Christopher Ralph is a hockey writer with a focus on prospects and the entry draft, as well as the Leafs’ correspondent here at THW. Since I reside in Calgary, expect a few of my Flames articles to find their way on the pages of THW as well.
The entry draft seems like an eternity away. The madness of Free Agent Frenzy has dissipated. There are the ever- present trade speculations, but few actual transactions.
What’s left to get us hockey junkies through the lull of summer?
Thankfully, there are the prospect development camps to give us a glimpse at possible future NHLers. I was fortunate enough to spy on the last day of the Calgary Flames prospect camp on Saturday, July 25th. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the camp throughout the week, but this was a blessing in disguise as I was able to collaborate with a couple of other fellow meticulous hockey talent investigators – Ryan Connery and Randy Workman.
Not so long ago, the Flames’ cupboards were pretty bare when it came to the prospect pool. You have to give credit where credit is due, however, as GM Darryl Sutter has re-stocked the prospect shelves amazingly well. So much so, that Flames fans not only have to be excited about the present squad, but for the future for years to come. There is very good depth at all positions, with perhaps being biggest on the wish list – another super blue chip forward in addition to Mikael Backlund.
Flames prospect summer development camp ran from July 20th to 27th this year.
Here are some of my observations and impressions with additional insight from Connery and Workman as well:
(Part I = Goalies and Defenseman)
- Leland Irving: looked to be the future #1 goalie the Flames hoped he would be when they drafted him in the 1st round in 2006. Super-solid and calm, cool and collective. Workman summed it up nicely: “Leland’s strength is his glove hand and controlling rebounds. He is quick and plays his angles very well. The key to Leland’s success is not getting caught out of position. He has really improved with his stick play, and is a terrific prospect.”
- Matt Keetley: the former 5th rounder continues to look like a steal. Workman raves about his agility, quickness, with rebound control the most obvious need for work.
- Joni Ortio: The 6th round pick added about a month ago to the stable of netminding prospects. With little fanfare coming into the draft, the shiny new property of the Flames has made his mark early on. His fantastic quick glove hand caught my eye and Workman concurred and speculated Sutter will try to lure him to the WHL.
- Matt Pelech: The surprise 1st round pick of 2005 seems to be finally ready for take-off. With the current blueline depth, it might have to wait for another season, but if there is an injury or trade (i.e. Sarich) he will likely be the guy getting the call. Poise, passing, skating and shooting – the big d-man displayed it all this week. Workman considers him “the best candidate for the number 7 slot.” Connery was impressed with his speed and passing ability, especially for such a big defenseman.
- T.J. Brodie: Looks to be another draft day steal for Sutter and Flames scouting staff, having nabbed him in the 4th round a year ago. His silky smooth skating and offensive potential are his biggest strengths. Connery observed Saturday morning: “…Definitely has to improve his short distance, quick passing. In the later drills he did well with long passes when given time and space and he has great offensive instincts in the opposition end and sniped a couple top cheese.” Workman also likes Brodie’s shot and his defensive awareness.
- Keith Seabrook: I’ve had plenty of opportunities to view the recently acquired d-man as a member of the hometown Calgary Hitmen. During the playoffs, I’ve watched him on at least one occasion be the team’s top player on a very deep squad. Workman noted “Great with the stick. I can really tell this kid is going to be an offensive powerhouse. I love his ability to get rid of the puck. I cannot believe how mature this kid looks on the ice. I believe that Seabrook was a steal by Sutter from the Capitals.” Connery thought he had an off day on Saturday, but liked the emotion he showed, exhibiting frustration with his performance – likely an off day.
- Tim Erixon (click name for draft preview profile): I did not get much of an opportunity to view the most recent 1st round selection by the Flames. Workman reported: “Has great puck skills. Good skating skills, but needs to get stronger. Tim has to develop his skill at skating backwards. I love this kid, but I do believe it will take a few years before he is ready.” Connery added: “In the long range passing he was composed and patient and more often than not made a good pass, good skating too he looked very smooth. His shot could improve though, it’s not very hard. (He) was always hanging around joking with Bjorklund and in good spirits.”
- Keith Aulie: The consensus is the promising and hulking 6’6” blueliner has to improve his skating to be an effective force at the next level. Workman added: “Keith has great outstanding defensive zone coverage. He is a very solid stay home defenseman. He needs to grow out more, and improving his skating skills.”
- John Negrin: Another savvy 3rd round pick by Sutter, Negrin, unfortunately, did not have the best showing on Saturday. Connery accurately reported: “In the long range passing he was constantly missing his targets and McGill actually stopped all the players at one point after Negrin missed three straight skaters. Hopefully it was just a bad day but based on the viewing his passing needs to improve. Has a decent shot and good skating speed.” Workman reassures: “Only had one bad day, otherwise he was very good. John is very smart great skater, and a very good defender. John did a very good job in the two-on-two drills. I like his ability to adapt to situations.”
- Gord Baldwin: The big blueliner’s skills did not stand out in my limited viewing time, but he did have a humorous outburst after one of the goalies shut him down on a nice save. It was not an angry outburst – he was simply light-heartedly mouthing off loudly. The situation made it all the more comical as everyone else seemed so focused on the drills and the coaches relaying their instructions. Workman optimistically reports: “Gord has a great reach with his stick that he uses to his advantage. He reads the play well and often poke-checks with his reach. He uses his strength and size to his advantage. One of the many reasons why I love our defense for years to come.”
- Brad Cole: Workman is a little higher on the ’86 born blueline prospect than I am and stated: “I really like Brad. He has a great shot and plays with an edge. He is very good defensively and has speed to help out with other player’s defensive mishaps. On most teams, Brad would be higher on the depth chart.”
Part II (Forwards) to follow.
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