Despite the losing season, the disastrous Ryan O’Reilly offer sheet gaffe, the trades of Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, and the much-bandied about retirement rumours attached to Miikka Kiprusoff, I can honestly say that I have never been more interested in the direction of the Flames franchise.
The Flames are destined for nothing more than a spoiler role as this shortened season winds down, but are managing to play some inspiring hockey. A likely reason for this is the infusion of youth into the lineup. The lineup is peppered with young players not just receiving their first significant ice time but also players desperate to show they can keep pace at the NHL level. Forwards Akim Aliu, Sven Baertschi, Roman Horak, Ben Hanowski, and Max Reinhart all currently find themselves on the Flames active NHL roster. The elder statesman of this group is Aliu, who is set to turn 24 next week. Hanowski, fresh off a run to the NCAA Frozen Four with St. Cloud State, joined Max Reinhart by scoring his first NHL goal this past week. Baertschi has rebounded nicely from an early season injury and a demotion to demonstrate his creativity and looks comfortable in a top-6 role with the Flames down the stretch.
The true revelation has been the emergence of TJ Brodie on the blueline. In his second NHL season, Brodie’s feet were put to the fire when GM Jay Feaster traded the workhorse Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues. Since that trade, Brodie has been a mainstay on the ice for the Flames, playing well above 20 minutes per game. Mistakes happen, but frankly the willingness to use such a young player so freely on the blue line hasn’t happened since Dion Phaneuf potted 20 goals as a rookie during the 2005-2006 season. Brodie is a microcosm of what the Flames currently are: young, willing, energetic, and creative. His outlet passes are particularly impressive, as when coupled with this relatively good hockey sense the Flames can transition up ice quickly.
With the season wrapping up with a four-game road trip after tonight’s home tilt against the Ducks the Flames will then look forward to a draft in which, pending a playoff position for the Blues, they have three 1st round picks including one in the top 3. Nathan MacKinnon, Johnathan Drouin, and Seth Jones are already household names in hockey circles and any of these players would be a blue chip prospect for Calgary. Given the direction of the team, it is very likely that any of those three players would be seriously considered during next season’s training camp.
The Flames may not have flashy first overall picks their Edmonton rivals possess in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov, but there is a young core slowly being formed and this summer’s draft will ideally supplement it. There are players to follow and the Flames are brimming with potential. Don’t let the anonymity forge the assumption of a bare prospects cupboard.