA Championship in 2015. After signing a pro deal, he was really impressive in an eight-game audition with AHL Stockton. As one of the few high-end centers in the system, Jankowski could be a single injury away from NHL duty.