The 2013-14 NHL season has just begun and the Calgary Flames have six young players on their roster. The next two or three years don’t look very good for the Calgary Flames but the long-term prospects may be excellent. Here’s why.
Current Calgary Flames
Two young Flames have already made an impact with the big club. Center Mikael Backlund has struggled through various injuries but has shown some good offense at times. He is still relatively young and will be given every opportunity to develop into a consistent top-six forward. Defenseman T.J. Brodie took off to the next level last season after the team lost minute-cruncher Jay Bouwmeester in a trade. He may become a top four defenseman and provide some offense.
Left-winger Sven Baertschi is considered the best prospect for the team right now. He has played a few games in Calgary and shown some great potential as an offensive player. His injury last season prevented him from moving forward but he is poised to be a top-six forward for the Flames. Baertschi had an average camp and pre-season and was recently called by Brian Burke, president of hockey operations. Baertschi said he is up to the challenge and can hopefully turn it around in the regular season.
2013 first-round pick Sean Monahan has already displayed in pre-season what he can offer. His size and skills make him a much-needed centreman. The question is whether it will benefit him and the team more to stay in the NHL at age 18 or returned to juniors for a bit more development after a nine-game tryout with the Flames.
The Flames recently acquired Joe Colborne from the Toronto Maple Leafs and he fills a big need as the six-foot-five, 213-pound centreman adds size and strength down the middle. He is a former first round pick of the Boston Bruins and only 23 years of age.
Finally, Lance Bouma is a valuable left-winger who can help kill penalties and gives 100% on every shift.
The rest of the Flames’ prospects have now been returned to their affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat, or to the junior or college leagues. According to General Manager Jay Feaster, three players are very close to making an impact with the big club. Centers Max Reinhart is a jack-of-all trade who can contribute in a variety of ways up front while Corban Knight brings great faceoff skills and tenacity. Defenseman Patrick Sieloff brings grit and toughness to the blueline along with some offensive upside. They all played well in camp but were casualties of numbers and could be among the first ones recalled to Calgary after injuries or trades.
Left-winger Michael Ferland was also among the last cuts and needs further development in the minors after really impressive the coaching staff in camp.
Calgary’s two other first-round picks of this year were returned to their junior teams. Emile Poirier has also shown his tenacity and talent as a right-winger, a position the Flames need to fill after the departure of long-time captain Jarome Iginla. The team was knocked for choosing Poirier instead of hometown Hunter Shinkaruk (chosen by Vancouver) but he might prove to be the best choice. Left-winger Morgan Klimchuk was unable to show much in camp after suffering an early injury.
After Baertschi and Monahan, the best prospect may be Johnny Gaudreau, a left-winger playing for Boston College. His offensive skills and playmaking abilities are top-notch. If he can grow a little bigger and continue his improvement in the NCAA this season, Gaudreau could be the Flames next coming of Theoren Fleury. Another NCAA prospect is Mark Jankowski, a big, tall centreman who has great upside but needs more time to develop after been drafted last year as a young 18-year-old.
On defense, the Flames have a number of prospects in varying stages of development. Tyler Wotherspoon and John Ramage are both big, physical defensemen who play a solid stay-at-home style while Mark Cundari, acquired in the Bouwmeester trade, packs good puck-moving skills to go with his aggressive style.
In the goal, the Flames have three young prospects developing their abilities in the AHL or junior league. Jon Gillies, Laurent Brossoit and Joni Ortio have played very well in various tournaments and playoffs so early in their careers.
And there are more prospects for the Flames including left-winger Ken Agostino and centers Bill Arnold, Markus Granlund, and Josh Jooris, who was a pleasant surprise in camp.
The Calgary Flames have already begun to move forward after the trades of Iginla and Bouwmeester last season and begin to rebuild the team with solid prospects. The key now is the patience to allow these young men to develop at their own pace and to add even more prospects in the next few years. The Flames seem to be building a contender rather than merely happy with making it to the post season. The pieces are slowly being added for Calgary to be a strong contending team with exciting players eager to return the flaming C to its previous glory.
Mario now covers the Los Angeles Kings and writes other hockey features. He is an experienced journalist who has covered sports and entertainment in daily and weekly newspapers, magazines and online, including thedigitalbits.com/columns/inside-cinema. He is also the co-creator of The Gaffoos, www.gaffoos.com